Trouble in paradise

Trouble in paradise

Stars of The White Lotus sit down with Life to discuss the latest season set in Italy

Trouble in paradise
Aubrey Plaza as Harper Spiller. Fabio Lovino/HBO

HBO's award-winning comedy drama series The White Lotus is back with another season and its unique brand of razor sharp wit, brilliant satire, dysfunctional relationships and vacation mayhem. The second instalment consists of seven episodes, which debuted last week on HBO GO, and will air weekly leading up to the finale on Dec 11.

The White Lotus is created by Mike White (School Of Rock), and what was initially intended to be a limited series is now an anthology after the popularity of the first season last year. This new season relocates the action from Hawaii to an idyllic luxury resort in Sicily, Italy, and follows an all fresh cast of wealthy individuals. Among the guests checking in alongside Jennifer Coolidge, who reprises her Season 1 role as unstable rich woman Tanya McQuoid, are Aubrey Plaza as Harper Spiller, a straight-laced lawyer, and her newly-wealthy husband Ethan, played by Will Sharpe. The couple is invited on an elite vacation in Italy with Ethan's college roommate Cameron (Theo James) and his wife Daphne (Meghann Fahy).

Fans of the show are aware there's always trouble in paradise and Season 2 of The White Lotus is certainly no exception. The fun is to witness how all the chaos and mysteries unfold in the end. Life recently took part in a roundtable interview with Aubrey Plaza and Will Sharpe, as the two stars shared with us their experiences working on the show over the six months they lived on the Mediterranean.

What are your thoughts on the characters you played in the show, or the personality aspects you wanted to highlight the most?

Plaza: I had a couple of inspirations for Harper. I didn't base my character off anyone in particular, but I thought about my mother a lot, my mom's a lawyer, and it was a jumping off point for me. I have a lot of people in my life that are versions of Harper -- professional, strong women that have a hard outer shell, but inside are very soft and vulnerable.

Sharpe: For me, I think the thing that was most exciting was there's a real journey across the series, you know, for Ethan himself, but also for Ethan and Harper together as a couple. When we first meet them, it feels like they think they're really good together. They're really honest with each other about their deepest feelings and there's a kind of heaviness that feels like they need to find a way to shake, somehow.

The first season talks a lot about concepts of races, sexuality and also the dynamics of marriage. Do you think that the audience can expect the same or different things in the new season?

Sharpe: I guess the focus in the second season feels like there's more sexual politics than other kinds of tension. I feel the second season is slightly darker in tone, and is also affected by the location in Sicily. It's got a sort of strangely Mediterranean volcanic operatic emotional sweep to it. But yeah, I definitely think Mike [White] is dove deep into the nature of relationships and love.

Plaza: Yeah, I agree. I think this season we're dealing a lot with marital problems, like couples comparing themselves to other couples. We're seeing how different couples deal with sex and and love. I think that Mike [White] is interested in kind of putting us in a grey area where there's no right or wrong. And we learn things about both sides through these couples.

Will Sharpe as Ethan Spiller. Fabio Lovino/HBO

What's are unique things you find in Mike White's writing style?

Sharpe: I mean, it feels like we are asking you a question. He's asking questions of the audience to work out what the message is. I think he's sort of asking, is there a right way to live? Is there a right way to be? So through the different characters, you see all these different people making mistakes, but you also see their courage in different ways. I think what's really great about the way White Lotus is set up as a show is that there's many different ways in for different people. You can relate and you might find yourself relating to different characters at different times and feeling, 'Oh, I thought I was on their side, but now I'm suddenly on the other side'. So, I think that's what's fun about it.

Because both you guys directed and wrote the script, I was wondering what collaboration with Mike White was like? How much did you come up with your own ideas or what kind of freedom did you have on how you wanted this show to play out?

Sharpe: Mike's very collaborative. The scripts are so clean, and I was intrigued to read them and was kind of blown away by how he sort of weaves these different stories together, which speak to each other. It definitely felt like it was a collaboration. It always felt like we had the freedom to try things and we could always bring our own ideas to set if we had to. Is that fair to say, Aubrey?

Plaza: Yeah, definitely. I think Mike is very instinctual. He really loves when actors bring themselves to the table and bring their ideas and themselves to the character.

A scene from The White Lotus. HBO GO

There are quite a few heavy scenes for you guys to play in the show, especially one that involves Meghann Fahy's character Daphne in a hotel room. I'm wondering how did you prepare to play those scenes which are kind of consistently a tilting power struggle?

Plaza: It's very fun. It's all about Mike's writing, you know. There's a subtleness to the kind of build but it's a kind of slow burn, and you feel the subtle shifts all the time with these dynamics. We got to read all the episodes in advance so we knew where the characters were going. So, it was easy to track the kind of dynamics and power shifts and because we knew where we were going. So, it was very fun for me.

Sharpe: Yeah, me too. I think also sometimes what was really interesting is it would feel like we were sitting down to shoot a scene about people talking, but actually you quickly remember and realise that she's got all these different dynamics firing across the table. I think it's a really enjoyable setup that he's created where there is this tension within couples, but also across the couples.

Aubrey Plaza. Fabio Lovino/HBO

Aubrey, you spent a long time filming in Italy. I wonder besides working, did you get enough free time to explore? Is it true that you often go on shopping sprees, hunting particularly for lamps?

Plaza: Who wrote that I shopped for lamps? Yes, I got lamps. I got a lot, in fact. I brought them with me back home. You should see how many lamps Jennifer [Coolidge] bought. Um, yeah, we had fun when we had time off so we got to explore. We shot all over Sicily in different towns. We shot in Rome for over a month, so we had a lot of fun exploring. Haley Lu Richardson was always going to the little thrift shops and buying different outfits, and I was just buying all these lamps because lighting is really important to me.

Fabio Lovino/HBO

Fabio Lovino/HBO

Fabio Lovino/HBO

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