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White Lotus Star Alexandra Daddario on Why Her Character Was Never a Villain

Alexandra Daddario has been acting since she was 16, making her television debut with All My Children and then starring in the Percy Jackson film series, as well as shows like White Collar and True Detective. After more than 50 acting credits and 20 years in the business, how does the now-36-year-old feel about scoring her first Emmy nomination, for her role as Rachel Patton on HBO’s The White Lotus?

“I stuck with it because I really did love it,” Daddario tells THR. “And, like my character, there have definitely been times I felt misunderstood or not breaking through and I feel like I took it all somewhat in stride. I’ve always been grateful that I’ve had a career and I could keep working and keep doing this. Getting an acknowledgment like this … it’s amazing.”

The actress talks to THR about why her character resonates with her and her favorite thing about shooting the show (which included some whale watching).

Congratulations on your first Emmy nomination! Where were you when you found out?

I was at work and I went to go block a scene and I had left my cell phone in my trailer, and I accidentally left my iPad in the hair and makeup trailer. I don’t get so many calls that it annoys people but I guess it had been going off so much that everyone in the trailer was like, “what is that? It’s driving us crazy!” And so when I got in the trailer and I saw my phone, I started crying. I think everyone thought something terrible had happened. Someone went, “Alex, I’m so sorry.” And I said “no, no, no, I think I was just nominated for an Emmy!” And then they were more relieved, I think.

How did you first get involved with The White Lotus?

It was just an audition. It was the pandemic, so there was that warp of reality. I was still in a place in my career where yes, I had some choice about what I auditioned for, but also I felt a little stuck and wasn’t sure which direction I was going in. When that was sent through, we all thought [it] would be a great thing for me to audition for. I sent a tape in and then I auditioned for Mike [White], and then I went to do it, and I think because it was the pandemic, I wasn’t thinking as much about a career. Like before, I was thinking so much about [it]. It was a very intense couple of years for me at least, and then the pandemic, and I was just grateful to go to Hawaii and work with all these cool people. I just felt very lucky to be working.

Did you approach this character differently than your previous roles?

I approach all my roles the same. This character was so interesting on the page to me. I really felt for her, and I always approach things from a place that all of us are [in]. It’s all relative, right? We’re all going through our pains, and our things are the worst things to us, so that’s how I approached this character when I dove into looking at her from a sympathetic point of view. Because I did feel she was a sympathetic character — I didn’t feel she was a villain.

“I dove into looking at her from a sympathetic point of view,” says Alexandra Daddario of playing Rachel Patton on The White Lotus.

One thousand percent. I think that’s such a sad line. I’ve actually said that or some version of that to a boyfriend before. [Rachel’s] now married. She has money. She’s in this resort and Shane’s like, “What’s the problem here? You’re causing all this.” Just by being vulnerable and trying to express how she’s feeling, she feels like she’s in trouble. So, “I promise I’ll be happy.” She’s not really going to be happy. She’s going to pretend, and that’s so sad. I want to say, especially for women, but I think it’s for everyone, there’s this sense that you’re not supposed to show emotion all that much. And in the environment I grew up in, it was frowned upon, and the word “crazy” [was said] if you cry or have a certain reaction. I found solace in an acting class because you were not only allowed to cry or show emotion or show exuberant joy or be too loud or whatever, you were encouraged to find those moments and find different emotions. I definitely got to do that in that scene.

What was your favorite moment of shooting?

I loved doing the scene with Connie [Britton], because she’s so fabulous. She scared me so much, and I like that feeling as an actor. I enjoy feeling something genuinely, that is real. I enjoyed all my scenes with Jake [Lacy]. Obviously, the big [breakup] scene that everyone talks about from the finale was just this wonderful meditation, where we went in and it just all came together really perfectly and it was really a beautiful, fun, peaceful experience. The scenes with [Jennifer] Coolidge, that was when it was really hard to keep a straight face. She’s so funny and has such a unique perspective and sense of humor, mixed with just incredible kindness. The scenes I had with her were on a boat, and it was whale season, and there were whales everywhere, and we’d all be on the boat and staring off with these beautiful whales jumping in the water. It was very special.

Do you think you or Rachel and Jake are still together?

Yeah, but I do think she’s going to leave him. I like to think that because I had this whole idea for the character, and borrowing some stuff from myself, that she’s still on her journey, even though she’s in her 30s, which usually they say in your 30s, you’ve sort of figured it out. It took me a little longer, but I think that she’s still on her journey of finding herself and is too scared to be on her own. I always thought she’s a wonderful person who just needs to grow and that’s how I approached it.

I love that you have a full story for Rachel that extends past your time on the show. 

I think that, for me, you plan all this stuff out in your head almost instinctually and you have all these ideas and you think about all this different stuff that the character has been through, and some of it is borrowed from yourself. You can’t help but have it come from your own experiences, and at the end of the day, you get to throw it away on set because you find other things when you finally get in with your scene partner, and they come with their preparation. And so you’re all prepared, you know the world around you, and then you get there and your instincts kick in. And that’s really fun.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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