Rose Byrne on Embracing ’80s Style and Exploring the Darker Side of Wellness Culture in ‘Physical’

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I love the aspect of the show that is sort of reverse-engineering how we are today with the business of wellness, and how we’re inundated with it. Everybody has a website or a platform or an app that they download for fitness or health or diet, and the wellness industry is worth billions of dollars. That had a beginning, and so I wanted to know more about what that beginning was, and the benefits and drawbacks of that. Historically, it was an industry where women could have agency and financial success. But then the tricky question now is: Just how empowering is it really? How much is it just serving the person who’s making money from it, and is it just an expression of their narcissism? It’s a very interesting thing to explore and discuss, as there are so many grey areas.

Have people reached out to you and Annie about identifying with Sheila’s illness, or being grateful to see it represented onscreen?

There’s still such a deep shame around it in a lot of instances. It can be a really hard thing to get people to talk about, and obviously, it’s such a personal decision to share your struggles with that sort of thing. But to answer your question, yes, I have had people come forward to tell me that, but I’ve also had people say they’ve found it triggering. But I really lean on Annie to understand how someone in recovery would see it, and how they would want to be represented. I would never have done it without Annie, and knowing she would be able to provide that delicacy around the subject was crucial for me to want to be a part of it.

It’s obviously a very physically demanding role, and this season the aerobics sequences only get bigger and more ambitious. Was the training process any different this time around?

She’s further along in the aerobics journey, so she’s definitely more competent and more skilled than when we first met her. In season one, when we first meet her, she’s still trying to learn and it’s early days, but in season two, she’s becoming slightly more locally established, at the very least. And when we started preparing for season two, I was so out of shape. [Laughs.] But we have a wonderful choreographer, Jen Hamilton, who is very much the other part of the equation with Sheila and me, because so much of the show is about that side of [Sheila]. Personally, as an actress, I love doing that stuff. It’s really hard, all the training leading up to it, and at first, you think, Oh my God, this is the last thing I want to do! But I started months in advance with Jen, just learning the sequences and getting my cardio, and it is all of the things you’d expect. It is addictive, it totally shreds your body of any kind of fat. But there’s also so much humor in those sequences too, because it is all so dated. And Jen Hamilton really gets that—I very much leaned on her, and she’s a great cheerleader. I’m also deeply uncoordinated. [Laughs.] I have no dance background, so it’s been fun in that sense too.

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