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Interview: ‘Physical’ Creator Annie Weisman On Her Vision for the Series

Physical

The world of aerobics set in sunny San Diego in the 1980’s may not be the first time and place that comes to mind when exploring female identity as it relates to body image, but that is exactly what creator, show-runner, and executive producer Annie Weisman establishes in the Apple TV+ series, Physical. 

Awards Radar recently spoke with Weisman about her vision for the series which now has two seasons available on the streaming service and another season on the way. Weisman speaks to the honesty about how women present themselves versus who they actually are being a driving force for the show which has continued to grow in scope and success over its history.

In the following interview, Weisman speaks candidly about her experience telling this story and how it has resonated with many people who are able to see themselves represented in the characters. She also attributes the bravery of her lead actress Rose Byrne in continuing to push the envelope for the many layers of depth in Sheila of the heartbeat of the series.

Hi, this is Danny Jarabek here with Awards Radar, and I am extremely delighted to be talking today with Annie Weisman. She’s the creator, showrunner, and executive producer of the Apple TV+ series, Physical. Annie, thank you so much for talking with me today. And how are you doing?

Annie: I’m doing great. Pleasure to be here with you.

So, Physical, the show that we’re talking about has been ongoing for a couple of seasons now with Apple TV, and I would just love to get your insight, of course you’re a creator and one of the visions behind this show, can you describe some of that original vision you had for the show before it started and how that’s developed over time?

Annie: Sure. Well, initially, the idea with the show is to really just accurately depict kind of the difference between what women kind of show the world and then how they feel on the inside. So, it was really about that duality. When I sat down to create this character and write the scripts, that was the initial impulse to just be really honest about that. For some of us, there’s a very big gap between what we present and who we are. And from there, a lot of other themes and stories and characters and ideas came into it. But really, that was the starting place, and that’s what we try to stick to as kind of what makes the show and the perspective of the show unique.

Yeah, absolutely. And I would love to just ask about that unique quality. You’ve been producing a few different series over the last few years, and if there’s anything unique or special about this show that has really stuck with you or something important about telling this story in particular.

Annie: Yeah. I’ve been lucky enough to work on a lot of interesting shows, and I was lucky enough to kind of ride this really interesting moment in television when there was a lot more opportunity for female creators that opened up in the streaming world. And with Apple getting into original programming, they really were open to, I think, sharper and more unique perspectives than some of the broadcast work that I’ve been doing. So, I was really fortunate to kind of be part of that wave. And with the show, it’s pretty honest about how women struggle and in particular with body image and eating disorders. So, the show really gets into it, it’s honest about it, it depicts it in a way that I’m proud of and that now we’ve been around long enough for me to really see the impact that it’s had on audiences. And I get so much really rewarding feedback from viewers about how they feel represented and seen in the way that we depict some mental health issues that maybe don’t get taken as seriously by a lot of other storytelling modes. I think that’s been for me, probably the most satisfying part of it is that men and women have reached out to tell me that they feel like we’re doing a really accurate job of showing how and why people suffer from these issues. And then also for people living with and supporting and loving people who also struggle with body image and disordered eating, it kind of gives insight on where that comes from and how it works. And then as the stories continued, how people find recovery and evolve into healthier, more integrated ways of living their lives.

I spoke with Stephanie [Laing] last week and one of the things she really emphasized was that honesty and the authenticity that has always been imparted into the story. But you touched on some of the feedback you’ve gotten and how it’s impacted people. Can you speak to maybe from your perspective how that’s resonated and maybe some ways that you didn’t possibly expect it to resonate and just some of that feedback that you’ve received and how that’s influencing how you continue the story?

Annie: Yeah, well, people initially reached out to say how they felt seen and represented. So, I heard from a lot of women in my life who maybe for the first time were telling me that this was their struggle, this was their inner voice, this was what they hide from the world. And that was encouraging them to be a little more honest and straightforward. Because the reason that a lot of people don’t come forward and get help and be honest is shame. So, one of the things, the best thing I think we can do as storytellers is try to lift shame off of people, show that you are absolutely not alone. I’ve had that feedback from women, which I wouldn’t say I expected, but wasn’t surprised by. What surprised me is how many men have reached out as well, reached out about feeling similar to Sheila themselves or having people in their lives that they understood better. So, it’s really not just women that struggle with body image and disordered eating. And that’s been really eye opening to me. I’ve learned a lot from that.

Yeah, I’m sure that is really gratifying too, to be able to tell that story honestly and hear back honest responses from it as well. And one thing that I want to touch on as far as the show goes is, of course, Rose Byrne as Sheila and the centerpiece and the heartbeat of all of this. And yeah, I would love to ask how she came into this story and how I just absolutely adore her performance and so I am curious to hear more about her and your relationship with her.

Annie: And I love talking about her because she’s phenomenal and I was so fortunate to really get my script sent to her by folks at Apple who had worked with her and knew her and sent her this material and she responded right away and we met. And she is so brave and so game and even things that I would be embarrassed or afraid to write, she has zero fear about depicting and depicting full, as she would say, full on. She’s never pulled a punch. She’s never asked me to dial anything down. In fact, if anything, she just inspires me to keep going bigger and going bolder and just being more honest because like I said, that was the initial impulse. But it’s one thing to write it and it’s another thing to see somebody really inhabit it and put their whole self and their whole body into it. And she’s a joy to work with. Her performance surprises and delights me and it just gets richer and more interesting as we go along. And with someone as great as her, you want to keep challenging her and seeing what else she can do. And she keeps delivering, we keep putting the bar up and then she keeps jumping over it, so then it just makes us want to put it higher. And she brings so much comedy to it as well. So, it’s just the range of human experience that she depicts. It’s impressive and fun and inspiring.

Absolutely. Yeah, I love hearing that because that was my reaction. Just watching her and hearing that come from you as a collaborator with her is really cool to hear. But something with Season 2 in particular that I think really stood out to me as well is that with Season 1, we’re very much with Sheila’s perspective and her point of view and we are in Season 2 as well, but also a lot of the supporting cast members and supporting characters are very much expanded too. And we get a lot more in-depth storytelling with how they’re weaving in and out of Sheila’s life as well. So what was some of the vision behind expanding into those stories and how that continues to push Sheila’s narrative forward as well.

Annie: Yeah, it’s really just getting the chance as we continue getting the opportunity to tell more and more stories, to grow the world of the show. So, as you said, Season 1 was so much with her developing, her perspective being in her head, but as her life starts to expand, as we see her starting to find her voice and broaden her world, the world of the show grows too so she’s learning how to have female friendship. She’s entering into new romantic relationships, sexual relationships, some better advised than others. So, the world gets bigger and that’s really just the gift of getting more seasons of story to tell. And now we just finished shooting Season 3, which the show is able to grow and stretch its wings even more. So just really lucky to get to continue to tell the story and have really great characters that we want to go deeper with, for sure.

You mentioned Season 3. I do have to ask, I’m sure you can’t share too much, but is there anything that we can expect as far as where the show is going? Of course, there were some cast announcements about some additions to the show. What are you thinking about Season 3 that you can share?

Annie: Well, I can share that her dreams start to become a reality, that her dreams of expansion and her vision for her future starts to become a reality. Whether or not all of that goes as planned, I can’t say. But I could say that she starts to manifest her vision for her future, which is really fun to see and it’s fun to produce and broaden the world because the world elevates and gets bigger. Working with Stephanie Laing and with our great team of incredible visual collaborators that I have, we’re moving deeper into the 80s, we’re moving more into this fitness world so we get to a bigger landscape and it’s a really fun place to be.

Yeah, I was going to say I’m excited to see where this world goes. I mean, I can’t wait to see how it continues to expand and grow. And one thing I do want to ask you about, I had briefly talked about this with Stephanie a little bit too, just the worldbuilding of the show. You mentioned the world of the 80’s Southern California. Something I would love to get your insight on is just how that world came to be built a little bit because I said this to Stephanie, but as I was watching it, I just felt like I was in 80’s San Diego, even though I’ve never been to San Diego or lived in the 80s, but it’s such a visceral feeling.

Annie: Well, it is very much set in the world of my childhood in early 80’s beach community in San Diego and it’s just a lot of communicating with all the collaborators about getting very granular and specific about not only the time, but the place is really important to me. Luckily, I don’t have to do a lot of research because it’s right back there in the archives of my brain. But I love this specific world and community so much and feel that sometimes it’s presented in movies and television in a really oversimplified fashion is what I would say. I mean, people have the sort of Baywatch idea of the beach community in their head, and that’s a lot of fun, but there’s more to it than that. So, I really like getting specific and into the darker, shadier areas of what life is like for people living in those beach communities in this time. So I really like getting into the characters and how they kind of create themselves in these areas. Growing up where I did, there were so many people from so many different places. So, while everyone may look the same, once you dig down beyond the surface, you see how varied and different and complex people really are.

So, we just try to bring that to everything from the writing down to the background cars that you see being very specific to what they would have been known. So, it creates some déjà vu, eerie moments. Sometimes for me, walking around set, and I kind of get a whoa moment when I see a certain sweater or a mug that it’s just very real.

Brings you right back.

Annie: Right back. Yeah.

I love that. Just one final questions. This show has continued to grow over its two seasons and seems like it’s going to continue to expand. One thing that you touched on was the bravery that is required of this cast, especially in depicting these very honest themes that you’re attributing to the story. What are some of the challenges that you and your team faced in producing that type of material?

Annie: Yeah, we just feel so lucky to get to be in this time period at times when we were shooting, because there’s so much awful stuff going on in the world around us as we were beginning with this pandemic. So really, it felt like the challenges were so much in the world, and getting to work on the show is the escape. I mean, getting to live in this time period, getting to dive deep into these characters, it really felt like such a gift. So, I think all the challenges were sort of outside our bubble. Inside, it was really just kind of creative bliss to be working with people that are game and brave and talented and just willing collaborators in every way. I think we all feel that way now. Just like, wow, what a gift that this happened in this moment, that we got to kind of escape the challenges around us and slip into the skin of these characters and their challenges.

That sounds incredible. Annie, Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. And I know that I will certainly be on the lookout for Season 3 and continue to follow Sheila and company, and I’m very excited to see where it goes. So, thank you so much for speaking with me and congratulations again on telling this story.

Annie: It’s a pleasure. Thank you. I appreciate it.

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Written by Danny Jarabek

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