One can only imagine the demand for an audition with Meredith Tucker, “The White Lotus” casting director who last year became the second person to win Emmys for casting across all three genres: Comedy, Drama & Limited Series/TV Movie. Her work on Season 1 contributed to a full sweep of all the Limited Series categories the hit Mike White creation was in, with Murray Bartlett and Jennifer Coolidge winning Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress over an unprecedented number of their co-stars who were also nominees.
Although “The White Lotus” was moved to the Drama categories for Season 2, lightning struck twice with four of its actors and five of its actresses still earning nominations in the even more competitive Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress in a Drama Series categories. Tucker also got another nomination for herself in the Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series category alongside her Italian colleagues Francesco Vedovati and Barbara Giordani.
“It’s really wonderful. There’s so much content right now. There’s so much amazing television that does not get its due. For this show to get recognized Season 1 so nicely, and then again Season 2, has just been a real honor to be part of,” said the casting director to IndieWire over Zoom. “It’s a testament to Michael’s writing, that he shares the wealth so much. It is a true ensemble, everyone has their moments to shine.”
Below, Tucker provides details on what her and White look for when assembling what’s become all-star casts, what Season 2 scenes factored into the audition process, and what other new shows impressed her from a casting standpoint.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
IndieWire: You’ve talked before about having to rush casting Season 1. Was having more time to work on Season 2 super beneficial?
Meredith Tucker: We actually honestly didn’t even have that much (time). The first season was just kinda like, “Ok, whatever. Alright here.” Second season we thought we had a lot more time than we did, but because of having to get people Italian work visas, it actually ended up not being as much as we had thought it was gonna originally be. But I have to say, Michael, when he sees someone that he thinks will work, he’s not one (to say) “Who else is out there?” He’s like, “Ok, this person, yes, let’s go.” And it’s not like he’s not thinking these things through. He is very thoughtful, and if he hasn’t found the person yet, he very much says, “We need to see some more. Ok, I can do it with this person. It might have not been exactly what I envisioned at first, but this person is bringing something interesting with them, and I can shape the character a little bit more to fit them.” He’s not a last minute person. It stresses him out to have a lot of stuff pending. He likes to have that part done so he can focus on the other stuff.
Is there an overall memo or mandate for what makes an actor right for “The White Lotus,” or is it case-by-case?
Case-by-case basis. The first season he said that because there were gonna be a lot of long, long scenes, and it was gonna be a very tight shooting schedule, “I need people with experience. I need skilled stage actors who could handle learning a lot of material, being able to do sustained takes.” That was very important to him. (With) his stuff, you have to have a sense of humor, that’s obviously a very important thing. He really likes to laugh. You’re not playing it for the comedy, you’re playing the truthfulness of it all. But still, the circumstances end up being ridiculous in many cases.
I read that Season 1 was built around Mike knowing he wanted to work with Jennifer Coolidge and Molly Shannon, but then the rest was through casting. Was Season 2 a similar situation, with Jennifer coming back, and him writing a role specifically for Aubrey Plaza?
Yes, he wrote that part with Aubrey in mind. He had wanted to work with her before. They’ve been friends for a while. But even that role was kind of still open. It’s hard to say. He knows a lot of actors, but he is also very open to hearing my thoughts about who could be good for various things that he’s not sure about.
When it’s someone that he knows he really wants, are you involved in that casting process as well? Or are you looking toward some of the roles that are more open?
Even with the name-ier people he does like to talk it through, and he very much likes everyone to read. We make lists, but it’s not like he’s like, “Ok, let’s make an offer to this person, this person, this person.” Obviously some people are not going to read, but some people who normally wouldn’t read are willing to read because they want to be part of it, and it is very important to him. He likes to not just see the actors, he also likes to hear the dialogue. It helps him as a writer as well, so that’s been an important part of the process and will continue to be. I don’t think the M.O. is going to change at all. As the seasons progress, it’s still going to be the same— people reading, maybe a couple people getting straight offers. I always like to give new people opportunities, people who aren’t as well-known. That’s one of the fun things about casting. It’s not fun to be like, “Oh yeah, let’s hire this person off this list, and this person off this other list.” To see an actor really do an amazing audition is one of the most exciting things about casting. To see someone do something, and then you or the showrunner looks at the part in a completely different way just because of what that person brought to it, that’s very exciting.
Are there any lines or scenes that became popular that were sides for the audition process?
Well, the scene with Daphne (Meghann Fahy) and Ethan (Will Sharpe) in the last episode, we used that scene for the Daphne callbacks. Because it hadn’t actually been written when we did our first go around. But then, when we had callbacks you could tell that scene was gonna be (great). Meghann was just magnificent in that scene. And you knew that whoever got it, it was gonna be an amazing scene. I also really loved the scene between her and Harper, when she shows the picture on the phone, because you’re just like, “What the fuck is going on here?” (Laughs). We could have used that scene too, but that seemed like such a huge, important reveal, though people are really good about keeping the sides to themselves.
You worked on “The Bold Type” as well. Were you involved in casting Meghann for that show?
No, the pilot had already been cast. Yeah, I took over and did the New York casting, because they were shooting in Montreal. So for the bigger parts, they wanted to bring people up from New York. But I had known Meghann beforehand, she had auditioned for me for stuff, and then I had seen her in a play or two, so I was already a huge fan. She auditioned for Season 1 and came very close to getting the Rachel part, but this was just more naturally her, because she has this warmth and ebullience. You think Daphne’s just this sort of dope, and then the more that is revealed, you realize that there’s a lot going on underneath, and she is really good at conveying all that. And again, that’s the thing about Michael’s characters—they are so multifaceted. There’s always more going on than meets the eye, and I feel like our actors have really been able to bring themselves to that, and fulfill that need to make them so multifaceted and multilayered.
Of course with big projects, there’s often chat of what casting possibilities were, like Sam Claflin being thought of for Cameron.
Well, Sam was just someone I would’ve asked, or wanted to read, but he wasn’t available.
It’s out there too that Evan Peters was closer to playing Ethan, but do those newsworthy castings not happening maybe become something like a blessing in disguise.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever worked on anything when it doesn’t work out with someone, and they’re like, “Damn, I really wish it had worked out with that person because this other person stinks.” It always ends up being a blessing in disguise. And that’s just, again, a testament to (Mike) that he can, he can mold the character to the actor very skillfully. If you switch out one character, it’s going to be a slightly different show, and that’s because he does sort of bring the actor’s own personality and presentation into it, as much as he does.
The casting does have that effect of even if they maybe weren’t the first name on the audition list, as a viewer, I can’t imagine anyone else playing their part. That’s especially true of Will Sharpe. Hearing Evan Peters was a possibility for Ethan, I’m like, “Oh, that sounds cool. But that would just be like a different show.”
Will is such a chameleon. On his demo reel, they had a scene from “Defending the Guilty,” which is this British show that he did, which has never been here. And it’s really funny, he’s this bumbling barrister. And then they had scenes from “Giri/Haji,” when he is playing this outrageous sort of sex worker, and (seeing) the two, I was like, “How is this the same actor?” And Ethan is completely (different) also. He’s really just amazing, I’m such a huge fan of his> I’m actually a fan of all the actors. Like Tom Hollander, the fact that he wanted to be part of this. I did the American casting for “In The Loop,” and he was in that, but I’ve never actually actively cast Tom Hollander. So when that part came up, I was like, “Tom Hollander.” and Michael’s like, “I don’t—Oh yeah, he’d be great.”
One scene that stands out, especially having Will and Aubrey play these characters that are newcomers to the lifestyle, is a joke about them both being white passing. How does diversity factor into casting the show? Is it more organic? Are there race blind roles? Etc.
It’s usually race blind. There will be something like the Di Grassos, F. Murray Abraham and Michael Imperioli were written as white, but we read a lot of biracial guys for Albie (Adam DiMarco) , we don’t know who the wife was. He felt that Cameron (Theo James) should be white just because. Aubrey, he again wrote (Harper) with her in mind, but the other two, we read both white and people of color for those characters. And we read women of color for Portia (Haley Lu Richardson). But yeah, no, he just wants the best actor and is very open to anyone, who that might be.
Can you say how far along you were with casting “The White Lotus” Season 3? Not very far?
Yeah, we didn’t really start.
Natasha Rothwell coming back as Belinda is about as far as that went?
Yeah, as far as that goes.
Was there any talk yet about collaborating with casting directors in Asia.
We hadn’t even gotten that far yet.
Are there any shows on the comedy side, or limited series side, where you’re like, “Oh, that was a job well done,” casting wise?
Oh, I could go on. Comedy-wise, I thought “The Bear” was really brilliant. And I have to say “Jury Duty,” that is a feat in and of itself, the casting of that. And there’s this British show that didn’t get much attention here, and I just thought it was so brilliant, called “This Is Going To Hurt.” It’s so good. (Ben Whishaw) is so brilliant, and the whole cast. Just learning about the NHS, I thought that show was so magnificent.
Is there any actor that you would maybe want to see on “The White Lotus” in any future season?
Oh my gosh, I don’t know. I’m drawing a blank.
You mentioned “The Bear.” I think Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri could be interesting.
And Ebon (Moss-Bachrach). Ebon I’ve known forever and I just adore him. Oh, and Liza Colón-Zayas, she is so good on that show, and she’s someone who has been a New York theater actor forever. That makes me happy when these actors like Jeff Hiller on “Somebody Somewhere,” someone that you’ve just known forever, is finally getting (a spotlight) because they’re on TV. It just makes me so happy for these people.