How Fred Hechinger Ended Up as the Hero of 'The White Lotus'

Is Quinn the only good guy in Mike White's HBO series?

the white lotus, fred hechinger, quinn
HBO

When writer-director Mike White first introduces Quinn, played by Fred Hechinger on The White Lotus, he's a character we've seen before. He's a sullen teenage boy who rarely looks up from his Nintendo Switch, iPhone, or iPad. His sister (Sydney Sweeney) makes jokes about how much he masturbates. But by the end of the six-episode series (which is indeed getting a second season), Quinn is the closest thing The White Lotus has to a hero. He's the one character who actually develops a true connection with Hawaii and he leaves his family once they get on their flight home to row a Hōkūleʻa with a crew of guys he met on the beach.

"The whole time we were doing it, knowing, in the back of my head, that I was going to end up there, that I was going to finish on that boat, I had a little pep in my step," Hechinger tells Thrillist. "It was this little secret. I felt throughout myself that you want to run to that thing, but you don't know if you actually make it. Knowing that I would, that that's where the arc goes, was just really exhilarating and a real real gift."

That the well-received HBO series ends on Hechinger is fitting for the young actor who has had a remarkable, if unexpected, run over the past four months. While he had small roles in films like Eighth Grade and News of the World, 2021 is without a doubt his breakout year. In May, Netflix finally released the long delayed The Woman in the Window, where Hechinger is a creepy foil to Amy Adams. Then there was Netflix's Fear Street movies. He gets his slasher on as one of the friends fighting possessed killers in Fear Street: 1994 before taking on a different role in Fear Street: 1666. He went from the Hawaiian resort set of The White Lotus to the scummy underworld of Hulu's upcoming Pam & Tommy, in which he plays internet pornographer Seth Warshavsky, who distributed Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee's infamous sex tape.

the white lotus, fred hechinger, steve zahn
HBO

Hechinger is grateful and seems just a tiny bit overwhelmed when we chat on the phone. He started taking acting seriously in eighth grade, when he enrolled in an acting program, inspired by his childhood absorbing art in New York City. "My dad would take me to movie theaters—Film Forum, Museum of the Moving Image—and I would go see plays with my mom," he says. "Those two spaces felt always to me deeply sacred and just the place where I wanted to be as much as possible. There was something in those spots that it just felt like, 'Oh, this is what life actually feels like to me. This is what life actually is.'"

Hechinger, now 21, also took classes at UCB where his first teacher was his The White Lotus co-star Natasha Rothwell, who plays the spa manager Belinda. She was also the first person he saw at the Four Seasons Maui, where the whole cast was quarantined to shoot. "I hadn't seen someone other than my family for months," he says. "And then I walked out into the hallway and she was there. That was wild."

Hechinger bonded with the other White Lotus guests and employees over dinners and movie nights. His onscreen father, Steve Zahn, showed him Hal Ashby's The Last Detail. In order to film the mostly incredibly awkward scenes where Quinn and his dad Mark take scuba lessons while Mark unloads all of his secrets and anxieties on his son, Hechinger and Zahn had to be trained in scuba. "This guy who is like this scuba-training pro took these two, I would say, fearful thespians and brought us into the water with him," Hechinger says. "Before you go in the water they just prime you on all the ways you could die."

Fred Hechinger, the white lotus season finale
HBO

Hechinger also had to pick up rowing for Quinn's final act. "We were rowing out into the distance and a whale breached as we were doing it," he says. "It was insane. I still can't believe it. It was like this last thing, we all looked to our right and we saw this enormous creature. And the camera was on a drone at that point. It's a goal that I'm chasing, which is to be unaware of the camera."

In The White Lotus, the characters spend a lot of time talking, trying to justify their privilege and the way they run roughshod over those they deem lesser than themselves. Hechinger sees Quinn's decision to run as actions finally taking precedence over words. "After a whole show of so much talk, everyone trying to outsmart and verbalize above their actions, lip service to the maximum degree, here is something that's this physical, instantaneous urge, just this need," he says.

When Pam & Tommy debuts, Hechinger will finally graduate out of playing teenagers, but still gets to play in the murky waters of people who aren't exactly noble, but aren't exactly wrong either. For now though, he's relishing in the really "special" moment he's having, his version of setting sail.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.