It’s 12:45 p.m. in New York City, which means that it’s the perfect time to greet Simona Tabasco with a “buona sera” as she joins me on a Zoom chat from her home in Naples, Italy. I’m excited but also a bit anxious to speak with the breakout star of season two of HBO’s The White Lotus. On a personal note, I’m on a 192-day streak of practicing Italian on Duolingo and am eager to converse with a native speaker. From a professional POV, I just rewatched six out of the season’s seven episodes—the finale hadn’t aired yet—and it seems like Tabasco’s character, Lucia Greco, is setting the stage for a major moment. Can I get the scoop?
Clad in a neon-green Zara sweater and minimal makeup, Tabasco is every bit as effervescent as Lucia, a native Sicilian and sex worker who quickly makes herself at home at the White Lotus resort. In one of many spats with the five-star hotel’s manager, Lucia retorts, “This is why they created hotels, to make money off the backs of girls like us,” which, in true White Lotus fashion, highlights the convoluted narratives of class conflict that ground the show—a satire about the über- and nouveau riche—in some realm of reality.
Aside from the standard salutations, 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 initial impression of Lucia, to which she quickly responds, “Do you mind if I start in Italian?” It’s rapid-fire 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 about how elements of her personality would shine through,” Tabasco explains. Prior to auditioning, she did not realize that Lucia was a sex worker, but when on set with the series’ writer and director, Mike White, they were able to further develop the richness of her character and critically determine that Lucia did not pursue sex work from a position of desperation, but rather with a sense of self-empowerment. 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 one woman in a very particular time and place.
From that perspective, it is important for audiences to see that Lucia’s high energy and ebullience are intentionally reflected in bold costumes, which appear in almost every color of the rainbow. Though Tabasco is quick to denote Lucia’s little red dress in the premiere as the best visual representation of the character, the sequined lilac minidress with the heavenly motif is also special and appears significant to Lucia’s growth. “I’ve never interpreted a character like Lucia, where her body is such a focal point,” she says. “She is 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 to have only improvised one line: Let’s fun. “Given my dubious English, I say ‘let’s fun’ when at the table with the two guys. At the moment, I thought it was grammatically correct, but then I saw Mike was laughing, and I was like, ‘Why are you laughing?’” she recalls, poking fun at herself. After filming that scene, “let’s fun” became a phrase often used among the cast and crew.
In contrast to her character’s attention-seeking personality, Tabasco describes herself as a “simple girl” and has not given much thought to constructing a public image for her new American fans. This is due, in part, to a lack of industry events because of COVID-19. Come award season, however, I’m hoping to see Tabasco making the rounds. “I love a more masculine style of clothing, so when I’m going to an event, I like to wear something comfortable and maybe spice it up with heels,” she shares. Armani suits are a habitual favorite, and she also favors Missoni fabric, which she describes as sensual without being overtly sexual.
Given the myth of “French-girl style,” I ask Tabasco whether she thinks an Italian version exists. This prompts a shift into the realm of beauty, where, unprompted, Tabasco brings up Sophia Loren, an iconic Italian actress and one of the last living stars of Classical Hollywood cinema. “I think [Loren] brought a certain kind of Italian style to the world—not just through her acting but also through her style and her makeup,” she shares, noting that she will occasionally try to replicate Loren’s voluminous retro hairstyles and signature thick black eyeliner. “I don’t know if this is true,” she continues. “But I heard that she didn’t let anybody touch her on set. … She did her own makeup and hair every time, so apparently, she was also a great makeup artist!” A quick Google search confirms that this rumor does carry some credibility, and I make a note to explore Italian beauty trends more in-depth later.
When off-duty, however, Tabasco prefers a no-makeup makeup look, favoring pink blush and voluminous lashes. Occasionally, she’ll put on a bright lip—MAC’s Ruby Woo is a favorite—but is adamant about wearing sunscreen every day, an integral part of her beauty routine while filming in Sicily.
With our conversation returning to the resort, it’s time to ask the question that’s been on my mind since the season premiere in October: Who is the dead body? Despite my inquisitiveness, Tabasco won’t spoil the plot (thankfully, the finale airs the following Sunday), but she’s confident it will be a surprise. As for what the future holds for her career in the American market, Tabasco is only slightly more forthcoming. “There’s something in the air,” she admits. “I don’t want to jinx it. So that’s why I don’t talk about it. But there’s some stuff…” Concluding our conversation with an air of mystery, Tabasco signs off with a “ciao ragazze,” no translation needed. As I prepare to say farewell to the cast of The White Lotus’s second season, I’ll definitely be keeping my fingers crossed for Lucia Greco and Simona Tabasco for the rest of the year and beyond.
Catch up on The White Lotus season two, now streaming on HBO Max.