For 'The White Lotus' cast in scenic Sicily, filming often felt like 'we were really on vacation'

You’re to be forgiven if you’ve confused the new season of HBO’s “The White Lotus” for a multi-episode advertisement for Sicily.

The Italian island – specifically the area in and around the fabled eastern town of Taormina – plays a leading role in Mike White’s self-described “vacations gone wrong” series, taking the baton from the Hawaiian island of Maui in Season 1.

This year’s show makes sure to focus on the area’s stunning seascapes, ornate estates and, of course, its delectable food and wine.

White chose the location in part because of its “operatic and tragic vibes,” which inform a darker story line that finds families and couples examining their demons. “We needed all the sexual politics and jealousy and paranoia,” he says.

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The cast and crew arrived at the Four Seasons San Domenico Palace last February during the off season, and basically were treated as guests during two months of filming before actual tourists started to arrive. The team then spent another few months filming scenes in neighboring cities and towns across the island.

“Our shoot sprawled way over, but you’re in Italy and it was so special to be there,” says White. “I would sometimes tell friends, ‘I’m so tired, it’s so stressful,’ and they were like, ‘Shut up, you’re not getting any sympathy.'”

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USA TODAY checked in with some of the stars to get their favorite memories of their Sicilian working vacation. “It’s called a dream gig, my friend,” says Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos”), who plays philandering Dominic Di Grasso.

“We basically took over the amazing town of Taormina. Being there for such a long time, we really got to settle in, to have a routine and rhythm, and really kind of feel the lifestyle there. Going to the same restaurant a couple of times a week, and having a coffee at the same cafe, it really feels like it becomes home.”

Speaking of coffee, Jennifer Coolidge, whose kooky millionaire Tanya McQuoid is the lone main character returning from the first season, became convinced that White had spies and helpers planted throughout Taormina.

One day, she and Jon Gries, who plays her husband Greg Hunt, filmed scenes riding a Vespa, meant to capture some of that classic Italian movie magic from the 1950s.

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“It felt like Mike had hired extras to be around and act as ordinary people,” she saysof the friendly locals who seeped into each day’s shooting experience. “It all felt like a movie. Once we were promised coffees, but the production assistant never showed up with the coffee. And the next thing I know, this man is coming out of his house, he had a strange outfit on, a cigarette was hanging out of this mouth, and his hands were cupped together.

“Well, I didn’t know what he had in there, a frog? And he opens them up and there was this tiny cup of espresso,” says Coolidge, still amazed. “There were so many moments like that that just felt rigged.”

Adds Gries, “It felt like we were in a Monica Vitti movie the whole time.”

For Will Sharpe, who plays newly rich tech titan Ethan Spiller, the appeal was “being by the sea, (and) just generally being in a beautiful place for such a long time and having an opportunity to work there.”

Asked about her favorite memories of Sicily, Aubrey Plaza, who plays Sharpe’s “White Lotus” wife, Harper Spiller, takes a beat and then lets fly.

“Well, we ate a lot of cannolis,” says the former “Parks and Recreation” star. “Umm. Like, hundreds of cannolis, every kind of cannoli. Seriously. I mean, the food was just the best. It was pretty wild to live like an Italian person for five months.”

Theo James, who plays Ethan’s former college roommate, entitled finance bro Cameron Sullivan, was so eager to inhabit his new surroundings that immediately upon arrival he invited Meghann Fahy, who plays his wife, Daphne Sullivan, on a date in picturesque Taormina. Things did not go as planned.

“The night she got in, I was like, ‘OK, we’re going to play husband and wife. We need history. We need to get to know each other very quickly,'” he says. A quick text exchange followed, and the couple was off to a place near the hotel. “I managed to take her to the only place in Taormina that has terrible, terrible food. So she never forgave me.”

Fahy’s favorite moments were centered on how the “White Lotus” ensemble had taken over a five-star resort, creating a nightly slumber party.

“It wasn’t open to anyone but us, so we sort of had free rein,” she says. “We had karaoke parties and dance parties at the bar area. Good bonding.” (For the record, Fahy’s go-to karaoke song? “Stan” by Eminem.)

Both actors recalled one particular location shoot that continues to linger. The setting was a winery, where Cam, Daphne, Ethan and Harper go for tastings and conversation. And while the dialogue gets spicy and tense, the offscreen banter couldn’t have been lighter.

“We had wine and food and it was all great and so delicious,” says James. “It was like we were really on vacation.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘White Lotus’ share Sicilian magic memories with an emphasis on food

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