Jennifer Coolidge interview: ‘The White Lotus’

“I’m very flattered and touched that people would want to nominate me,” admits Jennifer Coolidge, who is finally an Emmy nominee this year for her scene-stealing role on “The White Lotus.” For our recent webchat she adds, “I just can’t tell you how grateful I am. In this lifetime, I never thought that I would have a part like this and at the same time I never expected anything, as this is at all gravy. This is nothing I ever thought would happen, I just thought I was past that, you know. I’ve been around for a while and just maybe this wasn’t going to happen, some exciting thing like this.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

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HBO’s “The White Lotus” was created by Mike White, who wrote and directed all six episodes of the anthology drama, which follows a week in the life of the guests and employees coexisting among the swaying palm trees, idyllic sunsets, poolside banter and tropical bliss of the fictional White Lotus resort in Maui. With each passing day, we learn more about the dysfunctional vacationers and the resort’s beleaguered staff members, which all comes to a head in the series’ dynamite finale as the identity of the mysterious dead body that features in the show’s first scene is finally revealed. Originally intended as a six-part limited series, “The White Lotus” became a critical and commercial sensation last year, leading HBO to renew it for a second season, this time set in Sicily and with only Coolidge returning from the first season’s cast. “I witnessed something really exceptional on the second round just as much as the first,” Coolidge reveals, despite remaining tight-lipped on any details, adding, “I saw some stuff and I’m like ‘oh my God, people are going to really like it and people are going to be really excited!”

While Coolidge is best known for her iconic roles in “Legally Blonde,” the “American Pie” franchise and her frequent collaborations with Christopher Guest, it has inexplicably taken three decades for the acclaimed comedienne and actress to nab her first major industry nomination. She has now received recognition from Emmy voters for her hilarious and heartbreaking turn as grieving socialite Tanya McQuoid on the show. She is in good company this year, as “The White Lotus”  leads all limited series at the Emmys this year with 20 nominations across the board, with almost every member of the series’ ensemble cast scoring a nomination. Coolidge is joined by Connie Britton, Alexandra Daddario, Natasha Rothwell and Sydney Sweeney taking up all but two spots in Best Limited Series/Movie Supporting Actress (marking the first time ever that five women have been nominated from a single series in one category), while Murray Bartlett, Jake Lacy and Steve Zahn compete in the corresponding male lineup.

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When we first meet Coolidge’s character on the show, she’s a highly anxious middle-aged woman seeking inner peace and self-discovery, intent on spreading her recently deceased mother’s ashes on the island. After booking herself into the resort’s spa, she gravitates toward generous and empathetic spa manager Belinda (Rothwell), with whom she develops a complicated relationship. Tanya latches onto Belinda as a confidante and friend, and innocently lures her into thinking that the wealthy and well-meaning (but self-involved) Tanya might fund Belinda’s dreams of opening a wellness spa of her very own. Coolidge also shines in scenes opposite Jon Gries as Greg, an older eligible bachelor that Tanya begins to fall for romantically. After a couple of endearingly awkward encounters, Tanya ultimately decides to open her heart to Greg, confessing that she is needy and deeply insecure, explaining that although her parents abused her, she has been wandering the island looking for the right moment to spread her mother’s ashes. By the end of the series, Tanya opens up to Greg, collapsing into a tearful breakdown while crying her eyes out.

The first-time nominee is quick to lavish praise on White and how he was able to write and direct such a compelling character like Tanya. “He is such a brilliant creator,” she says, adding that “he is the genius that everyone thinks he is,” before recalling how the experience of shooting the series on Maui was so much fun. “This is all such an added bonus, because it was a really fun job, even though you know, it was hot as hell!”

Looking back at her time in Maui while shooting the series during the height of the pandemic, Coolidge jokes about the super early mornings that many of the actors were required on set in paradise. “I’d look at the call sheet and it’d be Jennifer Coolidge 3:12 am, and I’m like ‘oh no,'” she gasps with a knowing smile. “I’ve heard this expression before, but it was really true. To me it just looks like at that hour and for most of the day after, you can’t undo it. It just looks like you were beat with a shovel in the face, you know. You’re all like smushed in and you’re like ‘oh, I guess this is me.’ I’ve just been lucky on certain jobs where I didn’t have these 3:00 am calls, you know I’ve never been on one of those jobs where I had three hours of prosthetics to play a lizard lady or something,” she says, ultimately conceding that she wouldn’t have traded the challenging days on set for anything in the world.

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UPLOADED Aug 3, 2022 3:34 pm