Sabrina Impacciatore’s life, after being cast as Valentina, the hotel manager in the second season of HBO’s The White Lotus, didn’t simply change, it was turned upside-down.
“It was all beyond my expectations, but it definitely lived up to my dreams,” the Italian actress says of her work on the hit TV show. “Being part of this project was a big, enormous chance for me. Because I was finally able to truly see things that, here in Italy, [otherwise] just wouldn’t be possible.”
Back in Italy, Impacciatore rose to fame with roles in Paolo Virzì’s N (Io e Napoleone) (2006) and Gabriele Muccino’s 2018 hit There’s No Place Like Home. But aside from a cameo as Seraphia in Mel Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster The Passion of the Christ, she’s been all but invisible to U.S. audiences.
The White Lotus airs on pay channel Sky and on streaming platform Now in Italy, but it’s been in the U.S., where Impacciatore has really seen the impact of the show.
“I’ve often been in California, [but] after the first episode aired, everyone recognized me,” she says. “I’ve become part of a real cultural phenomenon that is followed very passionately.”
Season two of The White Lotus is set in Taormina, Italy, and Impacciatore takes center stage as the manager of the show’s titular luxury hotel.
“I have to confess: I hadn’t seen the first season [when I was cast],” she says. “In general, I don’t really watch TV series. I simply don’t have time. I was called by my agent, who said: ‘This is an important audition; they’ve been looking for an actress for four months now, and they can’t find her.’ I was already shooting a different film at the time, so initially, I said no.”
But for once, her agent wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“[My agent] suggested I watch season one of The White Lotus so, that night, I didn’t sleep: I binge-watched all the episodes,” she recalls. “I swear, it was love at first sight. I thought, ‘This is my sort of thing.’ Drama and comedy in this series are almost overlapping; the lines are very blurry. I got to work [and] to record my audition.”
That’s when the problems started.
“I remember it was Sunday,” says Impacciatore. “I called a couple of actor friends and asked for their help, but on the day we were set to record [the audition], they both tested positive for COVID. So, I recorded my audition with my brother reading the other lines. And while my brother does speak English, he’s not an actor. For the audition, I had to film five scenes, all featuring many characters. So I needed more people. I texted my neighbor, the actor Alessandro Riceci, who worked on The New Pope [playing Fabiano]. He came over after lunch to help. Then I called Marit Nissen (Under the Tuscan Sun), another neighbor who’s also an actress. Her son helped us with the filming. We started at noon and finished at 9 p.m. At that point, I couldn’t watch it. I was very tense; I was crying from anxiety. I called another friend, actress Dodi Conti (My Brilliant Friend) and she came over. We were up until 3 in the morning deciding what takes to send over.”
The effort paid off. Two days after sending off the tape, Impacciatore’s agent called her to say “everyone was in awe” of her performance.
“But I still wasn’t sure,” she says. “There were another two very tense weeks. I was still shooting this movie, on the Dolomites; the production wouldn’t allow me the time to meet [White Lotus creator] Mike White. We needed to wrap up. In the end, because I kept insisting, they let me. So I finally met Mike.”
Again, it was love at first sight.
“When I decide to join a project, I do it because I fall in love with the character or the people working on it,” says Impacciatore. “[But] when I first read the script, I got scared again: It felt like I was supposed to replace Armond, played by Murray Bartlett [in season one]. He’s one of the series’ most beloved characters. I felt like the super unpopular substitute teacher that has to sub for the super popular teacher. I didn’t sleep at all for five weeks.”
On set, White’s directions for her were simple. “‘Be bitchy,’ he said,” Impacciatore recalls. “The bitchier you are, the more it’s going to work. I had a scene together with Jennifer Coolidge [who plays Tanya McQuoid-Hunt]. We had a scene together where I was supposed to interrupt her. Three takes, and I couldn’t manage it. The next day, we did the scene again, and I improvised: Jennifer was all in pink, and the first thing I said was: ‘You’re so pink.’ When she asked: ‘Who do I remind you of?,’ I replied: ‘Peppa Pig.’ The whole set froze. Then Jennifer broke out laughing. [I was surprised] to see that scene made the final cut. And even more surprised when it went viral worldwide.”
The White Lotus has opened up a new chapter in Impacciatore’s career and life, and she intends to make the most of it.
“What I’ve experienced in the past few months has been truly powerful, powerful as well as spiritual. The support I’ve received has been incredible,” she says. “I’m keeping my feet on the ground, [but] I’ve overcome countless challenges and faced many closed doors, I’ve suffered through many disappointments. Now that I have this chance, I want to make the best of it. And I intend to enjoy it.”
‘White Lotus’ Star Sabrina Impacciatore on How Hotel Manager Role Changed Her Life, Career