Haley Lu Richardson throws a warning: “I look bad!” says the actress as she turns on the camera. What appears on screen is actually very sweet: a healthy 27-year-old with a face full of stickers. There is a purple star to the right of his nose, and a green one on his forehead. She is slouched in the center of a white bean bag and surrounded by houseplants—standing up, hanging from the ceiling, on the wall, “in white pots.
When I ask him about the stars, Richardson is stupefied. “Don’t you know the stickers?” she squeals. “They’re the coolest thing since sliced bread. You can get flowers with little stones, Hello Kitty, SpongeBob, rainbow… it’s amazing because makes having acne fun!” It’s half past eight in the morning at his apartment in California and Richardson is in excellent spirits. He laughs a lot, and every time she does, tears come to her eyes. “I had a lot of wine last night, ha” explodes. “I didn’t even go out; I went to see a friend and he made a great dinner but it had so much garlic it came out of my pores. I washed my face last night, and this morning too. Twice. And I brushed my teeth. And I still reek of garlic!”
Richardson has been appearing on screens for ten years, without stickers. When she was 16, following a childhood in Arizona that she spent dancing five hours a night and competing every weekend, suddenly she decided that she wanted to live in Los Angeles and be an actress. Her mother made a sacrifice, moving away from Richardson’s father so her daughter could follow her dream. The day after Haley turned 18, her mother returned to Arizona because she missed her husband. But those years of absence paid off. In that time, Richardson made a name for himself on the Disney Channel sitcom shake it up and the supernatural series for boys Ravenswood. Then she became the best friend of the catastrophic teenager Hailee Steinfeld in the film Edge of Seventeen, and went a prisoner kidnapped by James McAvoy in the psychological horror film Fragmented.
Her first leading role, as an architecture fanatic at the independent Columbus of 2017, it was a revelation: in The New Yorker, Richard Brody wrote that “Richardson stands at the forefront of the actors of his generation with this performance, which virtually sings with emotional and intellectual acuity.” A turn followed to become a teenager who crosses the United States to get an abortion in Unpregnant (2020). Now, while she still dances and gives weekly lessons to octogenarians, she is one of the figures in The White Lotus, the success of HBO that satirizes the wealthy class that has its second season set in Sicily.
Over there, Richardson looks exhausted and lost as Portia, the long-suffering assistant to the deranged millionaire Tanya played by Jennifer Coolidge. When she first appears, Portia is in the baggage corner of a boat, half crushed by 17 designer suitcases belonging to her boss, who is sunbathing on deck. I have a lot of questions about Portia, but Richardson is a difficult interviewee to master. She’s a little delusional, she asks me questions, but in the end she’s forced to talk about the series. All the time looks like a girl trying to keep a straight face, just caught up in a prank.
It’s worth starting with what it’s like to work with Coolidge. “Honestly, it’s so hard not to laugh,” He says. “She’s a very funny woman. She’s doing such absurd and weird and socially unacceptable things, but somehow she gets away with it. The early days I had a hard time acting showing myself miserable and upset with her, because all the time she made me and the team laugh. I heard that from other shows, people laughing between takes. But I’ve never experienced it until now.”
While speaking, a gigantic cat-shaped ball of white and brown fur streaks across the screen. It’s Darbin, Richardson’s pride and joy: “Hello Darbin!” She grabs it and rubs it against his face, squeezing so hard I fear for his health. “I love him. When he’s around I kind of get possessed.” Darbin traveled to Italy with Richardson to film The White Lotus. “He was so good on planes, in apartments and in hotels,” he says. “He is a very good cat. A good kid.” Suddenly she whispers to him “Well, I have to focus, you know?”. Darbin walks out.
Back to the series. Upon arriving at the White Lotus resort, Portia is immediately sent to her room so as not to interfere with Tanya’s romantic getaway with her husband. Ella Portia manages to escape from the suite—”I have to eat!”—and she is soon seen crying on a terrace. “I wanted to roll with some hot Italian”, she tells a friend on the phone. “But the menu is only pasta, I’m going to be bloated. This sucks.” “I can quite relate to that line”, says now. “It’s honestly how I felt in Sicily. I rarely felt hot, because I was eating so much and there were no vegetables other than eggplant.”
Because of last night’s wine, when Richardson starts to get into the nitty-gritty of the show, he literally goes cross-eyed with the effort. “Portia feels like she’s fed up with the typical male-female dynamic,” He says. “He’s this kind of Gen Z person who feels like he’s over it, but still has this deep need for external fulfillment in the form of a cool guy.” At one point, Portia tells Albie (Adam DiMarco) a Stanford grad she flirts with in the hotel: “I want to have fun. I want to feel fulfilled from having an affair. I’m sick of fucking TikTok and Bumble and screens and apps and sitting there bingeing Netflix. I want to, well, live. I want to live my life with desire. I want to meet someone who is totally ignorant of speech, you know?” It’s a sublime example of screenwriter Mike White’s keen social observation, which shows how serious and pretentious, yet hopeful, young people can be. “Yeah, she’s a lot more screwed up and a lot more narcissistic than she thinks she is,” says Richardson.
Last summer, months before Richardson and Darbin went to Sicily, Richardson had been up for one of the most coveted roles in the superhero genre: bat girl. The work was left to Leslie Grace but in August, when the production was already ending and to the total astonishment of the world of cinema and its own directors, the project was shelved. In the film Michael Keaton was going to reprise the role of Batman for the first time in 30 years, and more than 100 million dollarsbut Warner Bros. said it was keeping it for a while. “strategic change”. “I felt really bad for all the people who worked on the movie,” he says. “I know what it means to put your whole heart into something. And for something that big, with that much money and energy and such a team… it is very crazy that they discard it. It’s very extreme,” he says, emphasizing the last word, raising his hands.
There were reports that public testing had not gone well. Richardson had tried other big franchises before, and laments the fact that actors and actresses are shown as little of the script before starting. “With those movies you’re taking a risk of committing yourself artistically and creatively. It’s scary and irritating, because most of the time my priority for taking jobs is connect with the character, with the material, with the filmmaker. But I’ve heard from friends who auditioned for things and they don’t even tell them what character they have. They call them ‘It’s Marvel!” So you’re holding on to the hope that it’s going to be good.”
A film for which she was chosen and made it to the screen, and of which she is very proudis Unpregnant, co-starring Barbie Ferreira (Euphoria). It’s like a Thelma & Louise modern, with A story related to abortion. “Making that movie, and having all those public conversations about abortion, was part of growing up,” she says. Before the premiere she had concerns that people would “hate” her for her message of personal choice. “I don’t feel that way now. I made the movie, it came out, I talked about it, and I’m not afraid that people are going to hate me for something like that. It’s lovely.”
It is alarming to hear that a young woman is afraid to speak out in a free society. But Richardson is proud of the film’s legacy. “I don’t want anyone to hate me, obviously, and the main goal for all of us working on it is to get as many people to see it as possible and that triggered conversations and debates in families, between mothers and children. Having an abortion is such a personal decision that if people see it from an intimate, personal point of view, like in our movie, it will be a change to just hearing about it from the government.”
As the conversation draws to a close, Richardson says that “I’m pretty impressed that I was able to do it in my condition.” Her Friday has just begun, although night is already beginning on the other side of the ocean, and if it goes well, perhaps her condition will be repeated on this side. Series. His eyes water. “Have a looooong night!” he yells.
* From The Independent From great britain. Special for Page 12.