“Looking” Interview: Murray Bartlett

HBO’s new series Looking has something for everyone in its portrayal of gay men living life in San Francisco. Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is the earnest 29-yr old looking for love and stumbling along the way and Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) is coupled (with O-T Fagbenie) but finding new challenges in that relationship and in his career.

And then there’s Dom.

Played by Australian actor/writer Murray Bartlett (August, Guiding Light), Dom is about to turn 40 and quickly realizing his dreams are passing him by and (a single gay man’s nightmare) he may not be able to get laid as easily as he once did. Also, starting with the February 2nd episode, he’ll meet Lynn (Scott Bakula), an older gay man who co-owns a local flower shop and may help Dom transition into this new life phase.

We talked to Bartlett at the recent Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour to see how much he relates to Dom and what we can expect with this new relationship with Bakula’s character.

Murray Bartlett, Frankie J. Alvarez, Jonathan Groff(l-r) Murray Bartlett, Frankie J. Alvarez & Jonathan Groff at the L.A. Looking premiere.

TheBacklot: The show is just starting to air and there’s a nice buzz out there about it.  How are you feeling about that?

Murray Bartlett: I think it’s great. I’m just a few days back from being in Australia where I felt completely away from the show and any response to it, but I’m really excited by it. I had such an amazing time on the show. And I was really excited from the beginning. And then we got the scripts. And then we started working on it. I feel very proud of the show. I’m glad that people are responding well to it. You never know when you work on something. And still, I saw the first four episodes– and it’s very, very difficult to be objective about something that you’re involved in– but it’s gratifying to hear that people are enjoying something that we feel so invested in and so proud of.

Murray BartlettHow much do you connect with Dom?

I think because I’m pretty much the same age as my character, I have gone through very similar things in terms of the questions that you ask about yourself and your life when you’re that age. I think we have a lot of different questions, myself and the character, but the basic things that you’re confronted with at that age. Do I have all the right markers for hitting this age? Can I see all the things that make me feel like I’ve lived a worthwhile life? And all that kind of stuff.

I’ve loved my life. And I feel like there’s been some great things in my life. So for me, perhaps it was a little easier, although it was still a challenging time turning 40 and being confronted with all that stuff. But Dom’s kind of imploding. But at a base level, I had a real strong connection with that experience.

Where is the Scott Bakula relationship going as the season progresses?

It develops further, I can say, towards the end of the show and there’s some sort of ambiguous resolution at the end, but it’s definitely not definitive. That story continues, but it’s a bit of a roller coaster.

It’s probably nice that you can kind of escape to Australia or anywhere else because it is a weird little bubble here in LA.
How is it working with Scott?

He’s an amazing man and a great actor and just lovely to be around. It’s interesting when you have the chance to do quite intimate scenes with someone or scenes where the characters are vulnerable. And you get to see whether someone of his kind of stature and all of his experience is willing to let go and be vulnerable with you. And he absolutely is. So that was a real joy to work with him. And his willingness to be open in that way was really great.

You’ve been working steadily for years, but this show could take you to a new level. Are you ready for that? People could want to know more about your personal life, who you’re dating, etc….

I’m ready for opportunities that might come. I’m not sure that I’m ready or will ever be ready to make my personal life public. I don’t know that that would be wise or it’s something that I want to go into. But I’m certainly super proud of this show and looking forward to any opportunities that might come from it.

Murray BartlettBartlett as Troy in Eldar Rapaport’s film, August.

Any other projects for you coming down the pike?

In the last few years, to be honest, I’ve started to focus on some of my own stuff. I’ve made a couple of shorts and co-wrote a feature, which we just got a substantial grant for from the Dubai Film Festival. So I’m in the process of developing that. I wouldn’t be an actor in it, but I’m co-writing. I’m really excited by that. It’s been nice in the last couple of years to be involved in some stuff from the ground up. And it’s also a really good balance for being an actor, I think, because it gives you a good perspective on the whole acting world.

Do you like watching yourself on TV or in film?

I wouldn’t say I like it. I don’t cringe and have to leave the room, but it’s very surreal and I have no objectivity whatsoever watching myself. I think it’s helpful to watch it once or twice. I don’t like to watch any more than that because I think then you become self-conscious and too self-critical. But it’s fine. I really enjoy much more watching the other actors and seeing what they do. But I think you watch yourself and you have some little sort of cogs turning, and you’re like, “Oh, well maybe I could do this differently next time.” So it’s useful.

It is a little bit. It’s a weird and wonderful bubble, I guess.

That’s a good way to put it. Weird and wonderful.

But I do enjoy dipping into it. I live in New York so it’s good to be able to be there and to go back to Australia. It’s a nice kind of balance.

Looking airs Sundays at 10:30pm on HBO.