What is the show about?
The dark comedy follows Sheila Rubin, a San Diego mum-of-one with an abrasive inner monologue, a good-for-nothing husband, and a disorder about her self-image.
But one day, Sheila follows a cool-looking woman into an aerobics class and soon she falls in love with the workout style, eventually starting her own business by videotaping and teaching classes.
Why play Sheila?
The role was a no-brainer for 41-year-old Byrne, who fell in love with the character from the moment she read about her.
“When I read the first script, I was so moved,” the star told Shape magazine recently.
“It felt like a story I hadn’t seen before, and it’s incredibly human and relatable. For me as an artist, it was very challenging and daunting, which is good. I especially loved how doing all the physical [routines] take you out of being so self-conscious as a performer.”
Preparing for the role
Although Byrne has always had an amazing body, she had to step up her game when it came to preparing for the role. Her aerobic scenes required some pretty intense training and coordination, which started well before filming began, with the actress working with choreographer Jennifer Hamilton via Zoom.
“We did online classes, building the choreography,” Byrne told Shape. “This show is a journey for Sheila, the character I play, so the routines have to look rough in the beginning, and then she slowly gains her confidence and strength.”
With two children – Byrne shares sons Rocco, 5, and Rafa, 3, with partner Bobby Cannavale, 51 – exercise had fallen by the wayside during the pandemic. But the actress says she enjoyed getting back into the swing of things while preparing for the show.
“I hadn’t been doing a lot of cardio personally, so that was very hard,” she admitted. “But it was fun. I really loved the training. I can see how it becomes addictive.”
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Through the decades
Last year, Byrne played feminist icon Gloria Steinem in the miniseries Mrs America about the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment. So moving from the ’70s to the ’80s with Physical felt like a natural progression for the star.
“It was a beautiful companion piece,” she says of the two shows. “Playing Gloria was an eye-opening experience in many ways. Then to be able to step into Sheila – it felt like picking up where the previous era left off. It linked all those ideals that so many people were fighting for.”
While Down Under with her family, Byrne has also filmed a new musical dramedy, Seriously Red, which she stars in alongside partner Cannavale, fellow Aussie Daniel Webber and comedian Celeste Barber. The film is set to premiere later this year.
Physical premieres Friday, June 18 on Apple TV Plus