How Molly Shannon Nailed Rich Lady Attitude for The White Lotus

·6 min read
Photo credit: Mario Perez/HBO
Photo credit: Mario Perez/HBO

Of all the characters on The White LotusMike White’s dark, hilarious series airing now on HBO—who are living in a bubble of affluence that has seemingly cut off some necessary oxygen, Molly Shannon’s Kitty Patton might be the most delightfully uncomplicated. After all, while various other players in the social satire grapple with questions of belonging, entitlement, and identity, Kitty doesn’t worry about her place in the world; as far as she’s concerned, she’s at the top of the food chain, thank you very much, and doesn’t plan on going anywhere.

Viewers first meet Kitty when she descends upon the series’ titular Hawaiian resort to crash her son’s already rocky honeymoon—he’s unhappy with his suite and she’s decided to take a few days before a much-needed spa trip to smooth things over for him. What makes her interlude into the story so unforgettable, however, is Shannon’s expert handling. Her Kitty isn’t a Lovey Howell type or a throwback, Dynasty-style lady who lunches, but instead a sharp, modern take on a woman of means and influence—and one of the show’s most delicious characters. (It’s not the only chance we’ll have to see Shannon shine this summer. On August 26, the second season of her series The Other Two—a sly and charming sitcom about the family of a tween music sensation—will premiere on HBO Max.)

Photo credit: Mario Perez/HBO
Photo credit: Mario Perez/HBO

Here, she talks to T&C about filming at a Hawaiian oasis, awful behavior from hotel guests, and why you should never get too close if you notice her swimming laps.

Your character on The White Lotus shows up midway in the series and turns one of the story lines on its head. What about her appealed to you?

I've never really played a character like that before. Mike told me, “You know, this is really different for you,” and when I was first playing her, I was doing this more affected person, but he was like, “No, Molly, you don't have to you don't have to act rich, you're just rich. You've been rich your whole life.” I knew exactly what he meant; he just wanted it to be natural. It's like I'm like somebody who's probably always had money and I've never known anything different, so I don't have to act rich, I just am. It was just a really fun part to play, and I always try to understand a character’s point of view and not make fun of it. She has some good points, you know. It's not how I think, but I saw what she was saying.

What’s your process for creating a character like Kitty? Do you observe people you know?

I do have somebody in mind who I know who is a little bit like that. I have a friend, I won't say who, but somebody who's a very sophisticated mother who comes from money. [In creating a character,] I will think a little bit about a real person and then I'll also add to it just kind of making it up.

I was really comfortable with the dialogue, really knowing it inside and out because it was so well written. Once you feel comfortable with the words, you can think about the character and how she walks and holds herself, which always helps me click me into a character.

Photo credit: Mario Perez/HBO
Photo credit: Mario Perez/HBO

You had the unique experience of filming this story about people at a Hawaiian hotel while actually being people at a Hawaiian hotel, specifically the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. How was it being in a place so similar to the one you're telling a story about. Do fiction and reality ever merge?

It was so fun because at first there were no guests anywhere, so we were just in a bubble—and it did make the shooting very special. Also, I brought my kids, so it was one of the most ideal situations working because my kids were doing remote school at the time. So, I would go down to shoot a scene and I'd be like, “I'm going to be in the lobby,” and they would be like, “Okay, we're going to go snorkeling.” It was an absolute dream. When we weren't working, all of [the cast] would take sunset swims every day because we were all staying at the hotel, and we would have big dinners every night—cheeseburgers and margaritas. My daughter asked, “Is it always like this?” But then there was a point when the actual guests came into the hotel, and I have to say they pumped up the hotel once the guests came in; it was full Four Seasons glamour.

Is it strange when the guests come upon the making of this series? The series obviously isn’t about any of these people specifically, but they’re living an experience that your project is mirroring in a way.

When the real guests came in, I would be swimming laps on my days off, and there was a woman with her mother who I would just watch when I was swimming. I was thinking, oh, she's like my character; she was with her mother playing cards in the afternoon and she seemed like not a pleasant person. She seemed like a bitch if you want my honest opinion. So, I was just kind of studying her while I was swimming, watching her in that cabana with her mother playing cards, looking bored with a bottle of champagne, just being on vacation. I'm always studying people in my free time. I do that naturally, whether I'm filming or not.

Photo credit: Zach Dilgard/HBO Max
Photo credit: Zach Dilgard/HBO Max

Did anything you saw work its way into the series?

Somebody I know actually became really good friends with one of the workers at one of the fancy hotels nearby and took them out for dinner. They were like, “What's the most outrageous thing a guest has ever requested?” They got the worker— I'm not going to say at which hotel this person worked—to say that once there were guests who complained to the staff that the moon was too bright. They were like, “It's too bright, it's shining in our room. Can you do something about the moon?” Isn't that funny?

Does working on a series like this make you think twice about how you’ll behave the next time you're on vacation?

Of course! A friend of mine saw the show and said it affected her deeply; she's thinking about herself all the time now in public and at restaurants. I try to be polite—I worked in the service industry for a long time as a waitress and as a hostess, so I've been on that other side—but everyone has bad days, I guess.

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