HBO’s The White Lotus is described as a social satire, featuring a group of wealthy guests at a Hawaiian resort. Among them is Nicole (Connie Britton), a wife and mother trying to keep up the illusion of being fully present for work while actually being away on vacation.
Awards Radar had the chance to speak with Britton about what drew her to this part, her talented young costars, and the TV roles people know her from best. This interview was conducted before The White Lotus was officially renewed for a second season.
Q: How much does the show resemble any family vacation you’ve ever been on?
A: Other than the fact that there’s a beach there, not at all [laughter]. That’s not even necessarily really the kind of hotel… I mean, the Four Seasons in Maui is lovely, and I had stayed there before, but I had been there for the Maui Film Festival. So that’s different.
Q: So how did you hear about the show and what was the process of you getting attached to star in it?
A: I had done Beatriz at Dinner with Mike and I love him. I just love him. I’m such a huge fan of his. So, he reached out and he was like, I’m doing this thing. And it was deep pandemic. I had just been in quarantine forever, and he said, I’m doing this thing, and we’re shooting it in Maui, and I really want you to play a part in it. There was really no going back from there. It really could have been anywhere and I would have done it because I love Mike so much.
Q: What did you relate to most about Nicole and what was most difficult?
A: What I related to the most about Nicole was her desire to be a great mother to her kids and a great partner to her husband and also very successful at her work and to make all of that happen. I can relate to that, this idea that I was actually fortunate to have handed down to me for my parents, that you can do all the things, you can make it all work. It can also be just treacherous. It’s seemingly actually impossible to do that, and we don’t really have a lot of examples and role models of women who have gone before us and done that. So that part, I really related to. Her worldview and way of going about that, that’s where we part ways, Nicole and I.
Q: What I found most interesting was how she talked to Paula, constantly knocking and dismissing Paula’s ailments and allergies in a way that felt charged and purposeful. How did you see that relationship?
A: It’s funny. I saw that as, she wasn’t going to tolerate that kind of weakness from Paula. Whereas her son Quinn, she infantilizes. But from another young woman, it’s like, that’s not okay, that’s not acceptable. I don’t buy it. She can’t even see that in somebody else because she would not allow it in herself.
Q: There’s that moment where Nicole doubles down how she feels about privilege and Olivia just keeps saying “cringe, cringe.” Do you feel that satire is a good way to show these issues in society?
A: Oh, I think it’s the best way. I think it’s a very difficult thing to do. Satire is the best way to do it, but that is where Mike White is such a genius because to be able to really just lay all that out on a platter and make it so watchable and so engaging, and even have these characters feel a little bit recognizable, that they’re not caricatures, that there are elements of these characters that are going to head home with the audience. But to do that in a way that feels palatable for the audience, I just think is genius, because what you don’t want to do to is to create a story that has people asking real questions about themselves is hit them over the head with it. I think when you do that in satire, it really allows you a lot of leeway to just lay it out and then people can make their own choices.
Q: I think he does a great job of that. What can you say about the talented young actors who play your children, Sydney and Fred?
A: Oh my gosh, they are so great. They’re so amazing. I just was blown away by both of them. Fred is so impressive. First of all, we would die laughing at anything he did. Dying laughing. All of us, could not stop, because he was so funny and so dead on and so grounded, but also just like crazy. And in the meantime, he’s also doing his classes at Harvard. He was fully a student at Harvard doing Zoom classes while we were shooting. I mean, he’s a brilliant kid and the sweetest, sweetest, kindest. I feel very, very fortunate to count him as one of my sons. And also, I think that he’s going to go really far. And Sydney, of course, Sydney is already a mogul. She’s already ruling the world.
Q: And you got to be married to Steve Zahn. What was it like working with him and playing out this complicated relationship?
A: He’s so great. He’s fantastic. I have always really liked him but working with him as an actor, I was like, man, this guy is so talented and I just loved being able to see him in this role because I feel like there was so much that he was able to bring to it. And so many levels and dimensions that he brought to it that made it really just hilarious but also so grounded. I felt like he was such a great foil. We had so much fun.
Q: Aside from early conversations with Rachel, Nicole doesn’t really get to interact with anyone outside the family. Is there anyone you would have liked to you have your plot line cross with over the course of the show?
A: I would have loved to have had more interaction with Jennifer Coolidge. That would have been funny to see those two characters together. I don’t know if we ever really know what Jennifer does, but she must be successful. But it would be really funny to see them together. Molly Shannon and I have known each other for years, and we’ve been in a lot of things together. And when I read that and I knew she was playing it, I was like, oh my gosh, she’s going to be so hilarious. I think that would have been also funny to see those two characters, basically seeing Nicole with these other different versions of privileged women, fascinating.
Q: There’s some talk now of the show possibly returning for a second season. If that was to happen and Nicole was somehow involved, would you be interested in returning, and what would you like to see from Nicole in a theoretical season two?
A: I mean, yeah. I feel like there’s so much more that we could discover about these characters. I wouldn’t even presume to try to guess. Whatever brainchild came out of Mike’s mind would be way better than anything that I can imagine.
Q: You’ve had a number of different TV roles on shows like Friday Night Lights, Nashville, American Horror Story, Dirty John, and others. Is there any one that you hold close to your heart or that you find people tend to most associate you with?
A: Well, I love all the roles that I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to play. I have a special place in my heart for Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights just because that was such a unique experience and a surprising one. There were a lot of things about that that, when I look back on it, I really value and cherish. But then, it’s funny, people certainly love Friday Night Lights, I get a lot of that. I get a lot of Dirty John, a lot of American Horror Story, and every time somebody says something about American Horror Story, I’m like, wow! You like scary stuff. I can’t watch! And Dirty John too. That’s been an interesting one, because I’ve had many women come to me and tell me about how that is something that they had experienced or a version of that, that they had experienced. I think it was important to tell that story and I was fortunate that I was able to do that.
Q: You also appear in a new movie that came out in theaters a few weeks ago, Joe Bell. What can you share about what that movie meant to you?
A: Well, that really meant a lot to me as well. That story is really incredible, and I really hope people watch the movie because I think that the reason that it was a story worth telling is that it’s a story of redemption and self-discovery and, through terrible tragedy, we see a father who could probably be very relatable to a lot of people undergo his own journey to understanding and trying to do right by his son. I think particularly what we can learn from that movie about bullying, about how we embrace our LGBTQ allies and community members in the world, there’s just a lot that I hope audiences can take away from the movie.
Q: What do you have coming up next?
A: I’m working right now on a movie based on the book Luckiest Girl Alive, which is a really incredible back written by Jessica Knoll, and I’ve been shooting that with Mila Kunis and a great cast. I’m looking forward to that one. It will be a while on that one, probably.
The White Lotus is streaming on HBO Max, with the season finale premiering this Sunday at 9pm on HBO.