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admin / Fri, Aug 11, 2023
‘The White Lotus’ Star Theo James on Playing a Despicable Character: “You Need to Find Pieces of the Person That You Enjoy and Like”

The actor also notes showrunner Mike White’s writing helped him find his character’s humanity: “He can boil us down to our most animalistic urges.”

Theo James was in a London park when he learned he was nominated for his first Emmy for his role as chaotic finance bro Cameron on HBO’s The White Lotus, and when the British actor got on the phone with THR, he hadn’t yet had a chance to talk to any of his co-stars — many of whom were also nominated. Overall, The White Lotus racked up 23 nominations during the July 12 announcement.

That was his plan after he hung up. “I’m going to try to get a hold of people, and then I think I’m going to have a drink,” he says. “An alcoholic drink. I haven’t chosen which one.” The next stop? Reading Julia Donaldson’s book Room on the Broom to his daughter. “That’s probably what I’ll be doing,” he adds. “A drink and then a children’s story.”

In this season of Mike White’s saga of rich folks in beautiful settings and their petty problems, James’ Cameron and Meghann Fahy’s Daphne are the gorgeous and toxically happy couple who corrupt Will Sharpe and Aubrey Plaza’s more miserable and measured pair. For James, playing Cameron meant finding himself liking a horrible person.

What was your reaction to the nom?

It’s very, very exciting. I just got a call from Mikey Boy as well, and he’s calling everyone and congratulating [them]. It’s a lot down to his writing, obviously. I’m very happy for everyone else in the show, as well.

Sorry, did you just call Mike White “Mikey Boy”?

(Laughs.) Yeah.

Can you talk a little bit about the journey that Cameron took you on? How did the acting of it surprise you throughout the process?

I mean, it was definitely a process because I needed to frame him in a way in which I liked him myself. If you need to play someone convincing, even if it’s the most abhorrent person, you need to find pieces of the person in yourself. You need to find pieces of the person that you enjoy and like. He was funny in a way because I ended up liking him or convincing myself that I liked him — so much that when I was watching the show, I was reminded of what an abhorrent person he was. I was like, “No, but he’s a great guy. He may do terrible things, but he’s effusive and charming and he loves people around him.” But in a way he’s part sociopath, because he’s bent on disruption. That’s his kind of main thing. He gets off on disrupting everyone around him.

How did you find that balance? You convinced yourself to like him, but he is deplorable.

I saw him in two ways. In a kind of symbolic way, I saw him as a child. He’s kind of loving, but doesn’t think about his actions. He’s full of energy and hope and brightness, but he also, as a child does, only thinks about himself. And then the other part, which I’ve said before, always from the very beginning, I saw him as an animal. But he succumbs to his most basic elements, and that’s aligned with some of Mike’s thesis. Mike’s thesis is even the most wealthy and the most privileged, really, [are] all just humans. He can boil us down to our most animalistic urges.

Was there a scene that was the hardest to wrap your head around?

I’d say probably when Ethan — Will Sharpe’s character — confronts Cameron, he’s like, “I know what you’ve been doing, man.” [Cameron] doesn’t go directly into rationalizing complete denial like people do. He doesn’t go, “Look, that never happened, man.” The stuff that maybe you and I might do when confronted in a similar situation, he doesn’t. He’s more elusive than that. So, I needed to find a way of reacting where he basically gaslights him. But finding that was a bit of a process.

How do you think The White Lotus has changed either your idea of your career or people’s perceptions of you?

I mean, it personally allowed me to play comedy, which I haven’t for years. Not broad comedy, obviously — it’s not that type of show — but I love that space. I found in Mike’s writing, and in the other great actors in the show, a freedom that I hadn’t felt for a while, just doing the work.

Secondly, I think what Mike has done with the two seasons, and the seasons that he will continue to do, is he’s created an iconicity, this psychosexual, eat-the-rich, complex, existential story wrapped up in the mundanity of comedy and stupid rich people, which is so delicious. It’s also so relevant at this time. As the gap between the hyper-wealthy and everyone else gets broader and broader and broader, then it’s important to dissect those kinds of people and send them up and to realize how ridiculous this type of person and this type of wealth is really for the health of society.

Would you come back if Mike asked you to do another season?

Yeah. I’d clean the toilets, whatever he needs.

What was your favorite memory from Italy?

Probably Sabrina [Impacciatore]’s birthday. She had a big birthday on the beach. [Celebrating the actress who played the hotel manager] was sublime and extravagant all in one. And the parallel between The White Lotus and reality seemed blurred at the time. To me, that was emblematic of the show, lots of people getting up to do speeches off the cuff. It was great.

This interview was conducted before the July 14 launch of the SAG-AFTRA strike. [Source]

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