Hawaii, Sicily … Sydney? What happened when The White Lotus came to town

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The first time Mike White came to Sydney it was the worst day of his life.

“It was on The Amazing Race,” says the creator of the hugely popular HBO series The White Lotus. “My dad was cramping and fainting on the ferry, the entire time it was a train wreck and so much was happening [but] I was like, this city is beautiful, I need to come back here when I’m not running for my life.”

The White Lotus’ Jennifer Coolidge and Mike White ahead of their Vivid Sydney ideas talk on Saturday.Credit: Dion Georgopoulos

Thankfully, White has returned – this time for an event at Vivid Sydney alongside Jennifer Coolidge, the star of both seasons of his hit show – and is having a much more enjoyable experience. Coolidge, who prior to The White Lotus was best known for her roles in American Pie and Legally Blonde, had a much more positive introduction to the harbour city than White.

“I had an incredible experience,” she says of her first time in Sydney. “I had some very late nights here that went really well.”

Coolidge’s character Tanya McQuoid became a fan favourite after the Hawaii-based first season of The White Lotus – which also starred Australia’s Murray Bartlett – and was the only character to return for season two of the show, filmed in Sicily.

At the end of the second season (spoiler alert) Tanya meets her demise on a yacht. Given Coolidge is staying right on the harbour, and the weather this weekend is perfect for a sunny cruise, it prompts an obvious question: how safe does she feel getting on a Sydney ferry?

“I have had enough of Mike White’s boats,” she replies. “I can’t believe the yachts outside this window, I mean it’s like a fairy tale. I also want to say, I heard that all you people are commuting on boats. What a great way to get to work. Get on a boat and take a nap!”

White is developing season three of The White Lotus in Thailand, where he was staying before heading to Sydney for the Vivid event. Preparations for the highly anticipated new season have hit pause thanks to the Hollywood writer’s strike. But it sounds like he needed the break.

“Not to turn this industry-wide, tragic situation into a personal plus for me but it’s kind of nice to be like ‘pencils down’. I hope, obviously, the strike gets resolved quickly and that everyone’s happy.

White and Coolidge are living it up in Sydney.Credit: Dion Georgopoulos

“And that’s the goal. But even in this short period of just like three weeks, it’s been nice to just have a little bit of time because it’s just been, for some reason, non-stop since we started prepping for the first season.”

Given Tanya’s fate, Coolidge won’t be making a return this season (though they haven’t ruled out a potential prequel series starring her) and is weighing up a number of offers in both film and TV.

“I would love to do a film right now,” Coolidge, who starred in 2020’s Promising Young Woman, says. “It’s not like I haven’t gotten offers. White Lotus holds this high bar, and I had such a great part. It’s going to be hard to choose.”

White and Coolidge have a long friendship that predates the show, and Coolidge credits him with helping revitalise her career.

Murray Bartlett’s fame rose to another level after his performance as resort manager Armond in The White Lotus.Credit: HBO

Even though White made the tough the call to kill her character off, the hint of a prequel where Coolidge returns raises the obvious question: Where would it be set?

“Australia gets my vote,” Coolidge says, before White quickly chips in: “And we could bring Murray Bartlett back!”

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