Intoxicating, sexy, alluring and tense are all words that describe the second season of Mike White’s Emmy-winning HBO show The White Lotus (premiering Oct. 30 at 9:00 p.m. ET, on Crave in Canada), this time taking place in Sicily, with the return of Jennifer Coolidge and Jon Gries, along with new additions Michael Imperioli, F. Murray Abraham, Aubrey Plaza and Theo James.
The second season of the show begins with hotel guest Daphne (Meghann Fahy) taking one last dip in the water at the beach before her vacation is over, but ends up screaming when she’s met with a floating dead body. The resort manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) arrives, amid police presence, and it’s revealed that “a few” dead bodies of hotel guests were found in the water.
Much like the first season, we then go back in time, one week earlier, to a group of White Lotus resort guests arriving by boat, welcomed by the property’s employees, as we watch the events that led to this deadly discovery unfold.
The only guests that remain from the first season are Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) and her now husband Greg (Jon Gries), who met at the White Lotus property in Hawaii. As Coolidge told reporters, she initially didn’t anticipate being back for the second season of the series.
“I didn't think there was going to be any sort of repeated thing going on...so I was thrilled that we got to tell the story of what happened with Greg and Tanya, because that was never spoken about. I never heard that from Mike,” Coolidge said. “I love that Chapter Two is very different from Chapter One,...more has happened and time has gone by, and it’s sort of interesting how something starts off so romantic, even with [Greg’s] illness, and then how it can lead to something you never thought would happen.”
While Coolidge famously took home an Emmy award for her portrayal of Tanya in Season 1 of The While Lotus, she admits that her “insecurity never wavers.”
“I didn't get any more confident on White Lotus Two,” Coolidge said. “It's sort of weird how the world works in the way that no one wants to be the first person to give you a chance.”
“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. So 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 have been a terrible thing for him because he would have been in trouble with HBO, or whatever. I'm just thrilled that he gave me this gift, this great role. ... Then other people are like, ‘OK then maybe you're not going to mess it up.' Maybe, if they give you a shot.”
'I think the second season is even better'
Much like in the first season of The White Lotus, each guest, or combination of guests, come to the property with their own personal dramas.
In Season 2 we meet three generations of Di Grasso men, Albie with his father Dominic, and Dominic’s father Bert (played by Adam DiMarco, Michael Imperioli and F. Murray Abraham, respectively). They travelled to Italy to get closer to their Italian heritage. Dominic is a sex addicted Hollywood big shot whose rampant infidelity broke his marriage to Albie’s mother, but his father Bert’s relationship with women is quite similar.
“I can't remember playing a character I've enjoyed so much as this one in a long time,” F. Murray Abraham said. “He's just a pleasure. He's fun, he's outrageous and charming and I feel as though I know him and I like him, I forgive him for his sins because I'm trying to forgive my own thing.”
Michael Imperioli said, when he watched the first season of The White Lotus, he was particularly impressed with the way Mike White found the “humanity” in a group of characters that were “very easy to be cynical about and judgmental about.” Moving into Season 2, that beautiful crafting of characters remains.
“Mike and I talked about sex addiction, and how they say in recovery … that you have to define yourself, only you can say that you're an addict," Imperioli said. "You have to come to that realization, no matter what a doctor says, or therapist, or a peer, or family member. Until you come to that realization and accept that, you can't really begin to heal.”
“I think [Dominic] denied that for a long time but I think that's why this trip, in this moment, is maybe a turning point in his life where he's going to be able to kind of get a handle on that.”
For the Canadian actor Adam DiMarco to be put in a role where he works so closely with award-winning actors Imperioli and Abraham. One of the scenes that humorously stands out to DiMarco happened on his first day of work, and is shown in the first episode, where Albie gets into bed with his grandfather, after he has a fall, and Bert starts farting repeatedly.
“Working with Michael and Murray, coming into the show I was a little bit intimidated at first because they're just such acclaimed, amazing actors and I'm just this Canadian boy,” DiMarco said.
“The second we started getting to know each other, ... [we’d] talk about the themes of the show, talk about our fathers, our relationship with our fathers, talk about sex or relationship with sex. They both have such great stories that it was just fun to be a fly on the wall for some of these conversations. When it came to actually working and doing the scenes, I felt very comfortable around them, and maybe I'm projecting, but it did feel, at times, kind of like our relationship dynamic was similar to the one on the show.”
Relatable couple dynamics
The White Lotus Season 2 also introduces us to two sets of couples, Daphne (Meghann Fahy) and Cameron (Theo James), and Ethan (Will Sharpe) and Harper (Aubrey Plaza). Harper is skeptical about why Cameron, a college roommate of Ethan’s, actually invited them on the trip, and is quick to point out how vain Cameron and Daphne are. But we also see that her relationship with Ethan may not be as stable as they want to believe.
“When you meet [Ethan] he seems a certain way, and Ethan and Harper together, their relationship is in a certain place where they're telling themselves that they're good together, they love each other, they're honest with each other, but actually are they as honest with each other as they think they are about the most difficult issues that they're carrying?” Will Sharpe said.
“I love the kind of journey, the peaks and the valleys that the characters go through, and being able to show all different colours and sides of Harper was really challenging, but really fun,” Aubrey Plaza added.
“I think it's very relatable to kind of deal with these couples that are having issues with their marriage and seeing them at a low point in their marriage. I think it's always interesting to kind of dive into those dynamics when people have been together for a very long time and they're kind of trying to rekindle their relationship, and reignite the fire there. I think it's just so relatable, so I loved that.”
'The more b-tchy you are, the more it works'
What connects all these characters together? Much like in the first season, Valentina the resort manager (Sabrina Impacciatore) is juggling the demands of her guests, while also going on her own personal journey.
“I was very surprised that [Mike White] was directing me in a way that I had to be repulsive, aggressive, tough,” Sabrina Impacciatore said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God they are going to hate me. What can I do?’ And I was really, really worried, ... but he kept telling me ‘Sabrina, the more b-tchy you are, the more it works.’”
“So when finally I got to play the other part of Valentina, the other side of Valentina, I loved to go in that direction that was totally opposite. To explore the hidden garden that she wanted to protect, because she was so vulnerable and so innocent, like a little child that doesn't know herself. ... She gets to know herself through [meeting] people that resonate to her."
Uniquely in the second season of The White Lotus, the hotel staff aren’t the only bridges between all the guests, there is also Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Grannò), friends and sex workers who call many of the hotel guests clients, much to Valentina’s dismay.
“We wanted to bring that sweetness because I think what really comes out by watching it, ... there's so much sweetness, but what they do outside, it's not sweet at all," Grannò said. "But when they're together, they really root one for one another.”
“We also built on each other's personalities and what we already knew of each other, and exchanged pieces and bits of ourselves throughout shooting, which is exactly what happens to the characters,” Tabasco added, via a translator.
Season 1 vs. Season 2 of 'The White Lotus'
For anyone who loved Season 1 of The White Lotus, the second season has some similar beats, but has a different energy, which much of the cast pointed to being due to the location, filming in Sicily, where the place almost becomes a character in itself.
It's likely that some will be tempted to compare specifics of Season 1 with Season 2, but The White Lotus remains one of the best shows to watch, unrivalled in its character development.
“I don't think it's so different that somebody who really responded to that in Season 1 would be disappointed,” Meghann Fahy said. “I would hope that people would come into the second season with not many expectations and I think that that's probably a really hard thing to do."
"[Mike White] really doesn't play to what people expect from him and he's also not the kind of person who is interested in fixing something that somebody had an issue with the first time around. He's not the kind of guy. ... So I think people might be surprised in those small ways that he chooses to sort of think outside of ... the form of a show that has multiple seasons. He sort of breaks that mold in his own way.”