Jennifer Coolidge Still Hasn't Seen Herself in 'White Lotus'

“No one wants to watch themselves on camera,” the actress told InStyle ahead of the Emmys.

Jennifer Coolidge on White Lotus Season 2
Photo: Getty Images/InStyle

"I need to take these shoes off." Jennifer Coolidge looks like she's about to topple over. The White Lotus star is currently weighed down by multiple bulging tote bags containing a cornucopia of free beauty, skincare, home, and kitchen products. We're both hunting for a quiet place to sit and chat, but frankly, Coolidge looks overwhelmed lugging all of that stuff. I attempt to take charge and begin scouting for an available sofa.

"It looks like you really cleaned up," I say.

"Well, they just keep giving me stuff," Coolidge replies, sounding a little bewildered. Her heels are off now, and she places them in one of the totes. "Where can we go? Where can we go?" she murmurs.

At last, we locate a suitable place to sit down: a front porch where nail techs are putting away polish and cleaning up their stations. It's understandable that Coolidge would feel brain-fried, given the context: We're both attending TV and film producer Jennifer Klein's annual Day of Indulgence — a yearly event in Brentwood where world-famous women (like Coolidge) are pampered, fed, gifted, and introduced to other world-famous women. Think of it like a one-day spa retreat where everyone already knows (or has at least heard of) each other. Because they — like anyone else — have likely just seen them on a zeitgeist-y TV show.

"I'm willing to share some of the stuff if you want some," Coolidge says of her considerable bounty. Pulling out three NEST New York fragrances, she tells me to take one. "I know which one I want, but I'm not going to tell you which one I want." I think it over for a moment and select a scent called Seville Orange — and then promptly confess that I actually never wear perfume. "I like it," Coolidge says, opening another bottle and applying a bit to her wrists. "I'm allergic to it. We're going to see if I'm allergic to it today."

After applying the oil, she asks to smell the Seville Orange. "Your wrist, let me smell your wrist ... That's delicious."

Having this much one-on-one time with Coolidge almost feels naughty, as if I'm holding her hostage from her adoring fans. I promise her this talk won't take too long, just a few minutes of her time if she doesn't mind. But Coolidge seems perfectly content to sit and really get into it. In fact, she gives her full, undivided attention to every person at the party, regardless of whether they're working or attending.

Case in point: Coolidge says she's parched, so I run to fetch her a bottle of water. By the time I get back, a nail tech is trying to tempt Coolidge into accepting a manicure. "This color's really pretty. This one would look nice with your dress," the tech says. Coolidge turns the conversation around, telling the tech, "You have prettier nails than I have. Look at how short mine are." She holds her hands out and studies her hands.

This sort of self-deprecating comment can be par for the course with Coolidge, who, unlike her oblivious White Lotus character Tanya, is hyper-aware of how she's making others feel. Speaking slowly, Coolidge selects her words carefully — not because she's worried about saying the wrong thing, but because she genuinely wants each word to carry weight. She also seems astonished that so many people want to talk to her right now.

But they do, and you can't blame them. Thanks to Coolidge's role in HBO's colonization-minded satire, which premiered last year, the 61-year-old is enjoying a major career renaissance. However, Coolidge has been a scene-stealer long since before The White Lotus. Over the last 20-or-so years, the actress has earned a major cult following for her comedic timing in franchises such as Legally Blonde (both the original and its sequel), where she helped cement "Bend and Snap" into our collective consciousness as Elle Woods's (Reese Witherspoon) manicurist/confidante, Paulette.

Before that, she was the object of every teen boy's desire as Stifler's mom in the American Pie movies. Meanwhile, as Sherri Ann Cabot in Christopher Guest's 2000 mockumentary Best In Show, Coolidge made a strong case for all trophy wives by rattling off the many things her character had in common with her 80-something-year-old husband ("we both love soup" and "we could not talk or talk forever and still find things to not talk about"). More recently, Coolidge played Carey Mulligan's mother in Emerald Fennell's Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman.

So, when Coolidge arrives at the Day Of Indulgence, everyone — and I do mean everyone — practically trips over themselves to greet her. Coolidge is wearing a diaphanous bright green dress ("I'm wearing my pregnancy dress, and I'm not even pregnant," she cracks.), gold hoops, and two giant sparkly hair clips. Allison Janney and her White Lotus co-star Molly Shannon approach Coolidge excitedly. So many big names are suddenly surrounding Coolidge — in addition to Shannon and Janney, there's also Cynthia Erivo, MJ Rodriguez, and Yvonne Orji — that the on-site photographer takes advantage of the moment and snaps a few photos of the group.

As soon as the impromptu photo session wraps, Coolidge disappears. Someone nearby comments that she's shy and wasn't expecting a photographer to be on the premises. "Of course, I show up, and I've got my funny green dress on with 12-year-old clips in my hair," she says later. "And then I'm like, 'Oh my god, all these girls look so slick.'"

Eventually, Coolidge does re-emerge and begins to roam through the house's backyard, which is packed with vendors. At this point in the afternoon, most of the big names have left the party, and all of the vendors are rushing up to Coolidge, partially to hand her products but mostly to just soak up her presence.

Watching her interact with the event's staff, it's clear that Coolidge could not be more different from her obtuse socialite character on The White Lotus. While Coolidge shows genuine interest in every person who approaches her, Tanya McQuoid only thinks she cares about the spa employee on the other side of a massage (said employee is played by a perfectly exhausted Natasha Rothwell). When pushed to make good on a promise to Rothwell's Belinda, the neurotic, self-obsessed Tanya bails with no thought to what that promise might have meant.

Jennifer Coolidge on White Lotus Season 2

For her darkly funny performance as Tanya, who is vacationing in Hawaii to scatter her dead mother's ashes, Coolidge earned a wave of critical praise, and deservedly so. Coolidge's Tanya is probably hoping for an Eat, Pray, Love-style epiphany amid the gorgeous resort surroundings. She is also painfully needy, unaware of her immense privilege, and frustratingly childlike in her emotional flailing and treatment of the people around her — Rothwell's character, in particular. Coolidge's work on season 1 earned her an Emmy nod for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. She is also the only lead cast member to be invited back for season 2, which takes place in Sicily and premieres in October.

The critical recognition is all well and good, but Coolidge mostly just sounds relieved at crossing over from "actor who gets auditions" to "actor who gets offers."

"When you're an actress, it's just so much work to have to do an audition, trying to get the job," she says. "You have to [be put] up for the job, you have to get someone to think you're right for a job. You think, 'Oh my god, I don't really look like that character' and 'How can I look more like what they would want?' All this weird shit. [Now], that's almost cut in half. At this point, it's a little bit more like they meet you halfway. They're like, 'how can we make our thing fit your thing?'"

After the first season aired, it came out that creator Mike White had specifically written Tanya for Coolidge, who had to be convinced to take the role at the time. ("I didn't like the way I looked," she admitted to Variety.) Even being offered a role tailor-made for Coolidge made her nervous. "The thing that's difficult about what happened was, if someone says, 'Just be you,' none of us really know what 'you' is," she says. "No one has that much perspective."

And so she opted not to overthink anything. "I didn't have the time to [think about it]," she continues. "I think it's the least I thought about a character. Sometimes I think it works in your favor. I felt like the distraction of COVID, and everything was so big, and the [2020] election was going down and everything. I didn't have the time to think about it. Somehow, I think there's an advantage to that."

Filming on location in Hawaii also contributed to Coolidge's letting go of any anxiety she had. "So many things happened — getting seasick on that boat. That helped. I didn't have time to really think about anything except try not to throw up. That worked for me. Overcoming the heat. It's so distracting when you're that hot. Sometimes you think it's going OK, and it isn't. It's such a guessing game."

Whatever Coolidge did has paid off. is also still a little bemused by her own popularity or that the directors she's worked with trust her. "I have to say, I'm always surprised when someone says, 'I really liked what you did with that character,' because a lot of times I feel like it's a guessing game," she continues. "And sometimes I feel like, 'Is this what the director wants? I have no idea, he hasn't said anything yet. The good thing about Mike White: He's kind, but if he's not getting what he wants, he's very verbal. He's a very good director, and he's very specific."

After the first season of The White Lotus dropped, Coolidge barely watched any of it — she hates to watch herself act. "No one wants to watch themselves on camera," she says. "Who really likes it? Who enjoys it? I don't. Every time I go to watch it, I was like, 'Is that really how I am?'"

As Coolidge prepares for the rollout of The White Lotus season 2, which also stars Aubrey Plaza, Michael Imperioli, Sabrina Impacciatore, Simona Tabasco and Beatrice Grannó, Will Sharpe, Haley Lu Richardson, Tom Hollander, Theo James, and Meghann Fahy, Coolidge is looking forward to how audiences will react. "I think people are really going to like this second one," she says. "I really do. I'm not just saying that, I think people are really going to respond. It's visually beautiful, the actors are great, too. Everyone has a very cool part. And Mike has written a really good story."

Coolidge also shares viewers' excitement around the overall quality of The White Lotus' casting (the first season starred Steve Zahn, Sydney Sweeney, Jake Lacy, Connie Britton, Murray Bartlett, and Alexandra Daddario, all of whom have been Emmy-nominated, as has Rothwell). "I really admire the actors on White Lotus one, and I admired the actors in White Lotus two," Coolidge says. "Everyone in White Lotus had a great sense of humor during COVID. It was a hard time for a lot of people, but we were reaping the benefits in some weird, sad way. We were isolated together and not freezing to death."

Regardless of the series' accolades and her own glowing reviews, Coolidge has a deeply relatable way of always being in her feelings and always considering the feelings of those around her. That isn't likely to change should she take home an Emmy. "I have friends that are actors, and if I run into them at a restaurant or something and I'm like, 'How's it going?' They're like, 'It's going really good.' And I'm sitting there thinking, 'I could never …' I've never had that thought. Like, when you talk to a friend, and that's really how they feel. 'It's going really good.'"

As the sun begins to set, a parking attendant approaches Coolidge to hand her the keys to her car. Cue Semisonic's "Closing Time" — we're being politely ushered out. As Coolidge stands up (she does not put her shoes back on), she once again marvels at the myriad items she's been gifted today. "There's a lot of things that make you smell good," she says. "Really sexy panties. I think every girl in the world wants sexy panties."

Before she walks out, Coolidge says goodbye to everybody, which is pretty much just the people working the event at this point. She asks the manicurist who offered to do her nails for her name. "I'm Emma," the manicurist replies. "Emma, Jennifer. Thank you for all your help today," Coolidge says. You can tell she really means it.

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