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Simona Tabasco Is ‘Threatening the Equilibrium’ of The White Lotus

Simona Tabasco. Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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Visitors to any White Lotus property are practically guaranteed a wild time. But for the travelers to this season’s Sicilian outpost, their experience is made all the more chaotic by two young local woman: sex worker Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and her aspiring musician friend Mia (Beatrice Grannò). So far, Lucia and Mia have made enemies of the resort’s manager, Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), and do their best to get as much money as possible from Michael Imperioli’s divorced sad sack Dominic di Grasso — while also pressuring him into a threesome.

It’s hard to tell what, exactly, Lucia’s goals are — is she threatening, or under threat? — which Tabasco prefers as a performer. The actress, who stars in the Italian medical series DOC, enjoyed working with White Lotus creator Mike White to keep audiences guessing about Lucia’s character. Speaking through her translator, Tabasco discussed reuniting with Grannò, a friend from film school; wearing the statement outfits Lucia buys with Dominic’s money; and embracing her association with the chili pepper: “It’s a very fun word to have as your last name.”

What was it like shooting that threesome with Beatrice and Michael?
The scene itself was entirely improvisation. Mike had the vision that Mia and Lucia would be making some noise and threatening the equilibrium of the people around them — so, being the annoying little devils they’ve shown themselves to be. The shooting of it was very fun. I recently heard Michael doing an interview where he talked about how he realized his wife was in the room just above us during filming of that scene. He was nervous, but I did not see or feel any of that, so he’s a great actor.

Mike works with a lot of improvisation, letting actors bring some of themselves to their characters. Do you see yourself in Lucia?
The main thing with her is she has a lot of energy, and we see her as being hungry for life, for things — for having them, taking them, almost eating them. She wants to build a connection with what she has around her, and that’s close to my personality. I want to get to the bottom of things, to authenticity, to feel them in their rawness. Characters are, in general, a bit of a reflection of the actors that play them. You can study a lot and go far away from what you are, but you can’t get too far away.

Was there an aspect of her you wanted to emphasize as you filmed the show?
Lucia is an ambiguous character. She’s always in between feelings. You never know if she’s serious or if she’s kidding, and you can’t quite catch her. She’s two-faced, but in a good way.

Lucia and Mia’s scenes depend on there being a clear friendship between them. Did you know Beatrice before filming the show?
It’s very serendipitous. We met ten years ago in film school, when we were just starting to go down this road. Afterward, she moved to London to study acting and I remained in Rome. Four years ago, we met again on set for a TV series that we shot together in Italy, and that’s when we became real friends. That’s the chemistry you see onscreen.

When I got the White Lotus audition, I didn’t know that she had also gotten a White Lotus audition. I called her to practice my self-tape, and we realized we were both trying out for this show. We were both saying, “this can’t happen,” but we both got it!

Lucia goes all out with her clothes once she can spend Dominic’s money. Did you have a favorite outfit of hers?
[In English] I think I can answer this in English! My favorite was the black swimsuit she wears in this episode. [Switching to Italian] Then the other favorite was the red dress [in the first episode]. I was shaking when I was putting it on, because I’ve been doing this job for ten years and I was realizing we were about to start the crazy experience of this show.

I heard that the cast had a karaoke night on the set. Did you participate?
I did not because I was scheduled to shoot early the next morning, so I was probably in my room sleeping or rehearsing. In the first weeks, I was very focused on memorizing my lines because I really wanted to be prepared. I thought my English was an extra concern when we started the project. But once things eased up and I got a little more confident, we did have a lot of time to hang out. [In English] But I like karaoke!

What would you have sung?
There’s an Italian singer called Giorgia, who is my favorite to do at karaoke. But I’m not as good at singing as Beatrice.

The two of you are playing Sicilian women, and you’re from Naples. Was there anything you did to capture the essence of a woman from Sicily specifically?
Within Italy, you can make a distinction between the north and the south. The regions between these categories are different, but there’s not too much of a difference between a girl from Naples and from Sicily. They’re both from the south. What we did on set was work more on tone and intonation of what we were saying. We didn’t really speak Sicilian, but we did work on how the words were supposed to sound. And [indicating her translator] Chiara helped a lot with that.

Your last name is Tabasco and you’ve got a chili-pepper emoji in your Instagram bio. Have you just decided to embrace the association between your name and hot sauce?
[She holds up her forearm to reveal a chili-pepper tattoo.] Yes! I love it. I love that it’s in my name and part of me. But specifically, it reflects my personality — or at least half of it. There’s a side to me that’s quite quirky and spicy.

The White Lotus’s Simona Tabasco Wants to Keep You Guessing