He’s a nice-guy Stanford grad. She’s Jennifer Coolidge’s harried, depressed assistant. They’re both desperate to get away from the older people surrounding them and have fun in Sicily, yet they just can’t make it work. Such is the tale of Adam DiMarco’s Albie and Haley Lu Richardson’s Portia in the first few episodes of the second season of The White Lotus. That is, up until the fourth episode, where their characters’ almost-relationship falls apart when Leo Woodall’s Jack, the nephew to Tom Hollander’s fancy British gay aesthete, enters the picture and draws Portia’s eye from Albie. In turn, local sex worker Lucia (Simona Tabasco) decides she’s going to flirt with Albie despite already sleeping with his father. By the end of the episode, Albie’s getting a blowjob from Lucia while Portia and Jack are off in her room making out. It’s a set of romantic developments worthy of Love Island; to unpack the collapse of #PortiAlbie and the rise of the new couplings, Vulture caught up with DiMarco and Richardson over Zoom to discuss the new romantic pairings, the eerie way creator Mike White wove their own personalities into their characters, and their own love of reality TV.
There’s this lingering antagonism where Albie and Portia feel almost obligated to get together because they’re two young people at this resort, but it just doesn’t sync. How did Mike direct you to play those awkward early scenes?
HLR: Every time Albie and Portia interact, there’s the potential for it to be charming or cute. They have these things that could balance each other out in theory. But then it just goes [she moves her hands past each other, not touching].
AD: I know you shouldn’t read comments online, but it has been fun reading the comments online, because everyone has a read on every situation. At the last episode by the pool, I had a friend text me in all caps when Albie goes in for a second kiss and then asks Portia to come back to his room. He was like, “I YELLED AT MY TV, ‘READ THE ROOM.’” But then some people are saying Portia told Albie to be more aggressive and he’s doing it. Both are true. It’s just not an ideal romantic connection.
HLR: I did this with the first season, and I feel like people are trying to find the character or characters that are the most grounded or sane or relatable or good. But I don’t think there’s a single character that’s not a little bit insufferable in one way or another or has deep fucked up and self-serving motives. That’s kind of the point of the show, right? A few days ago I searched my name and then I searched Portia on Twitter and I’ll never do it again. It was so dark. People seemed really deeply annoyed by Portia after episode three. Just this misery and self-pity she had. But I knew that from the beginning! The point is that she is stuck in Sicily at this five-star resort.
Have you read any of the speculation about who will kill or be killed so far? There’s a fair amount of theorizing that Albie would snap and go after Portia.
AD: I think there’s a theory about every single character killing someone and every single character dying, which is pretty cool. Mike has created this world where anyone is capable of murder.
HLR: Did you see someone posted a really hot picture of you on Twitter, a black-and-white picture where you’re all moody and you have a six-pack? They were like, “If Portia doesn’t get on this she deserves to be one of the people in a body bag.”
AD: Oh, shit.
HLR: I thought it was funny.
Let’s talk about the scene at the end of the episode where Albie and Portia are essentially competitively making out with Lucia and Jack across the bar from each other. What was that like to film?
HLR: We really were improvising across the bar. A tiny bit of it was actually used.
AD: There was a whole thing that got cut of Lucia and Portia yelling at each other across the bar. Did she call you a bitch? I can’t remember. And then I got to add some Italian gestures at you. I don’t think that was in the script. And then I really liked Leo’s half-Italian, half-Spanish, half-English, “Dos Jägerbombs.”
Was the Spanish improvised?
HLR: That was all Leo. Jägerbombs are his favorite drink. We were out one night and he got us all Jägerbombs. It’s the most disgusting beverage ever. We had to dump them in the bush behind us.
AD: Yeah, I don’t think they knew what a Jägerbomb was at this club we were at in Sicily. But yes, that scene is cool because Albie and Portia both found fire in other people. I don’t know what their elements would be. I think Albie would be water or maybe earth. What would Portia be?
AD: Albie’s an earth and water cross. Albie’s mud. Albie’s wet soil.
Because Mike does so much improv, do you feel like your characters molded around your own personalities?
HLR: Mike cast everyone psychotically perfectly. And as we started filming, yeah, I noticed he was encouraging us to add our energies to it and our own bits in between. And now I’m confused which one’s me and which one’s Portia.
AD: Those are my favorite moments, when you see a glimpse of the real person. You’re like, Oh, that’s Meghann. That’s just Leo. It is an unconscious improv of them bringing themself to it, which is also very vulnerable.
HLR: A lot of the time Mike would come up after a scene and be like, “Wow, great acting. I felt like I was watching a documentary.”
AD: And we’re like, “Is that good? Do you want to be watching a documentary?”
What do you see of each other in Albie and Portia, then?
AD: Sometimes it’s just a look. You had one line in three where you see Albie kissing Lucia and you’re like, “That’s a twist.” It was very Haley.
HLR: I think Albie is a very goodhearted, well-intentioned human. And I think that you are, too. There’s this kind of pure baby likeness in Albie’s eyes. Your eyes get so big, like marbles.
AD: I do really bring my own eyes to the character. There’s no CGI involved.
HLR: Mike hears and sees everything. He meets you and he’s sitting back and he’s making jokes and it’s light, but you leave and you’re like, Oh my God, I feel so seen but also a little bit judged. I don’t think Mike’s judgmental, but he’s so observant that you leave feeling kind of vulnerable. He picked up on things that I haven’t even picked up on about myself yet.
AD: If you’re fiddling with your jacket or something, three weeks later he’s like, “Oh, do that thing you were doing with your jacket.” Like, What are you talking about?
In your separate storylines, you’re playing off veteran actors such as F. Murray Abraham and Michael Imperioli or Jennifer Coolidge. What was it like to work with them?
AD: Murray and Michael were the best kind of pseudo-family. I came into this feeling very intimidated. They really helped me feel confident and that I was meant to be there. We were texting each other this morning in our little group chat. I have to sign every text with “Adam” at the end of it so Murray knows who it is.
HLR: Jennifer’s the wildest person I’ve ever met. Honestly: the most exciting, interesting, unique human. She made me laugh so hard in scenes when I wasn’t supposed to be laughing. I’ve always craved that — I would watch the Anchorman bloopers and watch them all cracking up. Granted, I wasn’t making her crack up, so I still have somewhere to go. And she’s so hot.
AD: We want that on the record.
Back when I visited set, you told me you had a karaoke night at the hotel while filming, but nobody else I’ve talked to seems to have been there or sung. Simona wasn’t. Leo wasn’t. Meghann said she didn’t sing. What happened?
AD: You’re asking a lot about karaoke considering none of us were strictly sober and it was months ago. But I’m trying to remember. I know Este Haim sang.
HLR: Who was there? Meghann, us, Beatrice.
AD: Was Aubrey there? Theo? Were they?
HLR: I think Aubrey did a — what’s it called? Irish good-bye?
AD: French exit or Irish good-bye. One of those European countries. Is it an Italian ciao?
HLR: I sang Spice Girls with Meghann and Este.
AD: The night started because the mic was working but the sound system wasn’t, and then Haley was lounge-singing by the piano to a room of people who are not paying attention to her. I have a video of it on my phone.
HLR: Also I’m tone deaf.
AD: Tone deaf singing a capella. I was like, “We need to get actual music going.”
Have either of you watched Love Island?
HLR: [Turning her camera.] Look at my TV. I literally paused Love Island to do this interview.
Okay, so if last season of The White Lotus felt very Survivor, there’s something about Portia and Albie’s plot that feels like Love Island. They’re an established couple, and then …
AD: Jack enters the villa and he knows that Albie and Portia are like a couple. He’s like, “I came here for you.” We watched a lot of reality TV in Sicily, but, Haley, you had not seen Love Island when we were over there, right? I remember recommending it to you and I said to watch season three of the British one.
HLR: Oh, I stopped season three because I couldn’t get into it. Now I’m watching five.
AD: Three’s the best. It has Kem and Chris. And it’s the last season where they’re allowed to smoke on the island. Love-based reality shows informed our characters a bit.
AD: There was this one move from this show where someone pulled out a chair at a dinner table on a date and then the other person sat in it and then they went to their side, they did sit down, but they didn’t push the other person’s chair, so they had to scoot it up. We stole that for the show. It didn’t end up making the cut.
Haley, is that a bucket hat you crocheted that you’re wearing in episode four?
HLR: Yeah, I crocheted a bucket hat. Did you like it?
Yeah. It looks great.
AD: What if he was like, “No, it was sloppy.”
HLR: I love crocheting. I’ve been doing it since I was 8. And I like trying to get my characters to wear something I’ve made when it makes sense.
AD: You’ve crocheted since you were crocheight?
HLR: You’re going to be a great dad one day. You’ve already got the jokes for it.
This episode ends with the pair of sex scenes between Albie and Lucia and Jack and Portia.
HLR: How amazing is Adam’s orgasm? It’s honestly one of the best orgasms. First of all, it’s so perfect for Albie. It’s so believable. I saw that and immediately took a bunch of screenshots.
AD: Everyone’s going to be doing this to me.
HLR: To have the camera in your face like that and do that and commit. How’d you do it, Adam?
AD: That was more vulnerable than showing my ass. Physical nudity is fine, but that emotional vulnerability, especially when the camera’s right in your face. I just tried to pretend the camera wasn’t there. And then I don’t know, just lots of practice, lots of rehearsal on my own. How was it filming your scene?
HLR: Well, I didn’t really have a sex scene. We just make out. But that was fun. Definitely less vulnerable than what you had to do.
AD: Yeah. It does help having an intimacy coordinator for that kind of stuff. All of those sex scenes were filmed in Rome at a soundstage at the end of the shoot. It was one of my last few days, so Simona and I had really built up a trust for each other at that point, which helped. But yeah, vulnerable. They say it’s a closed set and then it is a skeleton crew, but everyone behind the walls can hear everything that’s going on.
For a show like this, you know it’s going to be watched closely, people are going to be picking apart and meme-ing scenes like this. That must linger on your mind.
AD: You start doing it and within the first couple takes you’re like, Please, God. Did you get it? Let this be over. But then after, I don’t know, three or four takes, it just feels like any other scene. And you’re asking for another. You’re like, “Can we go again, Mike? I swear I can come better than that.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.