Who is Kelly Kilmartin in Physical? Is She Based on a Real TV Personality?

Apple TV+’s ‘Physical’ follows the story of Sheila Rubin, who finds a way out of the drudgery of her life through aerobics. Battling an eating disorder and being stuck in a marriage where she is severely underappreciated, Sheila wants something vigorous and uplifting that will counter the negative voice in her head. When she finds aerobics, she is energized and finds a new direction for her life. Things take off when she makes a business out of the thing, but it comes with its fair share of challenges and competitors.

In the third season, Sheila is pitted against Kelly Kilmartin, a former actress who became a well-known name in the fitness industry. Played by Zooey Deschanel, the character is complex and relatable, especially as the voice inside Sheila’s head. Considering how raw and real the Apple TV+ series feels, you might wonder if Kelly is based on a real person. Here’s what you need to know about her. SPOILERS AHEAD

Kelly Kilmartin is a Fictional Character

No, Kelly Kilmartin is not based on a real TV actress. She is created for ‘Physical’ by Annie Weisman, who created the TV show to represent her own struggles with an eating disorder through the perspective of a housewife in the 80s. Kelly Kilmartin is introduced in the finale of Season 2 when Sheila discovers that the actress has already rolled out a piece of equipment in the market, which is exactly what Sheila planned to unveil. In the third season, things heat up between her and Kelly as Sheila becomes more and more focused on how to kill the competition to ensure her own success.

One of the interesting things about Kelly in ‘Physical’ is that we see two different versions of her. One version is the real Kelly, the actual person who is an actress and a fitness guru, someone who has worked hard to get the life they have. The other version is how Sheila sees her. Kelly was the star of a TV show called ‘Trish Out of Water,’ in which she played the role of a lifeguard. This is how most people know her. So, when Sheila imagines Kelly inside her head, she sees her as Trish, the lifeguard, not Kelly, the real person.

Zooey Deschanel highlighted this difference between Trish and Kelly and played it well into the story. “[Kelly] is a Southern Belle who is forced to be a lifeguard on ‘Trish Out of Water,’ so that’s the character that’s haunting Sheila … to make her uncomfortable, to feel badly and sometimes to feel good. She’s like the voice in your head that says, ‘You’re the best!/’You’re the worst! So Sheila reacts in strange and weird ways,” Deschanel said.

Playing two versions of the same person drew Deschanel into the role. As Kelly, she plays the familiar character of a TV actress working hard to sustain her career and build a brand as a fitness guru. But as Trish, she gets to tap into Sheila’s meaner side and be the story’s villain. To keep Trish and Kelly separate, Deschanel developed different accents for the characters, which makes it easy to keep track of when she’s who and also underlines the difference between a real person and how they are perceived by society.

For Deschanel, Kelly was “an exploration of femininity,” highlighting the difference between “what’s artificial and what’s real.” “The ‘real’ Kelly is kind of the embodiment of 1980s femininity. She’s very calculated, and there’s a lot of artifice that goes into making her. She does all of this [the sitcom] because she thinks she has to do this to survive,” Deschanel said. Considering all this, we can say that while Kelly is a fictional character, Weisman and Deschanel have done their best to root her in reality and present her as someone the audience can relate to.

Read More: Physical: Is Trish Out of Water a Real TV Show?