Warning: This article contains spoilers for the first two episodes of The White Lotus season 2.
The honeymoon period is definitely over for Tanya and Greg on The White Lotus.
After meeting and getting together in Hawaii in season 1, they were the only two people to return for season 2 as a now-married couple. But their romantic Italian vacation soured immediately when Greg (Jon Gries) wouldn't return his new wife's texts, Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) dragged her assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) along, and Greg suddenly cut his trip short due to mysterious "business" reasons. After Tanya overheard Greg making multiple suspicious phone calls, alarm bells are ringing. Is there trouble in paradise for this couple?
Below, Gries dives deep on Greg and Tanya's relationship and what fans can expect to see from the rest of season 2.
HBO Jon Gries on 'The White Lotus'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I was so excited when I learned you were also coming back for season 2 with Jennifer Coolidge, but after seeing the first few episodes, I'm very mad at Greg. He's being so horrible to Tanya!
JON GRIES: Okay, is he really? Or is it just because everybody loves Tanya so much? The thing is, it's very subjective. It's almost like an exercise in [bias] — I've heard these studies where prosecutors and defense lawyers talk about cases, and they look at the evidence, and then they try and whittle it down to the pure facts and not any of the prejudices, based on how we instinctively will lean towards one person or another person based on something that we like about them.
Could it actually be argued that, yes, Tanya is incredibly endearing and adorable, and yet at the same time, she's a chaotic mess. I mean, Greg is unkind, there's no question, but I think he's at his wit's end a little bit, at least that's what I think the intention was: for it to show that he actually could be at his wit's end, or is he just done? I think he really does love her, personally.
I did want to ask you about that, because it seems like he does love her in the first season but things have taken a really sad turn for them in season 2. Did he ever really love her or is it her worst fear: that he's using her for her money?
That is a big concern, but at the same time, I think that Greg may not be amorously in love with her but I think there's something about her that he does love. Obviously, he's stayed with her. Whether or not it's about money, I don't know. It's hard to say. If somebody wants to ask me is Greg uncomfortable living off of his wife a bit, like she's taken care of everything, I think Greg has become accustomed to being taken care of in this situation. At the same time, I don't think he's uncomfortable living that lifestyle, and I think that he would live that lifestyle if he had money of his own.
How did you learn you'd be returning for season 2 and what were those early conversations like with Mike White about your story arc would be?
I was eating by myself in a restaurant and my phone started buzzing. It was Mike White texting me, and I hadn't talked to him since the run of White Lotus [season] 1. We had a couple of little texts just along the way, but I hadn't really spoken to him for a while. He just said, "Hey, I'm writing season 2 right now and I've got to know, are you available? Because I'm not going to write your character if you're not." I said, "I'm available anytime, anywhere, for you." Then he said, "Good. It's going to be in spring in Sicily." I was like, "Oh, my God, that's amazing." Imagine getting that text as you're sitting there, just all of a sudden. I said, "How exciting. And?" He goes, "Greg's not as nice as he was." That's all he said: "Things have gone a little dark."
A lot of people want to ask me where does it go, but you must know that what you expect, what you believe, you're going to be surprised, because it's Mike White. When you think he's going to make a left turn, he makes a hard right turn. It's the way he naturally writes these things. And obviously there's this thing that happens at the end, there are bodies that are floating in the water that we see in the beginning that we know is going to happen in the end, and it leaves everybody to speculate, but you just don't know. As much as you think you're onto it — I mean, everybody on season 1 thought that it was me. Everybody would come up to me and say, "You're the guy that dies."
They would say it all the time, and I'd say, "No. Don't be so certain." I would say, "Just think about it. Wouldn't that be kind of a cop-out if I was the guy that died, because I'm not that prominent and I just whisk into her life and then I'm whisked out. That wouldn't be too exciting." I'm not trying to undersell myself, but at the same time, Greg pops in three episodes in. The wheels of the plane have just lifted off the runway, so to speak, in our relationship. I just felt like the stakes wouldn't be quite high enough if it were Greg.
He also whisks out early this season. He's abruptly leaving his trip with Tanya, he's got that suspicious phone call that Tanya overhears… Are we going to learn what's going on with Greg?
Yes, you're going to learn. There's going to be something that everybody's going to learn about a lot of these relationships, and something will be illuminated about the relationship with Tanya and Greg. The phone call ... if you remember, Greg has children. He could have been talking to his daughter. He could have been telling her he loves her and "I'll be home." You just don't know. And that's the thing. Mike White plays multilevel chess. It's 3D chess. It's not just one board, it's layers. I don't want to reveal anything about it because it's too exciting. I don't even know how it's going to look or how it ended up because I only know how it read [in the script]. A lot of that stuff, I didn't see get shot.
Since there is a lot we aren't seeing on screen with Greg, in your mind, did you have to come up with the story of what's happening off screen to help you portray his arc this season? Or did you have conversations with Mike about that?
We talked about it. The nuances are there, and any questions, it's always open for discussion, anything that might not be clarified in the script. There might be something that's intimated but we don't know for certain. Sometimes when we play certain things, there are questions that are a little bit unanswered, even for us, and so we talk about it. Sometimes I as an actor might be completely satisfied with the answer, and other times I might go, "I have to figure this out."
HBO Jon Gries on 'The White Lotus'
What was it like getting to bring the tension between Greg and Tanya to life this season with Jennifer?
We clearly have chemistry. Most people say that to me and corroborate that because I always knew we had chemistry. For both of us, it's exciting and we both like to play that tension, to play those changes because that's the beauty of life. We really enjoy seeing that other side and getting to play that other side, the flip side. Playing this relationship between Greg and Tanya at face value is very important in the sense that you don't want to tip a hat one way or another. You want to play it just in the moment where they are, how they relate to each other. The fact is, Greg's going home for two days. He's got to take care of some business. Yes, there is tension between them and maybe he's at his wit's end, and it could be just carryover from Portia showing up, and Tanya having all these bags. God knows. I mean, obviously Tanya doesn't move lightly through life. There's a lot of accoutrement that goes with her.
Figuratively and literally, with all of her baggage. She has so many suitcases!
Oh yeah. That's exactly it. I mean, what a metaphor. Everywhere she goes, she's got to bring her baggage. Meanwhile Greg, in a weird way, is like a rolling stone. He gathers no moss. He just wants to keep on rolling. "Let's go for a ride."
Speaking of going for a ride, what was it like filming that Vespa sequence?
It was amazing. I've got to hand it to the editors, because I used to pride myself on being able to keep a straight face through working with some of the funniest people, and Jennifer just kills me. I mean, even when I'm in the background of the scene and she says something, I'm like, "Where did that come from?" Because that wasn't in the script. That's just her. She does things like that. Riding the Vespa was so much fun. That was something we both were really looking forward to, and she just had me laughing so many times. I hand it to the editors that they were able to get an extended piece of footage of me not losing it, because she kept doing things to make me laugh. When she's squeezing me, she really was squeezing me. I was saying, "Tanya, you're killing me." That wasn't necessarily written. I mean, she was squeezing me to death. I was like, "Oh, my God, I can't breathe." But it was a great time, a really lovely time.
So you were really driving the Vespa? That was practical?
[Laughs] No, no, no. They're not going to let me drive Jennifer Coolidge around. If something happened, if anything happened, my gosh! In the courtyard, we went around in circles and then we drove out and drove up the block, and that was all us. But I had to convince them. I did a movie years before in Italy and I was there for eight weeks, and I rode a Vespa every day, and I was driving around Rome in some crazy circumstances, because traffic there is crazy, so I knew how to handle it. So sometimes Jen and I would just be like, "Okay, let's go ride," go out of this parking lot, up this little road, and go around the block and come back. We weren't supposed to do stuff like that, but we just wanted to go a little further. They'd be like, "Wait, wait, hey, hey," and we'd just keep going a little bit further. She's mischievous. She'd say, "Just keep going."
The White Lotus airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and HBO Max.