‘The White Lotus’: Jennifer Coolidge Had No Interest in Acting When Offered Her Role

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic changed how Jennifer Coolidge felt about acting. Like so many, the circumstances made Coolidge reevaluate her priorities. And understandably, acting didn’t make the list. But then, The White Lotus came along and helped her work through pandemic fatigue. She explained why she ended up taking on the role of Tanya McQuoid in the HBO series in a recent interview.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for The White Lotus Season 1 Episode 5.]

Actor Jennifer Coolidge arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of HBO’s ‘The White Lotus’ at Bel-Air Bay Club on July 7, 2021. Coolidge plays Tanya McQuoid in the HBO series, but she wasn't interested in acting when the opportunity came about.
Jennifer Coolidge arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of HBO’s ‘The White Lotus’ at Bel-Air Bay Club on July 7, 2021 | Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images

What is Jennifer Coolidge doing now?

Coolidge is a comedy great. The actor has turned iconic performances in things like Legally Blonde, American Pie, Best In Show, A Cinderella Story, and more. And she’s the definition of scene-stealer in things like Sex and the City and Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next music video. Now, fans can’t get enough of her performance as Tanya McQuoid in The White Lotus.

Coolidge hasn’t solely stuck to comedy. Among other dramatic work, she appeared in Emerald Fennell’s Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman alongside Carey Mulligan in 2020. However, Promising Young Woman was filmed before lockdown. And she found herself stuck at home once the pandemic hit like everyone else.

The 59-year-old spent lockdown in her southern home, which was used as a set for Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, she told The Guardian.

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Jennifer Coolidge wasn’t thinking about acting when ‘The White Lotus’ came along

While stuck at home, Coolidge admitted she lived through some catastrophic thinking about the pandemic.

“I was really affected by the pandemic,” she said. “It was an incredibly sad time. I was reading tragic news stories on a daily basis, had a fatalistic approach, and assumed the virus was going to win.”

Coolidge lost loved ones to COVID-19-related illnesses. Living with her grief and seeing the state of the world made her forget about acting for a while. She said:

“I knew people who lost their lives and was convinced we wouldn’t make it through. I wasn’t thinking about work, because I didn’t think we’d be alive. But then [White Lotus creator] Mike White called. His show about rich people on vacation had been picked up by HBO and he’d written a role with me in mind. I said: ‘OK, when are we doing it?’ He said: ‘What do you mean? We just got green-lit. We’re doing it now. You need to get on a plane to Hawaii.’ That was an impossibility to my mind. I’d been gorging and self-destructing at home for months, eating pizza all day. There was no way I wanted to be on film unless they shot me from the neck up. I’m sort of vain, so there was no f–king way.”

Natasha Rothwell and Jennifer Coolidge in HBO's 'The White Lotus.' Coolidge lays on her back on the floor while wearing a white robe and closing her eyes and holding her hands on her stomach as Rothwell massages her head. A Himalayan salt lamp is on the floor behind them. Rothwell sits on a blue, coral patterned pillow and Coolidge lays on a long, blue cushion.
Natasha Rothwell and Jennifer Coolidge in HBO’s ‘The White Lotus’ | Mario Perez/HBO

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Why Jennifer Coolidge loves acting in ‘The White Lotus’

Luckily for audiences, White convinced Coolidge to act in The White Lotus. And another friend helped her wrap her head around working again when she felt it was impossible. She said:

“Mike texted me at 2 am one night and it just said: ‘Are you afraid?’ It was like he could read my mind and sensed that I was trying to get out of it. Then a great friend of mine told me to own my mess and just do it. I can’t tell you how close I came to ruining this whole thing for myself.”

It’s a good thing she didn’t ruin it. Because now, The White Lotus is Coolidge’s favorite project, and Tanya her favorite character. (But what about Paulette?!) She told Marie Claire the HBO series is her favorite because “it’s something so different.”

“[And] Promising Young Woman,” she added. “It made this shift happen [in my career].”

The White Lotus Season 1 finale airs Sunday, Aug. 15, on HBO at 9 pm EST. It will be available on HBO Max simultaneously.