In its seductive second season, Mike White’s Emmy-winning The White Lotus welcomes a new crop of wealthy Americans into the gilded halls of its beachfront Sicilian outpost, where the ornate paintings are frescoed and the ice-cold Aperol Spritzes are bottomless. It’s a glamorous life designed for tourists rather than the local Italians just outside its walls. And yet, in the season’s second episode, Lucia Greco, a sex worker using the resort as her personal client-scouting pond, finds herself in possession of keys to one of the hotel’s lavish rooms—with access to the seemingly endless tab connected to it.
That the wily Lucia was able to charm her way into this situation should come as no surprise, though. After all, the character is played by Simona Tabasco, who undergirds Lucia’s devious resourcefulness with an enticing sense of mystery. The White Lotus is the Italian actress’s first Hollywood production, and she relished the opportunity to embody a character this hungry and energetic. Though Tabasco was initially trepidatious about portraying a sex worker, given the taboos and shame around sex in Italy, she was ultimately swept away by the entire experience.
Throughout the season, Lucia plays her cards close to her chest; she speaks passionately of her dreams to one day open her own boutique, yet refuses to explain why a threatening man is stalking her. Maybe it’s worth it to impress Albie (Adam DiMarco), the sweet-natured, Stanford graduate who gets all her attention in the back-half of the season. According to Tabasco, Lucia really loves Albie—even if he is the son of her former client Dominic (Michael Imperioli), the philandering husband who gave her access to the hotel. But after Lucia agreed to leave with her stalker in last week’s episode, who’s to say what will become of her and Ablie’s love story in this Sunday’s finale.
Earlier this week, Tabasco, along with her translator Chiara Nanni, hopped on Zoom to talk to ELLE.com about making her Hollywood debut, how she channelled her nervousness about all those sex scenes into her performance, and what Lucia’s wardrobe hints about her character’s evolving mental state.
When you first read the scripts for season two of The White Lotus, what did you resonate with the most about the character of Lucia?
There are a lot of things. I think the part that’s most evident about her that resonates with me is her hunger. She’s a person that’s so hungry for the world, for the things she sees around. She has her goals and her objectives, so she chooses what she does, and chooses The White Lotus to do it at, because she thinks that maybe that would be a path that would take her to her end-goal. Maybe, with rich people in a rich place, that would be the path for her to reach her dreams. She’s very out there because she wants what she sees and she’s hungry for the world and for life—and that’s why I feel so near to her in this. I’m hungry! [laughs]
Your character is a sex worker. Did you feel a sense of responsibility to portray her profession in a specific light?
Mike White wrote the character in a certain way, so I didn’t have to dive into that at the beginning. There was a portrayal of her that Mike had very clear in his head when he wrote her, so I felt very safe on set and very safe in developing the character on screen through what he had already written. Of course, there are very different kinds of sex workers and Lucia is not that kind of sex worker [who’s been exploited or forced into this line of work] — she chooses for herself to do what she’s doing. [The story] doesn’t go into the whole problematic side of it, so I’m happy to stick to what Mike had in his head about what Lucia was going to be like.
One interesting thing about this is that I knew she was a sex worker in the story before I read the script. So, being Italian and being immersed in our culture, where there is a sense of guilt and a little bit of shame, just as a people for how we approach this sort of topic, I did maybe have a little bit of worry in the back of my head about how I was going to approach the character and play her. But then, I did read the script, I did talk to Mike, and [I realized that] the character is so fun and so interesting to play. Her story is her story and there wasn’t any connotation of that sort, so it was great.
By episode six of this season, Lucia has been spending a lot of time with Albie—and she’s doing so for free! But I can never really read her. Should we believe that she really likes Albie or is this some minor part of a grander scheme?
Yeah, sure. She likes Albie!
Well, she usually hangs out at the White Lotus to work. What is it about Albie that has inspired her to get off that track of making money, at least for the time being?
Well, that might be a bit of a trick question! [laughs] What I’ll say is that, after she has that night with Cameron in the third episode, she kind of wakes up in a different mode—so maybe something [new] is clicking in her head about how to go at her objectives and her goals, and Albie fits into that different mindset that she wakes up to. But I can’t go into more. Also, I think Lucia really, truly likes Albie. I think she’s in love with Albie.
That might explain why she agrees to be a translator on Albie’s Di Grasso family trip, despite the fact that she’ll have to also be around Dominic, who she can’t actually admit she knows. Do you think Lucia likes causing tension between these men or is it pure coincidence? Does she even notice how her presence complicates their dynamic?
I think Lucia is very naive, so it is a coincidence.
Lucia has a lot of sex throughout the show. How did you like filming those intimate scenes?
Well, I had never been in or interpreted sex scenes of this kind before, so I was a little preoccupied in the beginning. But on set, we had an intimacy coordinator, which is a professional figure that we don’t have in Italy. I was extremely and pleasantly surprised by this, because in the end, every sex scene was like choreography. There were camera movements that we had to follow. There were people on set that made us feel protected and assisted. It wasn’t just me and Adam [DiMarco] or me and Michael [Imperioli]. It was a team. I had so many things to think about that, in the end, I distracted myself and it turned out to be just a fun moment.
The interesting thing is that, while we were shooting, I put my personal embarrassment [from] the situation aside to deliver the scene. But at the same time, in my backstory of Lucia, I don’t think that she was a sex worker before the White Lotus. So [there was] this little parallel of having a bit of embarrassment or a bit of insecurity before, that you put aside to do a job. That’s what we both did, and I think that parallel plays nicely on screen.
A lot of your performance hinges on the chemistry you have with your on-screen best friend Mia, who is played by fellow Italian actress Beatrice Grannò. Is it true that you two have actually known each other for years because you went to film school together?
Yes, yes! It’s very funny. Beatrice helped me to do the first audition for The White Lotus. I didn’t know she was [up] for Mia, so it was funny because we were like, “Oh, also you?” “Yes! Can you imagine it?” Then, we started to dream about doing The White Lotus together and it happened.
Do you think the fact that you two already shared a friendship in real life made you a more appealing pair to casting directors?
I don’t know if the casting director [knew]… Well, I’m sure they knew, but I don’t know if they noticed or if they took that into account. But as Beatrice always says, it would’ve been so crazy just for one of us to get this. But then, both of us got it and we were able to put our friendship on screen. It was totally amazing. So I don’t know if they were aware, but it worked well.
Lucia wears some of my favorite outfits on the show. Knowing that her big lifelong dream is to open her own store, how important was the styling aspect of your characterization?
So, just like Mike was so open in developing the characters throughout our shooting time on set—because he was very open to improvising and discussing what we thought—the same process went on with Alex Bovaird, the costume designer. She had a lot of outfits planned and she had her ideas, but she was very open in discussing with us what we thought and what we liked best out of what she picked out for us. It was a process in that sense as well, which I totally enjoyed because it brought to the screen what you are now seeing. And if I had to say a favorite of the outfits—because they were all great and it was such a fun time to go through them—I’d say that the light skin-tone one that shines a little bit, the evening dress, is one of my favorites.
Also, following what I said before about Lucia’s arc throughout the season and how her story develops, I think Alex put that into there as well. We see her opening with this gorgeous, super sexy red dress that’s a wow in anyone’s face. But then, throughout, we see her maybe closing up a button or two, going a little more chaste. I think she follows that minor sense of guilt and shame—that moment that she has [in episode four]—throughout the story, and then develops [her style] and goes on. But I think it’s a parallel that was wanted and that you can see.
Over the last eight years, you’ve acted in a variety of Italian productions. What is the biggest difference between those and a Hollywood production like The White Lotus?
All the productions I’ve been involved in in Italy have been different because of their sizes, I would say. So this is just a production that’s bigger. The White Lotus has won Emmys. It’s a situation that I found myself in that I can’t compare to the previous one, just because of the magnitude of it. But at the same time, it was so incredibly fun because it gave me a lot of freedom to express myself and use my acting skills in a particular way. I had the [opportunity] each day to just have a give-and-take with my other colleagues and cast members. That was a daily process that I completely enjoyed and was wonderful to be a part of.
In Italy, I’ve [portrayed] a doctor, an undercover police officer, the daughter of a lawyer. So with The White Lotus, I was able to go beyond that, just with the possibility of having so much energy that I could put on screen. It’s a character that allowed me that in comparison to my previous performances. So that was great. That was wonderful to do.
Since this is your first big American production, I’d imagine that you’re gaining a whole new set of fans around the world—especially since Lucia is many people’s favorite character. Since the show premiered, have you felt the spotlight shift on you?
This is a good question because it has an interesting answer. People in Italy are watching The White Lotus, but I don’t think they’re watching as much as it’s being watched in the States and in the rest of the world. So, yes, I’m receiving so much love and so many messages. People are reaching out to me through Instagram and on social media, and I would love to give back and respond to everybody and be active with everyone. But this means that everything is happening far away. This is not something I’m immersed in my daily life. It comes from a faraway land, let’s say. But I’m obviously incredibly happy that it’s happening. We had so much fun on set, and it’s great to feel that you’ve created and delivered a product that is entertaining people, that people are having a good time watching, that is something that everyone is enjoying.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Michael Cuby is the Editor-at-Large for them. His work has appeared in GQ, Vogue, L’Officiel, and VICE. He is a film and television fanatic who has thankfully been given the opportunity to turn that addiction into a job. When he isn’t being productive, you can usually find him sitting in front of one of many screens.