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Catching Up With Murray Bartlett

At the Summer Television Critics Association (TCA) Press Tour, Murray Bartlett previewed his latest project — Hulu’s upcoming eight-episode miniseries WELCOME TO CHIPPENDALES, the true-crime story about the rise and fall of the founder of the world-famous male revue.

What do you feel is distinctive about this retelling of the infamously sordid story? “To me, the whole story is surprising. I feel like I’m like a lot of people who, you know, I never saw a Chippendales show but I had this idea of the Chippendales, and I grew up during the time when the Chippendales were happening. I saw it as this kind of campy, fun male strip show. I didn’t have any idea that there was this complex, interesting story behind it. All these amazing, rich characters each have very fascinating stories in themselves and then when they collide with each other, it’s explosive. I feel like that’s one of the amazing things about this show is that it’s called WELCOME TO CHIPPENDALES because [you think] it’s this fun male stripper show. But really it’s like, ‘Okay, get ready,’ because you step into this world that has depth and surprises that you just don’t expect. That was my experience, knowing very little about the Chippendales other than it was a touring male strip show that came to Australia at some point. I think it’s packed with surprises that don’t stop coming until the very end. It’s an incredible roller coaster in that way.”

You play the ill-fated Chippendales choreographer, Nick De Noia. Tell us about prepping to dance. “I saw Quentin [Plair, Otis], because we were working with the choreographers at the same time, and I only had to go in a few times because I don’t get to dance so much. But every time I was coming into work with the choreographer, I’d walk past the room where Quentin was rehearsing and, as I left, he was still rehearsing. It was like dance boot camp and [he] was on it. [He] was so focused and it was really great to see. And, it paid off. [He’s] just awesome in the show. I got a bit of a pass, really. I didn’t get to take my pants off. Well, not in the dance scenes, anyway.”

Was there any pressure to buff up for the role? “Because I am a choreographer in the show, I don’t have to look as good as the dancers, but I still have to know the stuff. And for me, I was like, ‘Really, you want me to dance?’ It was such an exciting thing for me. It felt like no one’s ever asked me to do that before and I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ I mean, I’m not a dancer, but I like to dance and so it was super-fun for me. And also, because there’s not pressure for me to make it perfect because I am the choreographer, it was kind of cool.”

What was it like playing a choreographer? “We had this scene where I’m auditioning a bunch of new dancers for the Chippendales, and I have to say it was an intense day. It was a very hot day. We’re in this big car park. It was Quentin’s and my first scene together. We were dancing from what felt like sunrise to sundown, but it was super-fun. I didn’t realize until we stopped how tired I was, and I had to do the fun thing as the choreographer. I start dancing with them and then I have to turn. I’m leading them and then I have to turn around and mirror them, which was like a real mind bomb for me, but a really great challenge. Also, if I felt like I was losing it, I could just stop and be like, ‘Yeah, 5, 6, 7, 8!’ So, it was kind of cool. But it was, as Annaleigh [Ashford, Irene] was saying, [with] Quentin, the dancing … there’s an energy that comes with the dancing, the kind of dancing that’s involved in Chippendales, and of that year, and the music that goes along with it that, it’s just infectious. And on those days, you feel elevated in a way.”

What did you think watching it? “I’ve only seen the first two episodes of the show so far [at the time of this interview] but I feel like, you feel that in the show, too…. You’re like, ‘Whoa!’ It’s like when you see those dance movies from the ’70s and ’80s and in your mind you’re like, ‘I’m going to be a dancer!’ You have that kind of vibe. I still have those feelings.”