‘I Need Validation’: Jennifer Coolidge and Jeremy Allen White Expose Their ‘Fatal Flaws’ During Revealing Heart-to-Heart

Jennifer Coolidge first met Jeremy Allen White at the Golden Globes in January, when they were both waiting backstage to get their statuettes engraved. Coolidge had just added another trophy to her mantel for playing the desperately lonely heiress Tanya McQuoid in Season 2 of “The White Lotus,” HBO’s biting parable about American excess. Jeremy Allen White, meanwhile, won his Globe for his tightly wound portrayal of Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto on FX’s “The Bear” — a show and a performance that function as an ode to America’s working class. Far from the idyllic beauty of Tanya’s Sicilian vacation (which ends tragically for her), Carmy cooks restaurant food as he boils with rage and grief in a cramped Chicago kitchen.

Coolidge — who started out a waitress, and dated toxic chefs before she became a star — knows that setting well. Over a funny, frank and sometimes flirty conversation, the actors who’ve created two of the best characters on TV speak about insecurity, drive and how the memes they inspired (“Yes, Chef!” and “These gays, they’re trying to murder me!”) helped convert them from cult actors into this season’s defining stars.

JEREMY ALLEN WHITE: So I’ve been looking at your face every morning, because Ally, our hair person, has this candle in the hair-and-makeup trailer that’s reserved for saints — one of the tall ones. But hers has your face on it. So it’s nice to see you. And I guess I want to ask you what it’s like being so loved?

JENNIFER COOLIDGE: Thank you. I just want you to know that I rigged that, because I have a crush on you and I sent that candle …

WHITE: … so I could be staring at it? Good, good.

COOLIDGE: I don’t know those candles — I’m not getting any money. That’s nice, if Ally really likes it. And I don’t know. I don’t understand.

WHITE: She’s not alone.

COOLIDGE: I’m thrilled by this fluky moment, and I’m really enjoying it, for whatever it’s worth.

WHITE: Do you remember when we met very briefly at one of these awards thing?

COOLIDGE: Yeah, we did.

WHITE: This is a fun sentence: We met waiting in line having our Golden Globes engraved. Was there a plan getting into it, when you started? Choosing roles to find the longevity that you have? Or have you just been finding people you love, like Mike White or Christopher Guest, and you keep working with them because they love you and you love them?

COOLIDGE: Now that I’m old enough to really look back at my life and certainly my mistakes, I see a lot of those. But I never had any strategy. I just went job to job. I have to say I made the terrible mistake of not riding the wave that I had early on. It was sort of in the ’90s when I had “Legally Blonde,” “Best in Show” and “American Pie.” And then a few years later, there was “Cinderella Story” and stuff like that. But there was a moment.

WHITE: You were trepidatious about —?

COOLIDGE: I started pursuing guys. I wasn’t paying attention. I just thought I had my whole life. I never said, “I want to do … ” I did get some jobs, but I didn’t have a plan. And I think that was a fatal flaw of mine, because it took so long to get anything going later. I look back and I go, “What was I thinking?” And then I bought a house in New Orleans, and I was consumed with fixing that up. Were you a theater kid?

WHITE: Yeah, I grew up in New York, and I did theater when I was younger.

COOLIDGE: My theater friends that started doing shows early on maybe had a better idea of how the process worked and how you could go from show to show and your parts could improve. I have regrets about not doing that.

WHITE: The repetition of theater and doing the same thing over and over in front of people — you build confidence that way. I think for television and film, the bummer about it is you sit around and then you have five minutes to make something happen. I leave set every day just uncertain if we did what we were supposed to do.

COOLIDGE: There’s nothing worse than being insecure on a job. Not too long ago, I was on a job and I don’t know if I was really the director’s vision of what I was doing. Because every time we’d do the scene, they’d go, “Yes, yes. Why don’t we try that again?” And you’re like, “They don’t have the guts to tell me how bad this is.”

WHITE: It is upsetting, how much I feel sometimes in the moment I need validation from a director. “The Bear” has been successful, and finally I’m feeling like, “Oh, OK. Maybe I belong a little bit.” But it’s a shame that it took 15 years of acting.

COOLIDGE: When you guys are filming, it looks like you never stop. I mean, the amount of material that you have to say and nail right away, because of long takes — you pull it off so well.

WHITE: That’s the fun of it. In Episode 7 of “The Bear,” which we did shoot in one take, we did get to rehearse for two days. So we were kind of treating it like theater and finding these moments. But outside of that episode, our director and showrunner Chris Storer, he really gives us two takes, three takes. He won’t give us more than that.


WHITE: Yeah. He doesn’t want it to feel too comfortable. He wants it always to feel a bit dangerous or uneven.

COOLIDGE: I would like to know how you conjure up all this anxiety for Carmy.

WHITE: I was certainly anxious when we were getting started. I’m anxious to start any job. I found a lot of parallels, and I tried to make them real between myself and Carmy. I was on a show [“Shameless”] for 11 years before “The Bear.” And I felt like it was such a big opportunity, and I was putting so much pressure on myself as an actor. I think for Carmy, too, he was trying to establish coming back home and prove his worth to these people who weren’t taking him seriously. I had already seen “The White Lotus,” but I was rewatching the last couple of episodes. There’s an incredible loneliness in Tanya. How do you feel Tanya deals with loneliness?

COOLIDGE: Well, Carmy is so busy, but I felt like Tanya is stagnant. There wasn’t anything really that active about her to prepare her until her ending.

WHITE: So the climax of Season 2, you’re on the boat, you have the gun. How did you prepare for that scene? Did you know the entire time?

COOLIDGE: Mike did tell me that I was going to have a horrible ending. But he said it more like, “I’m sorry, Jennifer, but you’re going to have to die.”

WHITE: Did he tell you you were going to go out shooting, though?

COOLIDGE: It’s my awkwardness with the gun that I think really helped. We had to reshoot that a bunch of times. Where’s the gun? The inside of the bag is black. I can’t find it. But it all felt real. When you’re on a boat and you’re in the middle of the ocean and there is nowhere to go, what if your castmates hate you? They could just push you. Anyone can get rid of you on a boat.

WHITE: You’re trapped.

COOLIDGE: It’s the scariest thing to be on a boat. I’m never getting on a boat again. So I was creeped out, because we did shoot it in order, hanging out with the guys. It felt very real. I really did like killing them all.

WHITE: It felt satisfying to watch. I wanted to ask you about the line, “These gays, they’re trying to murder me.” Do you ever get that on the streets? It’s become pretty iconic.

COOLIDGE: I know. I’m so thrilled. Mike was very confident about Tanya being pursued by these seemingly friendly gays that seem to be fans of hers. And then Mike was like, “We don’t see the gay men as being evil. This is a bad group.” But it’s interesting, because there was a whole group of gay men in New Orleans that went out on Mardi Gras as Tanya. Some of them were on scooters, and they all had “These gays, they’re trying to murder me.” It’s happened in other cities — even in Boston when I did Hasty Pudding. So it really did somehow strike a chord. Tell me about “Yes, Chef.” How many people in a day come up to you and say that?

WHITE: It’s a lot. We didn’t expect the show to do as well as it did. We were in New York last summer, and so I was always just walking around. And it happened in a week. All of a sudden, people shouting, “Yes, Chef!”

COOLIDGE: They were screaming at the Golden Globes, by the way.

WHITE: I didn’t hear. I was told Guillermo del Toro was screaming, “Yes, Chef.” But no, I blacked out.

COOLIDGE: You have many fans, and you have many girls that have crushes on you. I think a lot of people want to know why Carmy didn’t have a love interest.

WHITE: When we made the first season, we didn’t want any of the characters to have attachments to anything outside of the kitchen. And I think Carmen, he’s such a poor communicator and so socially inept in so many ways —

COOLIDGE: He would be good with a girl, though. It would be fun to watch your awkwardness.

WHITE: Yes. In the second season, Carmen tries to pursue some joy outside of work, and it doesn’t work out great. These people are working 15-hour days. It didn’t seem real that Carmy could find love.

COOLIDGE: That is actually real. I think 99% of my jobs were all restaurant jobs. I was a waitress, and I always fell in love with the angry chefs. I don’t know what it is.

WHITE: What do you think it is?

COOLIDGE: I just like the way they throw the food down. It was so sexy. They’d be like, “Take it. Just take it.” And there’s something about a man who can do something fast.

WHITE: Did you pursue any of those?

COOLIDGE: Yes. There were a lot of chefs in my life. I have to say that when you see that hostile, tough person in the kitchen, it does transfer to real life when it’s out of the restaurant.

WHITE: There’s a God complex with a lot of these guys. What was the job where you were like, “OK, I don’t have to be in service anymore. I’m going to fully commit to acting?”

COOLIDGE: I think I was in my early 30s. I was at a pool hall waitressing in Westwood. I just couldn’t do it. Thank God I got a job — “Seinfeld” or something.

WHITE: There’s going to be a third season of “The White Lotus.” What do you think ended up happening to [Tanya’s husband] Greg, Jon Gries’ character?

COOLIDGE: My hope for Jon is that he’s not finished with Greg. I hope there’s some comeuppance for evil Greg. I think he should, I don’t know, end up in a meat-grinding machine.

WHITE: Was saying goodbye to Tanya with such finality that difficult?

COOLIDGE: Yeah. Mike was looking for a big Italian opera ending, and it was big and dramatic, so he wanted me to die for many reasons. But I also think Tanya’s a lot. Maybe people would get sick of her on another season. Maybe people would be like, “Oh, my God. Get rid of Tanya!”

WHITE: Right. Enough.

COOLIDGE: So I don’t know. But if Tanya could come back in any form, maybe she could come back as a seagull and poke Greg’s eyes out.

Set Design: Lucy Holt; Production: Alexey Galetskiy/AGPNYC. Variety’s Actors on Actors is presented by Apple TV+.

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