Molly Shannon in The White Lotus
Molly Shannon with Tim Rogan in The Other Two
Between sips of morning coffee — as her dogs, Betty and Cinnamon, dart about her southern California backyard — Molly Shannon has a confession to make. “I could be a full-time mom, easily,” says the actress and three-time Emmy nominee, who admits that her biggest dream while growing up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, was to be a mother.
So it may be no coincidence that Shannon — real-life parent to a pair of teenagers — can be seen playing memorable moms on new episodes of not one, but two shows this summer, the HBO original The White Lotus and the HBO Max original The Other Two.
In The White Lotus, a soulful limited series from writer-director Mike White, she’s Kitty Patton, a wealthy busybody who shows up uninvited to the Hawaiian honeymoon of her son (Jake Lacy) and daughter-in-law (Alexandra Daddario).
And Shannon returns for season two of The Other Two, where, as widow Pat Dubek, she hosts a daytime talk show (called Pat!) and tries to help her three kids: her Bieber-esque teen son — internet sensation “ChaseDreams” (Case Walker) — and his bitter older siblings (Heléne Yorke and Drew Tarver).
“When you get parts like this, it does feel kind of easy, because it feels right,” enthuses Shannon, who studied drama at NYU before landing on Saturday Night Live in 1995. “The writing is so good with both projects that it’s just a gift.”
The actress barely knew her own mother, who died in a car accident — along with Shannon’s baby sister and a cousin — when she was four. (Besides Shannon, an older sister and her father also survived the crash.) “I think going through that gave me a certain flexibility [toward show business],” she says. “Because I thought, ‘Well, this is not nearly as bad as losing my mom when I was little.’”
Working on The Other Two was a chance to reunite with cocreator–executive producer Chris Kelly, who wrote and directed the critically acclaimed Other People. For her performance in that film, Shannon won an Independent Spirit Award in 2017 as Best Supporting Female. She played Joanne, a mom struggling with terminal cancer, a role Kelly based on his own mother’s battle with the disease.
“Chris knows me really well,” Shannon says. “And he knows how much I like playing a mother, so that character fit me very well. His mom was the same way — she liked being a mother, so he can write that very well, because that’s where he comes from.”
(And she’ll, sort of, be going there again. Showtime announced the pickup of I Love This for You, a comedy in which Shannon will play the star of a home-shopping network. The series is inspired by the life of SNL’s Vanessa Bayer, who overcame childhood leukemia; she plays a cancer survivor who dreams of becoming a home-shopping host.)
The White Lotus offered Shannon another reunion — with White (Enlightened), who, nearly two decades ago, postponed production of his Fox sitcom Cracking Up because Shannon — whom he wanted for the lead (another maternal role) — had become pregnant with her first child. Cut to nearly twenty years later: both of Shannon’s children accompanied her to the White Lotus shoot in Hawaii late last year, when the production took over the Maui Four Seasons amid the pandemic.
“I’d be shooting a scene in the restaurant,” she recalls, “and the kids would walk by in their snorkels and flippers to say hi on their way back to the room. It was a dream job.”
But as much as she’s enjoying being a TV mom, Shannon will be just fine if the shows are short-lived. “My kids are only home for a few more years, so my priority is really my children.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2021