“Have I ever gotten myself in trouble trying to cover for a friend?” Will Sharpe wonders aloud from the other end of a Zoom call. It’s just days before The White Lotus‘s penultimate episode, and we’re talking about his character, Ethan, the dork-turned-mega-rich-tech guy—who covers up for his buddy Cameron’s big night out with a local sex worker. “Honestly, not that I can remember. What are your examples?”
Will, who’s asking the questions here? I tell him about a pretty good ruse I had growing up, where my childhood home was the midway point between one of my girlfriends and her crush. After sneaking out to meet him, she’d change out of her date-night clothes at my place on the way home. (Our moms figured it out. As moms do.) “Interesting!” Sharpe says with a cheeky grin.
The 36-year-old is calling in from his home in London, where he lives with his wife, actress Sophia Di Martino, and their two children. Throughout our conversation, Sharpe is pensive about, well… everything. Like Ethan, Sharpe is a bit reserved—but once he’s warmed up, his opinions come rolling out. Which is ideal for today’s purposes, because there’s plenty to talk about, as The White Lotus cruises to its season finale next Sunday.
So let’s discuss Ethan, shall we? In the first few episodes of The White Lotus, Ethan lives in the background. He lounges around the beautiful Sicilian resort with his wife, Harper (Aubrey Plaza), and their unbearable friends, Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne Sullivan (Meghan Fahy). When the Sullivans brag, shamelessly, about their indifference to politics, Ethan awkwardly nods along. When Harper insists on ordering for him—the fish is too fishy, she insists!—he gives in. And when Ethan is roped into a night of debauchery that leads to Cameron cheating on his wife while he nearly does the same, he keeps quiet. With his agonizing indifference, Ethan is, somehow, both a peacemaker and fire-starter. This is The White Lotus, after all, a show created by Mike White—who is the master of showing how ordinary, human, and casual toxicity can be.
“There’s often a question to be asked about what exactly is he thinking about? What is he planning? What is he trying to figure out?,” Sharpe says of Ethan. “In a way, [White] didn’t want there to be some specific thing that they’re coming up against. He wanted it to be the fact that they had been together for a long time. That was the thing they were battling.”
Though Sharpe spent unspeakable amounts of time curating Ethan’s elusive persona, he hasn’t kept up with fans’ reactions to his character. He is, however, interested in what people think of the larger mystery. Since, you know, a body washes up on shore in the first episode, we discuss who the victim might be. My bet is on a finale showdown between Greg, Tanya, and Quentin. His bet? Unknown. Unfortunately for us, Sharpe, like his character, is good at keeping secrets. But he was kind enough to (maybe!) provide a hint. “We read all seven scripts heading into it,” he says. “I think that’s probably why I was so excited about the part—being able to see the full scope of how they travel, and how Ethan travels across the series.” Does that mean Ethan’s inaction leads to his death? We’ll know in a week, people.
Following Episode Six of The White Lotus, Sharpe spoke with Esquire about Ethan’s complexities, dysfunctional relationships, and what to expect from the season finale.
ESQUIRE: I saw that Aubrey Plaza said she pulled pranks on set–were you involved in those antics?
WILL SHARPE: Pulling pranks? Do you mean the sticks thing?
I was not a part of that–but I was aware of what was going on and was sworn to secrecy.
Oh, so you knew it was her?
After a certain point.
Ethan is able to say a lot without saying much at all–at least in the first few episodes. Why do you think he’s so reserved?
He’s a character who internalizes a lot. I know my conversation with Mike early on was about how he wanted the audience to be able to guess, one way or another, about who exactly Ethan might be. And for there to be a little bit of mystery about who he’s going to end up being in the series. And the biggest thing is Ethan and Harper. We meet them at a place where they’re quite quickly realizing that their marriage is in trouble, to put it bluntly, and they’ve always told themselves they’re really honest with each other. But actually, there are some bigger issues that they’re not honest with each other about–and that’s quite a frightening thing to look at head-on.
Ethan is covering for Cameron in those middle episodes. Nobody likes to be a rat. But I do think that is just a convenient excuse. Really, the bigger thing going on is that he knows that he and Harper are not in a great place. He knows the reality of what he might confess to–even if he showed willpower in resisting going all the way, he still didn’t completely reject the idea. He was still curious to investigate it. I think the bro code thing for Ethan is probably a convenient way of avoiding having to confront the thing that is more frightening to him. I guess a lot of the time he’s carrying thoughts, fears, anxieties, and resentments internally. He’s trying to figure his shit out, I think.
That’s interesting though, because it’s easy to dismiss Ethans behavior as a sort of bro-code thing. I hadn’t considered that he might be deflecting.
I think if he and Harper were in a better place, it might have played out very differently.
Do you think Ethan and Harper are compatible?
Yeah, I mean, they definitely were. I think they love each other, but that’s a different question than whether they should stay together. I think that’s something that they’re both contending with. It’s what gives their story stakes.
It is really interesting to see their relationship alongside Daphne and Cameron. From my perspective both couples are unhappy but for different reasons, and yet, they still judge each other. What do you think Mike White is trying to say there?
Well, I think some of that might be clearer once you’ve seen the final episode. But what’s great about The White Lotus is that it’s morally very gray and [White is] not afraid to invest in toxic behavior. He’s okay with uncomfortable situations, and he’s inviting you to ask yourself, “How would you like to be in a relationship? What kind of relationship do you think you are in, or could be in? And how would you deal with certain situations?” I think he’s inviting you to think about that. In a way, Ethan and Harper are asking themselves those questions too.
That reminds me of the scene from the latest episode where Harper accuses Ethan of not being attracted to her anymore, and she tries to get him to admit it. Do you think, deep down, Ethan knows she’s right?
I think he is terrified of the possibility that she’s right. My impression of it was that going into the vacation, he was so busy with work and he hadn’t seen Cameron for a while. And so it was just like, Oh, cool, that sounds like it could be a fun thing to do.
Then they arrive on this vacation, and Harper is asking questions about their relationship. And then Ethan starts to–because of that–ask the same questions. I think he is terrified of the possibility that maybe they have fallen out of love. And alongside that might be the question of physical attraction. But at that moment, I don’t think he’s ready to think that.
Do you think Ethan’s professional success plays a role in their dysfunction? Cameron seemingly grew up wealthy and behaves the way he does because of that–while Ethan’s character had to work for it. Do you think that changes a person?
I think it can. Mike and I would have these conversations —is it that they’re uncomfortable with this newfound wealth and this world? They feel like outsiders, they’re the only people who aren’t white, and they’ve recently come into this mode. Does it feel like an alien world? Is that what is pulling them apart? I think that’s something they’re navigating and trying to work out. Has it changed us, or has it weirdly not changed us at all?
Ultimately, I think that the issues in their relationship were probably there anyway. The fact that their lifestyle has changed, the fact that they’re suddenly on vacation, the fact that they’re suddenly with Cameron and Daphne–all of those things shine a light on the cracks in their marriage. But the cracks were probably there all along. It just needed some shift for them to be able to see it, if that makes sense.
That makes sense.
I think it definitely can change you. I feel like they’re both desperately trying to hold onto what they feel is good about themselves and trying to work out if that’s still there. And if that’s worth fighting for.
Well, that sounds like the least relaxing vacation known to man. Let’s shift to Ethan’s relationship with Cameron. Why do you think Ethan has maintained their friendship over the years, even though they don’t have much in common?
In my interpretation of it, and the way that the conversations with Mike went–it’s not like they were soulmates. It’s not like they were ever close, close. But they shared a room, and sort of became friends in that way. I feel like the way they stayed in touch is that they’d invite each other to their weddings and put them on a list for a party, or whatever.
I think we’ve got a sense of how it wasn’t really a perfect friendship, even in college. And say, maybe, Ethan’s assumption was just that. Well, he’s an adult now. He would’ve grown out of that, surely. But maybe he hasn’t. Right? If anything, at the beginning of the series, he’s like, Oh, Cameron used to be worse. Just laugh it off. Then as the series goes on, it’s like, Oh, actually, maybe he’s worse now and maybe I shouldn’t have gone on this vacation.
Yeah, maybe not. But I feel like everyone had a friend who they outgrew, but kept around.
I mean, I found myself trying to work out why Cameron is so obsessed with Ethan. Why does Cameron have interest in Ethan? And I do think it drives him crazy that Ethan has ability. There was a scene that was cut where Cameron sort of says, “You’re the coding genius, I’m a pushy asshole. That’s what I’m good at.” I think on some level, it drives Cameron crazy that he doesn’t have the one thing that Ethan has–and he wants to pillage that too, somehow. So he is finding ways to do that. And some of it is quite fucked up. But yeah, I don’t know. There’s no way that Ethan would’ve chosen to come on this vacation if he knew how it was going to play out. That would be insane.
I would hope not. Without spoiling too much, give us your finale tease.
Things are going to get messy–I’ll put it that way. They can expect some fireworks one way or another.
Associate Staff Writer
Bria McNeal is a Manhattan based journalist who is patiently awaiting B5’s revival. When she’s not writing about all things entertainment, she can be found watching TV or trying to DIY something (likely, at the same time). Her work has appeared in NYLON, Refinery29, InStyle, and her personal newsletter, StirCrazy.
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