Movies

Mike White and ‘The White Lotus’ Stars Break Down That Jaw-Dropping Twist: I Want to ‘Make Gay Sex Transgressive Again’

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SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers up to Episode 5 of “The White Lotus,” airing Sundays on HBO and streaming on HBO Max.

Season 1 of “The White Lotus” left jaws wide open when, at the end of its fourth episode, Murray Bartlett’s Armond is caught face-deep in his employee Dillon’s (Lukas Gage) asscheeks. But with the latest second-season episode, Mike White’s HBO series may have topped that (pun intended).

“The White Lotus” introduced new characters and conflict last week when English millionaire Quentin (Tom Hollander) recruits Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) and her assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) to join him, his flamboyant friends and his hunky nephew Jack (Leo Woodall) in partying at the beach club. Portia’s budding fling with Albie (Adam DiMarco) begins to flicker when Jack takes interest in her, leading to an awkward, jealous showdown at the bar between Portia and Jack and Albie and Lucia (Simona Tabasco). The most shocking revelation, however, comes when Tanya roams around Quentin’s palazzo late at night and walks in on Jack having sex with his, erm… uncle?

Speaking with Variety ahead of the Episode 5 premiere, White said the scene was an “echo” of Bartlett and Gage’s Season 1 moment. Both feature a character walking in on gay sex behind closed doors, and both occur two episodes before the finale.

“There’s a pleasure to me as a guy who is gay-ish to make gay sex transgressive again,” White said. “It’s dirty… men are having sex and you have this ‘Psycho’ music underneath. It just amuses me.”

White continued: “I just think transgressive sex is sexier. I guess I’m old school. There’s this Gothic vibe of walking through a haunted hotel or haunted house and people are having sex behind closed doors.”

As far as whether Quentin and Jack are actually related, White teased, “Well, you’ll have to see.”

While Hollander told Variety that he knew about Quentin and Jack’s intimate moment upon embarking on the role, Woodall said he wasn’t even sent a script until a couple of weeks after he got the part.

“When I found out about the scene, I was speechless for a while,” Woodall said. “I’m such a huge fan of Tom’s, and when I heard that he was going to be playing my uncle, I thought, ‘That is unreal.’ And then when I found out that I was going to shag him as well — that was kind of surreal. Anything that Mike White does with this show is kind of perfect, so there were no reservations about it. It felt like an incredibly ‘wow’ moment.”

As far as shooting the scene, Woodall said it was a closed set, and they worked with an “incredible” intimacy coordinator, Miriam Lucia. After figuring out the logistics of the scene, they shot it from two different angles.

“It’s more technical than anything else when you’re actually doing it,” Hollander said. “You know, ‘Is this the right angle? Does this look right?’ But there was a mutually respectful energy between us, too. And on the set, the production was very tender around those moments. It certainly was around that one. We just wanted to do it right.” 

Hollander added that the actors were “sprayed down with some stuff to make us look like we were sweating” — “oily stuff,” Woodall interjected.

“There is fantasy, and you’re going through your head going, ‘I hope I look good.’ But when they say action, in a way that goes, and you actually just find yourself thinking, ‘I want this to be a true representation of an intimate moment between two people.’ You just want to do it right,” Hollander said.

When asked whether they’ve warned friends or family about what’s to come, Woodall said he told his dad not to let his 6-year-old brother watch the episode, but other than that he hasn’t “told a single soul about it, because I want to see their faces — or at least get their reactions without any prompt.”

As far as nerves leading up to Sunday night, Hollander said, “I suppose I’m excited. There’s a tiny bit of anxiety — I’m not quite sure what it’s to do with — but mostly I’m excited.”

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