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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Ilia Isorelýs Paulino on Her 'Sex Lives of College Girls' Character: 'Who’s Gonna Fuck in a Muumuu?'

Jezebel spoke with Paulino, whose character, Lila, doles out the female gaze and grapples with becoming an authority figure in Season 2.

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Ilia Isorelýs Paulino as Lila and Pauline Chalamet as Kimberly working at Sips in Season 2 of “The Sex Lives of College Girls.”
Ilia Isorelýs Paulino as Lila and Pauline Chalamet as Kimberly working at Sips in Season 2 of “The Sex Lives of College Girls.”
Photo: Courtesy of HBO Max

Ilia Isorelýs Paulino, the 27-year-old fireball who’s gaining a reputation in the film and television industry as a “scene stealer,” knows she’s not the typical representation of an authority figure. But that’s not stopping her character Lila from getting a taste of power in the second season of HBO Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls.

We initially meet Lila at the campus coffee shop, Sips, where she works alongside fellow student Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet). Paulino’s role in the first season was strictly comedic, balancing out Kimberly’s small town naïveté with sarcastic quips, unmitigated thirst, and a personality big enough to fill at least a dozen canisters of cold brew. But in Season 2's sixth episode, Lila steps into focus, blossoming beyond secondary character limbo.

After the Sips manager vacates his role, the student workers find themselves desperate for new leadership. As Kimberly pushes Lila to apply for the gig, Lila is forced to reckon with the nausea-inducing idea of “working for the man;” to wrestle with the definition of “professional” and why it doesn’t include going braless; and to interrogate her own biases about who gets to ascend the corporate ladder and why. Of course, while they’re at it, Lila and Kimberly find time to rest their gaze upon rows of abs at fraternity fetés, respectfully turning the men around them into appetizing slabs of meat. I talked to Paulino, a Yale School of Drama alumna, all about Lila and her shenanigans over Zoom a few days before her episode dropped.

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Earlier in the season, you do a lot of what I’ll call “female gazing” and objectifying of these muscled white frat dudes. Why do you think it’s important for us to see the girls in the show, and specifically Lila, get to objectify them?

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One, because we do it everyday in real life. And two, I think there’s this notion that women aren’t as sex-crazed as men, and we are. And three, to show the men that, at least for me, it’s [just] about looking. Like yes, Lila gazes and she objectifies, but at no point do the men who are the object of her objectification feel unsafe. That’s that line that men cross.

Image for article titled Ilia Isorelýs Paulino on Her 'Sex Lives of College Girls' Character: 'Who’s Gonna Fuck in a Muumuu?'
Photo: Photograph by Courtesy of HBO Max
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Lila’s also always talking about or emphasizing her assets, and her tits are all over the place, which we love. Why do you think it’s so important to have a character like her—especially in a show that’s set in a college environment—who really doesn’t give a fuck what other people think about her?

I mean, first and foremost, it’s not lost on me that I am the biggest girl on the show. To have someone who isn’t a size 0, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 on an HBO show who is loving her body out loud in front of men, women, everyone is so important in today’s day and age. And I still have my days where I’m like, “Damn bitch, you shouldn’t have eaten that burger. I can see that roll.” But then I get to go and play Lila.

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In the first season, I went to a fitting for some of the Sips scenes and—no shade to them because I think they were just trying to make me feel comfortable—but they wanted to put me in a muumuu or an oversized dress or t-shirt, and I was like no, no, no, no, no. She’s 18, and she’s fucking. Who’s gonna fuck in a muumuu? So as people have seen Lila on screen [in crop tops and tight-fitting clothes], I’ve started getting a shit ton of girls reaching out who are also on the chubby chunky side or on the fat side, and I think they felt seen. They felt like they had permission, not that anyone needs my permission, but oftentimes we feel like we do. So if I can give permission to other girls to go to the club and shake that ass and wear that miniskirt like any other girl your age, do it. You’re only gonna be 18 once. Are you gonna be 80 hoping and wishing that you could go back and shake ass? I wanna be shaking ass into my 80s, you know what I mean.

Ilia Isorelýs Paulino as Lila and Amrit Kaur as Bela.
Ilia Isorelýs Paulino as Lila and Amrit Kaur as Bela.
Photo: Photograph by Katrina Marcinowski/HBO Max
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You and me both. So I wanted to talk about Episode 6, which is obviously your banner episode. Lila gives me big socialist “I don’t dream of labor” vibes, am I right in sensing that?

Oh, she doesn’t wanna do labor. It’s true, but I don’t know if it’s that noble. Or at least, not as noble as other characters!

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At the end of the episode, Lila gets this job as the manager of Sips, and she starts power tripping. What do you think the show is trying to say about labor within Lila’s arc?

We learned a big lesson during the pandemic when everything slowed down. We realized that we didn’t have to go in as much, and that we don’t have to be productive to be happy. And I think through this character Lila, they’re just trying to say, “Relax.”

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I also thought what Lila had to say about what a person in an authority position is assumed to look like was really interesting. I love that she doesn’t want to wear a bra in her interview—she never wears a bra, and why would she pretend to be someone she’s not? Did that ring true for you?

I mean, I haven’t worn a bra in my day-to-day, aside from a premiere or if I’m working, since like high school. I think they’re so stupid. I feel like I can’t do anything. So I definitely felt that line. We also have this notion or this idea of what people who are in higher positions look like, and they don’t look like me and they definitely don’t act like Lila. And I think that’s bullshit. Kimberly’s right when she says if she wanted anyone to be her manager, it would’ve been Lila, and I agree. You have someone that gets shit done, and knows the groove of things, and has a personality.

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I also love that there was an emphasis placed on her caring for and knowing her customers. So often when we’re talking about these managerial types, it’s all numbers, and getting people to show up, and I love that leadership is awarded to her because of who she is and how she treats people.

Right, you get to see her softer side, or at least the side that is caring…that’s less rawr, rawr, RAWR.

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We’ve talked a lot about your character, but what about you? Do you dream of labor?

No. Girl…I’m an actor. *Cackles*

Image for article titled Ilia Isorelýs Paulino on Her 'Sex Lives of College Girls' Character: 'Who’s Gonna Fuck in a Muumuu?'
Photo: Courtesy of HBO Max
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A lot of young people these days don’t want any part in sorority and fraternity culture and don’t condone what those institutions represent. Why do you think it was important not just for Lila but all of the characters to be shown navigating their way in this space, which can sometimes be dangerous for them?

In the show, at this specific university, that’s where the scene’s at and where the parties are at. I think it’s one of those things where you’re looking back when you’re older and you’re like, that probably wasn’t the safest I could’ve been or maybe I shouldn’t have endorsed it. But I think when you’re 18 and your frontal lobe is still forming, sometimes you just don’t think that deep.

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In terms of my experience, frat parties weren’t really a thing at my college, and I was also a theater nerd, so I would go to the theater parties and sing the soundtrack to Wicked.

For kids in college right now who might be watching the show, and they’re watching Lila trying to be a student while also trying to make money so she can support herself, what do you want them to take away from this episode?

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My advice for college students, period, would be: Go to that party. I think sometimes we get so caught up in our grades and working—and I had to work all through college so I understand the need to work—but, if I am being honest, there were moments where I’m like, “You should have gone to that party.” It’s college. You’re not gonna remember that one exam that you flubbed on. To this day, me and my college friends will stay up talking about that one time my friend was trying to make her boy at the time jealous, and I was trying to coordinate what to do at the party, and like—a mess! It was a mess. But those are the memories that you’re cackling around the fire over.

It feels like there’s so much pressure during that time to become a mini adult.

Yes, and I would also say: You are a baby. I know you feel like you’re not because you’re not with mom and dad anymore, or especially if you’re not living at home, but you are still a baby. Live your baby life! Jesus.

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The Sex Lives of College Girls drops new episodes every Thursday on HBO Max. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.