Sure, Meghann Fahy’s White Lotus character, Daphne, comes across as an Instagram-perfect mommy who doesn’t remember whether she votes, but there’s more to her than meets the eye. She reveals as much on this week’s episode of the HBO series, “Bull Elephants,” when she decides to whisk Aubrey Plaza’s Harper off on an impromptu trip from their hotel in Taormina, Sicily, to nearby Noto seemingly just to play mind games with her husband, Cameron (Theo James). Once Daphne gets there, she decides to offer Harper an edible and proffer her thoughts on the obvious fact that her husband cheats on her a lot. She’s not the victim in their relationship, she insists, and she knows the deal she’s bought into.
At Vulture Festival in Los Angeles this weekend, Fahy discussed this new side of Daphne after a screening of the episode, and revealed a bit of creator Mike White’s intentions with Cameron and Daphne’s mind games. She also discussed the experience of filming on location in Sicily, learning to make a moderately okay eggplant Parmesan, and what her breakout character on The Bold Type might make of “Zen mommy” Daphne.
That conversation on the palazzo where Daphne talks about not being a victim, what do you think that means to her?
To me, that’s kind of the key to her. I remember Mike at the very beginning being pretty specific about Daphne not being a victim of her circumstances. This dynamic that they set up in the first two episodes between Cameron and Daphne, I was like, “Who? What’s her name?” You’ve seen it before. You kind of think that she’s just this simple housewife who doesn’t have too much going on. And I think what becomes really interesting about the dynamic is in this episode when you realize that that’s not totally the case. Daphne has a relationship with her own sadness in a way that maybe some of the other people that she’s on the trip with don’t. And I think that is what enables her to be genuinely happy in her marriage.
Another thing that Mike said that felt really important was that the connection between Daphne and Cameron is really legit, and they actually really do enjoy being around each other. They have a great sex life and they laugh and they play, and all of those things are real. It’s not what Harper thinks it is, which is just bullshit. And so I think that that is the driving force of that whole thing, and then you kind of are meant to wonder, Well does it really matter how somebody finds happiness? Even if it’s unconventional to you and it might seem kind of fucked up, if there’s happiness, who cares?
I read an interview where you described her as a “Zen mommy.” I was wondering what you meant by that.
I actually can’t take credit for that, because that was actually a term that Aubrey coined when we were trying to figure out what her wardrobe was going to be. The Zen mommy is this idealized woman who has 75 children — not 74, 75 — and is always wearing a beautiful floral dress and looks like nothing is bothering her. And I felt like that was sort of the vibe that I wanted for Daphne. I wanted her to seem very carefree, because she sort of is unconcerned, even in the bad ways, like not voting.
What was it like filming in that palazzo? I believe it was actually in Palermo, right?
It was in Palermo. It was pretty cool because Mike really loves to cast non-actors to do things. So there is like, a two-page scene from that episode that ended up getting cut, where the actual owner of that palazzo was showing Aubrey and I around. And he had never been in front of a camera before, and it was so cute, because he couldn’t walk and talk at the same time. So Mike kept trying to be like, “So you’re just explaining to them where everything is, but you’re moving.” And he would be like, “The bedrooms — are here. The dining room — is here.” He was so precious. And it really was his house! And we finished and we were in the pool and he brought us gin-and-tonics. It was so sweet. I loved that Mike loves finding that authenticity wherever he can. A lot of the staff that you see is the real staff that was working at the Four Seasons with us.
I’m curious about the experience of shooting in this hotel in Sicily while it’s on its offseason and mostly empty. What’s it like to be play-acting being on vacation in that hotel in Taormina?
Oh, psychotic! I mean, 100 percent insanity. It was like, weird actor camp. In many ways, I wouldn’t recommend it! No, it was so fun, it was really very special and unique. It was really cool to see how Taormina sort of blossoms. Like, when we first got there, it was empty, 70 percent of the restaurants and everything else were closed, and then it felt like overnight, all of a sudden, the streets were filled with people. So it was kind of cool to see that transition happen in real time.
I was surprised by how willing that community was to welcome us and to make us a part of their daily life. The people who had their restaurants open were so good to us, they would take us in and they would offer us cooking classes. They were just unbelievably warm and kind. To me, when I think about the trip, that’s the thing I take away more than anything, the people that we met in that area who were just so lovely.
Did you have a favorite meal that you had there, something that sticks in your memory like, “I really miss the X from Taormina?”
Well, I did make an eggplant Parmesan with my own hands that was pretty mediocre! But I had a great time doing that class. Truly, it was just this man who owned this restaurant, who was not teaching cooking classes. He was like, “Show up to my restaurant tomorrow at noon.” And I was like, “Am I in some sort of rom-com? This is so sick!” And I just showed up and he was like, “Cool, just get into the kitchen.” I had an apron and the chef was cooking meals to give to people who were there to pay to eat the food. He was just teaching me things as that was happening. It was incredible.
Going back to Daphne and Cameron’s relationship, did you know Theo at all before? How did you get to know him?
I knew him! He did not know me. I had seen him in Divergent of course, but no, we didn’t meet, and there were no chemistry readings before, which is a little bit unusual for things like this. So we met for the first time in Italy. But he was just really easy to do scenes with. He’s so (a) talented, and (b) open, which is the only thing you can ask for, you know? He was really playful, and it was really simple with him.
You have that speech about the elephants, which gives the episode its title. What was it like to do that scene with Aubrey? How did you approach playing the dynamic where they’re sort of feeling each other out?
It was fun because it was a new location for us, and I think it was the first time, too, that Aubrey and I were shooting scenes alone together, up to that point we had been doing a lot of stuff with just the four of us Some of those Noto scenes were my favorite scenes to shoot with her, because I just felt like it was a different color for both Daphne and Harper that we hadn’t seen yet.
It’s interesting seeing that part of her revealed. How did you think of that side of her? What do you think she sees in Harper that she wants to figure out?
I think that there is a genuine desire in Daphne to connect with Harper. I do think that Daphne probably doesn’t have that many female friends, and so I think that is a part of what drives her. But also she’s using her in a way, like, Harper is sort of an accessory in Daphne’s game that she’s playing with Cameron that they’re both getting off on. Like, I genuinely believe that Daphne would have gone to Nodo by herself if Harper hadn’t gone with her, just to piss him off.
When I talked to Haley Richardson about the show, she mentioned that Mike White seems to incorporate parts of the actors in the characters you play. He’s very open to a little bit of improv. Do you feel there are parts of Daphne that are colored by who you are?
Yes, absolutely. And I feel like everybody on the show would probably say that that’s true for them. You’re able to connect in a way to these people that, in a lot of ways, are not accessible humans, and it’s because Mike does that. He picks something in you that the character also has, and he just kind of lets you go off and do that thing.
What do you think the thing was in you that the character also has?
I know this is so lame, but I feel like I can’t give that away. It’s too vulnerable. But I will say I do think that something that Daphne has that I connect with is just that she has an inclination to bring people in around her, and I do connect to that. So that’s one thing I feel like her and I share.
Before you played Daphne you were on The Bold Type. What do you think Sutton would make of Daphne?
You know, there are some pretty key similarities between those two characters, and I think it’s their warmth. I think that Sutton and Daphne are similar in the sense that they want to make the people around them feel safe. That’s often through humor. And there’s just a general sort of sunshine-y-ness to those two characters that I feel is similar. I think they’d probably get along, although I think Sutton’s a little bit harder than Daphne in some ways. That’d be interesting to see, them fight each other in a ring!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.