9 Apr 2024

Morgana O'Reilly: the Kiwi actor starring in The White Lotus

From Afternoons, 1:35 pm on 9 April 2024

Kiwi actor Morgana O'Reilly still cannot quite believe she is in the third season of The White Lotus.

She tells Afternoons host Jesse Mulligan how she got cast in the wildly successful HBO comedy and the "relentlessly juicy" new drama series Friends Like Her.

New Zealand actress Morgana O'Reilly

New Zealand actress Morgana O'Reilly Photo: Supplied

On The White Lotus

O'Reilly recalls getting a response about her self-tape for the creators of the show while waiting for her friend to come down the aisle. 

"Shout out to my agent Zara, who I think was a bit of a dog with a bone with a casting agent," she says.

"I think she'd been establishing that relationship for quite some time so when the auditions came out, and I got an email like 'You've got an audition but you need to sign this NDA [non-disclosure agreement]' …[Soon after] she was like 'Oh, my goodness, that's the fastest signing of an NDA'.

"I did a self-tape. Self-tapes are controversial amongst the acting folk [but] I love them and sent it off. Then like two weeks later, I got some nice feedback … I was actually at a friend's wedding. She was about to come down the aisle so I went and sat in the audience. I got this text from Zara that was like 'Oh my goodness, we've just had this lovely feedback from the casting of White Lotus'. I wanted to stop the wedding. But that was enough. I was like this'll do me for years, so nice. To just have somebody acknowledge [my tape] and like it, and especially them, was gorgeous.

"Then another two weeks later, I was told that there was still quite strong interest, that there wouldn't be recalls and all that stuff and I would find out in the next few days. So again, I was like ' Oh, this is again, so nice. I can just enjoy the kind of fizz of it' and not… that drudgery of the back and forth which can be necessary for sure, but also it's incredibly emotionally draining."

It was really cool to see The White Lotus creator Mike White at work, O'Reilly says. 

"He just loves actors. He loves performances, he loves cadence. He's always going 'try saying this' and he's behind the monitor sometimes. I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to make him crack up laughing."

Part of what makes scoring a role in The White Lotus "a great cherry on top" is the boost it will give her current and future castmates, O'Reilly says,

"If nothing else [an association with a White Lotus actor] elevates everyone that I work with, it just like opens the door."

While filming the show, she thought about other Kiwi actors who could also thrive on a Mike White set.

"Although there are some really great creatives there and I'm stoked to be there, it's another film set. It's better or no worse than what I know here."

On Friends Like Her

After a run of "kooky comedies", O'Reilly says it was a treat to play Nicole in the surrogacy drama Friends Like Her.

"It was basically one of those roles that really got under my skin … I lost myself a bit and that's absolutely what you're in it for, you know.

"I did a lot of prep by reading a lot about PTSD and trauma, because I really wanted to serve the many facets or nuances of somebody with a weighted past."

She loved working with Australian actress Tess Haubrich, who plays her old friend Tess in the series.

"She's such a firecracker, such a good actress. I loved working with her so much. Like a real game of tennis, you know, very playful, wicked, glorious."

O'Reilly says Friends Like Her will attract an international audience.

"It is a relentlessly juicy story and the whole cast is just especially good. It's been shot so beautifully. It's also like such a calling card for New Zealand, Kaikōura is stunning."