Before viewers of The White Lotus find out the name of the Essex lad introduced at the end of season two’s third episode, they learn he has sensitive nipples. It’s the first thing Leo Woodall’s character (whose name is Jack, by the way) says during a late-night dip in the pool next to Haley Lu Richardson’s existentially distressed Portia. It could have been a throwaway moment, one of creator Mike White’s famous easter eggs. But in the next episode, when Portia and Tanya arrive at the beach club for an afternoon of drinking with their new “gays,” there’s Jack—sensitive nipples and all.
Those who are familiar with Essex (or have watched an episode of Love Island), may have immediately recognized the walking red flag that is Jack. In reality, though, Woodall promises he’s nothing like the bill-ditching, “uncle”-screwing guy he portrays on TV. “I’m a very sensitive boy,” he tells W. “There’s not really much we have in common, to be honest. But I definitely enjoyed diving into the reckless side in me.” Woodall pauses for a minute to further contemplate the concept. He looks around the living room of his South London flat, distracted for a minute by some hammering in the apartment above him. When he returns his attention to the question and his eyes to the Zoom window, he’s got a smile on his face. “Well, I can be quite cheeky. I think we have that in common.”
While, in the show, Jack’s background gets more convoluted by the minute, Woodall’s features a far more standard family story (with much less incest). The actor grew up in West London surrounded by other actors: his father, step father, and grandmother were all in the trade and his parents initially met in acting school. Even his ancestors were in the business. “I have a great, great, great, great grandmother named Maxine Elliott and she had her own theater off-Broadway in New York.” (Elliott’s theater, in fact, opened in 1908, and was the only woman-run establishment of its kind in the United States at the time.) Unsurprisingly, Woodall initially wanted nothing to do with the family business. “I wanted to be a PE teacher or a stuntman,” he says. It wasn’t until he turned 19 that he caught the acting bug while watching an episode of Peaky Blinders. “For some reason, it changed my mind,” he adds.
From there, Woodall had to sit his father down and admit he wanted to follow in his old man’s footsteps in this “brutal profession,” as his family referred to it while Woodall was growing up. “I was really scared to tell him, and he also got really nervous,” Woodall recalls. “He thought I was going to say I was ill or I’d gotten into bad trouble or something.” When Woodall dropped the acting bomb, his father was relieved. “He said, ‘Why did you do that to me? Why did you build up this suspense? Just to tell me you wanted to do what I knew at some point you’d want to do?’”
That’s not to say it has been an easy road. Woodall has fully come to appreciate the difficulties of acting his family warned him about. A big break in Anthony and Joe Russo’s Cherry last year led to most of his scenes getting cut. “I had a cough in a spit in Cherry,” he says. “It was tiny role.” He left Morocco after two weeks with little to show for it aside from a glimpse of a red bandanna during the movie’s bullfighting scene and an IOU for £70 from Tom Holland (“I accidentally paid his tab at a bar one night,” he explains, seemingly unconcerned that he will likely never see that money again). He did enough to impress the Russo brothers, however, and landed a role in their upcoming Amazon Prime series, Citadel, at a much-needed time. “That came at a point where I wasn’t really working and my tax bill had just come in as well,” he recalls.
And then, of course, came The White Lotus. When Woodall’s agent initially sent over the audition opportunity last winter, it sat in the actor’s inbox for some time as he, ironically enough, binged the first season of the series. “I’d gotten COVID on set, so I spent Christmas in a hotel room and my dad told me to watch the show,” he says. “I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of it, but I quickly fell completely in love with it.” When he finally got around to going through his emails, he found the one regarding an audition for season two.
A little over a month later and he was in Sicily, staying at an empty Four Seasons hotel and running into Michael Imperioli at the gym. “He said hello and I just forgot the English language,” Woodall says. “I said something like, ‘Nice to see you later’ or, ‘Nice to hi you.’ I remember walking away like, ‘You idiot. That was Michael Imperioli and you just made a fool of yourself.’” And then, of course, there was the Godfather of The White Lotus, Mike White, whom Woodall was surprised to find was actually “chilled out” on set. “He just let things flow,” Woodall says. “I think because he’d already set up the foundation for what he needed and wanted and it was just about us splashing around in it.”
And splash he did, right into the ice-cold waters of The White Lotus’s coast-side pool. Just three episodes into his run and the “naughty Essex boy” Jack has inserted himself into the season’s spiderwebbed storyline. As for whether he will play a role in the story’s overall mystery, the jury’s still out. While season two opened up with the reveal of dead bodies at the resort, five episodes in and the question of “who died?” and “whodunnit” still haven’t been answered. The fans, though, have been patient, satiated by White’s follow-up to his smash hit of a first season. This is great news to Woodall, who felt the demand to compete with the success of the show’s Emmy-winning first run.
“There was definitely a bit of pressure to live up to what seemed like an impossible bar,” he says. That feeling was alleviated, however, by White’s decision to make the show an anthology series, leaving little connections between the first season and the next. “It was quite a bold move for Mike to go, ‘That was amazing, let’s switch it all up.’ But that helped make the season feel like its own entity.”
Woodall considers The White Lotus “the greatest job I’ll ever have,” though he adds “potentially” to the end of that statement, likely because he is still in the early days of his career. Next up, the actor will take on a character worlds away from cocky Jack from Essex, when he plays Dexter—a privileged student from Oxfordshire—in the upcoming Netflix show One Day. It’s a romantic story based on the book by David Nicholls, which was adapted into a film starring Anne Hathaway back in 2011.
When I ask Woodall what he’d like to do next, he pauses once more, admitting finally that he isn’t entirely sure what he envisions as a dream follow-up project. He knows he’d like to work with Stanley Tucci—whose path he crossed briefly on the set of Citadel but did not share a scene with —or Christopher Nolan, one of Woodall’s favorite directors. He shakes his head and flashes that cheeky grin, resolving to come up with a suitable goal soon—seeing as his career is about to take off. “Now that I get asked this question, I should probably think of an answer,” he says.