Dia Dipasupil/Getty Jennifer Coolidge
If it weren't for a key piece of advice from Jennifer Coolidge's friend, the actress likely would've missed out on one of the greatest opportunities of her career.
Long before Coolidge had earned a 2022 Emmy nomination for outstanding supporting actress in a limited series or TV movie for playing Tanya McQuoid in The White Lotus, she was on the fence about signing on for the HBO project. Her initial hesitation stemmed from an insecurity regarding her weight gain during the pandemic, the actress admits.
"It was COVID, [I was] locked up with this very nice girl that I knew in New Orleans. She was sort of a friend [and] my house sitter," Coolidge, 60, exclusively tells PEOPLE. "It was just very lonely times ... and so she and I got obsessed with these vegan pizzas and we were eating a lot of them each day."
"The number kept increasing," continues the actress, who recently put her luxury resort experience from the show to good use as part of a Marriott Bonvoy Moments experience in Orange County. "You can sort of numb out any worry you have in the world if you just eat another pizza. ... And not that I was 110 pounds before, but somehow it led to my demise."
So when White Lotus creator Mike White came to Coolidge and presented her with the role of Tanya, it's no surprise that the actress initially turned it down.
"I did say, 'If we could just do this later,'" she recalls. "And then [Mike] was sort of like, 'No, we're doing it now. I just got approved by HBO ... October, we're going to Hawaii and we've got the Four Seasons, we're filming it there.'"
"I was like, 'I just don't think I can do that.' I had no time, I can't work out," she explains of her reaction. "It was sort of weird, it was not that big a difference from what I usually looked like, but somehow it became my excuse not to do it. For whatever reason, I didn't feel like I was in fighting shape."
Mario Perez/HBO Jennifer Coolidge, Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O'Grady in The White Lotus
RELATED: The White Lotus Sets October Return Date for Season 2
Coolidge's perspective shifted when she spoke to a friend who inquired about the role — and as she remembers, the friend wasn't afraid to give her some tough love.
"Thank God, I had a friend who said to me, 'When are you going to Hawaii? I heard that's starting right away,'" Coolidge shares. "And I said, 'Yeah, I'm not going.' ... She says, 'How does Mike White [feel] about it?' I said, 'Yeah, I'm going to just tell him maybe a foot injury or something, but I'm not going.'"
"That girlfriend just gave me this [pep talk and said], 'You are out of your mind. I don't even think you know what this is. This is self-sabotage. I've been your friend all these years, this is incredible opportunity for you. Are you really going to f--- this up? Are you really going to f--- this up, Jennifer? This is the worst thing you could do to yourself. Just go, just f---ing go do it. Are you ever going to be in shape?'" she recalls of their conversation. "For once in my life, I listened. Usually, I have my own thing in my head but I listened."
Mario Perez/HBO Jennifer Coolidge on The White Lotus
"It's so thrilling. An incredible surprise," she shared in a statement to PEOPLE on nominations day. "The other girls in The White Lotus are nominated, too and I love those girls, they're the greatest group and so talented. It feels like Christmas today!"
With season 2 on the horizon, Coolidge tells PEOPLE fans can expect an "even more elaborate story."
"Round two, it's mesmerizing," she shares. "I love the White Lotus group from the first season and they will be friends, hopefully they'll be my friends for the rest of life. And White Lotus two has a very cool group too, and I witnessed some incredible acting performances so it's going to be just as riveting, and really interesting because the backdrop is Sicily. I think people are going to really like it."
Shayan Asgharnia Jennifer Coolidge's Marriott Bonvoy Moments photo shoot
As she prepares for Emmys night in a few weeks, Coolidge has also been keeping busy by lending a hand to Marriott Bonvoy Moments for their experiences platform.
On July 29, the actress teamed up with the hotel to give away two special experience packages, inspired by her role in the cult classic Best in Show.
Kirby Gladstein Jennifer Coolidge helping direct the Marriott Bonvoy Moments photo shoot
As part of the package, two Marriott Bonvoy members were given a two-night stay at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Nigel and personal glam/grooming services for themselves and their dogs. They then got to participate in a professional photoshoot with their dog by renowned celebrity and animal photographer Shayan Asgharnia, with Coolidge serving as the art director.
Afterward, Coolidge was joined by two dogs who are available for adoption via Wags & Walks for a separate photoshoot by Asgharnia in hopes of finding them a home and promoting the non-profit.
"[Marriott Bonvoy] knew that I'm an animal-obsessed person, probably because that's all I talk about," says Coolidge. "I don't have children. My whole life since I was three years old, there was no room in my bed. I used to sleep on the floor ... I was in Boston, it was freezing all the time but there wasn't enough room for me because all my stuffed animals got the bed. All animals, it wasn't dolls. Who cares about the people?"
"I'm very anti-pet shop or people going to breeders, and I'm all into the strays. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dogs that need to be adopted, and so everything I stand for happened today," she adds. "There's nothing in the world I feel more passionate about, and so it was sort of great that they were just as game to do this."
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