Rest assured, Jennifer Coolidge is packing for Sicily.
It’s the week leading up to her return to the world of “White Lotus,” which trades Hawaii for the Italian island for its second season, and Coolidge’s fan-favorite Tanya will be back — the only recurring character from season one.
The Mike White-created “White Lotus” became a phenomenon last year when it debuted on HBO, and in addition to gripping audiences with drama, it also gave Jennifer Coolidge, beloved actress and icon to many, the chance to show what she can do with a meatier role.
Turns out, she does it rather well.
Coolidge is on the line from her home in Los Angeles, happy to be readying herself for Italy (and spring in Sicily doesn’t sound too bad to her).
“I would’ve dealt with it if I wasn’t asked to do season two, but yeah. We all want that call from Mike, of course,” she says.
When Coolidge first learned of “White Lotus,” she did not begin picturing a SAG statue in her hand, or start salivating at the complexity of the character before her. It was the middle of the pandemic and despite the career highlights on her résumé, Coolidge doubted herself.
“I was so panicked about whether or not I could do the job. I was so worried about could this work during COVID[-19] and how vulnerable would we be and then I was just not working out at all during COVID[-19] and then someone says, ‘oh, I have a great job for you, I have this cool, really cool job for you,’ and you’re just like, ‘oh my God,’” she says. “But it’s really exciting when you get a part from Mike.”
“White Lotus” marked a turning point in the already storied career of Jennifer Coolidge, who has played a string of instantly recognizable, catch phrase-rich characters from “Legally Blonde” to “American Pie” to “Best in Show.” But in all her years of acting she has not received the critical acclaim that has come from Tanya, her character in “White Lotus.”
“I can’t think of any part that I’ve had that has come even close to this,” Coolidge says. “It was such a fun part because it was someone who was a very sad person that had some very lots of tragic stuff happen in her life, including the recent death of her mother, and I think she had just a terrible time. I don’t know, it’s just harder for some people to exist in the world, they just have a harder time. Somehow Mike was able to use that as sort of the humorous part of that character, as just someone who is a very overwhelmed person, and I have never been given that before.”
Coolidge connected to Tanya over the grief of losing a mother (her own mother passed when she was young), and she believes that White saw that as a way in when thinking of Coolidge for the part.
“It was a big blow in my life, almost impossible to recover from. I do know Mike, and I think he knows that about me — maybe he purposely put that in there,” she says. “Mike is so observant — sometimes he puts things about you in his scripts, and it’s very linear with the character you’re playing.”
White, meanwhile, has said in interviews that he felt Coolidge has been boxed in over the course of her career, a prompt which Coolidge initially seemed to slowly mull over, when asked, before picking up steam in her agreement.
“I mean, it is interesting how that works. I think I’ve played a lot of, I don’t know if the word is gold digger, but rich ladies with bad intentions, maybe. It is a certain type of woman that I played in ‘Best in Show’ and a couple other movies; I got a lot of those scripts sent to my house after I did ‘Best in Show,’” she says. “I played some loser girls and that was thanks to ‘Legally Blonde,’ some best friend roles that were like, the girl not doing as well as the lead, and the sidekick. And certain roles like Stifler’s mom certainly have spurred some parts where I was some sort of sexual person trying to secure a conquest.
“But it really did get limited to like three: ‘Best in Show,’ ‘Legally Blonde’ and ‘American Pie,’ and then you just get offered those kinds of roles over and over again,” she continues. “So this was a huge deal for me to be able to play someone that really didn’t resemble anything else that I had done, and I have Mike to thank for that, because I certainly hadn’t written it for myself and no one else had offered me anything like this. I’m so glad I took it because it was probably my best acting experience to date. Certainly, I think the best role I have been offered so far.”
And since the industry has seen what she can do, the kinds of roles she’s being sent have suddenly changed. Right before she headed to Sicily she sealed the deal on a role in Ryan Murphy’s upcoming show “The Watcher,” in a role she says she “never expected,” and that she thinks came entirely from “White Lotus.”
Now that she’s letting herself daydream a bit, the wish list includes playing a villainous character.
“I love the idea of playing bad people. I’ve always wanted to play rotten people, I’ve always wanted to play someone on the run, I’ve always wanted to do that,” she says. “I am dying to do a play again. I would love to do a Broadway show again.””
In the meantime, she’ll be seen back to back in the new Jennifer Lopez movie “Shotgun Wedding,” the movie “We Have a Ghost” and will start on “Legally Blonde 3” once “White Lotus” wraps. In the leadup to shooting the second season she won the Critics Choice award for her role and was nominated for a Golden Globe, a Gotham Award, and a SAG award. The Emmys remain up in the air, with nominations out in July.
All the awards season buzz was a weird pulled-back moment for the actress, who had previously wondered if people had forgotten about her entirely.
“I think maybe people thought, because I had done these movies like 20 years ago, ‘American Pie’ and ‘Legally Blonde’ and ‘A Cinderella Story’ and ‘Best in Show,’ I’ve definitely done some jobs in the last 20 years, but I think…it’s very strange to be in this moment,” she says. “If you could have told me that I would be nominated for an award, I just never would have believed it because it just didn’t feel like that. I don’t understand how this could have happened, because everyone was just brilliant in ‘White Lotus’ and everybody was on fire and I think it is something to do with maybe people thinking I disappeared, or I don’t know — I don’t really understand it. If you said to me ‘Jennifer, this has all been a big joke we’ve been playing on you for a year,’ I would totally buy that.”
Only no one’s laughing now.