Jennifer Coolidge (‘The White Lotus: Sicily’): My life right now ‘doesn’t feel real’ [Complete Interview Transcript]
The lively Jennifer Coolidge (“The White Lotus: Sicily”) recently chatted with Gold Derby’s Rob Licuria about Season 2 of the HBO mega-hit and how her life has changed over these past couple of years. “[Showrunner] Mike White gave me a couple gifts, some giant gifts, and I mean, it doesn’t feel real. But I’m as grateful as I could ever be,” she tells us.
Coolidge won an Emmy Award for playing rich hotel guest Tanya McQuoid during the first season of “The White Lotus,” and a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award for the second installment. During her Globes speech, the actress thanked some producers that had kept her afloat throughout her career, but forgot to mention Christopher Guest. “That was a big regret … I just completely left him out by accident,” she says about her director from films like “Best in Show” (2000) and “A Mighty Wind” (2003).
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Watch the full video above and read the complete interview transcript below.
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Rob Licuria: I am Rob Licuria, Senior Editor at Gold Derby, here with the legendary award magnet, Jennifer Coolidge. Jennifer, first of all, the highlight of the Golden Globes was you presenting and then you winning the award. Are you still on cloud nine?
Jennifer Coolidge: Yeah. I have to say, it was a pretty fun night. I mean, there were some incredible speeches and tributes. I don’t know. I thought it was a very exciting night to be there. I mean, it’s such a fun thing. I’ve never been to the Golden Globes, so I finally got to be at one of the tables and hang out and meet all the people that you’ve ever wanted to meet. I don’t know. It was surreal. It was really surreal, and it was very fun. It was a very fun thing to be at.
RL: Yeah. It looked like a lot of fun. It’s about damn time that you start winning all these awards. I always wonder, I guess it doesn’t get old and boring to be winning awards, but after a while, does it start feeling like, “Oh, yeah. Here we go. It’s just another nomination”? You just got a SAG nomination, so that’s pretty cool. It just keeps coming now. They’re just coming at you like waves.
JC: Yeah. Well, I really don’t know what to say. I do have to say that I think being in White Lotus really kind of changed it all up for me, so I guess I’m reaping the benefits of getting a killer part in White Lotus one and White Lotus two. I think it’s hard to get these sort of advantageous moments unless someone writes these great parts for you, so I lucked out. Mike White gave me a couple gifts, some giant gifts, and I mean, it doesn’t feel real. But I’m as grateful as I could ever be.
RL: Yeah, I do. Your speech last night, Mike was in tears just watching you. He was so proud and so humbled by what you were saying, but then I kept thinking, have you forgiven him yet for killing Tanya off? Because I’m a little bit cranky about it. How do you feel?
JC: Well, Mike doesn’t want to do anything that’s predictable, and I think he thought everyone would… wondering about who was going to be killed. He was trying to think of the most unlikely person, I’m sure, but also he wanted to do this Italian story. I think he wanted it to have that sort of dramatic operatic ending, and he had to kill someone like me to make it sort of big and dramatic. It had to be a female, I think. But I have to say, his speech last night made up for it all. Sorry, I spoke a lot last night, and I barely have my voice. But when Mike told me that he had pitched this show for him and I to do together maybe three years ago, it was before he wrote the first White Lotus, he told me that he’d gone and pitched it and that the people he pitched it to did not respond.
But I never really believed him, even though he doesn’t lie. I didn’t believe him because I thought, “Well, why wouldn’t he bring me in the meeting with him?” I don’t know if I… To be honest, I thought he was just trying to make me feel good or whatever, but then I find out, especially from his speech last night, there were a lot of people in the room that he pitched it to that didn’t want to go for it. I thought that was such a sweet thing to say like, “Guys, I tried to…” Sorry. That was very nice. Yeah, I told you. It was a very funny speech. But anyway, look, I don’t care if he killed me. Maybe someday I can come back in some form. I don’t know.
RL: If he asks you to come back as another character or as Tanya in a flashback, you would say yes if you were available.
JC: Yeah. If he wanted to do a prequel, or who knows, maybe there’s some other strange person I could be. Who knows, but I would.
RL: Maybe Tanya’s got a twin sister that we just discover. That would be cool. Okay.
JC: But maybe he wants to… He’s allowed to take a season off or two or three, whatever he wants to do. I’ll just have to go figure out some other job.
RL: You’re pretty busy though. I can see that you’re working pretty hard now, which is so awesome for all of us who loved you for years on Christopher Guest films and so forth.
JC: Yeah. That was a big regret of me… mine, sorry. See, this is how tired I am. Sorry. That was a regret of mine. There were five people that kept me going for all these years, and I mentioned it was really Ryan Murphy gave me some little jobs here and there, and Michael Patrick King. Also, a huge gift that I got in the late ’90s was Christopher Guest’s Best in Show. Then he made four movies after that, and I was in all those. So he needed a big thank you last night too, and I just completely left him out by accident.
RL: I mean, you were pretty emotional, and I think you would get it. It was a beautiful speech. Everyone I’ve spoken to in the industry in the last 24 hours has just been talking about it, so that’s wonderful. It makes me so happy to see. Just changing back a little, that iconic line, “These gays, they’re trying to murder me,” has become viral. It’s everywhere. It’s on T-shirts and mugs. I’m going to get one. In fact, my kids were saying it to me last night after. They’re like, “These gays, they’re trying to murder me.” I’m like, “Geez, man. That’s awesome.” How do you feel about that?
JC: I think it’s hilarious. I think it’s hilarious that it’s made it on… I like that it’s at all these discos. You can go to the disco, and at 2:00 in the morning hear, “These gays, these gays, they’re trying to murder me.” It has the thing up on the… I mean, I have to say, that’s the ultimate compliment because so many of my friends go out late dancing at the discos, and now this is… You know what I mean? I don’t know. Somehow, I’ve arrived because of that, you know what I mean. There’s nothing cooler than being part of someone’s dance. There’s something cool in that, that DJs from around the world can whip that out, and I hope it never dies.
RL: I hope it never dies either. I think it’s hilarious. I was thinking over your career, and I’m probably wrong. I usually am. Tanya’s unfortunate fall off the yacht was one of your first major death scenes, I think. What was like as an actor to play dead and to have this big dramatic death scene that’s the kind of climax of the whole series? It was pretty cool.
JC: Yeah. I was very upset that they wouldn’t let me do my own stunt.
RL: I was wondering about that.
JC: I was. I was furious, but it was very late at night. They were afraid that I would probably misjudge the fall, and it’d be a big insurance risk, I’m sure. The stunt double was a very famous one in Italy that always gets it right, but I really wanted to do it. I thought I really wanted to die myself to see what it would be like. You realize, too, the person really has to get it right because then they have to blow dry your hair. We shot White Lotus, too, so fast, and there was no time to fart around. Yeah. We had to get it right. I mean, I have to say, that was such a dramatic ending being on the boat. It’s very scary. Imagine being on a boat where you realize people are going to murder you. I mean, there’s nowhere to go, and what do you prefer, drowning or these guys shooting you in the head or whatever? It’s all bad.
RL: Yeah, it’s a tough decision. I’m just thinking about you as Tanya going around the corner in the boat. You see through the window that she’s really slow, and then she runs. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a while. It’s brilliant, brilliant. I don’t know. I just think I was so shocked when it was Tanya, and then I figured out, obviously, that with her husband and how it’s been set up for the past two seasons about how he was after her money. It blew my mind. I was so impressed with Mike White’s writing and the whole thing. What did you think of the whole storyline, how we had little clues, even in season one?
JC: Yeah. I mean, Mike wrote this thing, and it was so elaborate. There were all these different stories that had to be woven together, and I mean, can’t imagine what they were doing editing. But Mike White is such a perfectionist. I don’t really understand. I had so many people say to me… People still do it. They come up to me, and they go, “You need to tell those writers, Jennifer, they did an amazing job with White Lotus.” I look them right in the eye, and I go, “There are no writers. There was one writer, one writer, and it was Mike White.” It was such an elaborate story, and I thought there were so many people that you could like and dislike at the same time. I thought the casting was… I thought that White Lotus one and White Lotus two, the casting was just incredible. I mean, everyone was so right for their roles.
RL: Yeah, perfect. Absolutely. When we last spoke, we knew that you were in White Lotus two, but of course, you couldn’t say anything. I thought, “Oh, maybe she’s in it for just a few minutes, and then that’s it.” No, no. You were one of the major attractions. But being in Taormina, that’s where my parents are from, so I have a very strong connection with the place. How did you feel about being there and shooting there for the short period of time that you were there during production?
JC: Yeah, it was really incredible. I mean, that’s weird. Really? They grew up in Taormina, your parents?
RL: They were born there, and they came here when they… they immigrated when they were teenagers. We’ve been there many times. It’s a beautiful place. It’s amazing, isn’t it?
JC: Yes. I mean, all those great amazing drone shots that they got, and Isabella and all of that. I mean, it doesn’t look real. A lot of it doesn’t look real. But I thought it was a… I love that Mike picked Sicily, and from what I hear, you can’t get a room at the hotel for two years that we shot. I mean, I love that I think White Lotus did a lot for tourism in Sicily, and I’m so glad about that because it really is that beautiful. I don’t know. I loved Taormina. I loved everyone I met. I loved the Italians. I loved the Sicilian food and the wines and, as you know, just the backdrop of…
RL: It is. I’m just reminded, obviously, we’re talking about awards, when you’re at the Emmy’s, I was so pissed when they tried to play you off. Then you danced, and you tried to make the most of it. You raise it in your speech during the Globes, but I thought that was a crime against humanity that they tried to play you off. Apart from that, how did it feel to win an Emmy as well? You got the Emmy. You got the Golden Globe. You got the SAG nomination now. It’s all happening, but that Emmy, I mean, it’s a big deal. You finally got the award, and everyone in that room was so thrilled for you.
JC: Oh, yeah, no. Look, to be acknowledged in your field, I think it would mean way… I just realized how grateful I am at this moment. I don’t know if I was really young and this happened to me, if I would’ve been able to appreciate. I think I’ve been around for a long time, and I think it’s means more later. I think it means more because look, I got American Pie and Legally Blonde and Best In Show all sort of around the same time. It was very exciting, but then there was this long patch of not a lot. So to have this happen, it’s such a big surprise. I think good surprises are great to have in your life if you can get them. I don’t know.
RL: Sure. You’re on The Watcher as well. You got to watch Ryan Murphy get his award at the Golden Globes. He’s one of my favorite filmmakers ever. He is so brilliant. I just wonder what it was like being on that set. What is it about Ryan Murphy that brings the best out of actors? Because he’s really good at bringing the best out of actors.
JC: Yeah. I mean, he and Mike White both share this. They both love actors, and you get the feeling from both guys. When I was doing The Watcher, I really was surprised at Ryan. With all the success he’s had, he still makes you think that you know what you’re doing at all times. There’s something about that, that even if you don’t, when someone sort of hands the reins and makes you feel that way, I think you give a better performance. It really is that you can feel… Immediately when you show up, you can feel from a director whether he thinks you’re right for the part and whether he thinks he’s done a good job asking you to do it and whether he thinks you’re good or not. Sometimes I’ve showed up for jobs, and you see them second guessing you and stuff. It’s a really hard way to work that way, so I think that’s the gift. I think that’s why people turn out such great performances with both Mike and Ryan too. They’re very confident about their choices, about who they choose.
RL: Love that. Yeah, yeah. Right. Couple of random questions before I let you go. [inaudible 00:17:11] is hosting SNL. Have you ever been asked to host Saturday Night Live, and if so, would you do it? Because I think you would kill it.
JC: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know how to… Well, I’ll tell you, yes, they have approached me. I hope I’m allowed to say that without… They have approached me, but what happens is that when they have a slot, they give you this time slot. If you can’t do it, then the opportunity disappears, so maybe we will be able to make it happen. I would love to. I would love to.
RL: Perfect. Because we’re all waiting for it. I think that would be the killer. That would be the best episode ever. Finally, Jennifer, I guess what have you learned most about yourself as a performer? You’ve been around for such a long time that after this whole White Lotus run is over, when the SAG awards happen, you’ll look back, and what will be the number one kind of highlight or takeaway that you’ll take away for yourself?
JC: Well, I would say, I wish I had enjoyed my life more. Well, you don’t know that a cool thing can happen later. I do think that you should never shortchange yourself from enjoying the moment because I spent a lot of time thinking there wasn’t going to be a cool moment, so I didn’t appreciate a big chunk of my life because I was sad that my dreams couldn’t come true. I think the key to life is enjoy it because I mean, it feels like a fluke, but look, it can happen to anybody. Your dreams really can come true. I think that’s the key, is just when your dream isn’t happening, you don’t have to believe it isn’t coming true. It might take 20, 30 years or whatever.
RL: That’s right, but it happens. We are so thrilled to be you, especially, Jennifer. Thank you for your time today, and congratulations on all the success. You deserve it.
JC: Hey, thank you. Thanks. Thank you for having me.
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