HBO’s sensational comedy-drama The White Lotus had everyone talking when it was first release. The first season is set at an exclusive Hawaiian resort over one highly transformative week.
The six-part first season gradually peeled back the glossy veneer of picture-perfect travelers, cheerful hotel employees, and the idyllic locale itself to reveal something far uglier beneath. Season 1 and 2 is available to stream on Showmax in South Africa.
Here are 10 facts you need to know if The White Lotus inevitably comes up in conversation
1. Critics called The White Lotus “2021’s best, and most uncomfortable, TV show”
The White Lotus has an 88% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Time billing it as “the must-see show of the summer… a darkly hilarious, existentially terrifying wealth satire” and The Guardian as “2021’s best, and most uncomfortable, show.”
The White Lotus was equally popular with audiences, topping IMDb’s Most Popular TV list and becoming the #1 series on HBO Max in August 2021, with over seven million viewers for the series premiere.
2. The series features a stellar cast
The White Lotus’ widely-praised ensemble cast includes Emmy nominees Connie Britton (Nashville) and Natasha Rothwell (Insecure), Teen Choice winner Jennifer Coolidge (2 Broke Girls) and nominee Alexandra Daddario (True Detective), and Screen Actors Guild nominees Sydney Sweeney (Euphoria), Steve Zahn (War for the Planet of the Apes), and Jake Lacy (Girls, The Office), as well as Murray Barlett (Looking), Brittany O’Grady (Little Voice), Fred Hechinger (Eighth Grade) and Lukas Gage (Euphoria).
There are also guest appearances from three-time Emmy nominee Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live) and Screen Actors’ Guild nominee Jolene Purdy (WandaVision, Orange Is The New Black).
3. The White Lotus was custom designed, in record time, for the pandemic
With so many shows on hold due to COVID-19 last year, HBO approached Critics Choice nominee Mike White (Enlightened) to come up with an idea for a series that could be shot in a contained, single location over the pandemic.
“Before we went, I was just depressed in my house, watching CNN, and I was like, ‘I will do anything’… I just wanted to get out of LA so bad,” Mike said in an online panel discussion at the show’s premiere at the ATX Film Festival in June.
HBO called him on the 1st of August and they were shooting at Four Seasons Maui in Hawaii by October, so Mike wrote all the scripts, cast and prepped the show in two-and-a-half months. “It was pretty intense, but we were so lucky to get this cast.”
Then again, “Nobody was working, so I guess that’s part of the reason,” he laughs.
4. Jennifer Coolidge nearly chickened out
The New Yorker hailed Jennifer Coolidge’s turn as the grieving “alcoholic lunatic” Tanya as “one of the great TV performances of recent memory, and almost certainly the greatest of Coolidge’s career.”
But Jennifer nearly passed on the role. As she told The Guardian, “I was really affected by the pandemic. It was an incredibly sad time. I was reading tragic news stories on a daily basis, had a fatalistic approach and assumed the virus was going to win. I knew people who lost their lives and was convinced we wouldn’t make it through. I wasn’t thinking about work, because I didn’t think we’d be alive. But then Mike White called…”
“I’d been gorging and self-destructing at home for months, eating pizza all day,” she continues. “There was no way I wanted to be on film unless they shot me from the neck up. I’m sort of vain, so there was no f***ing way. I can’t tell you how close I came to ruining this whole thing for myself. It’s such a great lesson in life. I’d never have forgiven myself. I would’ve sat down to watch The White Lotus and said: ‘What the hell was I thinking? I’m an insane person.’ A lot of us actors are so insecure and scared of failure, we blow our own chances.”
5. Creator Mike White actually lives on and off in Hawaii
Creator Mike White has lived in Hawaii on and off for the past eight years. “I came, like many mainlanders, to Hawaii and was like, ‘Oh this is paradise,’” he said at ATX.
“I tried to bone up on the history of Hawaii and you realize, obviously, there’s a colonial history, but that the colonial history is still very much a part of the present cultural reality, and I just thought it would be interesting to talk about the ethics of vacationing in other people’s realities… The White Lotus is about this group of people who spend a week at this boutique hotel in Hawaii, and then there’s the people who work at the hotel, and their lives are not exactly a paradise.”
In the context of the pandemic, Mike added that, “There was something that felt very timely about trying to vacation and get away from your problems, but you aren’t able to escape, and sometimes it’s a crucible to deal with those problems head on.”
6. The White Lotus is an upstairs-downstairs story about money and privilege
Speaking at ATX, creator Mike White said, “I’d always wanted to do a show that got into money and how money basically can pervert even our most intimate relationships, even within marriages, within the interactions with strangers and friends and loved ones…”
So yes, The White Lotus will remind you of Succession, the HBO show that won Best Drama at both the Emmys and Golden Globes in 2020. Just like that show, The White Lotus has a lot of fun with awfully rich white people behaving awfully, but it similarly never loses sight of the humanity of the people behind the privilege.
“Dreadful rich people make for brilliant TV, but it is rare to see their privileges and prejudices skewered with such relentless precision,” says The London Evening Standard, but adds, “White’s characters can be monstrous, but they are so carefully wrought that they also feel painfully human.”
7. Issa Rae is a fan
Natasha Rothwell is one of the many standouts in the cast, with Refinery29 calling her “the best thing about White Lotus,” adding, ”I already know that Connie Britton, Murray Bartlett and Jennifer Coolidge will probably get the award season love for their roles in The White Lotus but it’s Natasha Rothwell who took the series from another prestige drama about messy rich white people and turned it into a seething exposition of privilege, whiteness and what Black women have to put up with in a world that prioritizes both.”
Before The White Lotus, Natasha was best known for her Black Reel-nominated performance as Kelli in Insecure, so it’s no surprise that her Insecure co-star, Issa Rae, is one of her new show’s vocal fans, tweeting, “The White Lotus = quality white mess + @natasharothwell being brilliant. Everything I want.”
8. HBO renewed the series for a second season despite the show being intended as a limited one season mini-series
It is said that the show will be an anthology style series with new characters for each season. HBO has done this before (to widespread acclaim) with the series True Detective (2014).
9. Season 2 scenes were filmed at different places
In season 2 the beach scenes are filmed in Cefalu on the north coast of Sicily, while the resort scenes are filmed in Taormina on the east coast, some 230kms away.
10. In season 1, during one scene, Steve Zahn (Mark) drunkenly acts like an ape in his hotel room
He pantomimes the movements of a chimpanzee in front of his wife. Steve Zahn actually played one of the chimpanzees via motion capture in War for the Planet of the Apes (2017).
11. Select pieces in the show’s wardrobe are Italian vintage
Fashion stole the show this season, with iconic (and controversial) looks from Portia to Tanya’s pink, flowy dresses. But you might not have guessed that some of these looks were found from local vintage shops in Italy. In an interview with People, designer Alex Bovaird revealed that Lucia’s stunning red cutout dress was spontaneously purchased in a vintage shop in Catania, Italy.
12. Season 1 & 2 of The White Lotus were filmed at Four Seasons hotels
The Four Seasons is 2/2 with The White Lotus, so we can only expect another Four Seasons to take the stage in Season 3. While the first season was filmed at a Four Seasons in Hawaii, the second was filmed at San Domenico Palace, a Four Seasons-partnered hotel in Taormina, Sicily.
13. Contestants from the reality show Survivor make a cameo
If you’re not familiar with the competition series Survivor, you may have missed Angelina Keeley and Kara Kay’s cameos in the first episode. But why are reality TV show contestants on a dark drama like The White Lotus? Well, besides the fact that the show’s writer and director Mike White competed on the Survivor, the reference most likely hints at Daphne’s strength, which becomes apparent as the season goes on.
14. Love Island was another fashion inspiration for the show
Reality show Love Island was largely used to inform Jack, Leo Woodall’s character. Costume designer Alex Bovaird even admits to entirely basing Jack’s style on the popular TV show, according to Vogue. An avid watcher of Love Island herself, Bovaird was able to turn Jack’s obnoxious personality into a familiar, dating show-esque style we could appreciate.
15. Season 3 might take place in Asia
In an after-show scene of the Season 2 finale, Mike White said he’d like to explore Eastern religion and spirituality in the next season. We’ll be patiently awaiting the next masterpiece!
Well, there you have it, a few things you did not know about The White Lotus.
Check out the trailer for Season 1 below:
Check out the trailer for Season 2 below:
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