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The upcoming dark comedy is set against the backdrop of the ’80s aerobics craze and sees Byrne playing Sheila Rubin, a Southern California woman struggling in her life as a quietly tortured housewife who finds an unconventional path to power through the world of aerobics. During Friday’s TCA panel with creator and showrunner Annie Weisman and co-star Rory Scovel, who plays her on-screen husband, Byrne teased of the series: “It’s about paving that path for those wellness gurus and lifestyle gurus, which are now sort of a dime a dozen but back then was groundbreaking.”
Viewers will meet Sheila in the idyllic but fragile beach paradise setting of sunny 1980s as a quietly tortured, seemingly dutiful housewife supporting her smart but controversial husband’s bid for state assembly. But behind closed doors, Sheila has her own darkly funny take on life she rarely lets the world see. She’s also battling a complex set of personal demons relating to her self-image, until she finds release through the unlikeliest source: the world of aerobics.
“The show tracks her journey from what we see in the pilot, where she sort of crosses this rubicon and discovers this new source of joy and power in her body,” said Weisman, who wrote the show from her personal experience growing up in Southern California at a time she described as “a dawn of this new era” of autonomy and empowerment.
She explained, “What the show really tracks is her journey from becoming someone who kind of takes all her powerful feelings and turns them inward, and then she discovers a way to harness that and really bring it outward by putting it onto video tape and sharing it with the world. She becomes a powerful force and something we take for granted now in the culture, but at the time was really innovative, which is a female lifestyle guru.”
Something the body-revealing aerobics show deals with really beautifully, said Byrne, is the contradiction of a woman who looks like Sheila dealing with body image issues: “There is no exclusive person, there is no rule of who or who doesn’t feel like this or has personal demons no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you’re from, or anything.”
As far as the aerobics scenes themselves, Byrne found them liberating. Of the costumes, she noted: “Those leotards are just within an inch of their life. It’s like a Marvel costume or something, the amount of fittings I’ve had.”
Most notable is that Physical captures Sheila’s story from the female point of view. “It’s been really important to us and to our team — I’m proud to say it’s a very female dominated team, both in front of and behind the camera — so the look and feel of the show and the perspective of the show really do come from a very female place,” said Weisman. “We tend to be the ones looking more than being looked at.”
Physical is produced for Apple TV+ by Tomorrow Studios. Weisman and Byrne serve as executive producers alongside Alex Cunningham, Marty Adelstein and Becky Clements. Additional executive producers include Craig Gillespie, who directs the pilot, and Liza Johnson and Stephanie Laing, who all serve as directors.
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