Haley Lu Richardson has quickly emerged as one of the leading young actors of her generation, with her starring role in the second season of HBO’S highly popular series ‘The White Lotus’. Next, we’ll be able to see Haley in Netflix’s ‘Love at First Sight’, which is premiering later this year.
Haley, we’ve been able to watch you in HBO’s highy succesful series ‘The White Lotus’, where you portrayed Portia. How was it working on such a popular series and with this phenomenal cast?
It was pretty cool, as you would imagine. I had really wanted to work with Mike White for years, so that was kind of like a dream come true in a way. There’s all these things that in life and in this acting career are like aspirations and dreams. I’m like “Oh, that would be so cool if this happened or if I could work with this person”. When one of them actually comes true, it’s just really exciting and cool.
This show is such a special thing to him. It’s all Mike, he created this show and he wrote every episode, directed every episode. It’s his baby. So to be picked by him and be able to meet him and be a part of that was cool. Being a part of a big ensemble, finding my place in the tone and within the bigger picture was challenging in some ways, but I’m really thankful for it.
Your character received a lot of backlash on social media from fans. The same happened for the way Portia’s story ended in Season 2 finale, where Portia realized that she’s been kidnapped by her hot British beau Jack and instead of immediately running away or contacting Tanya as soon as she starts to suspect trouble is near, she was unsurprisingly passive. How would you describe Portia and her way of dealing with stuff?
I think that Portia is exactly who she was supposed to be, character-wise and with all the scripts I read and the collaborative conversations I had with Mike in a collaborative way. And then the costume department, the makeup department, the hair, just figuring out this young woman. I really feel like she represents a type of person and also a time in life, so I’m proud of her for that and I’m proud of me and all the people that I got to collaborate with on this.
I guess the backlash that you called it, I had such an interesting time seeing all of that as it was coming out. At first I took it kind of personally and then I got over that really quick and just realized that’s the whole point of this show. Mike and everyone else along the way have created these characters that are supposed to rub people watching the wrong way. You either hate these people or you feel like you know that person or you look at these characters and you feel like you are that person. And that’s so complicated, to watch a show where these characters are such a personal reflection of society and us. I think Portia was one of those characters that just ignited this uncomfort, almost like you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and you’re annoyed at the person you see.
But I mean, I also love Portia. I don’t just think she’s annoying and insufferable, I have a lot of empathy for her as the actor playing her. And as a young woman going through a lot of the same things, being brought up in the same world that she’s brought up, I can empathize. I think that she’s stuck in so many ways, I think that she has legitimate depression. She doesn’t come from a lot of money. She’s grown up in this world where everything is on the apps and in the phone, and the amount in which that can screw you up is insane. She’s got a lot of things working against her, but she’s also part of her own problem, she’s working against herself. She could change her life for the better or take responsibility for the ways that she is part of her own problem, but she doesn’t. I see her from a bunch of different angles and I see her from inside. I love her and I think she’s trying her best. And I hope that in the world after season two, where her story ended in the show, she’s able to get unstuck and be there for herself.
Now that you’ve mentioned social media and phones, how do you personally deal with social media and fans?
I go through phases where I’m on my phone more or where I just don’t look at it. There’s been times where I don’t look at Instagram for two or three days straight. And then there is a day when I am on my phone just reopening my Instagram and my email and Google and YouTube and searching non stop. If I have a day like this, I’m just extra conscious and intentional about it the next couple of days, because the worst thing is when you fall in one of those traps where you waste days on end being consumed by stuff in this little rectangle in your hand. I think it’s pretty easy for me to get sick of it and not look at my phone. But also when I am on my phone, trying to consciously do things where I am having fun. Instagram’s the only social media I have and I think it really can be fun sometimes, but it’s not my favorite thing in life.
I do see comments or people’s opinions on me. Like when the show was airing, I think people were conflating the character of Portia with me as a person. Not everyone is gonna like me. And it sometimes is hard, cause I’m a little sensitive Pisces, but none of those people actually know me and I don’t actually know them. As long as I’m making myself proud, my mom and dad and family proud and my friends proud, that’s what I really care about.
Portia is also known for her chaotic wardrobe with the 80s style. How does her fashion compare to your personal style? What’s your own view on fashion and fashion trends?
I think my fashion sense would be a little chaotic as well. Not quite in the same way that Portia’s is, but I’m looking at my closet right now and I’ve got literally every color of the rainbow. I’ve got vintage, I’ve got crazy furry, I’ve got futuristic looking, I’ve got feathers, I’ve got overalls, I’ve got floral, I’ve got checkered, I’ve got all these things. And I really feel like if I’m trying to get myself dressed for something, I just wanna dress how I feel that day or how I want to feel that day. And I guess that’s different day to day, so I think I relate to Portia in that sense. Portia is a little bit different than me. I think she’s lost and stuck and I don’t really feel like I’m lost. I feel like I just like to explore, but I don’t feel like I’m just wandering around aimlessly, where I think Portia might be. And I think that’s reflected in her outfits for the most part.
With Portia, me and the costume designer would put together these outfits that were eclectic and chaotic and very like early 2000s, very trendy, all these things. We would put them together and if it would be too cute, we would have to add a shirt that I tied around my waist or some shoes that didn’t match the vibe or something that would throw the whole thing off. And then it would feel like Portia.
Of all the roles you have done so far, which one would you describe as the most challenging one and why?
I did a film that came out last year, a really beautiful film. It’s called ‘Montana Story’. It was actually shot on film, which I had never done before. It adds a different level of pressure and responsibility because it’s film, precious film. It was a story about brother and sister reconnecting and there’s a lot of childhood trauma between them. It was a heavy and personal story. The character I played had a lot of trauma and I had never really played a character with such deep embedded trauma, pain, resentment, hurt and all of that, so throughout the whole film that was brewing inside her.
Towards the end of the film, there was this moment with her and her brother where everything bubbled to the surface and it can’t stay in any longer. That was really painful, but it was also very therapeutic. I feel like that’s why I love acting, cause you get to truly experience these emotions. Some of them I feel like are my emotions that I’m letting out through someone else. And some of them are things that I’ve never felt and may may never feel or say in my life, but being able to express that is just so cathartic and honestly powerful. But yeah, it was tough, it was challenging and scary and painful.
It’s the nature of acting. You’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, every character you play, so the amount of empathy and understanding that you can have for another situation and another person and their feelings is amazing. I’m just so thankful that I get to do that and learn and have those experiences as part of my job. It’s my favorite thing about it all.
Just recently, fans were able to see you starring in Jonas Brothers’ latest music video for ‘Wings’. Tell us why is this such a huge milestone for you and why being in Jonas Brothers’ video means so much to you.
It’s literally a dream come true. I’ve never felt quite so much like I was living my dream, until I met the Jonas Brothers. I know that’s a big statement, but it’s true. They were my first and really only true celebrity band crush experience. I’ve never had the same kind of parasocial relationship with any singer or celebrity or actor that I had with the Jonas Brothers and specifically Nick. From 11 years old to 14 they were my life. They were the priority of my life and I always wanted to meet them. I went to probably 12 concerts over the course of four years with my mom and some of my best friends at the time.
So to now, 15 years later, have them want me to be in this video, I still have not processed it. I still don’t fully accept that it’s real.
But did they know you were such a fan of theirs or how did this all happen?
I was on James Cordon’s talk show and he was asking me about my obsession with the Jonas Brothers and I started talking about it. And then after the commercial break, James acted like he was getting a call from someone and then pulled out his phone and Nick was on FaceTime while we were doing the interview. So that’s when I blacked out. After that was literally just them being super nice, inviting me to their concert and asking me to be in this music video. It was just them making a little girl’s dream come true.
You’ve been attending a lot of the award shows this season. What is the most exciting thing about attending an awards show, walking down the red carpet and getting all glamed up?
It’s weird, um, but it is exciting. And it is fun. I really love my team that gets me ready for these things. Having them all come to my house and just hang out for a couple hours while they make me look way better than I looked before. It’s actually pretty fun and it’s something that I missed over Covid and the pandemic. Getting ready for these awards shows is such a superficial thing, but I have really found the joy in it, if you don’t take it seriously and you just have fun. Going out and seeing all these movie stars in the flesh and people that I’m really inspired by is truly fun.
Besides the award shows, you’ve also attended fashion week. How is it seeing the newest designs on the runway first-hand? What fascinated you the most about attending fashion shows and fashion week?
This was my first time going to Fashion Week. I went to Milan Fashion Week and the best part about it was I went with my mom. Just being able to go to Milan with my mom was pretty cool.
The models are amazing. One of the shows I went to, they were walking around this big square courtyard and it was like cobble stones. And they were wearing these huge heels that were literally 10 inches tall and none of them fell. Every time someone walked by me, I was sending them love and strength to be able to walk, but they were all so confident and so poised. I don’t know how on earth they did it. I was truly just amazed by that.
Haley, what are some of your other passions besides acting, that maybe not many people know about?
Well, I love to dance. I’ve been dancing since I was four years old. Dance is probably my biggest passion in the whole entire world, honestly maybe even a little bit more than acting. I’m very passionate about acting and they both kind of feel similar to me. When I really get the chance to be in the moment in a scene with an actor that I connect with and you can just explore, that is probably equal to me and feels very similar to my soul as when I’m dancing. I feel like they’re probably equivalent with how they truly fill my soul.
Dancing is very therapeutic and very freeing for me. My whole life, if I’ve ever had a bad day or felt anxiety or pain, if I go to dance and I dance for an hour or two, I leave feeling like a clean slate and free. Dancing is magical in that way.
After such an exciting end of 2022 and even more exciting beginning of 2023, what’s coming up next for you?
I’ve been reading a lot of scripts. I’m trying to really listen to my instincts about the next project that I do and people I work with. Next, I want to work on something that deeply inspires me, so I guess I’m trying to be kind of selective about that. I’ve been meeting with some great people, filmmakers and producers and I feel really good about this year.
Talent: Haley Lu Richardson
Photographer & Creative director/Set design: Tyler Patrick Kenny
Stylist: Wilford Lenov
Hair: Laura Polko
Make-up: Jenna Kristina
Styling assistants: Kyle Hayes & Angelica Ercoli
Studio techs / Set design: Reno Ronquillo & Madi Sileo
Producer: Danielle Hawkins
Production: Tunnel Media Group
Editor: Timi Letonja
This interview was done for Numéro Netherlands by Jana Letonja.