Sydney-born, US-based actor Murray Bartlett’s career has spanned almost 20 years now, but there’s one role in particular he’ll be eternally remembered for: that of Oliver Spencer, Carrie Bradshaw’s new gay best friend (poor Stanford) in a 2002 episode of Sex & The City.
“It was my first acting job in the USA and seemed to come out of nowhere. Suddenly I’m sitting at a table opposite Sarah Jessica Parker, in a show that I was very familiar with. It was surreal,” he told the Star Observer.
The actor ‘plays gay’ once more in August, writer/director Eldar Rappaport’s 2011 independent drama that’s just been released on DVD here in Australia thanks to that champion of queer cinema, Love Films.
Bartlett plays Troy, the former lover of Jonathan (Daniel Dugan), and he arrives back in Los Angeles to find his ex happily partnered up with Raul (Adrian Gonzalez). Before long, Jonathan finds himself tempted by the former lover he’d long ago relegated to the past.
The film touches on a familiar, niggling question for many: ‘What if he comes back’?’
“I think most of us can relate to a situation like this – that feeling of wondering what our life would be like if we’d ended up with that person we had a crush on, or were in love with, or had a fleeting but intense connection with. And often these feelings can be very powerful, there’s some seductive sort of pain in it which we set out to explore in the film,” explained Bartlett.
The Aussie actor finds himself cast as the ‘other man’, intruding on another couple’s life. Was he conscious of making Troy a likable character, given some of his actions are perhaps not entirely honourable?
“Absolutely. I think he’s a much more interesting character if it’s hard to define him as good or bad. And I think it makes the situation much harder for all involved, and probably more realistic, because situations like this are rarely black and white.”
Rappaport makes no secret of the fact that August is very much drawn from his own life experiences – in particular, an intense summer fling with an ex that ended on a sour note. Bartlett said that despite this real-life inspiration, his director wasn’t entirely beholden to his initial vision, instead allowing the actors to contribute.
“He wanted us to feel the personal connection that he has to the story and I think this collaborative approach really helped us do that.”
August has already screened at several international queer film festival, and Bartlett said he’d been following the audience feedback with interest, as viewers decided for themselves whether or not Troy was the villain of the piece.
“It’s been good to see that viewers have struggled with it. Their responses to the characters have tended to be complex – like the situation and characters themselves.”
INFO: August is out now through Love Films.