An ensemble drama brings familiar faces to HBO Canada this season 

A mismatched young couple on their honeymoon, a grieving woman teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown, an out-of-sync family on vacation, a concierge buckling under the pressure of his spoiled guests—Mike White’s window into privilege is at once a horror show, richly comedic and even somewhat of a murder mystery. “It’s hard to really encapsulate what makes this show so great,” says Connie Britton, who portrays a successful businesswoman whose picture-perfect family life is riddled with cracks. “Mike White is a great observer of humanity and able to translate that into storytelling and social satire. This feels like we are, in a heightened way, shining a light on what’s actually happening in our culture right now. It’s very rare to be able to do that in a way that is humorous and compelling and suspenseful.”

The White LotusHBO CanadaWritten, produced and directed by the creator of HBO’s Enlightened, White’s characters are at once self-absorbed, delusional and inherently likeable. Comedienne Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie, Legally Blonde) portrays a single woman, travelling to paradise to scatter her mother’s ashes in the ocean but her neuroses keep her from completing the task at hand. Jake Lacy and Alexandra Daddario are a young, enviable couple on their honeymoon, where she can’t stop wondering if she has made the biggest mistake of her life.

Meanwhile, Britton’s character and her husband, played by Steve Zahn, struggle with the power dynamic of their marriage, where she is the breadwinner and he a seemingly reluctant passenger in his own life. “They judge themselves very harshly because they think that they’re supposed to be doing everything perfectly and it doesn’t feel at all perfect,” says Britton. “In that same vein, they feel like they’re completely entitled to a truly happy life. They have a lot of self-judgment that that’s not the case for them.”

The White LotusHBO CanadaThe irony, says Zahn, is that the couple’s dynamic is, in fact, more of a new normal than not. “The thing that they envisioned as being traditional is gone, that doesn’t exist anymore,” the actor explains. “It might exist somewhere, but if you have two working professionals, your life is chaos. And you have to make that work, as opposed to go on vacation and learn how to scuba dive and think all of a sudden your problems are going to be fine.”

Feeling trapped in a life that has barely begun is aspiring journalist Rachel, whose existence ranks a distant second to her new husband’s obsession with acquiring the perfect hotel suite. “The most interesting part to me was that these two are not a match,” says Daddario. “It’s very interesting to see her trying so hard to communicate with him, or get on the same page, and it’s clearly not working, but she’s in denial about that. And she doesn’t really know how she got herself into this situation.” Meanwhile, for Lacy, it was fascinating getting to play someone who completely lacks self-awareness. “Shane is so concerned about how he’s perceived, and whether he’s being treated poorly because of an assumption about who he is, but he really doesn’t have any real sense of how he behaves,” he explains. “It’s like a person who is paranoid but is looking in the wrong direction. Playing this very layered person who’s constantly trying to not be an asshole but is also well-aware that they can just start to be an asshole if they want, and no one’s going to really put them in line — all of that is fun and kind of grotesque.”

The White LotusHBO CanadaFor each actor, the overwhelming draw of the project was working with White, who is known for his ability to mix the serious with the absurd to make it darkly hilarious. “I’ll always do whatever he asks me to do,” says Britton, who previously starred in White’s 2017 film Beatrice at Dinner. “But this character, in particular, I really love because, I’ve played a lot of strong women in my career, and this was a really fun version of a strong woman from the underbelly. She’s trying so hard to be strong, whatever society tells her that looks like, and it is failing her miserably. That was really fun to be able to explore, under the incredible guidance of Mike White.”

Whether a comedic drama or a dramatic comedy, the actors never felt like White’s approach to life was out of bounds. “Sometimes the funniest things are the situations we find ourselves in. I really like that approach to life,” says Daddario. “I think life is absurd and ludicrous in a lot of ways, and we deal with difficult things in life through humour.” Just like these characters, who are utterly failing at life, and never in on the joke. “They are all in this beautiful paradise, and all they can do is be miserable,” Daddario continues. “That’s funny in and of itself.”

The White Lotus airs Sundays at 8 p.m. & 1 a.m. on HBO Canada