‘Physical’ works out the dark side of the mind in an honest way

Rose Byrne stars in ‘Physical.’
Apple TV +

The world of 1980s aerobics takes on a new kind of form in Apple TV+’s latest dark comedy starring Rose Byrne, ‘Physical.’ Instead of focusing on the outward benefits of fitness, this series from creator Annie Weisman is more than skin deep, taking a deeper look at eating disorders and negative self images.

Byrne plays Sheila, a housewife in San Diego unhappy with her appearance. Audiences right away get a front row seat to inside Sheila’s mind, and the way that she talks to herself. Whether it’s comparing her looks to a friend, chastising herself for wanting to eat dessert or carbs, or spending her life savings on gorging on burgers whenever she feels out of control, it’s a new look at eating disorders that hasn’t been shown before. It shows the high- functioning and exhausting side of living with a constant magnifying glass up to yourself where you are your own worst critic.

Sheila and her husband (Rory Scovel), a once-radical idealist turned college professor, are thrown for a loop within the first few episodes of the series and in an effort to raise more money and spark a new curiosity, Sheila embarks in the world of aerobics, which eventually helps her find her own voice. The hilarious narration is coupled with Sheila’s inner thoughts, and perhaps what is most provoking about this series is just how relatable our own dark thoughts and feelings can be.

Weisman sat down with Metro to discuss the personal influences that led her to create ‘Physical.’

Apple TV +

Being a personal story, what parts of your life was ‘Physical’ drawn from? 

I had really struggled for decades with eating disorders and it was something I didn’t share privately or publicly. It was a quiet part of my life. I just reached a place of feeling fed up with the struggle and decided to try and express it on paper. I had a lot of fear—the illness is really good at telling you that if you share it, it will define you and destroy you, and none of that is actually true.

I think anyone who’s in any kind of recovery will tell you that these things thrive in shame and they thrive in secrecy and actually sharing the story has been really liberating and has really connected me to other people. So, that was the impulse that started [with me] wanting to tell the story and then the decision to put it in this unique world came separately. I really wanted to be able to tell the story through an unexpected lens. 

Right away we see Sheila talking to herself very negatively, and that’s something that stood out to me as not often shown on TV. 

I think when people think about eating disorders, they think about the behavior, and really it’s the thoughts and ideas and the voice that it comes from—at least for me. I really hadn’t seen anything on screen that represented how I experienced the struggle, so I wanted to explore that distance between what I projected to the world and how I felt on the inside, which was so different. 

I knew people had no idea how much I reserved the rage, anger and pain I felt for myself. So, that was part of the inspiration for the show… to accurately represent the way this disorder manifested in me, which was this real divide between the exterior and interior. I just tried to be authentic about it. I’ve found as I’ve started to share it and as I’ve started to share it with the creative collaborators that people related to that feeling. It’s something that I thought I was really alone with, because it was so private, but as I’ve started to share it, people are sharing with me that it feels familiar. 

Apple TV +

Another misconception is that someone who is petite might not experience these thoughts and feelings. 

Exactly. Rose is the real dream actress for this part in so many ways: She understands that this makes you excellent at disguising how you feel on the inside. You would never know that someone who to everyone else looks so comfortable in their skin and beautiful would have this self-image and would beat themselves up in this way. It’s a lie that women tell themselves, it’s how they feel on the inside and it’s not how it looks on the outside.

At it’s core, it isn’t solved by changing the way you look. It’s only solved by tapping into your true emotions and changing the way you feel. That’s what the journey of this show is about, we start in a really dark place where there’s such a divide in her and then we’re moving towards this more integrative self where she takes that and stops beating herself up with that voice and starts unleashing it where it belongs—out in the world. 

That shift is definitely seen when Sheila starts to teach aerobics herself.  

That’s absolutely right. It’s not about doing aerobics, it’s about finding her voice as a teacher. It’s about harnessing that tough inner voice and using it to inspire others. 

What would you tell women on their own journey to realizing who their true self really is to expect from watching Sheila’s journey from start to finish? 

Well, I hope people who struggle with the same kind of divide will see themselves and find some comfort like I did and can share that experience with others. I also hope they see and understand that what you think is your biggest weakness can actually be your biggest strength—that was my experience in writing and getting it out. Tapping into something that I was ashamed of made me feel more powerful. I hope people who watch it feel that way too. 

Apple TV +

What went into creating the look and feel of the time and the world of aerobics for the show?

It’s set in the world I grew up in, San Diego in the 70s and 80s. I really wanted to depict this Southern California world that was going though this change. We get to depict beach culture, we get to depict mall culture, we get to depict the new world of fitness culture that we take for granted now—these radical spaces for women collectively working out at a time when that was still a taboo for women for be sweating and building muscles in public. So we get to play with building that world as it was just beginning. 

What are you most excited for audiences to see in the series? 

I’m just really excited for people to see Rose’s performance because I think she is going to blow people’s minds. Even big fans of hers, I don’t think anyone has seen her play this kind of central, layered and dynamic role and I think what she’s capable of and her fearlessness is going to really blow people away. I’m really excited to share that. 

The first three episodes of ‘Physical’ premiere on Apple TV+ June 18.