The actress became one of the most beloved characters on the hit show, but initially "tried to get out of it because I was too fat"
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2021 Gotham Awards
Credit: Alexi J. Rosenfeld/WireImage

Jennifer Coolidge's scene-stealing performance on The White Lotus nearly didn't happen.

The 60-year-old actress played Tanya McQuoid, one of the guests at the ritzy White Lotus resort in Hawaii, who was trying to find herself again after the death of her mother. Coolidge's hilarious-yet-devastating work as Tanya made her a fan favorite on the hit HBO show and she's the only cast member confirmed to be coming back for the second season, but she almost turned down the role over concerns about her weight.

Coolidge tells PEOPLE that creator Mike White contacted her, saying that "he'd written a part for me."

"I tried to get out of it because I was too fat," she told PEOPLE exclusively at the Gotham Awards on Monday night.

Coolidge says that she felt uncomfortable in her body after gaining weight during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"During COVID, I just let everything go," she says. "I let everything go most of my life but I really let everything go during COVID."

Jennifer Coolidge, Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O'Grady in The White Lotus.
Jennifer Coolidge, Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O'Grady in The White Lotus.
| Credit: Mario Perez/HBO

And "I'm vain," she adds. "I wanted to look a certain way when you're on film … I was not ready for this cool opportunity. It goes to show, you should always be in the best shape because you just don't know."

Luckily, Coolidge says, "I had a smart girlfriend who talked me off the ledge," and she agreed to take on the role anyway.

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"It's a miracle that happened. What a fluke, you know?" she says.

"I just can't believe it," Coolidge adds, referring to the show's success. "We went and did it and we filmed it and then people liked it."

Coolidge was announced as the one actor to return for the show's second season in October, in part because White had initially intended for it to be a limited series with one six-episode season. But after the show became a hit, HBO signed on for a second season that is expected to leave Hawaii and follow "a different group of vacationers as they jet to another White Lotus property and settle in temporarily amongst its inhabitants."

White initially didn't think he could "credibly have" all of the season 1 actors return for the next installment, but joked to TVLine that "maybe it could be a Marvel Universe type thing, where some of them would come back."

  • With reporting by MARY PARK