Haley Lu Richardson and Aubrey Plaza on Stalking, Obsession, and Torture
In the hotly anticipated second season of HBO’s anthology series The White Lotus, Haley Lu Richardson plays Portia, the fledgling millennial assistant to Jennifer Coolidge’s demanding, mommy-issue-afflicted Tanya McQuoid-Hunt, the sole character from the show’s award-winning first season to return for the second, set this time at the White Lotus resort in Sicily. Aubrey Plaza, meanwhile, plays Harper Spiller, a brusque, well-meaning employment lawyer whose status anxiety comes to a boil on vacation with her husband and his crude, financier friend Cameron. Though Richardson and Plaza didn’t share a single scene in the show’s season season, which premiered last Sunday, the pair became fast friends on set, one of the many topics of discussion in a hilarious and wide-ranging conversation that touches on stalking, mothering their respective pets, and why no one’s really a “normie.”
HALEY LU RICHARDSON: Aubrelina?
AUBREY PLAZA: Halelina?
RICHARDSON: Hi! Where are you?
PLAZA: I am at an undisclosed location. I’m feeding my dog.
RICHARDSON: So you’re home? [Laughs]
PLAZA: Yeah, I’m home. [Laughs] Where are you?
RICHARDSON: I’m also at an undisclosed location. I actually haven’t gotten out of bed yet today. And this is my first time talking out loud.
PLAZA: Me too, actually.
RICHARDSON: So did you put thought into your questions or are you just going for it in the moment?
PLAZA: I’m just winging it. You know that I have no thoughts left in my head. I’m just going to ask you all the things that I want to. But look, this is about you, okay? And the only reason we’re going to get to me is because the reason I met you is—
RICHARDSON: I’m obsessed with you. Well, my life revolves around you. So if you’re asking me questions about me, they will end up being about you.
PLAZA: See, this is what I don’t understand and what I want to get to the bottom of. For all the readers out there, I met Haley…Wait, did I meet you at the Chucky premiere? Or at my birthday?
RICHARDSON: I met you for the first time, which I’ll never forget, at the awards show.
PLAZA: Oh right, I met you, at the MTV [Movie & TV Awards]—
RICHARDSON: I saw you backstage before we presented. I remember I was really nervous that night, because I had never presented at an awards show. And when I saw you I just felt overwhelmed with emotion because I’ve been a large fan of yours. I told you that I watch on repeat compilations of you doing interviews on YouTube.
PLAZA: Oh my god. Right.
RICHARDSON: Then you just stared at me and looked like you were going to kill me in my sleep. [Laughs] And then I presented an award and it was a fun night.
PLAZA: You did great by the way. And you looked hot as fuck. Okay, hold on—I have to put a diaper on my dog really quick. Stevie, it’s time to get your diaper! Have you ever put a diaper on your cat?
RICHARDSON: No, but I do have to clean poop off his butthole every couple weeks because he’s really furry so sometimes when his hair grows too long, he gets poop stuck in there. How long has it been since you had Stevie in diapers?
PLAZA: She’s just been in diapers for a week because she’s really old and having a hard time. But it’s kind of fun to put a diaper on a dog because you have to put their tail through the hole.
RICHARDSON: You’re a good mom.
PLAZA: Anyway, let’s get back to you. When was the first time that you were like, “I’m going to be an actor.” Aren’t you a child star?
RICHARDSON: I moved to L.A. when I was 16.
PLAZA: That’s young!
RICHARDSON: Yeah, but then the second I moved here and got an agent, my agent told me I needed to take the CHSPE, which is a GED-type thing, so that I could work the same hours as an adult and the job wouldn’t have to hire a teacher or pay for my parents or a guardian. I immediately took that test, so the whole time I’ve been working, even when I was 16 and 17, I was working like an adult. So yeah. That’s kind of screwed up looking back.
PLAZA: That makes a lot of sense to me.
PLAZA: I think you are wise beyond your years. You have this pulsating orbit around you at all times that is so fun and carefree and childlike, but there’s something going on inside of you that is very, very wise, and smart, and adult, and mature.
RICHARDSON: Wait. I feel overwhelmed. Thanks for saying all that. I feel like I always saw you on TV and in your interviews and I really got you as a person even before I met you. And that’s why I connected to you and am such a big fan and inspired by you deeply.
PLAZA: This is about you, Haley.
RICHARDSON: I know, but what you said means a lot. You saying that observation that’s kind and thoughtful makes me feel seen by you. So it’s just cool that someone I really see and respect, that we’ve gotten to know each other and I feel like you see me in a deep way. I feel like our spirits have connected and, honestly, see each other.
PLAZA: I think so too. And I feel like you are a real actress. You are one of those people that had a calling to this profession. You have a curiosity for life and are interested in human beings in a real way, because obviously you have to inhabit other human beings and are really good at it. I had never seen your work, and then I saw this movie that you were in called Unpregnant and you were so good. And I was like, “Of course she’s good,” because I already had that feeling when I met you. Every once in a while comes along a very special, legit actor that I’m like, “That one’s going to be trying to get my part for the rest of my life. I’ve got to keep my eye on her.” No, I’m kidding. I’m so old. I’m so much older than you. But for real.
PLAZA: By the way, I have the necklace that you made me that says “mommy” on it. And I wear it.
RICHARDSON: Are you wearing it?
PLAZA: I’m not wearing it right this second, but I put it in my very special drawer. And I do wear it a lot actually, and I love it, because I have no children but—
RICHARDSON: Will you change my diaper?
PLAZA: I’ll change your diaper, honey.
RICHARDSON: That’s a new goal of mine in life, to have you change my diaper. Let’s do it next time we hang out.
PLAZA: I can see that happening. Alright Haley, I just want to understand how people were like, “This bitch needs to stop going to high school because she’s so goddamn talented.” So what was it?
RICHARDSON: No, that’s the thing—it wasn’t because I was desired at 16 when I first moved to L.A. by producers or jobs. It was because of a desperation that I had and my agents had for me. It was like, “I will literally give up the last couple years of my youth so that I can start this career and make it work.” I do feel like there was an intense calling inside me, a yearning to figure out how I fit into this whole acting world. Because I knew nothing about it at the time. I did, like, theater summer camps, but I was never a serious actor before I moved to L.A.
PLAZA: How did you get your parents to let you move to L.A.? Because when I was a teenager, all I wanted was for my parents to be like, “You can leave school and pursue your dreams,” but fuck no, they were never going to let me do that. Wait a minute—am I making this up or did you do a presentation for them?
RICHARDSON: Yeah. Wait, how do you know that?
PLAZA: I don’t know. Everything’s coming back to me now because I just had another cup of coffee.
RICHARDSON: Aubrey, is the big twist that you’re my stalker?
PLAZA: Haley, I’ve been obsessed with you since you were four years old.
RICHARDSON: [Laughs] That’s all I’ve ever wanted to hear. But yeah, that’s exactly what I did. Well, first of all, my parents are a little bit crazy to begin with, kind of like me. We’re just a little bit off our rocker, the three of us. But basically, first I danced from when I was four to 16 back in Arizona. And I danced so hardcore—I danced at school, after school, on weekends. So I think I proved to my parents my level of commitment and motivation. Then I won this national dance competition and one of the prizes was you get automatically signed to this big dance agency in L.A. So that instigated this whole image in my mind of like, “Oh my god, maybe I could move to L.A., and I could dance, and I could do this acting thing like I’ve always wanted.” So, I made this actual presentation like you do in high school—on one of those big poster boards that are three panels—all about the pros and cons and how we would do it. And my parents basically agreed. My mom moved with me for a year and a half until I turned 18, and then the day after I turned 18, she moved back to Arizona and I was alone.
PLAZA: No way. And then you lived in L.A. when you were 18 alone?
RICHARDSON: Yes. Well, I had a roommate when my mom first left. I lived with my friend.
PLAZA: How was that? Did you get into trouble?
RICHARDSON: What do you think?
PLAZA: If I was 18 living alone in Los Angeles, I would burn the Hollywood sign down on day two or something.
RICHARDSON: Wait, weren’t you 18 when you moved to L.A.? How old were you on Parks and Rec?
PLAZA: No, I’m boring. I went to school, did all the normal bullshit. I was 22, I think, when I auditioned for Parks and Recreation. And then maybe 23 by the time it started airing.
RICHARDSON: Wow. Can we tell that story?
PLAZA: No, this is about you. So then, what was your first big job?
RICHARDSON: Well, probably my biggest thing during that time before I was 18 was I got this movie. Because, like I mentioned, there really was a lot of desperation—
PLAZA: Was there a lot of rejection?
RICHARDSON: Oh my god, there was only rejection. Like 0.001% was not rejection. So I was throwing myself at everything, including these websites—you probably never had to go on these—where you submit yourself for projects. It’s not through an agent. It’s so sketchy, there’s some weird shit on there. But I got really lucky with this one independent film called The Well that I submitted myself for. It happened to be this really smart group of guys that was making an actual movie—this post-apocalyptic movie where a 17-year-old girl is the hero. I got it and it ended up being a cool movie to do in my first year in L.A.
PLAZA: What a great first thing to be in, an independent film.
RICHARDSON: Yeah, it was a big learning experience because I was carrying so much responsibility and I didn’t really know how to carry it, but I had to step up. Anyways, that’s the movie that I killed Jon Gries in with a Samurai sword.
PLAZA: He was in it?!
RICHARDSON: Yeah. He’s the villain. That’s when I first met him, literally one of my first jobs. And I kill him at the end of the movie with a Samurai sword.
PLAZA: That’s incredible. For all you readers that don’t know, Jon Gries is on The White Lotus season two with me and Haley. Things really do come full circle. And he’s one of those magical creatures like you. Curious about people. Like, a real artist. That’s what you are, Haley. You’re a real artist.
RICHARDSON: Wow. Wait, can I just give you a compliment real quick? Because honestly, you are a one-of-a-kind human being. You are very funny, and in a way that you invented. Also, even though we have absolutely zero scenes together [on The White Lotus], which is really fucked up—
PLAZA: So sad. But actually I think we have things in store for us.
RICHARDSON: I feel like we would work together so well. But anyways, even though we didn’t really work together on The White Lotus, we spent a lot of time together. And seeing how willing you were to totally give yourself and go so deep with things I wasn’t fully expecting. I think that’s so cool about you. You literally give all of yourself to the point of making yourself ill.
PLAZA: I know. And I don’t know if I should do that.
RICHARDSON: I’m just excited to continue watching the trajectory of your career and the types of projects and characters you play. Because I know that you have deep shit to give.
PLAZA: I feel the same way about you. I think that was what I loved about spending time with you, that we were both so tortured. And, honestly, I think that’s it. Like, to me, that is working. And maybe that’s wrong, maybe I shouldn’t say this out loud, but I feel like to me that’s fun. Even though in the moment I’m like, “I’m going to die,” I love it. It’s fun to be tortured.
RICHARDSON: I do think it’s because we both care so much. I feel like there’s this thing for me of wanting to collaborate and give myself where other people are also giving their souls. And when someone else isn’t doing that or it’s not the environment in which it’s safe to do that, then I just feel stunted and sad and empty, and I leave feeling crushed. That’s what feels kind of torturous for me.
PLAZA: I know. That’s why when I met you—and yes, I met you because you were stalking me. Just for all the readers out there, Haley stalked me for years. After I met her at the MTV Awards, she stalked me at the Chucky, AKA Child’s Play, premiere—
RICHARDSON: [Laughs] I showed up to the Chucky premiere uninvited.
PLAZA: You can find multiple pictures online.
RICHARDSON: And I made friends with all of Aubrey’s friends at the premiere so that I could get closer to her life. Then Aubrey’s friend invited me to Aubrey’s birthday without asking Aubrey. So I showed up and I remember we locked eyes at the bar and you just went, “You.” [Laughs]
PLAZA: And it didn’t matter how many mushrooms I had taken that night. I knew that my stalker had arrived. But there was something deep down inside all along that was like, “Even though she’s stalking me, and maybe eventually she’ll cut me up into a million pieces and eat me, I like her. In fact, I love her.” And so when I heard that you were cast on The White Lotus, I was like, “This is some fucking witchy karmic shit.”
RICHARDSON: The first text I got from you after—I literally have it saved in my “Aubrey” photo album in my camera roll that’s all about important moments for us.
PLAZA: Oh my god.
RICHARDSON: I also have the video where you were interviewed and you were asked who would play you in the biopic of your life and you said me. That’s the best video I’ve ever seen.
PLAZA: Because that was right after I had watched Unpregnant. And I was like, “This girl’s fucking good.”
RICHARDSON: But I’m pretty sure the first thing you ever texted me was the bloody knife [emoji]—
PLAZA: Oh yeah. That’s classic me.
RICHARDSON: You didn’t say your name, didn’t say who it was. That first message was very cryptic. But I immediately knew it was you.
PLAZA: And now look at where we are.
RICHARDSON: Are you scared for people to see the show?
PLAZA: No. I mean, I’m always a little nervous about anyone seeing anything I do. But I’m not scared about the show. In fact, I’m really excited to see everybody else’s stuff. I hate watching myself, but I’m excited to scroll through and just watch all your stuff. That’s what’s fun about being in an ensemble. And a little birdie named Mikey Whitey told me that everybody slays. I could feel that when we were there. So I’m excited to watch you crush it, to watch everybody crush it.
RICHARDSON: Yeah, there are no weak links. And you’re so good. Didn’t you say that you were trying to play a normie, but you’re still a crazy person?
PLAZA: Mike said that when he talked to me about being in the show. He was like, “I think it would be interesting if you played a normie.” As if I had never played just a regular person. Which I have. Yes, I’ve played murderers. Yes, I’ve played mentally ill people. But I also played a single mom in Chucky. And yes, there’s a murderous doll trying to kill me, but I’m still just a young mom. But anyway, is anyone really a normie, Haley?
RICHARDSON: No. I think they might seem like a normie from the outside, but then if you actually get to know them.
PLAZA: 100%. No one’s a normie. We all have layers. Your character could technically be a normie, but you’re not.
RICHARDSON: Oh yeah, Portia’s so lost. Part of what I’m still processing from filming is the lostness that it brought out of me, things that I thought I had already found. But there’s some more to find for sure within my own life. Kind of dark.
PLAZA: But that’s why you’re going to have a long career, because you’re interested in that journey. For me, and I feel like for you too, it’s not a job. It’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself and other people and why we’re all on this planet. I think that’s what’s so fulfilling about being an actor, you’re exploring the human condition. I don’t know.
RICHARDSON: No, you do know. Everything you just said was very much it.
PLAZA: Well, Haley, I think we’re going to have to wrap it up. I just want you to know that I’m here for you, and we are going to work together. And then we’re going to do this interview again, but it’s going to be the other way around where you’re going to put a diaper on me. I’m going to be so old at some point you’re going to have to find me in my nursing home in the Valley and put some poopy diapers on me and remind me about all the work that we’ve done together.
PLAZA: I think you’re an absolute star. And you’ve only just begun. The White Lotus is the fucking tip of the iceberg. I’m really excited to see everything that you do, and I’m really excited to work with you. But more importantly, I’m really excited to continue to be stalked by you in my everyday life and then to secretly stalk you myself.
RICHARDSON: Wow. I love hearing you say those words. I think I’m the best stalker in the world. I didn’t get arrested. You never had to get a restraining order. Somehow my stalking was so beautiful and subtle and well thought-out that I’m now your friend. And I’m very thankful for it because I obviously deeply admire you and think you’re cool and very strange. Also, I will always be there for you.
PLAZA: Yeah, lurking in the shadows.
RICHARDSON: I will be, whether you like it or not.
Hair: Ramsell Martinez
Makeup: Omayma Ramzy