‘The White Lotus’ Star Theo James Says His Character Would ‘F*ck Anything and Everything’

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/HBO
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/HBO

In The White Lotus, Theo James plays the kind of man you’d probably see sporting a T-shirt with bubble letters reading, “Happy Wife, Happy Life”—even if his extramarital actions don’t support that level of cheesy devotion. Cameron adores his wife Daphne (Meghann Fahy), but he seems ravenous to thrust his hips with any woman he can. Not only does this list include Harper (Aubrey Plaza), the cynical wife of his best friend Ethan (Will Sharpe)—she’s at the top of it.

(Warning: Spoilers follow for Sunday night’s episode of The White Lotus.)

Cameron, drooling with carnal desire, is like an ape. But he’s also a slimy, sharp snake, James says, using the metaphor as he chats with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed on Zoom ahead of the penultimate episode of The White Lotus Season 2. Even though he’s slept with his wife multiple times on the trip and hired a prostitute while she spent a night away, Cameron still harbors a sexual craving he can’t satisfy. In Episode 6, “Abductions,” he and Harper finally sneak off together to get down and dirty. Or maybe not? We don’t get to see what happens behind closed doors.

And though his wife Daphne acts oblivious to his slithering and chest-thumping, she’s in on the act. Towards the middle of the series, while on a day trip with Harper, Daphne suggests her first-born child isn’t actually with Cameron. She’s been sleeping with her blond-haired, blue-eyed trainer. When Daphne offers up a photo of said trainer, it’s just a pic of her kids—but one has light blonde tufts with perfect blue eyes, nothing like Cameron.

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“It’s pretty intensely fucked up,” James says, confirming the rumor. “It’s played very lightly, but the revelation goes deep. How aware of that is Cameron? How does that play into the dynamic of the couple? Does she use that against him, or is it purely a secret she keeps for herself to keep herself afloat in this complex relationship?”

Ahead of next week’s finale, James unpacks Cameron’s hunger for Harper, homoeroticism between his character and Ethan, and who he hopes joins the cast for Season 3.

Going into the finale, where do you think Cameron’s head is at?

He’s losing power throughout the season. He begins in a place of total power. He’s wealthy, hyper-confident, and he dominates the foursome, literally and figuratively. But we start to see his deep insecurities. He’s someone who defines himself with wealth, and, now, his friend—who he thought was someone below him, someone he could manipulate—is wealthier than him.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Simona Tabasco and Theo James.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Stefano Delia/HBO</div>

Simona Tabasco and Theo James.

Stefano Delia/HBO

He says a couple of things during the season. With Lucia, she says something like, “It’s going to cost you.” And he says, “Oh, I’ve got money. That’s the one thing I do have.” Then, he also says to Daphne, “Don’t cut my balls off. That’s all I’ve got left.” Those lines suggest someone who is—although on the face of it, you wouldn’t think so, because he’s so hyper-confident—aware of his failures. If he finds himself by someone who’s got more [money], it suddenly shifts his understanding of who he is.

He’s losing his identity.

He wants to own a piece of Ethan’s wife, because he is losing grip on the power dynamic, but he’s also losing grip on himself. He’s desperate to stay afloat, because his ego is deflating and causing him existential problems.

What are the power rankings in this foursome?

The women are the ones with much more power than the men. At the beginning, Cameron has dominance. Ethan, in a way, has power, because he is the one saying no to sex, he’s saying “cheer up.” By the end of the season, Daphne and Harper are the ones who are in the driver’s seat, really. Mike [White, the show’s creator] loves bombastic endings, but he doesn’t love closure. In the first season, for example, Alexandra Daddario and Jake Lacy’s characters, you thought there was going to be closure and there wasn’t. I love that about Mike’s work.

Do you feel a spiritual connection to Alexandra Daddario and Jake Lacy’s couple?

[Laughs] The douche couple! On paper, initially, yes. They’re both an emblem of white privilege, of course, but they’re quite different. That’s the theme of the show, how privilege morphs your sense of self and mentality.

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How about a third season where they all fight?

That would be totally fun.

Were there any evil people—tech bros, CEOs—you based Cameron on?

He’s a mixture of characters. One from university who worked for Goldman Sachs. And another hedge fund person that I met years ago, who was this bombastic wild guy who was really fun to hang around, but also was kind of despicable.

You’ve said you made Cameron always be eating or drinking something. Are you like that, just as a person? Or did you have to learn to always have an Aperol spritz in hand?

I’m definitely not like that. But Cameron, in some respects, represents the animal. There’s a bit, for example, where Cameron and Daphne are supposed to be having a great time and then it’s reflected in the other room, where there’s stagnation in their relationship. During the scene and the improvisation, I liked the idea of him chasing her out of the room as an ape. That’s an emblem of Cameron.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Theo James and Meghann Fahy.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Fabio Lovino/HBO</div>

Theo James and Meghann Fahy.

Fabio Lovino/HBO

That also shows in terms of his imbibing. I wanted him to be constantly eating and drinking, because he’s trying to staciate a carnal desire in him. That’s not only for sex, but everything around him: The most money. The most luxury. The most success. All those things, that’s part of his makeup and what makes him interesting, but also what makes him repugnant.

What animal do you think he is? An ape, or a conglomerate of different species?

He’s definitely ape-ish. But there’s a shirt that he has that’s reptilian. I remember Mike looking at the shirt being like, “Yeah!. I like that shirt. It makes you look like a snake.”

Fans have also picked up on some homoerotic tension between Cameron and Ethan. You literally tell him you “want to be inside” him. Is that chemistry purposeful?

It’s funny, that line was in the script and some of the other lines weren’t. It wasn’t something we were collectively aiming for, but watching it, I can understand where that’s coming from. Firstly, Cameron—again, back to the animal—there’s a possibility that he fucks anything and everything walking on legs. That animalism isn’t constrained by being straight—although he is, and he’s married. He’s got a hunger in him. There’s a push and pull, there’s competitivity, there’s friendship, there’s envy. There’s all those things caught up in the web of sexuality, which adds an extra dynamic to it.

Will said you were improvising a bunch of little cheek kisses in the episode with the prostitutes. Why was that?

Because I love kissing Will. [Laughs] No, that was based on people I’ve met [who are] larger-than-life, bro-y. I wanted him to be physically dominating to the people around him, so he’s always got hands on shoulders, hands on arms. The kiss was an extension of that. It’s ownership, in a strange kind of way—it’s what you would do to a child, a teddy bear.

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Does your character hate Ethan as much as he seems to hate you?

No. It’s more complex. He actually loves Ethan and he loves Daphne, and that’s one thing I needed to tap into as an actor—there are some redeeming qualities of a seemingly irredeemable person. His one redeeming quality is that he does love Ethan as a friend. But he’s also deeply envious of him. He’s deeply threatened by this man who is quieter and more contemplative. He thinks that he can dominate him, but if you dominate physically, that doesn’t mean you own someone.

In what way would you say he loves Daphne?

In totality. Meghann and I wanted to tap into that because they needed to be the antithesis of the other couple. They need to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. When they’re trying on the clothes, Daphne finds him funny. He finds her funny. He is deeply attracted to her, still. He’s proud of her. He genuinely loves her. But he thinks that, with wealth and power and gender, because he’s a wealthy white male, he can do whatever he wants without ramifications. He loves her, but he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with fucking two prostitutes. Or even trying to fuck his friend’s wife! Because he thinks it’s all just part of a bigger game. Whereas love, the thing where you settle down with your wife and you grow old together, he thinks that’s separate in some strange, morphic sense.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Aubrey Plaza and Theo James.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Fabio Lovino/HBO</div>

Aubrey Plaza and Theo James.

Fabio Lovino/HBO

People watching the show seem to really want you and Harper to hook up, which may or may not have happened in this episode. Why do you think audiences are hungry for that relationship?

She hates him, but is also attracted to the animal. She’s missing the animal, and he represents that. He dislikes her—her acidity, her judgemental view of them and the world around them. But he also is probably physically attracted to her because of that.

We don’t know yet if Harper cheats on Ethan with you, but she definitely implies it to get under Ethan’s skin. Is Cameron also playing this game, or is he more oblivious to their conflict?

He’s definitely doing it deliberately. He’s been doing it deliberately from day one! He sees a void within their relationship—he knows that, and he’s deeply interested in it. He’s watching and listening. You know the bit when he’s listening up against the wall to them arguing? That’s Cameron being interested in Harper, but also wanting to win a situation that he feels he’s losing.

Are Harper and Cameron working together against Ethan?

They’re doing it separately. Cameron wants ownership and domination, whereas Harper wants to goad the animal out of Ethan.

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Cameron is reading Gone Bamboo by Anthony Bourdain, the book he “forgets” in his room when he potentially hooks up with Harper. What’s the significance of that?

It’s maleness. Bourdain represents an intelligent man, but also a very masculine man. He’s a traveler. He was craggy. He’s an ex-wild man. To someone like Cameron, that’s the type of person he would revere.

Is there anyone you’d want to see in the next chapter, either from this season or otherwise?

I want to see more of Daphne, definitely.

And if you make it out alive, would you return for the third season, like Jennifer Coolidge did for this one?

Well, we’ll have to see if I get clobbered or not! Let’s see if I make it. But yeah, anything that Mike writes, I’m in in a millisecond.

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