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Interview: Jake Lacy on ‘The White Lotus,’ His Conflict Resolution Style, and Comedy Highlights of His Career

HBO’s The White Lotus is described as a social satire, featuring a group of wealthy guests at a Hawaiian resort. Among them is Shane (Jake Lacy), who is on his honeymoon with his new wife Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), and becomes obsessed with the fact that the resort didn’t give them the fancy room he’s sure they booked.

Awards Radar had the chance to speak with Lacy about the chance to play such a single-minded, belligerent character and his past sitcom work in shows like Better With You, The Office, and High Fidelity.

Q: How did you first hear about this show and what appealed to you about it?

A: You know, it was just an audition for me. They sent the material my way, and I thought the material was fantastic, what they sent. So I made a tape, and this is like late September, early October, pandemic surges throughout the country. Then they came back and said, they want to do a producer session with you and Mike and a handful of folks from his company and HBO. And so we did that and then a few days later, they were like, okay, in ten days, you’ll be at the Four Seasons in Maui and hopefully you’re home by Christmas. So that was the nuts and bolts of how it came to be. And my impression was that I just got more excited every step of the way. They sent the sides and I was like, this is really fun and good, and then got the job and they sent the first script and I was like, oh, this is great. And then got to Hawaii and they had all six episodes laid out like binder by binder in our hotel rooms, because we had to quarantine for five days or six days, something like that, when we first landed, and so then got to consume all of that. And was I so jazzed, so jacked up by the end of all that. That was the creative response and the rollout there for me.

Q: So when you get to a hotel room in your own life and something’s not right? What are you do about it?

A: I probably first figure out, like, can I solve this? Is this a thing I can rig or handyman put together? And then figure out if I can live with it, and then depending on how egregious it is, got to the desk. I was traveling for some work in Portland and there was this heat wave that was coming. And this was like two or three days before the heat wave arrived. A company has arranged for this hotel room. I haven’t set it up and I feel like I don’t want to cause a problem. But you don’t know what you’re going to get till you get there. You haven’t seen a brochure. You’re just like, I guess I’ll get there and hope it’s fine. The AC broke and for like ten minutes, I was like, this is fine, it’ll be fine. Like, I’ll just crack a window. Ten minutes later, was just drenched and was like, I got to talk to someone. I got to go to the desk and address it. They were very kind to move me to another room. Something I could not fix myself, obviously.

Q: Did you enjoy Shane’s belligerence and the fact that he could not let it go? Of all these characters, he seems to really hold on to things.

A: Yeah, man. He’s a dog with a bone, you know? Yes, I loved his obsession, but also it’s like a dog with a bone if every six hours that bone gets infused with new flavor. Just as he’s about to let it go, he hears this German couple at dinner. That adds in this new element for him as both the lead detective and also the judge and jury in his case against Armond. Then again, he wants to let it go and then the boat ride brings this whole other level of rage and obsession into not just, I want to get the room, but I’m going to destroy this dude. The circumstances keep upping the ante. And he refuses to back down each time, each time that he could just let it go and wash his hands of it. He pivots harder into obsession.

Q: What does your real-life relationship with Murray Bartlett look like, and what work did you have to do to create such a fantastic banter?

A: I think the world of Murray. From day one, I was like, this guy is so warm and generous and fun and earnest and vulnerable and talented. There just aren’t enough positive adjectives for Murray. That joy and comfort in working with him ends up creating that space to have fun with that animosity and fun with that unspoken, are you fucking me? Are you trying to fuck me right now? I don’t know if I would have a harder time, but it would be more aggressive if I really didn’t like Marie, it would be much darker. There’s a certain joy that Shane gets out of being done wrong. He wants to feel bad for himself and then get to triumph over it. And so, whatever that blend of character and actor is, if it’s a person I enjoy working with, then I and Shane get to have more ease and joy in the obsession. And if it was someone I really didn’t like working with, it would just be meaner and uglier in a way that’s not really the tone of the show.

Q: I had the chance to speak with Alexandra Daddario last week and she said that you’re the absolute opposite of your character. You didn’t complain at all. What is she like as a scene partner?

A: She’s the best, man. Mike would call her the no drama mama, because she would come in on time, prepared, game for anything, collaborative. He would have a note, and she would be like, sounds good. There was never, as actors can be, I don’t like that, I don’t want to do it that way, that’s a bad idea. Whatever you’re bringing the table, she’s game, she’s there for it. And, also, for my money is wonderfully grounded in each of these scenes and in her story. Fred Hechinger was on set, they were filming later and Alex and I were working, and afterward, I was like, how did it look, and he was like, it’s a good scene, man. He’s like, Alex is really good. I couldn’t catch her acting. It just seems like she’s present and alive the whole time. I couldn’t catch her. I was like, man, that’s the highest compliment you can give: I couldn’t catch you.  That’s what I think of Alex. We got so lucky on this, man! Top-to-bottom, it’s a solid crew.

Q: Molly Shannon plays your mom. How cool was that?

A: I’ve been a fan of hers from SNL days. When I first got the job, they were like, we’re out to Molly Shannon, we’re hoping that she’ll do it. And again, I feel like we got so lucky. She’s obviously hilarious and talented and everything else that you would know just as a viewer, but as a person is also warm and supportive and present and selfless, all these things that, at the end of the day, it’s a real pleasure to go kick it at the one hotel bar that’s open and hear some stories from her days and trade a couple anecdotes or something. It really is wonderful, and also, Mike had written that part with her in mind. Her ability to take what he’s created and then lift it and use it with this inquisitiveness. In episode four, it’s in the preview where Alex says to my mom, I was thinking I might get a job, and she says, no, why would you do that? But doesn’t mean it as the dig that it comes across as. She genuinely means, why would you do that to yourself? It’s like someone saying, I think I’m going to get plastic surgery and someone saying, but you’re so beautiful as you are. She has a warmth to her that I think also Mike was able to bring to Shane, where it’s like, the worst of him sometimes is when he’s being, in his mind, selfless, generous, compassionate, because then you see his true perspective of the world. And that’s pretty ugly. But to sell it in this package of doting mother is so brilliant.

Q: You’ve had a lot of great roles in the past. I first saw you in what I think was your first regular TV gig, Better With You. Do you have fond memories of that show?

A: Oh, yeah. I went from waiting tables to shooting a pilot to getting a season of television under my belt. That was a miracle and completely changed my life. I will forever be indebted to

Shana Goldberg-Meehan for putting me in that show. The thing I remember, two things I guess, Jim Burrows directed that pilot, and I was aware of his work but not maybe of his legend. Getting to work with him was incredible. And then Kurt Fuller plays my future father-in-law, basically, on the show and he and I were best buds on that set. We had the same perspective on show business and the TV landscape and comedy, but I was a completely inexperienced, feisty twenty-four-year-old, and he was a fifty-year-old man handing off some sage wisdom after two and a half decades in this business and being like, you need to cool out, man. You need to fucking relax. It was both validating and also just a wonderful lesson in this business of one generation handing off their time and experience to another which I’ll always be indebted to.

Q: And, of course, that show didn’t last very long, unfortunately, but then you were on this slightly bigger, popular comedy The Office, which I think a lot of people I know associate you with. What is it like being part of that classic, insanely popular series?

A: It’s incredible because it was my favorite show. As a viewer, I was like, if I could be on any show, I would be on this, and then I got cast, which was just surreal in a true sense. And I still divide myself off into this tail end of the show where there’s a real meaty chunk in there with that original cast all together and that still feels like one Office, and then there’s me and some make believe thing that happened, where it’s Our Town and I come back and get to witness it. To be a part of it is incredible. To be like, I’m a small piece in the legacy of this show is something that I’ll always be grateful for and proud of. I still feel a strange disconnect to be like, I was on that show? That can’t be right. Probably at the time, because it was an out-of-body experience to be working with people I adored, and then even now looking back, to be like, did that happen? Was I there for that? Oh right, I do know those people. Also, I saw Creed in an airport one time. He and I were on the same flight. He was like, Jake? And I was like, hey man! Kate and I went to see All the Way, a Broadway show that Bryan Cranston was doing because Bryan had directed an episode in the season that I was in and they had stayed friends. The connections that I think like, oh, no one wants to hear from me, and then I see these folks, and I’m like, there’s a warmth there and a kindness. It’s just a reminder that, yeah, man, you were there, it wasn’t a dream.

Q: I do want to ask you about another show that unfortunately didn’t last long. Would you have come back for more of High Fidelity? That seems like it was a really cool experience.

A: There have been a couple times where I’ve been replaced on a thing or something didn’t continue, and I’m like, yeah, I see why that happened, or there was writing on the wall, whatever. That’s one that I was truly surprised by. Truly, like, we’re not going again. That stinks. And so, yes, I would have been there for however many years they wanted to have me. I would have been there. I loved working on that. And creatively it checked a lot of boxes. Zoe being a part of it changed it from the first notion that they had of what the show would be into this other very cool, nuanced, grittier, genuinely New York-feeling show. And then also just the logistics of like being an actor. I lived in New York. I get to shoot here. I can ride my bike to set. I’m not dragging my family around the country. It just checked all the boxes. Even though I’m moving on to other things, I’m like, come on, somebody pick that up, even ten years down the road, let’s do a reunion season or whatever.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: White Lotus out now, then I have a part in a movie Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed called Being the Ricardos. It’s about a week in that the production of I Love Lucy where Lucille was accused of being a Communist at the height of McCarthyism, and Desi was rumored to be sleeping with call girls in the gossip rags of the time, and Lucille was pregnant with her second child and they had to tell CBS that they were going to put a pregnant woman on air for the first time ever because until then it had been considered too salacious. And so all of this happened within twenty-four hours and then they had the rest of the week to figure out if they would have a show or a marriage or a career by the end of it. And so myself and Alia Shawkat and Tony Hale make up the writers’ room essentially. I play Bob Carroll Jr., one of the writers, and our lives are clearly inextricably linked to whether this show and their careers continue on or whether it all collapses around us. So I have that, and then I shot a pilot for TBS with Krista Rodriguez that’s called Space. We’ll see if that goes. I think they’re going to turn it in this week or next, but it’s a couple who are in a stagnating long-term relationship and don’t know whether they want to stay together and maybe get married or if they should break up and kind of don’t want to do either. Through the majesty of the universe a la Being John Malkovich, they start jumping into other people’s bodies and are able to experience what other relationships would be like or sleeping with other people. They’re in the world’s most open relationship in order to figure out if the thing they have is actually the totality of what they want or if they actually are settling and there’s something out here that they can explore sort of guilt-free. We had a blast making that, whether it goes or not, we had a good ten days in Portland. I hope we get to do some more of those.

The White Lotus is streaming on HBO Max, with new episodes premiering every Sunday at 9pm on HBO.

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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