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In the opening scene of The White Lotus‘ second season, Meghann Fahy sits on a beach chair in Taormina, Sicily. She’s wearing a yellow one-piece, with a coordinating Louis Vuitton bag nearby, and radiates an end-of-luxury-vacation glow. “Italy’s just so romantic, you’re gonna die,” her character, Daphne Babcock, tells two fellow resort guests before getting up to stroll into the Ionian Sea. As we watch her take one last idyllic swim, she bumps into a floating dead body.
Fahy’s Daphne is a stay-at-home mother married to financier Cameron (played by Theo James), who has a wandering eye and questionable politics. They’ve traveled to The White Lotus resort to welcome newly rich friends (Aubrey Plaza and Will Sharpe) into their corner of the one percent, and viewers are quickly shown how much peace their wealth affords them — Daphne has no anxieties, no shame over not reading the news, can’t even remember if she votes.
In The White Lotus, which returned to HBO on Oct. 30, Fahy is a stealth scene-stealer. And if you ask her rabid fan base, who have been following her since her Bold Type days, this is the blow-up (and glow-up) everyone has been waiting for.
The Bold Type, about best friends working at a Cosmopolitan-like magazine, put Fahy on the map when it debuted on Freeform in 2017. The actress had been working steadily since she attended a Broadway open-call audition shortly after graduating high school in Massachusetts and booked a role on the 2009 production of Next to Normal. That got her an agent, a run on One Life to Live and guest spots on shows like Gossip Girl, but The Bold Type was her first real break. “I look back and just think it was crazy,” Fahy says over iced coconut lattes at Echo Park’s Lady Byrd Cafe. “I was in the right place at the right time, and it launched my whole life.” Bold Type wasn’t a colossal success, but it earned critical praise for its progressive portrayal of topics like sexual freedom and workplace power dynamics. Viewers got emotionally attached to the show. “I had a woman come up to me in London and tell me that [my character] Sutton’s miscarriage episode helped her process her own,” she explains.
Fahy first auditioned for season one of White Lotus, eventually losing out to Alexandra Daddario. She then put herself on tape after a friend tipped her off about a planned second installment and soon found herself on a Zoom with series creator Mike White. “Mike is so good because he casts a quality of a person,” she says. “He knows that the actor shares something innate with the character, and then you spend the rest of the time wondering what it is in you — and that gives your acting vulnerability.” Fahy also loves how the show challenges the viewers’ first impressions; Daphne’s self-awareness, and the layered charm Fahy adds to the role, prevent her from becoming a cliché, especially as later episodes reveal more undercurrents of infidelity in her marriage. “You think she’s the passive trophy wife but then realize that she and her husband both play these pretty psychotic games with each other.”
The first season of White Lotus helped launch several actors into the next stratosphere of their careers (Jennifer Coolidge, Sydney Sweeney), and many received Emmy nominations. Expectations are an inevitable part of the conversation for someone in Fahy’s position, but she says she’s worked hard to have zero. She still vividly remembers her days spent nannying and nights waitressing (at The Grey Dog in New York City), and the accruing debt that followed her to her early days on The Bold Type. “I cried when I got my first paycheck because it was so much less than I thought it would be — I was like, ‘Damn, that was supposed to get me out of a couple jams,’ ” she says with a laugh. Her life is different now — the cast lived in the $6,000-a-night Four Seasons during filming in Sicily — but she insists, when pressed, that there is no before-and-after White Lotus: “I do think people will love the season — and it would be great if it helped me work more.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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