‘The White Lotus': Will Sharpe Breaks Down Ethan’s Pivotal Confrontation in Episode 6: ‘It’s a Paralyzing Fear’

As “The White Lotus” winds down to a close with this Sunday’s finale, all eyes are on Ethan and Harper as they navigate what actor Will Sharpe calls “a paralyzing fear about his marriage falling apart.”

While Ethan’s fidelity has been called into question since Harper discovered a remnant from Ethan and Cam’s night of debauchery with Mia and Lucia, dynamics shift in Episode 6 when Ethan grows suspicious that Cam and Harper have an illicit sexual encounter — leading to a tense confrontation at dinner that’s interrupted when Harper and Daphne join their husbands at the table.

“I think the short answer is he just can’t keep it in anymore,” Sharpe told TheWrap ahead of the season finale of his character, Ethan. “He’s probably telling himself that he’s somebody who doesn’t want to play this game of competing for status and just wants to keep the peace, but operating in that way has had pretty negative consequences so far.”

Read on to see Sharpe break down the first glimpse of true honesty between Harper and Ethan all season, Ethan’s growing concerns and that tense confrontation.

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TheWrap: At the beginning of Episode 6, Ethan is lounging on the chair and appears to have not gotten much sleep. What’s been running through his mind?

Will Sharpe: The biggest question is about where he and Harper are at in their marriage. That scene at the beginning of the episode is the closest they get so far to talk about it directly, because up to that point, they’ve told themselves that they’re honest with each other, but actually, then they don’t communicate very well about the sort of the deeper issues.

On the surface of it, he tries to say, “I told you that I did do anything on that night with Cameron and I feel like you don’t believe me.” I don’t know if he goes about it in necessarily the most helpful way, but part of that might be because he’s scared about the fact that they are really not in a great place. It’s easier to have a conversation just about, “I did tell you the truth.”

Obviously he’s made it a lot harder for her to trust him, because he didn’t just tell her about it straight away. He knows, on some level, even letting this party come into his room, is an indication that he was curious enough to investigate it. Even if it’s fair for him to sort of say, I did show some restraint, and there was a willpower involved not to go all the way, he definitely was curious. I always felt like in that scene, it’s freaking him out a little bit that he’s even got as far as this. What does that say about him? Does that mean he’s just like a Cameron guy? Why is he even tempted by this?

So I think he’s been stewing on all of that, and probably, in part, annoyed with himself about some of his choices.

Then Harper kind of burst his bubble by saying, “We’re not attracted to each other anymore.” Do you think there’s truth to that and in that moment, is Ethan aware of it?

I think he is. He’s worried that there might be some truth in that, and is maybe not ready to look at it head on yet. But yeah, it’s a sad scene.

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How do you understand their lack of intimacy? Is it just purely not being attracted to each other? Is there another reason they haven’t been able to connect in this way?

Mike and Aubrey and I talked at the very beginning about their relationship and would ask questions also like along those lines and kind of, is there some specific thing do we think that is not helping? Is it to do with the fact that they’ve suddenly come into all this money? Is that destabilizing them and his sense of self and sense of like who they are as a couple? And obviously, Cameron and Daphne and how different they are [and] how comfortable they are with public displays of affection may be affecting them too.

But Mike was sort of pretty clear that he really wanted their problem simply to be that they had been together for a really long time. The three of us decided it’s probably at least seven or eight years, if not more. Mike would often say how it’s tragically, really common, for there to be this kind of atrophy in a long-term relationship — it’s universal and relatable.

I think it’s time and the fact may be that there is no mystery left, and so they’ve sort of become so close, that they’ve almost grown apart in a way. We meet them at a point where I don’t think either of them has realized how bad it’s got, but coming on this vacation [and] coming out of their day-to-day life, being in this matrix with Cameron and Daphne, I think they’re bringing those issues to the surface.

Then Ethan responds to Harper’s question of, “Do you want me?” with “I love you.” What makes him respond like that?

It’s a really interesting question, and I do remember talking with Mike about this on the day, and that it almost felt willful or something.

We did do some takes where Ethan does say, “Yeah, of course, I want you, I love you.” But there’s the idea that it’s somehow not playing convincingly. Whereas the choice to keep it just as “I love you,” is like, that’s something he can say [and] feel like it’s true in that moment.

But he’s worried about the question that she’s asking. I’ve noticed how in a lot of the other storylines there is a sort of element of fantasy — sometimes a dark fantasy — but Ethan and Harper seem trapped in this very harsh reality. Yes, they’re in a beautiful location and, in some ways, it’s a dream holiday, but in terms of their dynamic, they just can’t sort of catch a break. I feel like Ethan, even if he thinks he’s trying to be good, is often making pretty bad decisions and maybe that’s something that he’s starting to realize as well, and it’s kind of eating away at him a little bit.

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Even when he’s in hot water with Harper he also addresses Lucia and Mia very kindly when he learns they weren’t paid. So why does he still address them with this, like kindness and patience, despite the fact that it could be endangering his marriage?

That’s an example of a situation where I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong in that particular situation. It’s unfortunate he didn’t know Harper was watching and he probably thinks that’s not on that you weren’t paid.

Where he messes up is that when Harper confronts him about it: he doesn’t just explain and it’s because he doesn’t want to start fight in front of Cameron. And definitely there are reasons for not wanting to get into it — they haven’t had a great morning [and] this could escalate really quickly. So let’s do this later.

He’s like paralyzed, I guess — it’s a paralyzing fear about his marriage falling apart [that] is partly what is affecting those decisions.

What was your reaction when you first read the script for this episode and saw that Ethan now becomes suspicious of Harper and Cameron?

The shape of it had been described to me before I actually read the scripts. So I had a sense of it already. At this point where it could go either way, it could be that he’s just spinning himself out and actually, he’s being overly suspicious for no reason and things that could be cool now, and he’s his own worst enemy, just overthinking it. Or it could be that actually, there is something in it.

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When they’re at dinner later, what pushes Ethan to confront Cam about flirting with Harper, since he’s been relatively silent before this?

I think the short answer is he just can’t keep it in anymore. He’s probably telling himself that he’s somebody who doesn’t want to play this game of competing for status and just wants to keep the peace. But operating in that way has had pretty negative consequences so far.

I feel like there’s something that has been simmering inside him from the beginning and it’s starting to reach a sort of boiling point.

“The White Lotus” Season 2 finale airs Sunday, Dec. 11, on HBO and streams on HBO Max.