Did you get any backstory from Mike about how Ethan and Harper first got together?
We three, collectively, sat down and we talked it through. We decided, well, they’ve probably been together for at least seven or eight years. We meet this couple at their worst, in a way. They’ve been telling themselves that they’re good together, they’re honest with each other, they’re super close, they’re good people. Yet, it quite quickly starts to feel like the communication is not as good as they’ve been telling themselves it is. Obviously they’ve recently come into all this money, which is something they haven’t had before.
Clearly their relationship has gone awry in some way and they’re both longing to get back to a place where, before the series has started, at some point they fell in love and got married. I think both him and Harper are terrified of the possibility that they’re falling out of love.
Aubrey and I would talk sometimes about where they’d come from and what their day-to-day life was before they arrived here, trying to just bring a sense of their hinterland, a sense of that history. The first time you see them, they’re already bickering on the boat. We just wanted to invest a sense of their history, because that’s what gives their relationship stakes. If it’s just that they don’t love each other and never did, full stop, there’s nothing to fight for really. But if it’s that they’re trying to get back to that place, then it has more meaning. It makes sense how it’s playing out for Ethan, that it’s so paralyzing to imagine that something that was precious and that you really believed in is actually fragile and possibly broken.
What were those details about their lives outside of The White Lotus that you and Aubrey think up?
There were things like, maybe we met at somebody else’s wedding. I thought that they probably live in New York, but in a bi-coastal way, for Harper’s law work. They probably spend some time in California and San Francisco. We would find ourselves just trying to build for ourselves a sense of that marriage and why it mattered to them.
Do you think that they were aware of the cracks of their relationship beforehand, or was it being far from home and out of their usual routine that exposed them?
A vacation is necessarily a time of reflection, in a way, because you break out of your day-to-day life and it does put you in an existential place. That can be a lovely thing or, if there are problems that you’ve carried with you, it can be an uncomfortable thing. Also, the fact that Cameron and Daphne are such a different couple to them. The conversations they have with them, the way that they’re interacting with them, I think Harper is the first one who starts to question Ethan and their relationship.
Initially, the way she deals with that is by overcompensating and saying, “I think we’re great, they’re really weird. They just say they never argue, that’s fucked up, what couple doesn’t argue?” Then it graduates into a bit more of well, actually, maybe there’s a problem.