Simona Tabasco brings the heat to The White Lotus

Aside from standard greetings, my rudimentary Italian doesn’t get me very far. Fortunately, Tabasco is accompanied by her translator, Chiara Nanni, who helps our conversation flow despite the language barrier. I begin the interview by asking about Tabasco’s first impression of Lucia, to which she quickly replies: “Do you mind if I start in Italian?” It quickly shoots from there as we discuss Lucia’s potential backstory, character arc and, of course, bold “look at me” style. “My first impression [of Lucia] was an incredibly positive one. But I was curious how elements of her personality would shine through, explains Tabasco. Before the audition, she did not realize that Lucia was a sex worker, but when on set with the show’s writer and director, Mike White, they were able to further develop the richness of her character and critically establish that Lucia was not pursuing sex work from a position of desperation, but rather with a sense of self-confidence. This, Tabasco acknowledges, is an important distinction: Lucia does not serve as a representative of all sex workers or their experiences. Her story is about a woman in a very special time and place.

From that perspective, it is important for the audience to see that Lucia’s high energy and ebullience are intentionally reflected in bold costumes, which appear in almost every color of the rainbow. Although Tabasco is quick to cite Lucia’s little red dress in the premiere as the best visual representation of the character, the sequined lilac mini dress with the celestial motif is also special and comes across as important to Lucia’s growth. “I’ve never played a character like Lucia, where her body is such a focal point,” she says. “She’s so free, and that’s a big part of her story.”

This sense of autonomy and self-expression informed not only the costume design, but also Tabasco’s acting choices. The white lotus is surprisingly one of Tabasco’s first forays into the world of comedy. (In Italy, Tabasco is known for her roles in police and medical dramas.) Still, she claims she only improvised one line: Let’s have fun. “Considering my questionable English, I say ‘let’s have fun’ when I sit at the table with the two guys. At the moment I thought it was grammatically correct, but then I saw Mike laughing and I was like, ‘Why are you laughing?'” she recalls, laughing to herself. After filming that scene, “let’s have fun” became a phrase often used among the cast and crew.

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