Sabrina Impacciatore thought she would never book another role after The White Lotus

Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for GQ

Spoilers for the sixth episode of white lotus the second season, “kidnappings. “

“I believed, I’m having sex. Like, I’m fucked up! This role will ruin my life,” Sabrina Impacciatore exclaims on a Zoom call from Los Angeles. The 54-year-old Italian actress — famous and beloved in her native country after rising to fame on a 90s variety show It is not RAI He plays Valentina, the manager of White Lotus Sicily in the second season of Mike White’s HBO anthology series. Her role is Armond’s Italian counterpart to Murray Bartlett, a character whose presence was crucial to branding one’s finale and won Bartlett his first Emmy Award.

“He has become an icon of this show,” Impacciatore continues. “I was afraid of the comparison. The expectations were so high. Then I had to be feisty on top of that? I want to be an international actress! With this role, I will never work again.”

However, Valentina’s blunt responses, general hate, and staggering in stiletto pumps across the cobblestones of Taormina endeared her to fans, with Impacciatore featured in the media and memes across the Internet. Episode VI replaces its comedic beats with an emotional roller coaster: After finishing up the courage to ask Isabella on a date (on her birthday, no less), Valentina is thrilled when she accepts — until unwitting Isabella confides that she’s engaged to Rocco. Visibly devastated, the principal cancels his plans to sip a martini alone at the bar. Then Mia (Beatrice Grannò) arrives with a proposal, and the pair use Valentina’s master key to infiltrate a suite, where Mia helps Valentina have her first sexual experience with a woman. “Mike was so excited about this moment,” Impacciatore says of the giving sequence. “She really wanted to emphasize the fact that marital relations finally make Valentina free.”

I need to start with the starfish pin that Valentina gave Isabella. It has been bothering me ever since Episode four. Nobody is supposed to think this is pretty, right?
I still do not know. When I saw the pin, I was wondering, Is it a bit cheesy? I know it was very precious. At the premiere, I literally described the pin to Isabella in great detail to make her understand how much money I had invested in this gift. It was a sign that Valentina is trying too hard. But it’s almost too much of a gesture, and a bit invasive. You know, I just learned that the starfish is a symbol of eternal love.

Excuse me! This makes it even sadder when Valentina finds out that Isabella is not in love with her.
I mean, she’s so naive. We see her completely alone, and then she falls in love with Isabella. She does not understand that Isabella does not like her back. Then, in that moment of vulnerability, there’s the encounter of a lifetime with Mia. Even if they’re not together, who cares? There is a click. Mike was very passionate about this moment; He came up to me and said, “Sabrina, Valentina can’t be sad when she understands she’s not going to have a relationship with Mia.” Mike really wanted to stress the fact that the connection finally makes Valentina free. This was really touching for me. I cried a lot off camera with this character. So far I’m emotional. I love her so much.

Did you have a backstory you prepared for Valentina, or did Mike work on that with you?
So, I never spoke to Mike. Like, we never trained. So I got to the first day of shooting panicking because I didn’t know what he wanted from this character. We talked for about five minutes and he said to me, “Valentina is very direct. She only says things that she feels.” Through my character, he wanted to tell this story of his own experience traveling in Europe, when he met someone who did not treat him the way he expected.

At first, I suffered a lot. He said to me, “Sabrina, you have to be more feisty!” And I didn’t understand it right away. I was afraid that people would hate me. It’s my first American show, a huge show in America; I was excited and I was terrified! So, I made up her backstory on my own and didn’t share it with Mike. I’m an actress who really needs to feel things. I’m not acting, I’m living things, and the only thing in the script is that Valentina has been married for many years. With editing, that information was no longer there, so I created an abusive relationship story. I imagined her at home, with no real life, no friends, and very lonely. Actually, the cat scene helped me a lot because I thought, Valentina loves these cats very much because they don’t feel comfortable with humans.

I loved this scene with the stray cats in it the third episode. It’s the first glimpse of something deeper in her.
Sometimes people love animals more than people because they feel that animals do not judge them. They don’t ask questions. They just love you. The more Valentina works, the less she thinks of herself. Her job is a way to take control of her life because all of her emotions are repressed. For me it was very touching, that Valentina was in touch with herself through those kittens.

So that abusive relationship, where does her hatred of men come from?
Valentina does not even know why she treats men badly. She just feels uncomfortable. She feels that they want something from her that she does not want to give them, but she does not know why. To me, that was surprisingly innocent. Because when Isabella comes up to her and says to her, “I like you. I like the way you treat men,” that’s the first time Valentina thinks of her doing that. But she does feel for the first time, and so she bonds with the first person who takes an interest in her.

Like a lost cat.
exactly! It’s a sad, lost cat. In fact, I’ve pretty much worked in the opposite direction of aging. I imagined a cactus that was repellent on the outside but very sweet on the inside.

I want to ask about Valentina’s sexuality against the background of Sicilian culture and gender dynamics. Did that ever work?
naturally. In Italy, sexuality is still a big problem. The LGBT community does not have the same rights as straight people or as LGBTQ people in America. Always in my life, it made me struggle. As an actress, I’ve always tried to communicate that we have the same right to love. For example, I did a monologue about homophobia. we all love; Who cares if you like someone of the same sex as you? Why don’t you have the same rights? But because we have the Vatican in Italy, this is a big deal. So, Valentina not only knows herself, but from a cultural point of view, she is afraid to accept this idea.

Then Mia and Lucia come over to show off their sexuality. It’s an insult to Valentina’s existence, right?
Yes, of course, because they live their sexuality in a very free way. Perhaps Valentina felt subconsciously threatened by them. Her reaction to them is very strong at first, but through them, she finally comes to terms with herself, meeting her true self.

Thinking about the consequences of being gay in Italy, what was the reaction to Valentina, or to you online?
I was surprised. Many people wrote to me on Instagram. They say, “I love you. You are my favorite. I can’t wait for your ring. I want to marry you.” Even with just a few scenes, they love me and love this character.

Someone proposed marriage?
Well, okay, not marriage, but I have a lot of declarations of love from different people: men, women, girls, transgender people. In Italy I’m a weird icon, but it happens here too, and I’m very proud of that. Maybe I will have a girlfriend in the future.

How did you become an exotic icon in Italy?
It’s a strange fate. It happened 20 years ago. They have continued to follow me and are really supportive of me. I was a queer godmother to queer film festivals, a gay pride, and they included me in their festivities. It is something very special to me. But I have no idea how it got started. When I was 18, I did a huge variety show that became a phenomenon. Even though it was shown in the 90’s, they still air it every year. On the show, I was a stand-up comedian and I was inventing the characters; I wrote and sang this song that the queer community loved so much. I used to wear myself a lot of makeup and wigs. I’ve never been the nice girl who tries to please everyone, and I didn’t want to be. I just want to be myself and I want to be free, and I want to fight for everyone’s rights.

So, you’re basically Italy-based Lady Gaga.
[Laughs.] There are some memes about that. Alora! There’s one on TikTok that says, “Best Lady Gaga Acting Ever” and it’s a picture of me on the show. It’s weird because on Instagram people say I should have done it Gucci house. This is madness. you know what? look at this. [Impacciatore demonstrates her profile, running her pointer finger down her nose to accentuate the bump on the ridge.] I mean oh my god. Indeed, when I saw A star is born, I identified a lot with Gaga. I feel like she is my sister and I can’t wait to meet her one day.

Hi, well maybe someone – *Cough cough* Mike White – will write a sister story for you and Gaga.
My God! That’s a good suggestion!

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