Feeling fatalistic at the height of the pandemic, the actress initially thought taking the role of Tanya McQuoid was "an impossibility."
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Of all the wonderful performances on The White Lotus — HBO's comedy miniseries about a group of oblivious wealthy white vacationers wreaking havoc at a luxury Hawaiian resort — Jennifer Coolidge's turn as grieving, lonely, boozy Tanya McQuoid has been particularly revelatory. But the actress, also known for her memorable roles in comedies like Best in Show and Legally Blonde, almost turned down the part completely.

The show, written and directed by Mike White, was filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic (its presence is noticeable on the show, between Connie Britton's character constantly having to Zoom with colleagues in China and Murray Bartlett's hotel manager Armond referencing the extensive cleaning protocols each room requires), and Coolidge found herself close to rock bottom living in lockdown.

The White Lotus
Jennifer Coolidge and Murray Bartlett in 'The White Lotus'
| Credit: Mario Perez/HBO

"I was really affected by the pandemic," Coolidge told The Guardian in a new interview. "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."

Then White called her with the offer. "His show about rich people on vacation had been picked up by HBO and he'd written a role with me in mind. I said: 'OK, when are we doing it?' He said: 'What do you mean? We just got green-lit. We're doing it now. You need to get on a plane to Hawaii.' That was an impossibility to my mind. I'd been gorging and self-destructing at home for months, eating pizza all day."

The turning point came at 2 a.m. one night when White texted her a simple question: "Are you afraid?" That wake-up call inspired Coolidge to fight through her anxieties and get to Hawaii.

That's not to say her struggles were over — in another interview, with Thrillist, Coolidge discussed getting violently seasick while shooting episode 3's incredible boat scene in which she tosses her dead mother's ashes into the sea — but she says she has no regrets.

"It's such a great lesson in life," Coolidge told The Guardian. "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."

Anyone caught up on the HBO dramedy (the finale airs Aug. 15) will note that Coolidge's self-deprecating description of herself as an "insane person" sounds remarkably like Tanya's description of herself. The character struggles with bouts of self-loathing and has jaw-dropping breakdowns while trying to deliver her mom's eulogy and start a relationship with a fellow hotel guest.

"What helped is that my character, Tanya, had parallels to me personally," Coolidge said. "I'd been incredibly depressed during the pandemic. I lost my own mother at an early age. A family member passed away during Covid and we couldn't hold a proper memorial. So I had all that going for me."

But she also had the opportunity of a lifetime waiting for her just around the corner.

Read the full interview at The Guardian.

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