Who wouldn’t want a free work trip to Italy? The sun, the men, the pasta…spending all your time in a hotel room…being told what to do…not being able to enjoy the sites. Haley Lu Richardson’s Portia finds herself in quite the predicament when she joins her boss—Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya McQuoid—to one of the sexiest places on earth. It makes us question what we would do in the same situation, but Portia makes the decision to live her life and not be held down by uninteresting men and a job she can’t stand.
In episode one of this new season, Portia is left to fend for herself when Tanya’s husband, Greg, is angry at the sight of her. As she licks her wounds by the pool, she talks on the phone with a friend and says, “This job is a joke.” Was there ever a time when Portia was excited to work with Tanya?
“I think she might’ve had more hope for her boss’ competence to take her under her wing,” Richardson says. “She gets to see the world, but Tanya is blinded by her own misery. Portia was throwing herself at anything to see what would stick. What would fulfil or excite her or give her meaning? When you are in that place and hoping and expecting for the absolute best, you are always going to be disappointed. No matter what is brought to your attention.”
Portia reacts very differently to the two very different suitors on her getaway. Albie seems sensible and nice—probably too nice—and Portia, deep down, knows she should give him a chance. When Leo Woodall’s Jack enters the picture, though, something physically changes with Richardson’s posture and body language. It’s easier with Jack. It tapped into something very instinctive between the two of them.
“It wasn’t so much a genuine confidence as Portia around Jack, but he was someone that she actually wanted to impress,” she says. “Portia turns into this flirty, ditzy thing when she’s around Jack, and I think it’s because she thinks, ‘This is living!’ With Albie, she wasn’t impressed or intimidated by him. She thought, ‘This is what I’m working with?’ It was more about this aiming to impress Jack and this cutesy, girly quality came out. That’s also façade in a way, because I don’t think she felt confident or free. It was all a denied dream type of thing. I think Portia is a little delusional.”
Should Portia be paying more attention to the men that float in and out of her employer’s life? Even the adoring gay men could teach Portia something about men and how they treat women. Richardson points out that there are more similarities between Portia and Tanya than anyone might think. Is Portia destined to become Tanya 2.0? Is that something that she should embrace or run away from?
“In the first meeting with Mike [White] before we started shooting, he asked what I thought about going blonde,” Richardson says with a chuckle. “He suggested that even though she doesn’t want to admit it, Portia is a mini Tanya. That told me so much in the direction of how open Mike was willing to go with this character when it came to her deep insecurities and problems. That’s reflected so much in these moments where she opens up to Tanya, and Tanya gives her this dooming advice. It seems to whacky, but, if you pay attention to the core intention, it’s not bad advice. It’s just that Tanya and Portia are not going to listen to that advice. She alludes that it’s better for Portia to be with the safer, sturdier option. Tanya doesn’t listen to herself.”
Maybe everyone needs to experience Tanya in one form or another. Could Tanya be a runway theme on an upcoming episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race? A Met Gala theme? Richardson is very aware of how the second season of The White Lotus captured the world’s attention.
“Everyone should be Jennifer Coolidge as Tanya at some point in her life. Let’s make it happen,” she jokes.
As most of this year’s guests make their way back to their respective airports, we are all left to wonder if Portia and Albie will reconnect. Jack has showed his dangerous colors, and Portia is left with her job hanging in the balance but possibilities ahead of her? Will she be the one to text Albie first?
“That could go in so many different directions,” Richardson muses. “Is she so alone and desperate and scared that she says goodbye at the airport, gets in her Lyft, and immediately texts him, ‘What’s up?’ They are definitely dysfunctional together. Because of the place she is in her life, she could be dysfunctional with anyone. So, who knows?”
The White Lotus: Sicily is streaming now on Max.