This interview discusses the finale of The White Lotus season one.
Jake Lacy is known for playing “nice guys,” the kind of men you’d want to introduce to your mom and make perfect boyfriends. But The White Lotus’ Shane is his best role yet, playing against type as a privileged, pompous asshole. And in the season-one finale finale, we learned Shane can get away with murder—literally. In a conversation with The A.V. Club, Lacy took time between moving to his new home in Connecticut (where he jokes there live even more Shanes than in his former neighborhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) to chat about the filming of the murder scene, whether he thinks Shane’s learned not to be a dick (spoiler: absolutely not), and why Shane feels even more validated after his final interaction with Armond.
It’s your first time killing someone onscreen. What was your reaction when you got to read the murder scene?
Jake Lacy: I didn’t have access to all of [the scripts] until I landed in Hawaii. In quarantine [on location], I read the entire season. And I think, like most viewers, I was sure that Rachel died and for some reason was under the impression that I was responsible for it; not as a murderer or a premeditated act, but, you know, that we go scuba diving or we take a surf lesson and she is fatally bitten [by a shark] or something like that. So then I just remember reading that sixth episode and getting to the 12 pages till the end [where] Armond’s going in and taking a shit and then me opening the door next and being like, “Oh my God, I’m about to kill Armond.” Getting to have that unfold was so thrilling. I was in my quarantined hotel room fist pumping and swearing out of excitement. And then I FaceTimed my wife like, “I killed a guy! I’m the killer!”
JL: To build up that scene is so fun and ridiculous. I mean, Armond just being on a multitude of chemicals and Shane being at his lowest point maybe ever in his life; this is a guy who hasn’t had to deal with much loss or rejection. And we shot all of this not continuously, but we shot all of that on the same day, thankfully. We didn’t shoot the stunt stabbing one day and then come back and do the entrances, so we got to stay in that zone with the blinders on a little bit. And Mike [White] was very clear and helpful to remind me of all the moments that have come before and then being like, “I think you should be on this phone call with the front desk and be livid.” That’s just the totality of his experience for this entire honeymoon. And then the shooting of any stunt like that is similar to a sex scene almost in the way that when edited, it can tell a certain story. But the doing of it is pretty technical, in trying to orchestrate things for camera angles.
Then there was a series of [alternate takes] for the stabbing itself. There’s one alt where I stab Armond and as I walk away, I’m like in shock. And Mike was like, “Say ‘My bad, my bad bro’ as you back away.” At the end, they obviously went with me saying “Jesus Christ” as a gag. But there’s another [take] of me saying “My bad.” And there’s another of me saying like, “Oh no, bro. Oh no.” Just like varying degrees of Shane’s sort of bro-ness. The tension that’s achieved from that is somewhat performance, but really is a credit to Mike as a writer and director and to the editor, for taking all of these disparate pieces and then building this thing, with the music underneath that’s like, even as a person involved in making it, it’s really fulfilling to watch.
You’ve been in numerous projects before, but this is the first time where the press’ focus is on you and the narrative everyone seems fascinated with is you shedding your “nice guy” typecasting. What has it been like to discuss that facet of your career nonstop lately?
JL: I don’t mind talking about it. I think it’s an easy thing to latch onto because I’ve done a series of roles that have a similar thread to them, and this is a departure from that. But there isn’t that much for me to say about it, other than “Yes, I’ve done these other roles. And then I also did this role.” A lot of those jobs, I was happy to have them and lucky to be hired. If you do something relatively well in this business, people are often happy to hire you for that same thing. And that that’s great as an actor. I always want to have more and different opportunities. It has just turned out that the projects where I’ve been like a good dude or a nice guy or a solid boyfriend have gotten more attention from viewers and critics alike than stuff where I haven’t been in that role. But I have done a series of things over the years that aren’t just that.
There’s definitely a perception of “this is what Jake does”— if anyone knows me by name. But I’ve also done other stuff and I’m really happy to have had this opportunity. It also wasn’t a plan. Sometimes there’s a sense of like “did you decide you wanted to do something?” And I’m like, well, I never decided I wanted to be a nice guy in stuff.
It’s funny because you also had a role in Ramy as Kyle where you played an asshole. A different kind of asshole, but an asshole nonetheless.
JL: The through line or a through line between the character on Ramy and Shane is guys who have a massive blind spot to their access and privilege and entitlement and opportunity. In Ramy, that guy does not know that what he thinks is an attraction to a certain culture or women from a certain culture is actually low-key racism and bigotry and kind of a perversion to need to own someone else’s culture and to objectify that, and thinks that he’s just worldly, like he’s appreciating a culture. And similarly, there’s a line in White Lotus where Shane is basically saying “This has happened to me before, people have come for me my whole life” as if it’s his cross to bear. Is that because of his privilege? [To him] it’s actually been detrimental to him succeeding because he’s had to fight against people’s assumptions of who he is like. That’s the big, big victimhood of his life. And I’d say those are both pretty huge blindspots.
I know you’re not on Twitter, but have you been lurking to see what people say about the show? The White Lotus tweets have been nonstop!
JL: I’m not on Twitter. Somebody sent me a couple of memes that my face is in with like the Delta variant. Someone mentioned, “Oh, have you seen—people are really responding to it” or something. I’m aware [of fan reactions]. I’m on Instagram, so I guess that’s a little more direct. I put something up and people go, oh, it’s really good or people go, go away. But no, I’m not investigating Twitter at all. Can you give me a short rundown?
There’s so much discourse. I don’t even know where to begin. It’s a little overwhelming, especially after the finale. But one question that another writer brought up on Twitter, which I would love for you to answer, is if Rachel actually knows Shane killed Armond, or if he’s hiding what happened from her.
JL: My understanding is that, to all the guests, it’s been framed as self-defense. To suppose that Shane is sort of gaslighting Rachel in regard to the severity of the violence or his part of it kind of chips away at her choice to stay with him. It’s an ugly choice that she makes to stay with Shane, rather than forego this to give up like the lifestyle, but also maintain her sense of self, and she doesn’t change that. And that’s not the happy ending that I think we probably want. You want her to have Quinn’s journey and run from the airport, but she doesn’t.
There’s so much talk on social media about Rachel’s decision to stay with Shane, too. I think one of the main points of discussion I’ve seen is whether she’s deciding to stay in the marriage because she doesn’t know how else to stay financially afloat, or if there’s a chance that Shane learned anything after nearly losing her. So, let’s set the record straight from you: is there any chance Shane learned his lesson?
JL: No. No. No. No, I mean, the… No. For Shane, it’s really not about the room. The thing he really wants is someone to say “You’re a victim. You got fucked.” And so for Rachel to come back is a validation to him of saying like, “I was being crazy, you’re totally valid in the way you handled this and that the issues you had with the hotel.” And the fact that Armond came in and took a shit on his clothes, it was a further validation of being like, “This guy is out to get me.” So, none of that really leads to forcing Shane into growing or learning something or seeing his part in it or taking responsibility.