Will Sharpe Says The Finale Will Get ‘Messy’

Dec 18, 2022

Will Sharpe has written and directed acclaimed series such as “Landscapers” and won a BAFTA Award for his performance in “Girl/Haji,” but nothing in his career so far has prepared him for being swept up in the discourse of Mike White’s “The White Lotus.” Despite not being on social media (at least publicly), the London native is very aware of just how popular the HBO series is worldwide. And frankly, he feels “just lucky to be a part of it.”
READ MORE: ‘The White Lotus’ Season 2 Review: HBO’s Hit Anthology Series Isn’t Worth The Trip This Time
In case you’ve skipped it this time around (ratings would suggest most haven’t), the second season of the Emmy-winning program is set in another fictional White Lotus resort, this time in Sicily (the San Domenico Palace, Taormina Four Seasons). And, once again, puts the hypocritical foibles of the rich and upper middle class on full display. Sharpe plays Ethan, a coder who recently hit the financial jackpot. His wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza) is a successful lawyer who is initially uncomfortable around Ethan’s college friend Cameron (Theo James) and Cameron’s wife Daphne (Meghann Fahy), who invited them on this trip to Italy in the first place. Over the course of a week, Cameron not only flirts with Harper but pushes Ethan into partying with some questionable local women (Beatrice Grannò, Simona Tabasco). As tensions rise, the audience is left to wonder which of the guests at the White Lotus will end up dead in the Mediterranean Sea (or elsewhere), a revelation in the first scene of the season premiere.
With the finale airing on Sunday night, The Playlist asked Sharpe what viewers should expect. Making sure he didn’t spoil anything, Sharpe paused for almost a minute before responding.
“That’s hard,” Sharpe says. “I mean, last time someone asked me this I just said, ‘Things are going to get messy.’ Yeah. I don’t know. How do I say it? It’s not like it gets less tense, put it that way.”
Sharpe, who praised White, also believes the show’s writer and director aren’t saying anything “conclusive,” but “is leaving you with things to think about” before the final credits roll.
“And I think there will be some surprises, probably,” Sharpe says. “And I know from my point of view, it was the final episode that most excited me about playing Ethan and how it relates to all the rest of the series. He was written with such restraint, I felt, until that final episode. And so it felt like everything else that I had done was basically building up to what happens in that episode seven. But yeah, there’s some darkness. There’s some pieces of light in there.”
Over the course of our conversation, conducted earlier this week, Sharpe talks about the unexpected request to audition for the role, just why Ethan has become almost obsessed with the idea of Cameron and Harper hooking up, and much, much more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Playlist: You’ve primarily worked in the UK film and television industry. How did this role come your way?
Will Sharpe: Well, I got an email asking to tape for it is the short answer. And so I did, and then a couple of rounds later, I was very surprised to find out that I was going to be a part of it. So, I guess they must have found out about me somehow and thought it was worth the shot.
Did Mike ever tell you he’d caught you in “Giri/Haji” or was it literally the casting director casting a wide net?
I think it started with the casting director and one of the producers, and then I sent my tape in and then I think Mike did start to watch some of my stuff once I was in contention. But no, we never had a big conversation where he was like, “And this was the thing,” or, “That was the scene that I saw where I knew.” I think it was just a vibe thing. And the last round I met him on Zoom and so he was feeding back to me and we had a little chat about the character.
What did he tell you about Ethan before production began?
Well, I’d read all the scripts before I got to set. We all had, I think, before even going over for our fittings and initial conversations and I guess rehearsals, I think. But even before that, it was either before the final round or just after I found out I got the part, I can’t remember, but they talked through the whole of Ethan’s arc and how it related to the other three of our quartet. And that was what really excited me about playing the role, I think, is where he begins relative to where he ends and how much he changes in the end, I guess, was what sounded like it would be fun and challenging.
Why do you think Harper and Ethan have such a, for lack of a better description, minimal sex life?
Well, we talked about this a fair bit at the beginning and on and off through the shoot, but I think really that is emblematic of the overall problem. Where they’ve been together for a long time. And I think between Aubrey and Mike and I, we decided it’s at least seven or eight years. And talking with Mike about, for example, their newfound wealth and has this affected their relationship? Is it the fact that they’re suddenly on the kind of vacation they wouldn’t normally go on with people they wouldn’t normally be on vacation with? Is that a thing? Or is there some issue from their past? But really he just wanted it to be something much more universal and relatable and more common than people would probably tend to admit than that. He just wanted it to be they’ve just been together for a long time and there’s a kind of atrophy that has come with that. And we meet them in a place where they’ve been so busy and in this cruise control autopilot mode that they haven’t really noticed [their lack of sexual relations]. And suddenly they are put against this couple that is very different from them. They’re in a new place, a different environment. They have all this money. And I think all of those things make them start to notice that, “Actually maybe we are not as…” They’ve always said, “We are 100% honest with each other about everything. We’re good together.” And I think Harper’s the first one to start to worry. And even for Harper, I think her initial way of dealing with that is by just going the other way and saying that I think we’re actually fine and those guys are really weird and they never fight and that’s bullshit. And then Ethan starts to question it too. But again, I think he’s too frightened to look at the problem head-on. But as the vacation develops and things start to happen and they have conversations with Daphne and Cameron and he has his night with Cameron, Harper has her trip away with Daphne. I think the short answer is because they’ve been together for a long time and they’re asking themselves the same question you asked me, I think. And initially, it’s like, “Has it gone away, the attraction?” And then the next stage is, “Why has it gone away and where has it gone, and can we get it back?”
Ethan is still incredibly loyal to Harper. He’s not willing to have some fun on the side. Was that an integral part of his character according to Mike?
No, I think he is loyal and he is trying to be loyal, but I always felt like, that party in his room? What I felt was going on was he was trying to work out who he is, and who he’s supposed to be, but he’s curious enough to let it into his room. And I feel like that’s the mistake he makes. Because if he genuinely doesn’t want to engage and he does think that “actually, I’m not that kind of guy, don’t let them into the room.” But he’s obviously curious. He’s like, “So, what does this look like? How does it feel?” And I feel like when Mia [Beatrice Grannò] comes up to him, I think he’s tempted, but that’s the point where he’s like, “No, I shouldn’t do this.” And I think he’s happy that he didn’t go all the way and was able to show some willpower in that moment. And I think that’s what he’s presenting to Harper when she confronts him. But I think as things go on, he’s starting to realize that actually what does it say about where they’re at as a couple and what does it say about him that they even got that far and he was even engaged at all. And so yeah, I think he is loyal and he is trying to be loyal, but there’s just something that has gone awry in their marriage and it’s playing on his mind, I think, as much as it is on hers, in a way.
It’s eventually revealed that Cameron has always been infatuated with Ethan when they were in college as friends. And, at that time, Cameron was sort of the big man on campus. How did you perceive their friendship throughout the series?
I mean that’s another thing that we talked about early on. And I think it felt like Mike would always say, “It’s not like they’re soulmates. They were roommates.” And so the way he explained it, I think Ethan at one point even says it, it’s like, “We were roommates and then we became friends and now we’re friends.” But it’s the kind of friends where I think after college they’re sporadically in touch. Invite to their wedding, like a birthday party, whatever, an occasional email, but not best buddies kind of thing. And I guess initially, as you say, Cameron loves to posture. He loves to take the status and I feel like Ethan doesn’t want to engage in that kind of behavior. And I think he’s somebody who, if he gets status, he wants it to be because he deserves it, because he’s worked for it, because he’s earned it. But not playing that game starts to have pretty dire consequences, I think, on this vacation and in that particular matrix.
And so maybe he’s starting to realize that actually, he does need to play that game in a way. And I always felt like Ethan seems like he’s somebody who’s been incredibly busy. I think he didn’t really think it through. He was just like, “Oh, this is a nice invitation. That would be cool. Should we do that?” And Harper’s probably similarly busy. It’s like, “Yeah, why not?” And I reckon part of him would’ve thought, “Well, Cameron’s an adult now. He’s probably changed.” And he even starts off by saying, “He used to be worse. Just laugh it off. They’re different from us.” But I think he starts to realize that actually, Cameron has not changed, and maybe, if anything, it’s more strained, the relationship. And the other thing that Mike said early on, which I thought was interesting was he talked a little bit about his own relatively humble beginnings in Pasadena and how, I think his father was a pastor, but he was around people who were very privileged and who did have a lot of money. And he talked about how Ethan feels like somebody who’s always had to work to get into college. He got into college because he was smart and then he made his money because he’s a really good coder and that’s how he’s become rich. Whereas with Cameron, maybe he grew up with money. He’s never known any different. And so when this invitation for the vacation came in, maybe there’s a part of Ethan which is like, “Why am I going to turn that down? Maybe we deserve a piece of that. Let’s go and see what that’s like to live like that.” I mean, it’s definitely complex. And I think where it starts to get interesting, I think, is for the most part in the first few episodes it feels like Cameron’s playing Alpha and Ethan’s very submissive. Often [he] will just be humiliated by him and suck it up. But then there’s that moment when they go on that wine trip and Ethan’s like, “You know how he always used to sleep with women that I had a crush on? I wonder if that’s because you’re just annoyed that I’m smarter than you. And so it’s your way of trying to get a piece of that or something.” And I feel like there might be a truth to that, that there is a thing that Ethan has. First of all, I think it maybe drives Cameron a little bit crazy that Ethan never rises to it when he’s being goaded by him. But I also think it might drive him a little bit crazy that Ethan has this thing, which is that he’s a coding genius and he’s really smart. And so Cameron needs to somehow pillage that from him and he somehow wants to not let Ethan have that even. Do you know what I mean?
And maybe some of what’s happening is maybe to do with that on a subconscious level perhaps, or even a conscious level. I don’t know.
In episodes five and six, before the finale, Ethan is in a mental state that I think a lot of people can relate to. He’s overthinking something so much that it’s totally getting to him. You know what happens in the final episode, but why do you think Cameron has gotten into Ethan’s head about all of this stuff with Harper potentially sleeping with him?
I think it all circles back to the central question, which always felt like, “Is it O.K. between him and Harper?” And the fact that it’s increasingly clear that they’re not in a good place. I mean, the first time we see them on the boat, they’re already bickering. And I’m pretty sure it’s the first episode where the first time Harper’s like, “You know, it was kind of weird Cameron got changed in front of me. He just got naked in the room.” And Ethan’s like, “Oh, don’t worry about that.” But the next thing he does after he’s brushed that off is he looks at the Testa di Moro. And earlier in the episode we’ve just been told that that is a symbol of adultery and the consequences of that. And so it’s already starting to eat away at him. And he also knows, I think, that yes, stuff has happened to him and people have done stuff to him, but he knows that he has also made mistakes and he also knows that he hasn’t always dealt with things in the best way. So, I think he’s also in part angry at himself. And I remember trying to tap into what is going on when he is imagining the worst between Harper and Cameron. And I think part of it is a jealous fear and there’s also a kind of anger and resentment towards Cameron and a sadness that Harper would ever go there. But I think there’s also an anger directed at himself, which is a, “How did I let it get to this point? How have I let our marriage get to this where I’m even able to consider?” And part of it is just genuinely trying to work out if he’s gone mad or not because he feels like it happened because the door was locked. And it’s kind of like, “Well, maybe the door was just locked and I’m overthinking it, but maybe something did happen. And if it did happen, what does that say about us?” Which I think is often the big question.
Or maybe Harper wanted to make him feel jealous and think that something had gone on when it actually hadn’t, and there can be consequences for that.
Yeah. And it could be that. It could be that. But even if it is just that, I think there’s still a feeling of, “How did we get here?”
There was a teaser for the final episode where Ethan and Cameron’s character are in the water and you punch him. So, that’s out there in the world. How would you tease the finale to someone in terms of what may or may not happen?
That’s hard. I mean, the last time someone asked me this I just said, “Things are going to get messy.” Yeah. I don’t know. How do I say it? It’s not like it gets less tense, put it that way.
Having read the entire final episode script, is it a sad ending to the season? Is there any hope for any of the characters? Or is Mike trying to say something about what these characters overall have gone through?
I believe so, yeah. And I think it’s complicated as always, but I don’t think he’s saying anything conclusive, but he is leaving you with things to think about. And I think there will be some surprises, probably. And I know from my point of view, it was the final episode that most excited me about playing Ethan and how it relates to all the rest of the series. He was written with such restraint, I felt, until that final episode. And so it felt like everything else that I had done was basically building up to what happens in that episode seven. But yeah, there’s some darkness. There’s some pieces of light in there. And yeah, I don’t want to say too much because yeah…
This has been another meme-worthy season for “The White Lotus.” Have you ever experienced anything like this on previous projects?
So, I get sent stuff occasionally by a friend or a rep or if they think something’s funny. But I’m not on any social media so I’m not across it, but I have a sense of it. I think this is the most watched show I’ve been a part of. And that is a strange feeling. It’s a nice feeling, I think. And it’s exciting. But it’s exciting to be a part of something like that.
What are you working on now? What’s next for you?
So, I’ve been reading scripts and doing tapes and stuff when they come in and thinking about next year. But I’ve also been writing a movie script, which is a love story set against a period of American history that I think is a little bit under-explored, and I’ve been wanting to write something about for a while. And then I’ve also been developing a TV show, which is a little harder to explain. So, I’ve written the first episode so far. In both cases, I’m probably going to start pitching it early next year. And this TV series, I mean, it’s set in a post-Chekhovian sci-fi world. And it’s a little bit, I guess, in a broad… No, that’s enough. It’s set in a post-Chekhovian sci-fi world.
You’re an acclaimed writer and director yourself. While you were making “White Lotus” was there a hunger to spend any of your downtime working on your own material?
My dream was to spend my downtime tapping away under an orange tree and making up lots of ground, which between having two very young children, because my family came out with me for most of it, and Ethan and the show, I did do some writing, but I was definitely ready to get back into it when I returned. Because it’s funny, I’m not a method actor on purpose. I didn’t study acting. I’ve always learned by doing and I came in through comedy originally. But I do find that I end up carrying these characters around with me a little bit and just trying to get into their headspace. And maybe it’s partly because Ethan is so internal and he sucks so much of it up, and there’s relatively few scenes where he gets to release that, and a lot of our biggest, most important scenes were right at the end of the schedule, so I found myself carrying a lot of that around with me.

And so that would sometimes make it hard to come out of that space into a completely different world. But yeah, I mean, I feel like one nice thing about being someone who writes and directs but also acts is that you get the privilege of being on other people’s sets. There’s always something to learn, I think, from every job. And I definitely felt like I learned some stuff from Mike and really enjoyed working with him and had been a fan. So, as I said at the beginning when I did the first tape, I didn’t really expect anything to happen. So, I feel really lucky just to have been a part of it, to be honest.
“The White Lotus” season 2 finale is Sunday at 9 PM ET on HBO and HBO Max.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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