With all of the acclaim and accolades that accompanied the first season of “The White Lotus,” what actor would pass up the opportunity to check into The White Lotus Sicily?
Will Sharpe was already a fan of the show when the opportunity to audition for its second season came his way. He had been behind the camera for his previous project “Landscapers,” which Sharpe directed and cowrote for HBO and Sky Atlantic. Watching his stars — Olivia Colman and David Thewlis — at work left him eager to get back on screen himself. “I was excited when the message came in to tape for Ethan,” Sharpe says. “And sort of surprised in the end to actually be cast in it.”
The British actor has made a name for himself both in front and behind the camera in recent years. In 2016, he wrote, directed and starred in the Channel 4 miniseries “Flowers” opposite Colman, which was nominated for a BAFTA award for comedy. In 2020, Sharpe won a best supporting actor BAFTA for his supporting role in “Giri/Haji,” his last acting role before “The White Lotus.”
Sharpe has been home in East London since wrapping production on the series in Sicily, Italy, this past summer. Ahead of the show’s premiere, he had screened the first few episodes. “It feels darker than the first season,” Sharpe says. “The location bleeds into the show and affects the tone in a funny way.”
The bleeding might be literal: similar to the previous season, the show’s first episode reveals that at least one of the characters will die. Jumping back in time, the question is who will wind up in the body bag — and all of the characters are likely candidates for the grim fate.
Season two of “The White Lotus” weaves multiple concurrent storylines about guests staying at a luxury resort. Sharpe’s storyline revolves around two young married couples on vacation together. There’s Ethan, played by Sharpe, and Harper, portrayed by Aubrey Plaza, who has come into money after the sale of a start-up, and Ethan’s old college roommate Cameron and his ritzy wife Daphne, played by Theo James and Meghann Fahey, respectively. The pair aren’t quite friends, and tensions simmer between and within both couples. Sharpe describes the dynamic as a “very dangerous matrix.”
“It’s such a delicious setup that [White] has created, where you’ve got these two very different couples who have gone on holiday almost by mistake,” Sharpe says. “Ethan’s taking it from all sides a lot of the time. His relationship with Cameron is often quite demeaning, and he’s also slightly low status even within his marriage. So it’s like, well, where does all of that go?”
“They’ve recently come into a lot of money. Their marriage is in a place where they seem to love each other, and they’re very honest with each other — or at least they tell themselves that they’re very honest with each other. They’re very open,” he says of the relationship setup between Ethan and Harper. “The question is, well, is that an unhelpful lack of mystery? Something about this relationship has gone stale. There’s definitely a sense in the early episodes of an impending crisis. Something is simmering, and you’re not sure exactly how or why it’s gonna detonate at some point.”
While much of the cast stayed onsite at the hotel where they were filming, Sharpe opted to rent a private residence with his family nearby. “There was almost this meta-dramatic environment,” Sharpe says. “But I was able to have a little bit of distance,” he adds. “Ethan’s quite an internal character, certainly at the beginning of the series, and so I tried to work out how to manifest that in a realistic and hopefully relatable way.”
Sharpe praises White’s approach to characters and situations, describing his ability to propel the narrative through seemingly benign interactions as a “magic trick.” He demurs when asked whether he felt any pressure ahead of shooting, given the runaway success of the first season.
“I definitely had conversations like that with some people who were feeling that [pressure] at the beginning of the process,” Sharpe says. “It’s related to the first season — same concept, and we’ll have that same essential Mike White tone within it — but it does feel like a new adventure.
“These are new questions, new stories, new characters, and it would be strange not to judge it on its own terms. It feels grander, more poetic somehow, and sometimes like it’s almost this Roman tragic comedy.”
Jennifer Coolidge, perhaps the best iteration of tragic comedy, is the primary bridge character between both seasons.
“People have been saying that it feels like it’s about sexual politics. Which it is, but it’s also about love and in all its different forms. And what I love about the way Mike [White] writes is that he’s so fearless about diving headfirst into all of the naughtiest aspects of love,” Sharpe says. “There is something weirdly romantic about this series, even though it is dark and it is dysfunctional — and I mean, in a way, quite f–ked up a lot of the time.”
Since wrapping, Sharpe has returned to writing his own scripts. Although too early to discuss them in detail, he offers that he wrote one project as a film and the other for TV.
“I feel ready to work on something that has come from me, and I have things that I want to say and write about,” he says. “It’s been really nice to have some time to be back in that place.”