I’ll admit it: I put on false eyelashes before my Zoom interview with Simona Tabasco. The bonafide breakout star of the second season of The White Lotus, is, disarmingly, unearthly lovely. If we were going to share a screen—my eggshell ego informed me—I needed a little help from my friends at Ardell. Only, no pair of demi wispies (not even the faux mink) could stand up to the potent charm of television’s new favorite sex worker with a heart of gold—or, as Vogue put it, “one of the Italian girlies (the more debauched one).”
“Ciao! I’m in Naples!” she exclaims, greeting me with the enthusiasm of a long-lost friend. “It is my city, and it’s like, to be at home.” She’s on set, filming the fourth season of I Bastardi di Pizzo Falcone, a Grey’s Anatomy-type series that predates her newfound White Lotus fame, and despite being on the clock, Tabasco can’t seem to stop smiling. She has me at hello—er, ciao.
Tabasco’s Lucia has half the occupants of The White Lotus in some kind of chokehold, too. There’s Dominic (portrayed by Michael Imperioli) who has no problem sleeping with her but develops several when his son, Albie (Adam DiMarco,) abruptly becomes besotted with her. There’s Cameron (Theo James) and Ethan (Will Sharpe) the bros-cum-foes who haven’t paid for the “fun” provided to them by her and her best friend, Mia (Beatrice Grannò) while their wives were stoned in Noto. And then, the ever-enigmatic, Alessio, who Lucia convivially greets in the season opener, yet by its end is harassed by—or is she? Who is Alessio I wonder aloud to Tabasco, yielding predictably inconclusive results: “Who is Alessio?” she returns my question, so deadpan that I fear I’ve somehow confused the name. Tabasco leaves me in purgatory for little more than a second—just enough time to register my panic-stricken face—before she breaks character. “I’m just joking, I’m just joking,” she reassures without offering the slightest clue.
Even if I still can’t conclude whether Mike White has taken the Hollywood approach to sex work (portraying women frayed by a brute who wants money he didn’t earn and in need of Richard Gere), I do manage to squeeze some intel out of her, and by the time we hang up, an earnest (and worrisome) wish: “I do hope you enjoy the episode and...I’m hugging you,” she offers with the sympathy of a person who knows which character’s demise will leave me as gagged as the sight of a certain pee-pee prosthetic.
This interview had been edited and condensed for clarity.
JEZEBEL: I read that you were determined to be a part of The White Lotus since the first season. What struck you most about Lucia?
SIMONA TABASCO: Her hunger. She is someone that wants so much from life and goes through life trying to earn her place in the world; to earn her place in life, so it was great to see that in her. Now, she decides, of course, to be an escort. It’s a means to an end for her. She thinks that going to the White Lotus, and being around these powerful, rich men is the way that she’s going to get her goal in the end. I think she’s someone that is just there for realizing herself, and what she wants to do in life. Whatever is going to get her there, is game.
When audiences first meet Lucia, she’s distinguished as this very determined, self-assured, and empowered woman. However, mid-season, there’s a bit of a shift where we see her doubting what she does and almost questioning the morality of it. It’s as if she and Mia swap scruples. What do you think was the catalyst?
Yes, we see her go through this change, and it does have to do with the night that she spent with the two guys (Cameron and Ethan), having fun, partying, taking drugs. But that night...I think that it’s not something that she’s always used to. It’s not her. It’s not all her life, it’s just a choice that she made at the White Lotus in that particular moment. I think it goes beyond who she truly is as a girl. She’s a good girl. She made a choice, but she’s having a moment where all this seems very big, probably. Maybe this change could be a little bit of a strategy, who knows? But also, in the end, as I said, I think she’s a good girl. Even though she has big dreams and these things that she wants, maybe sometimes it’s all a little too much. Most times in life, you don’t know how wild the night can be until it becomes something that you don’t like anymore.
Another interesting thing that I thought as I was studying her, and then later, portraying her, is that it’s not exactly clear what went on in her past. Why does she have this drive now to chase this particular dream, to get money, to get to the point where she’s able to, as she says, open a shop? We don’t know much of that.
For Lucia and Mia, sex work is the most pragmatic approach to achieving their dreams. Because society at large still doesn’t understand the sex industry, entertainment oftentimes presents a binary, harmful narrative about anyone who engages with it. What did you seek to bring to the depiction of sex work via Lucia?
What I wanted to bring to the screen—what was important for me to show as Lucia—was her humanity. You’re right in saying that she does this as a practical means to get to an end, but she’s also a little clumsy at times. You don’t always get the impression that she knows what she’s doing. When I got the requests for the audition tapes, one of the scenes that I requested to do was the last one of the first episode where she’s with Dominic. What I tried to bring to that performance was the humanity of Lucia in that moment—a girl who is, at the end of the day, vulnerable. She wants to be a femme fatale a little bit, but not entirely. I’m not!
Let’s talk about Albie. I think he has a bit of a savior complex when it comes to women—Lucia, especially. As soon as he gets the notion she’s in danger or being manipulated by Alessio, it’s almost like his infatuation with her immediately ratchets up. I know you can’t say much, but does Lucia genuinely like him?
So, when I was reading the script and wondering how their story was going to end, I thought maybe it’s going to be a happy ending between the two of them because I do think that Lucia dreams of finding love. Amongst all the things that she wants, I think love is also part of the package that she’s looking for.
You’ve said in previous interviews that Lucia is a searcher—she craves warmth, closeness, and human connection. Judging by the internet’s embrace of your character, people really want Lucia to have a happy ending. Albie aside, does she get one?
Yes, I think she will get her happy ending. I don’t know if everybody’s going to be happy with it, because it may be a happy ending that’s a little risky for the other characters.
Navigating out of spoiler territory, I heard you and Beatrice Grannò have shared ten years of friendship (and have already been co-stars) pre-White Lotus. What was it like bringing that bond to the screen? Who are Lucia and Mia in your IRL friendship?
Yeah, we met ten years ago trying to get into film school together. Then we separated—I stayed in Rome, and she went to London. The friendship that you see between Lucia and Mia is the one between me and Beatrice. It’s very real. The chemistry we brought to the set is the chemistry that we both have in real life. We’re really good friends, so that was helpful. It was great because when we got the auditions, she helped me do my self-tape and we started dreaming together. It was just a process that was almost surreal from the start.
As far as both of our characters, we both think that we’re very similar, in certain aspects, to the characters we’re playing. For example, on set, Beatrice would have this lucidity—this awareness, at times, that would help me step back into a moment where we had to be very focused. And we have done that on screen. There are moments where she’s like, shaking Lucia into being focused on whatever they’re doing. That felt similar to us as people in everyday life.
Speaking of everyday life, if you met someone like Lucia and befriended her (as we all want to), what would be your advice to her?
Wow, I love this! I don’t know...I risk giving a discounted answer because I haven’t thought about this, but I think I’d tell her to follow her instincts at all times—wherever they may take her. And ask for money before, not after.