“I survived!” exclaims Theo James.
Indeed, the Season Two finale of Mike White’s The White Lotus contained a number of deaths—four of them, to be exact—but none of the fallen was Cameron, James’ lecherous Yalie who not only cheats on his wife Daphne (Meghann Fahy) with a pair of escorts, but does everything in his power to undermine his college pal Ethan (Will Sharpe) for recently surpassing him in wealth and prestige. That includes making a number of passes at Ethan’s wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza), culminating with a hotel-room kiss that may have been something more.
After Harper confesses the tryst to Ethan, he attacks his so-called friend in the ocean and tells Daphne what happened. And then Daphne, not to be outdone, leads Ethan to a remote part of the island where she may have initiated sexy revenge. Their Four Seasons Taormina getaway ends with the most awkward of dinners wherein Cameron rubs everyone’s noses in his misdeeds one last time, toasting, “And Harper, it has been fantastic to finally get to know you properly.”
According to James, who first achieved global stardom in the Divergent franchise, Cameron is “potentially a sociopath”—though one of his children may also not be his.
We spoke with the dashing Brit about those finale twists, fan theories surrounding Cameron’s blond child, and what the White Lotus cast got up to in Sicily.
What was the key to unlocking Cameron for you? He is such a relentless prick.
[Laughs] The key was, for me—and Mike and I have talked about this a lot—he’s such a deplorable person, morally and behaviorally and where he stands in his views on the world, that we had to make him, in a funny way, as likable as an unlikable person could be. As an actor you have to find currents you connect with. You have to find bits of the character you like. I think of him with a kind of amiability, but then when someone fills me in on something terrible he’s done I’m reminded of how much of a sublime asshole he is. For me, it was making him loose, fun, likable and in his own strange way charming enough that his deplorability had an arc. He’s gaslighting Ethan deliberately throughout the season, but towards the end we want to still not be sure if it’s Ethan’s jealousy and spiraling fear or he’s been completely right about Cameron all along and he’s trying to control and manipulate Ethan and everyone around him.
Did you have a favorite Cameron scene over the course of the season?
I like the scene in Episode 6 when Ethan confronts Cameron because there were so many ways to play that, and I like the way we ended up playing it. There’s seemingly genuine shock from Cameron, and Ethan is angry yet still not a hundred percent sure. He’s pretty sure Cameron’s flirting but can’t go all the way to calling it what it is. Cameron’s reaction is like, “Dude! Of course I’m not. Are you going insane? This is all in your fucking head. Listen to yourself! We’re here on holiday…” It’s an interesting scene because it makes the audience wonder and the characters wonder, and it’s also emblematic of their dynamic. Cameron does love Ethan in his own strange way. He wants to dominate him, he wants to control him, and he wants to win. Cameron’s sense of self is spiraling out of control because this younger-brother character in his mind is now more wealthy and powerful than him, and that’s how Cameron calibrates his worth in life—money.
So… you do think Cameron genuinely likes Ethan.
I do, yeah. I think Ethan likes Cameron a lot less, obviously, but for all his villainous behavior Cameron loves people unashamedly—even though he does horrible things and manipulates them. He loves his wife wholeheartedly, but he’s also so privileged and toxic that he thinks he should be allowed to do these things because of how successful he is. He does like Ethan as a friend. He missed the power relationship, the camaraderie and the brotherly nature between them, but he’s desperate to dominate him.
You’ve used the word “dominate” twice to describe their relationship. It does seem like theirs is a form of emotional BDSM in a way. And it seems, like you said, that Cameron invited him on this trip out of spite over his becoming wealthier, and at one point he even tries to get Ethan to invest with him.
That is part of it—but it’s not just that. There are bread crumbs. I can’t remember if it ended up in the show, but at one point Harper says, “You haven’t even seen this guy in years. We weren’t even invited to his wedding!” And Ethan says, “We were invited but we didn’t go. Of course we were invited. And we saw him two years ago at this summer thing.” I don’t think that made it in the final version in the end, but that shows they had this friendship in this opaque way that had lasted. Otherwise, it’s ridiculous that Ethan would want to go on this trip. But you’re right: the season begins with Cameron wanting to physically dominate with regards to his animalism. I always compared him to an animal. The way he handles Ethan, his wife, the people around them—he physically holds them and is dominant in conversations—but in the end, it’s an emotional manipulation with the gaslighting. Someone like Cameron you’d think might go in the other direction if he was being accused. You’d think he might be aggressive: Fuck you, man! What the fuck are you talking about? But instead, it’s the opposite. It’s one of: Hey, geez! Relax! I love you, man. It’s all in your head. That’s so much more acidic and complicated, which I love.
There does seem to be a commentary on masculinity as well. Cameron is this animalistic guy with his shirt off at almost all times, whereas Ethan wears a shirt throughout the entire season—even when he’s in the ocean fighting Cameron.
Cameron represents that toxic masculinity. He’s a dinosaur. We’ve all met guys like that: the hyper-masculine, deeply money-oriented, power-driven and seemingly uncaring about things around them. That’s that old-school, deeply-problematic brand of masculinity. Daphne’s ultimate manipulation of that is a commentary on that type of masculinity being defunct because Cameron loses in the end. They represent two sides of the coin and everything in between. But Cameron’s toxicity is never dampened, even in the end.
Why do you think Cameron tried to fuck Harper and do you think they did more than kiss? Mike White said in the finale postmortem interview that he felt Harper was telling the truth when she said they just kissed, but that there is some time unaccounted for.
In my head I always thought a little bit more happened then that. But no, they don’t sleep together. Definitely not. They don’t have the time. It’s another element of control. Cameron wants to manipulate and control everyone around him. That’s how he operates in the world, in his work, and how he tries to operate in his marriage. He wants to isolate Ethan and control Ethan, and one of the best ways he can is to try to manipulate his wife sexually. There’s a strange flirtation of anger, repulsion and attraction between [Cameron and Harper]. But what Cameron represents to Harper is unfettered animalism, and that’s part of what’s missing in her relationship with Ethan. That is alluring in some ways for her, and for him as well towards her.
What was it like shooting that big ocean fight scene with Will Sharpe?
It evolved, that scene, from what it was originally on the page. When we got out there, we realized certain things were working and certain things weren’t. There was a version where Cameron reacts and came back at him more aggressively and biting in his response about Harper, but in the end that felt too simplistic. So we found a different version where Cameron’s still gaslighting him. And it builds to that final dinner sequence where that slight unknowing between them all permeates to the very last moment. It’s never fully resolved, which is such a great Mike White touch.
Cameron has that big fuck you line in that dinner scene where he says, “And Harper, it has been fantastic to finally get to know you properly.”
God, he’s so smug. But in the end, he does have a level of comeuppance. Who knows what happened with his wife and Ethan? Some may think Cameron wouldn’t give a shit but I think he would. And also: there’s this lingering question of his own children, and whether one of them is potentially not his—which is fucking messed up! There’s a question of how much he knows about it, and what role it plays in their relationship.
That is presented pretty subtly—that one of Cameron’s children looks nothing like him and more closely resembles Daphne’s trainer Lawrence, who has blond hair and blue eyes.
It’s gently touched upon—the suggestion that perhaps the coloring of the second child is completely different from Cameron’s and identical to that of the trainer. I mean, that would be a massive power move from Daphne and very damaging also for those poor children. [Laughs]
Do you and Will and Aubrey and Meghann hang out in Sicily? Or did you and Will get super into character to the point where you avoided each other?
No, we didn’t avoid each other. With Will and with Meghann, over the first few weeks I was trying to pack in as much time to get to know each other as possible. We got some dinners and drinks because Ethan and Cameron are supposed to be old friends, and Cameron and Meghann have to be in love and have an ease about them. We wanted them to be tactile with each other at all times in a natural way, so we deliberately tried to hang out.
There are a bunch of fun rumors online that several of the younger White Lotus cast members hooked up during the making of the show. I’m curious exactly how much fun the cast of The White Lotus had in Sicily?
[Laughs] Um… We had a great time. We were in Sicily and Rome for six and a half months. The show is about unfettered hedonism, in some ways, so there was a little bit of embracing that. It’s a massive cast, so not every person is going to be kissing and high-fiving each other, but we definitely had a lot of fun. We also tried to remind ourselves that doing a show written by Mike White set in Sicily does not come around very often, so you should enjoy every moment and not take it for granted.
Is there a meta element to being an actor on this show? I’m always curious how actors remain in committed relationships because you so frequently go off to exotic locales with beautiful, talented people. Is it strange to be on this show about jealousy and fidelity while possibly experiencing some of those emotions with your real-life partner?
I’d say the most meta element of the show was staying in The White Lotus—the Four Seasons Taormina—shooting these scenes, and then you cut and you’re around a bunch of privileged actors (myself included). We’re fuckin’ actors. Sometimes you would cut and I wouldn’t know the boundaries between reality and what The White Lotus was. I don’t know how to put that exactly, but actors are a specific breed. And sometimes the lines were blurred.
Do you think that Cameron and Daphne are in a healthier relationship than Ethan and Harper?
We shot a few different versions of the ending. But that was the thesis initially: how do you judge a relationship? Cameron and Daphne are deeply in love but there’s an open element to their relationship, and that may work for them, and who are we to judge that? Perhaps it’s a commentary on dating standards and what conventional relationships mean. On the other hand, if Daphne says to Ethan, oh, if Cameron and Harper may have done something come this way, and she and Ethan go and fuck each other and potentially one of their children has a father that is unbeknownst to them, that is when it becomes problematic and that level of complication is unhealthy.
How does it feel to be back on top? You got a taste of fame early on in your career with the Divergent series, but then that underperformed and fizzled out. And you’ve now built yourself back up to the point where you’re starring on one of the best shows on television.
I started in fringe theater and always wanted to do a lot of things all the time—to play different characters. That’s what I’ve been enjoying recently with my career. That’s what I’ve been longing for: constant variety. I’m less interested in being hunky leads. I find that uninteresting. I’ve never been interested in the luxuries or problems of fame, should we say. It’s not something I was ever particularly comfortable with. Doing something like The White Lotus is exactly what I want to be doing—to be part of a great ensemble with loads of other actors who push each other and do work that’s different. That’s how I’d love to continue going forward.
Lastly, Daphne does deliver a toast at that final dinner where she says to the group, “Next year, the Maldives!” Are you returning for Season 3 of The White Lotus, possibly in Asia?
I mean, as anyone would say with Mikey boy, “Sign me the fuck up!” But no, who knows. I don’t think he has a plan yet. It will be a whole round of new characters to explore with complicated dynamics and I’ll be watching.