Brittany O’Grady of White Lotus: There are surface level friends, you ignore differences

Spoilers for The White Lotus below
Brittany O’Grady played Paula in The White Lotus, the teenager who went on vacation with her friend’s family and ultimately betrayed them. I’ve never seen Brittany on screen before and she was so good in that role. Brittany, 25, has an interview with Paper Magazine which is every bit as deep and interesting as the interview with White Lotus creator Mike White I covered earlier this week. No wonder that show was fabulous, there were such thoughtful people working on it. It sounds like it was a great experience on set too. Brittany said it was so much like a vacation, they filmed at the Four Seasons Maui, that she would sometimes forget they were making a show. She also spoke about the speculation that Paula and Olivia were more than friends, and whether she thought they would stay friends after the vacation. The quote in the title is a paraphrase because the full sentence wouldn’t fit in our format. She said, in reference to the difference in Paula and Olivia’s backgrounds, “You have those friendships where you keep it at the surface, but you know there’s something beneath and you don’t want to go there.” That resonated with me so I wanted to make it the subject. Here’s part of that interview:

On what she thinks happens with Paula and Olivia’s friendship
It’s so complicated because I feel like the way that Paula and I operate as people is completely different. That said, I could identify with Paula and how she feels, especially with everything that she’s seeing around her. I took a lot of my own personal experiences of sitting at a table where I felt like people were out of touch or lacked a sense of awareness of how their life is completely different than someone else’s. I think that their paths will diverge, and not even in a way of being vindictive or even personal, it’s just that they do see the world differently. I mean, Paula did something that could have really hurt Olivia’s family. But it’s so complicated and so human and that’s why I love it so much. You have those friendships where you keep it at the surface, but you know there’s something beneath and you don’t want to go there. I think they really went there. When Mike was telling us about the airport scene, I didn’t know where they stood. I didn’t know if it was a comical moment where it was like, “Haha, nothing ever happened,” and he was like, “No, this has definitely impacted your friendship. And that’s why Paula’s face is a little more somber by the end, because I don’t think she will continue a friendship.

On the sexual tension between Paula and Olivia
When we first arrived in Hawaii and got out of quarantine, Sydney, Mike and I all had a conversation about their dynamic and we joked that there could have been a little bit of obsessiveness or possessiveness from Olivia towards Paula, almost like an infatuation. I think that it was kind of teased with the ASMR scene. We definitely did talk about a dynamic that was more than just friendship; that there was this underlying need for each other. I think that Paula had a different way of looking at things, so that gravitated Olivia closer to her. It totally makes sense that people would think that, and I saw that a lot on social media and I would have thought the same thing. I love it. That can be a real thing with friendships, dynamics that are underlying and feelings that we can’t even really describe. I feel like it’s this interesting dynamic that doesn’t really have a label.

[From Paper]

I like how Brittany addressed the potential attraction between her character and Olivia in an open way without bristling at it. There’s so much more in this interview, including how she identified with Paula as a biracial and Black woman, and how much she looked up to and learned from Natasha Rothwell, who played Belinda. I would have liked to see Paula and Belinda centered more, and this is where WOC in the writing room could have made a difference. I wanted to see more of them and less of Shane and Rachel. Those two were awful people and I didn’t care about their plotline at all. They deserved each other. I guess Shane needed more backstory to explain that crazy ending though. I’m looking forward to seeing Brittany in more projects, she’s a fascinating person and she has real presence on screen.

As for the title, I’ve learned that I can’t have superficial friendships anymore. I’ve cut out women who were “both sides” people, who didn’t take the pandemic seriously and who think Republicans aren’t wrong about key things. It was my privilege as a white woman that allowed me to have those shallow relationships with them in the first place. The good thing is that I’ve met so many women over the pandemic with whom I have the most important things in common.

Still from White Lotus of Olivia and Paula in lounge chairs at the pool

Still from White Lotus of Olivia and Paula looking annoyed and defiant

photos via Instagram and credit HBO

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12 Responses to “Brittany O’Grady of White Lotus: There are surface level friends, you ignore differences”

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  1. local russian hill says:

    love you for always being so deep celebitchy. superficial friendships are exhausting. i think a lot of people reassessed theirs during the pandemic. please more articles that discuss relationships, and the sociology and psychology of being human.

    • DeeSea says:

      +1 to all of this! I’ve spent the past couple years coming to terms with the fact that I no longer have the interest, energy, or patience to continue superficial friendships. Same with people who don’t share my same core, fundamental values (but that doesn’t mean that we need to agree on every issue—just the underlying values). The challenge now is how to end these friendships without causing unnecessary pain. These are loyal friends and decent people, but our relationships are so surface-level that they’ve started feeling like a weight that pulls me down. They now stand in such stark contrast to the deeper, fulfilling friendships that I’m lucky to have. I don’t think there’s a chance of deepening those superficial friendships because, if we were to scratch the surface, I don’t think there’s anything deeper to be found. If anyone has navigated this graceful ending of superficial friendships successfully, I’d be grateful for any insights.

    • Bookie says:

      My husband and I cut out all of our COVID-denying friends. All of them.

      And guess what? Every single one of our eight COVID-denying friends got COVID. I am all out of sympathy for COVID-deniers

      • Valerie says:

        There are a couple of people I only knew online who turned out to be deniers/anti-v. I haven’t seen anything from them for months, and I’m starting to wonder…

  2. Atti says:

    I have a a bunch of surface level friends. We dont really know eachother deeply because I dont want to for various reasons. Surface level friends are kinda important. If I was slightly more bitter I wouldnt be talking to people I dont love 100%, and that would make my world just a little bit smaller. Make surface level friends, not enemies.

    • DeeSea says:

      Why are surface-level friendships important? (Genuinely asking, as this topic has been at the top of my mind for a while now.)

      • AMA1977 says:

        Not the OP (obviously) but for me, surface level friends are people you have to be in close proximity to, so being pleasant and enjoying each others’ company makes life easier. My work friends are surface level. The parents of my children’s friends are surface-level. We can socialize, spend time together, and enjoy chit-chat, but I don’t talk to them about “real” stuff. I have one mom-friend (our kids are best friends and they live next door) who is a true friend; we talk about serious issues, our beliefs about everything from religion to politics and back, and I can confide in her (and her in me) if I have a real problem/situation going on in my life. We also talk about and enjoy fluffy stuff, too. I trust her, and I know her values align with mine. For me, that’s rare, and I value it. The other friendships have value too, but a different kind.

      • Sof says:

        I guess it depends on what you are going through at the moment. I went through a rough period where I was tired of everything and didn’t want to tackle certain issues, so surface level friendships came in handy as they didn’t challange me, I could talk about anything besides myself and have a good time.

  3. Veronica S. says:

    Ooh, I didn’t know she was in it. She was excellent in The Punisher. I’m glad to see more people from that cast doing well, since it was one of the best assembled ones I’ve seen in awhile.

    She’s such a striking woman to me. There’s something very arresting about her features that you can’t help but look at. Great screen presence.

  4. Valerie says:

    You can only keep those for so long, too. I was friends with someone who I soon found out had political views that were completely opposite to mine. I had already gotten to know her and come to like her, and it was hard to believe that she felt the way that she did. She was a few years younger, so I thought that maybe she would do as I did and change her mind as she got older and lived life a little more.

    Wrooooong. Her experiences only solidified and entrenched her beliefs. She complained about being surrounded by libs at school, and I was like, So, why did you go? Why are you going to what you believe to be an indoctrination center?

    Needless to say, that friendship did not last.

  5. Laura Bee says:

    I legit thought they were full-on lesbians. Or bisexual in Paula’s case. I don’t know, I just thought they were together.

  6. Danielle says:

    She was in an Apple TV series called Little Voice–she’s a great singer too. It’s worth checking out.