‘It all feels like a fluke’: Jennifer Coolidge on the gift of The White Lotus

By Michael Idato

Jennifer Coolidge at the season two premiere of The White Lotus in Los Angeles.Credit:AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

When Jennifer Coolidge agreed to sign on for a second season of The White Lotus, she did not expect that her storyline from season one would continue. But she was pleasantly surprised when showrunner and creator Mike White decided to pick up the romantic thread between her character Tanya and Greg (Jon Gries), and return them to the new season as a married coupleholidaying in Italy.

“I was thrilled that we got to tell the story of what happened with Greg and Tanya”, says Coolidge on the eve of the launch of the keenly anticipated new season. “And I love that chapter two is very different from chapter one, that the love is more developed and time has gone by. And it’s interesting how something starts off so romantically, and then how it can lead to something you never thought would happen.”

Trying to match or ambitiously exceed the madness and brilliance of the Emmy-winning and critically lauded The White Lotus was a risky gamble. But it seems to have paid off.

Where the first season was gently dipped in the charm of Hawaii as a destination, the second season feels and looks very different: an oil painting come to life, equal parts Titian and Botticelli, with graceful lines and splendid colour, and the rugged beauty of Sicily dominated by the smoking plumes of the active volcano Mount Etna.

Tanya McQuoid-Hunt (Jennifer Coolidge) in The White Lotus.Credit:HBO

The White Lotus borrows from the geography-as-TV-porn genre, think of modern-day classics like The Durrells, and its slightly thinner cousin Hotel Portofino, where outsiders or foreigners find themselves in exotic places and situations which test their values, personalities and beliefs. The White Lotus adds a little magic and bottled lightning of White’s outstanding writing.

The key, says Coolidge, is White’s passion and authenticity.

“There’s all these ways people can sort of fudge stuff and make it look like something else,” Coolidge says. “But you know when someone says, we thought it was the most beautiful place we’ve ever been around, then you find out later they didn’t really like it. But when Mike falls in love with something, he is sincere.”

I want you to know this, my insecurity never waivers, it’s strong.

Not only did he scout the show’s new locations, and write every episode, Coolidge says, but he also took Italian lessons. “Because he wanted to talk to his crew in Italian and not have a barrier,” she says. “That’s really who Mike is.”

The proof is on the screen. Every luscious take. The almost timeless settings. With a scarf, and on a Vespa, even Coolidge looks more like a heroine in a Federico Fellini movie than she does the star of an American cable drama.

The White Lotus creator Mike White, pictured at the 2022 Emmy Awards, took Italian lessons before filming the show’s second season in Sicily.Credit:Danny Moloshok/Invision

It’s a love letter, Coolidge says, “but not a fake love letter. There’s nothing false going on. He truly loves it. He’s one of the most honest people I’ve ever met. Even if it’s something you don’t want to hear, he’ll say it or he’ll put it in his show or whatever. He’s the opposite of a lot of people full of BS in our business. He really is.”

Coolidge’s co-star Jon Gries believes White’s strength is a genuine understanding of beauty. “He loves beauty. I would love to have Mike White come to my house and fix it, design it. Tell me what to put where. He’s got a real touch, a visual touch. He really understands these things, these beautiful places.”

Joining the couple this year are two American couples, Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne Sullivan (Meghann Fahy), and Cameron’s college roommate Ethan (Will Sharpe) and his wife Harper Spiller (Aubrey Plaza); and three generations of the Di Grasso family, relentlessly farting grandfather Bert (F. Murray Abraham), son Dominic (Michael Imperioli) and grandson Albie (Adam DiMarco).

Coolidge’s character Tanya and Greg (Jon Gries) return as a married couple holidaying in Italy in the new season of The White Lotus.Credit:HBO/Binge

Gries says working with Coolidge was “the best part” of returning for the show’s second season. “If you’re going to speak specifically about acting, working with Jennifer is always a joy because there’s the sense of this incredible flow that happens where you can’t anticipate where it’s going. Which I love,” he says.

“Whenever you work with Jennifer, there’s a possibility that things are going to change,” Gries adds. “So it keeps an actor on their toes in a weird way. I hate to even say, because keeping on your toes is almost anticipating. I don’t anticipate it. When it hits, it’s like catch up, get with it, stay with it, enjoy it. It’s an amazing ride.”

Despite what seems like unflappable confidence, and the bonus of a win at this year’s prestigious Emmy Awards in the category of outstanding supporting actress in a limited series, Coolidge insists she is not a confident actress.

F. Murray Abraham, Eleonora Romandini and Michael Imperioli in the second season of The White Lotus.Credit:HBO/Binge

“I want you to know this, my insecurity never waivers, it’s strong,” Coolidge says. “It all feels like a fluke. I like the mysteriousness of [the second season of] The White Lotus.

It also helps, Coolidge adds, that the second series was set in a living postcard, Sicily, in the south of Italy. “When we were filming, honestly, it was just riveting,” she says. “Sicily was mesmerising; there wasn’t a dull moment. We were shooting a movie, but I also felt like I was in a movie already, which was Sicily, and all the trees, everything’s alive.”

But back to that Emmy win, which came with a couple of bonuses: White won for directing and writing on a limited series, her co-star Murray Bartlett won for outstanding supporting actor, and the show won the Emmy for outstanding limited series against Dopesick, Pam & Tommy (Hulu/Disney) and Inventing Anna (Netflix).

Coolidge poses with the award for supporting actress in a limited series or movie at the 2022 Primetime Emmy Awards.Credit:AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

“How do I feel about it? I’m thrilled,” she says. “Do I agree with it? Well, look, I’d rather win than not win. But it was everybody’s game. Everyone that had been nominated, it was so possible. That’s why I think no one really knew who it was going to be. But I’m just surprised. It’s really weird.

“This is how the world works, if just one person says, you’re good at something, or says, I think you can do this … [but] no one wants to be the first person to give you a chance. You know what I mean?” Coolidge says. “I’ve been a long time trying to make stuff happen, but no one wants to give you the big thing because they don’t know if you can do it and they don’t want to take the risk.”

And for taking the risk, she has only her thanks and devotion to White. “Mike White did that in a very big way for me because it wasn’t happening and if it hadn’t worked out, it would’ve been a terrible thing for him because he would’ve been in trouble with HBO,” Coolidge says. “I’m just thrilled that he gave me this gift, this great role.”

The White Lotus (season 2) is on Binge from Monday, October 31.

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