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Inside Rose Byrne and Murray Bartlett's Wild Physical Dance Scene

It took three days to rehearse and shoot Sheila and Vinnie's drug-fueled disco confessional.
  • Murray Bartlett and Rose Byrne in Physical (Photo: Apple TV+)
    Murray Bartlett and Rose Byrne in Physical (Photo: Apple TV+)

    This article contains spoilers for Physical Season 2, Episode 8, “Don’t You Run and Hide.”

    There’s a scene near the end of this week's Physical that distills the show’s deliciously warped essence into three minutes.

    Earlier in the episode, we see ambitious aerobics instructor and all-around basket case Sheila Rubin (Rose Byrne) doing everything she can to cozy up to superstar fitness guru Vincent Green (Murray Bartlett) so that she can learn the secrets of his fame and fortune. The voice in her head chastises her for being an obvious schemer, but she and Vinnie make a connection anyway.

    The more time they spend together, the more they realize they’re damaged in similar ways, and when Vinnie gives Sheila a “pep pill” at his mansion, they’re ready to seriously bond. While they’re buzzing, he turns on Sylvester's disco anthem “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” and as they dance like mad, they confess their darkest secrets.

    It’s wild, joyous, and edgy, and it’s only on a show like Physical that two people could have so much fun revealing their history of abuse and self-loathing.

    It was up to choreographer Jennifer Hamilton to make sure the fun was palpable. As she told us, it was an intimidating assignment.

    “I remember reading [that scene] when I got the script,” she says. “Our director Stephanie Lange said, ‘They’re moving the whole time,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. It’s four pages of dialogue, and they’re not stopping!’ And they’re not trained dancers. They’re amazing movers, but they’re not trained dancers. So the amount of movement I’m gonna get is [affected] while they’re talking, while they’re moving through the set. It was such a beast!”

    Taming the scene required getting into a rehearsal room with Byrne and Bartlett to break everything into small beats. (There were two rehearsal days, as well as a half day of shooting just for this segment.) The whole team was conscious of details like the tempo of the Sylvester song and the fact that certain words in the script had to be emphasized by the movement. “Their dialogue is very heavy, but it’s being told through this heightened reality,” Hamilton notes. “We had to capture that. The beauty of it was that we had that time in the rehearsal room, that creative time, when everybody kind of jumps in the pool together and swims.”

    For Hamilton, the very first moments of the sequence epitomize what they were going for. With just the faintest throb of music in the background, Vinnie starts circling Sheila like a cat, peppering her with questions.

    Whenever he makes eye contact, he sways back and forth, like a ballet dancer warming up before a big leap. It’s almost like he’s ushering Sheila into a world where disco dance moves are the key to understanding your pain.

    “You’re sitting with their sadness, and then you get ready to go into this alternate universe,” Hamilton says. “So you’re already affected emotionally before you’ve really gotten the music involved."

    She notes that the push-pull of their dancing, where they basically chase each other around Vinnie’s house, is also very important. “They like each other so much and they’re so similar, but they don’t want to like each other. They don’t want to have these similarities, because it scares them. We wanted to show that."

    Importantly, Hamilton got the creative space to craft what the scene needed. She’s been choreographing the movement on Physical from the beginning, and her work has had an undeniable impact.

    “That’s why this show has been so important for me,” she says. “The aerobics and the movement are part of the story for the entire series, which is not typical of a lot of choreographic work. Sometimes you get hired to just come in for a scene or a couple of dance moments, so to be involved in movement that's actually part of Sheila's story has been incredible. It’s been incredible to go from where we see her in season one to where we see her now. I’m really grateful the movement is such a big part of that.”

    New episodes of Physical premiere Fridays through August 5th on Apple TV+.

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    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Physical, Apple TV+, Jennifer Hamilton, Murray Bartlett, Rose Byrne