Warning: Spoilers follow for the season finale of The White Lotus.
When Jake Lacy was flying to Maui last fall, he didn’t know he was going to kill someone. But he couldn’t be more excited that he did.
At the time, the actor, known for roles in projects like The Office, Obvious Child, and High Fidelity, had only seen one script for The White Lotus, the HBO satire/dramedy/summer sensation from writer-director Mike White that aired its season finale Sunday night.
Lacy’s Shane kicked off the series, a Disgruntled Rich White Guy seething at an airport, glaring out the window as a coffin is loaded onto a plane from Hawaii back to the mainland. The rest of the season would flash back to a stressful island-resort vacation that is more endured than enjoyed by a group of entitled, wealthy guests and the diverse hotel staff who grin-and-bear their way through satisfying their whims.
Sunday night, then, provided the answer to the season-long mystery: Who was the dead body and, moreover, who killed them?
When Lacy found out that it was his character, Shane, a walking trust fund on his honeymoon with his new wife (Alexandra Daddario’s Rachel), who was the killer, his reaction was so ecstatic he nearly burst out of his hotel quarantine before the shoot.
After all the cast members arrived at the Maui resort where The White Lotus was filmed, they were given binders laying out the rest of the series to peruse while in pre-production isolation. “I was three quarters of the way through Episode 6 being like, ‘When am I going to kill my wife? When do I murder Rachel?” Lacy laughs, speaking over Zoom a few days before the finale aired on HBO.
He had assumed based on his character’s boiling-over frustration and ensuing manic behavior that Shane would be the killer—and that his malcontent new wife would be the target—but he never could have imagined what would actually happen.
To be fair, who among us predicted that the hotel manager would be caught performing analingus on a server in his office during a drug binge and, being faced with the likelihood of being fired, break into Shane and Rachel’s hotel room, take a shit on Shane’s luggage, and then be accidentally stabbed by Shane after the fact?
Yes, it was Murray Bartlett’s Armond who met his fate, after a week of suffering the wrath of a honeymooner aggrieved that the suite his parents had purchased for his vacation was double-booked.
“It wasn’t until I was reading that Armond comes into the room and defecates on my sweater and then that I enter and that I was like, ‘I’m gonna murder Armond!’” Lacy remembers.
In his mind, Rachel would be accidentally stung by a jellyfish and have an allergic reaction, or something similarly rational. Never would he have dreamed of a sequence as wild as the one White created: “In real time reading it and knowing it would be me, and imagining all these things happening, I just was alone in the hotel room fist-pumping in the air being like, ‘Fuck yeah! Fuck yeah!’ I was so excited to be like, ‘This is what we’re gonna make.’”
The thing about Lacy and The White Lotus is how obviously stoked he is to talk about every single aspect of it. Over the course of about an hour while his two young boys nap, he loses himself on long tangents about the surreal, utterly absurd ideas there were about how to film the sure-to-be-infamous shitting-on-the-luggage scene.
His fresh-from-slumber toddler has to pull him away from recounting memories of Jennifer Coolidge’s gut-busting improv on an antique boat in the Maui waters while filming her character’s eulogy for her mother. Or the myriad takes he shot trying to figure out just the right way to react to walking in on his vacation nemesis eating out another male employee’s ass.
Unsurprisingly, given the themes of the show, he has a lot to say about the series’ commentary on privilege, entitlement, and what it means that we take all of that as entertainment—especially considering he is the one playing arguably the show’s biggest douchebag (a tight race, to be sure).
And when it comes to the big murder that he’s a part of, he offers clever insight into why, in the end, that may be one of the least consequential elements of the series.
“Whether people know it or not, what Mike [White] made is a social satire, but it’s also a satire of the form,” he says. “We’re so into these murder miniseries, so he’s like, ‘OK. I’ll show you a body, and then we’ll have five episodes about entitled douchebags. Then I’ll tell you what happened with the body. It’s this little, like, haha!”
The day before we talked, it was announced that The White Lotus was renewed for a surprise second season on HBO, which will reportedly take place at a different location with a different cast of guests. Still, Lacy has ideas about how, if not as a series regular, Shane could still be a part of the future White Lotus universe.
“I just want one shot halfway through the season that pans across the hotel pool and you see Shane giving someone a hard time,” he says. “Or like on a plane, complaining to the flight attendant about not being in the right seat. Just like, ‘This fucking guy again…’”
On Nice Guys and Douchebags...
The truth is, “this fucking guy…” has proved to be extremely entertaining.
The White Lotus is a rare gem in that every role is perfectly cast, yet every actor is playing against type. That’s what happens when you hire beloved character actors like Jennifer Coolidge, Connie Britton, and Murray Bartlett to play arguably shitty people, or Insecure’s gregarious scene-stealer Natasha Rothwell to play someone as soulful and quietly pained as Belinda.
As such, there’s been a “No More Mr. Nice Guy” narrative surrounding Lacy, whose reputation for playing so many heart-meltingly sweet, generous, supportive male characters is such that Vulture even once published a ranking of them based on the extremity of their niceness.
That talent is brilliantly employed, and maybe even weaponized, in The White Lotus. The charming smile, chiseled jawline, and side-part haircut that pairs perfectly with a polo and some khakis, it turns out, makes for an excellent Straight White Douchebag—the pendulum-swing from Mr. Nice Guy.
“Shane’s a guy who was born on third and thinks he hit a triple,” Lacy says. “For that person to then be the victim in their mind is very real and very much a problem.”
Lacy apologizes for being a Shane apologist, a very nice-guy way to react to being the person who gives life to a douchebag. But there’s honestly no reason to. That’s the brilliance of Mike White’s writing. Yes, Shane’s behavior is abhorrent. But, let’s face it, he’s never actually wrong, in the way that opportunistic jackasses thrive on such technicalities.
Yes, Shane is at an exclusive island resort with a beautiful new wife and a vault of money at home so large that when she expresses a desire to focus on her career as an online aggregator and blogger (Editor’s Note: Deep sigh), he nonchalantly says he’ll pay her more to simply not do it, not even looking up from his restaurant menu.
The fact remains, however, that his parents booked him the Pineapple Suite—it’s the best room because it has a plunge pool—and a hotel screw-up deprived him of it, prompting his mother, played by Molly Shannon, to fly to the resort to try her hand at making things better.
His preoccupation with being in the suite he is entitled to ruins his honeymoon. His pursuit of Bartlett’s Armond to rectify things becomes a real-word episode of Tom and Jerry. His wife is disgusted, to the point that she decides that she doesn’t want to be with him anymore, delivering a monologue about how he is a “naive, insecure baby” on her way out. Oh, and then there’s the fact that the obsession becomes so intense he accidentally kills someone.
In the aftermath of the bloodshed, you see Shane shaking hands with law enforcement, so you assume that everything is fine. (He’s a rich white male, after all.) Back at the airport, revisiting Shane where we first met him in the series premiere, Rachel finds him and apologizes, saying she’s dealt with her issues and is ready to be married to him again. He sighs in relief and they hug. Could this be a… happy ending?
“I think more than Shane wanting what he claims to want, he really wants someone to validate his victimhood,” Lacy says. “In a way, the death and Rachel’s reconciliation with him is saying, ‘You’re right. People really did you wrong.’”
The burden of someone’s death has been placed on him. “In a way, he’s saying, ‘I didn’t ask this guy to come in and take a shit on my luggage. I didn’t ask this guy to hide out in my bathroom. I didn’t ask this guy to antagonize me for a week. I just wanted my room. And now I have to deal with people calling me a murderer. Unbelievable.’”
Of course, he can’t process the actual trauma of a person’s life ending. At the airport when Rachel tells him everything is fine, he doesn’t cop to having his own issues to own up to, too. It’s comforting that she took care of her mess, Lacy says. “That’s not any personal growth.”
“I don’t think he’s ever dealt with loss. In my mind, it’s like all four of his grandparents were alive. His parents are together. He has never not been picked for a team or not got into the school he wanted to go to. The dude has literally not had to take an L. So he does not have the capacity to deal.”
On Violent Diarrhea and Jennifer Coolidge...
When you’ve worked on screen regularly for over a decade, you generally have a sense of how to play most things. There have been other projects with scenes that have similar dynamics with similar beats or challenges. But The White Lotus? “There was so much uncharted territory,” Lacy says. “Like, how do you play the reaction to Murray Bartlett’s face in Lukas Gage’s ass?”
Which scene involving Lacy was more memorable: The ass-eating scene, which is now something of prestige-TV legend? Jennifer Coolidge delivering the year’s most stunning, unpredictable, hilarious, and unsettling monologue? Or the whole “guy shits in a suitcase and then gets stabbed” thing?
He remembers that, for that unconventional oral-sex scene, he and Natasha Rothwell filmed a series of different reaction shots. In one, Belinda tries to slam the door quickly after realizing what she’s seeing, but Shane stops the door with his hand to maintain eye contact with Armond even longer, like a threat. In another, she holds the door open too long and, after a long stare, she grimaces and he starts laughing. (By the way, Lacy acts out each discarded take directly into camera over our Zoom, to the point that one wonders if he’s actually caught someone with their face in a butthole.)
Ultimately, he’s glad they chose the one that shows how pleased Shane is with the blackmail that’s fallen into his lap.
Asked about the Coolidge scene, in which Shane and Rachel are unwitting witnesses to her character’s bizarrely poignant breakdown while attempting to spread her dead mother’s ashes, Lacy leans back and stares off in the distance while talking, like an adorable dad reliving his glory days.
Each mention of his favorite ad-lib of hers ends with an ellipsis, transporting him to another memory that tops it, like war stories of joy.
Recalling the number of takes where he couldn’t keep a straight face as Coolidge-as-Tanya bemoaned how her mother was so cruel for telling her she could never be a ballerina, even though that was when she was skinny, causes Lacy to disappear into a giggle fit. “It’s so wildly mean to tell a person you’ll never be a ballerina. And then her memory of this is being thin enough that she could have been if she wanted to be...”
During another take, she talked about her mother being bulimic and at the end of her life was, as Lacy remembers Coolidge’s improvisation, “like 6-foot-2 and 45 pounds.” By this point, he is barely breathing. “It’s, like, physically impossible!”
Beyond the absurdity, though, he’s still just struck by her brilliance. After a take when Coolidge remembered that her mother had had a lot of money and a lot of sex, Daddario improvised a line about how that’s all anyone can ask for. Coolidge lets a long lull simmer and then counters, “I don’t know if that’s true.”
By this point, his child, awake from their nap and rambunctious, is waiting for him to play, but he’s nearly in tears with laughter. "The person who’s being absolutely ridiculous is offended by someone trying to support them. I was just, like, it’s too good."
But the thing that makes Lacy ecstatic, like an electric current just jolted him, is being asked how, exactly, did the Armond-shitting-in-a-suitcase scene work. It is, after all, the rare instance of watching feces slide out of a person’s butthole in a television series.
“To see how the fecal sausage is made…” he laughs.
He talks about a rig that was hiding in the shadows behind Bartlett, and guesses that there was a digital element involved. But more than that, he’s excited to talk about the bowel art that could have been.
When he and White first discussed the scene, White went on and on about this massive, embarrassing, explosive diarrhea that was going to blanket the entire suitcase and hotel room. When shooting day came, Lacy was stoked to see how it was all going to be accomplished. White was beside himself. “He was like, ‘We’re not doing that. That’s disgusting. I was fucking with you…’”
There was, however, another seriously entertained, similarly outrageous idea. When it still wasn’t decided if the stabbing was going to happen in the bathroom, like it does in Sunday’s finale, one possibility was in the bedroom near where the desecrated suitcase sat. Bartlett would have been against the wall and then “have to slide down the wall and have these skid marks as he dies,” Lacy recounts, wheezing. “That was the grossest, funniest, most demoralizing death. Sliding down the wall like that. Alas, we didn’t do it.”
Still, the scene is one of the most remarkable things he’s been a part of, a distillation of why he was so eager to work with White in the first place—even before he knew he would kill someone who pooped in his luggage.
The tonal dance of that scene is a marvel. Shane walks in and smells the fecal matter and starts cartoonishly investigating. When he discovers it, he calls the front desk and unloads an utterly insane rant about “a turd” in his room. Then, as that comedy unfolds, there’s the whiplash trauma of the violent, accidental death of a beloved character.
He’s never read a scene like that before. I’ve never seen anything like it, either, I counter. And it’s my job to watch all the TV.
As he’s done throughout this entire segment of the interview, he laughs again. “You’re just like, ‘God, the number of times I’ve seen a guy screaming on the phone about a turd and then kill someone…’”