Rose Byrne on transforming into a 1980s fitness guru in Physical: ‘It was deeply uncomfortable’

One of the first things viewers will notice about Rose Byrne’s new show, Physical, is the authenticity of her character’s look as a pioneering fitness guru.

Her leotards don’t leave much to the imagination but rather than shying away from unforgiving 1980s-appropriate attire Byrne, 41, describes the process as “great, really fun”.

“Our costume designer, she just fit me within an inch of my life,” Byrne tells 9Honey Celebrity.

“It was every millimetre specific to my body shape.”

Physical takes viewers back to the early 1980s in sunny San Diego where Byrne is a seemingly dutiful housewife who finds an unusual outlet for her frustrations through aerobics.

Cue the big hair, shimmer tights, leg warmers, sweat bands and oversized cassette player.

“The detail of the costumes is just incredible,” Byrne says. “You want it to look authentic.”

But there’s more to her character Sheila Rubin than her 1980s get-up.

Much more.

“We meet Sheila at a breaking point, she’s suffering from a dreadful illness and an addiction and she’s also in an incredibly dysfunctional marriage,” Byrne explains.

“She finds a way out through the unlikely source of aerobics. It’s really a way out for Sheila.”

Physical is a darkly comedic Apple Original premiering on Friday and follows Sheila as she supports her husband’s bid for state assembly, played by Rory Scovel.

She throws herself into the world of aerobics as an outlet for her demons and through her newfound passion transforms herself into a powerful and confident economic force.

It’s all thanks to the VHS which, in the 1980s, was revolutionary.

The advent of the home video allows Sheila to become a lifestyle guru along the lines of Jane Fonda.

“[Sheila] has a really destructive addiction and illness and it dictates everything in her life and it’s about how she turns that around,” Byrne says of her character’s journey.

The Sydney-born actress has just been controversially cast as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden in a movie about the Christchurch massacre, with growing calls for Byrne to step down from the film.

But if anyone can pull off tackling such a complex project and harrowing series of events, it’s Byrne who has proven herself as a versatile force in Golden Globe and Emmy nominated roles ranging from Damages to Bridesmaids.

Byrne’s performance as Sheila is further proof of her ability to switch from comedy to drama and her enthusiasm for jazzercise aerobics is infectious.

And she’ll convince viewers she’s been working out to aerobics tapes all her life.

In reality, Byrne began training with choreographer Jennifer Hamilton via Zoom just two months before filming began in Los Angeles, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“I don’t have a dance background, I’m very uncoordinated and I’m pretty lazy – I don’t love exercise,” she laughs.

“But what was more challenging was finding the teacher in Sheila because she becomes this fitness leader and like any great fitness personal guru, they have a way to cultivate a following and figuring that out was challenging.”

The story is inspired by the long road to female empowerment, but for all her outward perfection Sheila is being torn apart by her self-sabotaging and inner voices which switch from hilarious to cruel.

And that’s what, in part, attracted her to the project.

Sheila’s “critical inner voice”, although comical, is confronting.

But it’s something many women, and even some men, will relate to.

“It was uncomfortable, it was deeply uncomfortable but it’s like life, right, you have that,” Byrne explains to 9Honey Celebrity.

“And often for women it’s not safe to say what we think, you can’t do it.

“Like a lot of things to do with being a woman, there’s so much left unsaid and there’s not a lot of shows about this stuff because its uncomfortable.”

Byrne is also an executive producer of Physical, which she says helped tell Sheila’s story “through the female gaze”.

“It’s a deeply personal story to our show creator [Annie Weisman] and for me, personally, being about to have a seat at the table with decisions, being able to be there for conversations about everything from set designs to Sheila’s costumes to casting.

“That’s always exciting.”

READ MORE: Bobby Cannavale talks playing the bad guy, again, in Thunder Force: ‘Maybe I just have one of those faces’

Byrne has been back living in Australia for many months now with partner Bobby Cannavale and their two sons, and during our interview a wedding band is visible on her finger next to a rather large diamond ring.

When I refer to Cannavale as Byrne’s “husband” she doesn’t correct me. But Byrne has been known to call him as such, previously stating it was simply easier than to explain their long-term partnership.

But one thing is certain, she’s happy to be back Down Under after years of living in the United States.

“I’ve been in the States for so long and Australia is just a different world over here,” she says.

“We shot Physical in the height of the pandemic in Los Angeles, and that was a serious thing.

“It was hard and challenging, particularly on the crew but we all wanted to be back at work and we did it.

“[But] Australia is my emotional home, my family is here but even more so in a situation like this, just the chance to feel safe, is pretty extraordinary.”

Physical premieres Friday, June 18, on Apple TV+ 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *