SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Season 2 of The White Lotus, streaming now on HBO Max.
Rest in peace, Tanya McQuoid.
As we mourn the crown jewel of “The White Lotus” — who knocks out some “high-end gays” in the season 2 finale, falls off a yacht, bangs her head on a dinghy and drowns in the Ionian Sea – The Internet is on fire with Jennifer Coolidge memes. (Yes, she is aware of this.)
Tanya finds out she’s being tricked by Quentin (Tom Hollander), but as she prepares to escape back to shore, she slips and kills herself in a shocking death that even the fanciest theories failed to predict. Coolidge explains why Tanya didn’t put the pieces together sooner diversity, “It’s too hard for people to admit to themselves that there is this kind of evil in the world. Nobody wants to believe that.”
While Tanya fought off “bad gays” in the season 2 finale, Coolidge battled seasickness himself. “I told Mike I never wanted to be on a boat again after Season 1 of White Lotus, and of course there were two yachts I had to be on,” she says. “I was so sick.”
In an interview after Season 2 ended, Coolidge — who won an Emmy in September for his role as Tanya in Season 1 — sat down with him diversity to discuss how her own “oblivion” inspired the character, became an instant meme, and what “The White Lotus” has meant to her and her career.
When did you first learn that you were going to be the big death at the end of that season and how did you react to that? when Mike told you?
I wasn’t happy about that! But Mike White is a genius – I knew my ending would be good. When he told me I was going to die, he didn’t have the ending yet, he hadn’t fully orchestrated it. I was kind of depressed, but Mike knows how to tell a story better than anyone I know, so I knew I just had to trust him. You can’t talk Mike White out of it so I just gotta go on some other adventures this year and maybe visit Mike when they film [Season 3].
Tanya dies by falling over the side of the yacht and hitting her head on the dinghy. Didn’t she see the ladder?
Tanya didn’t notice! Mike White finds it very amusing that I can handle big things, but a small thing will be my downfall. For example, my technical insufficiencies with my phone or something will keep me from achieving anything great. These little things throw me off. It was so in tune with who I am – I even heard Mike say that to someone. Not noticing something that could save my life.
Are you speaking as you, Jennifer, or as the character Tanya?
I’m saying Mike stole this from me, Jennifer Coolidge, and made it a Tanya thing – her carelessness.
How did you shoot this scene?
It was late at night on a rocky boat. I told Mike I never wanted to be on a boat again after Season 1 of White Lotus and of course there were two yachts I needed to be on. I was so sick. I’m not good on these boats. It was many hours on this boat where I didn’t feel comfortable and had to kill people and run around. There was a lot of running around on this boat.
Why do you think it took Tanya so long to put the pieces together and plan an escape when she had already seen the photo and told Portia about Quentin and Jack? Did she refuse to believe it or was she frozen in fear?
Mike wrote these scenes as very dreamlike: “Did I really see that? Is this really real or am I imagining it?” Tanya is a very damaged person and often she is not nice, but she would never take someone’s life or anything. That kind of person who doesn’t mind taking another person’s life – it’s very hard for a naive, innocent person to think up that idea in their head. You hear people on a jury saying, “The reason I voted that he’s innocent is because I just don’t believe anyone could take their own child’s life or kill their wife.” Like, oh my God! You do it every day! Somewhere in the world someone does. It’s that kind of inability to believe something until you’re in way too deep because of the possibility that it’s too hard for people to admit to themselves that there is that kind of evil in the world. Nobody wants to believe that.
In Tanya’s final moments, she asks Quentin if Greg is having an affair. What does that say about her?
There are so many things in this line. First, this is so important for women. And you have to remember that this is a dramedy. There’s a lot of comedy on this show. Even with all the bodies strewn across the floor, that’s a question Tanya wants answered despite this horrifying scene she’s in. When I read it I thought it was brilliant. And second, she really wants to know. People want to know if she really understood everything that was going on. She talks to Portia about putting the pieces together, but this deep denial is just beyond reason.
How does it feel to be a gay icon who ends up murdering a bunch of “high end gays” who had a plan to kill them?
That’s Mike White. I wouldn’t have thought of this scenario myself, it wouldn’t have occurred to me. Gay men can be mean, but mostly they’re the good guys in a lot of the movies I’ve seen. But Mike White turned these guys into bad, very corrupt, soulless guys. He told me, “You end up getting in this group of — well, let’s just say they’re bad gays.” I was just so hooked, I was so excited. You know, Tanya isn’t into her, but she’s finally being appreciated and finally having a good time on this awful journey.
Did you know that “These gays, they’re trying to murder me” has already become a meme?
Some people sent me this this morning, yes.
Did you expect that when you read the line?
no That was one of the last scenes I shot for the show and I was seasick and all. There were a lot of logical things I should have come up with. There are so many things people send me. [When filming], you don’t think about memes for some reason. Maybe it was other people on the show, but I wasn’t smart enough to recognize them.
Do you have a favorite line that you improvised?
There’s a line I told Mike about that he put in the script. I had just bought this big house in New Orleans and my father was secretly upset because he thought I was overwhelmed. And my aunt pulled me aside and said, “Sometimes…old buildings are more important than people.” And I said that to Mike White, and he wrote it differently in the script. [Tanya tells Quentin on the boat, “There aren’t enough people out there that are worried about old buildings.”] It’s very clever the way he weaves all those things in.
One of my favorite lines Mike came up with is, “These are some high-end gays.” I liked it when Tanya was happy about something because she was so depressed for most of season 1 and the beginning of 2. There is another brilliant phrase about that when you meet other rich people, they are not afraid that you will take their money, so they let you in. That’s a true fact! I improvised a lot of things, some worked and some didn’t. But 99.9% of my favorite lines were Mike White.
How does it feel to say goodbye to Tanya McQuoid and what has The White Lotus meant to you and your career?
It was sort of the start of good times for me coming out of COVID and doing White Lotus Season 1. Getting this gift to play and make this very cool story. I know Mike White is a genius and all, but I never thought “White Lotus” was going to be a huge thing. I remember thinking, “That’s good,” but there’s a lot of good stuff on TV that never gets recognition. I had no expectations but it turned into this massive thing.
And staying with White Lotus Season 2 – it was a life changing thing. The specials! It doesn’t matter whether I can take on these projects or not. I never thought I’d have a chance in hell to do something dramatic. Of course, White Lotus has comedy in it, but before that the only dramatic role I had was something a long time ago with Nicolas Cage called Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and I’m not sure how many people have that seen. “White Lotus” has opened up a world of possibilities and of course Mike White will always be my friend.
I could never have predicted this moment, and that’s the cool thing about life sometimes: cool stuff is something you never thought of. I’m still in shock two years later.
This interview has been edited and abridged.
https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/white-lotus-jennifer-coolidge-tanya-death-interview-1235458262/ White Lotus Ending: Jennifer Coolidge on Tanya’s Death, Gay Memes