In Italy, Sabrina Impacciatore is a beloved comedic actress. But for most American audiences, her turn as Valentina, the hotel manager in the second season of The White Lotus, is an introduction—and an unforgettable one at that. Valentina is a complex, sympathetic, often devastating character at the heart of the show everyone’s talking about. Valentina is also worlds different from Impacciatore herself. Where Valentina is cold, “bitchy,” and a master at denying her needs, Impacciatore is warm, hilarious, infectiously brimming with emotion and life.
Impacciatore spoke to W from Los Angeles, a city she hopes to soon officially call her (part-time) home (her dream is to split her life between Rome and California). In fact, for Impacciatore, Hollywood has always been the dream. And now, at age 54, her dream has come true.
What has it been like, reaching all these new fans with The White Lotus?
Do you remember when Cinderella goes to the ball? That’s me now. I am dancing with my prince and my prince is America. I want to stay at this ball forever.
We want you to keep dancing! When you were cast in the role of Valentina, how did you come to understand her?
I understood her by playing her. As an actor, I created Valentina’s backstory and biography, just to make me feel safe.
When I arrived on set, during the first days, I was terrified. Now that I see the show, I can see sometimes how ugly I look—it’s because I didn’t sleep at night, many nights I was crying. The comparison with Armond in the first season scared me to death; he became an icon of the show and I was feeling this huge pressure of not being enough. I remember one phone call with my mother, I was crying so much, and she said, “Stop it, Sabrina—you became an actress on your own strength. You have arrived to America and now you want to give up?”
The first few days, I was following Mike [White’s] direction without really understanding the character. But then something magical happened. I felt it click. I still remember every scene with the feelings I was having as her. I understood her conflict, her loneliness, her being not confident, scared by human beings. That’s why, now, I miss her.
What was the moment that it clicked for you?
I was feeling intimidated by Mike White, by Jennifer Coolidge—who, to me, is a goddess of acting—so I was not sleeping, neurotic, a nightmare! I put everything inside Valentina. All the nights that I didn’t sleep, I said “maybe Valentina doesn’t sleep.” Valentina is lonely, Valentina is lost, Valentina feels uncomfortable, and Valentina is bitchy because she’s reacting to her fear. The more she’s bitchy, the more she’s trying to protect herself, because inside she’s fucking dying.
The first click happened when I did an improvisation with Jennifer during the scene where I called her Peppa Pig—that was improvisation. Then another click happened in the first scene I shot with Isabella (Eleonora Romandini), because I was so happy that I could finally be softer. In that moment, I had so much tenderness for this character. You can’t even imagine what happened on set—during some scenes, I felt I was having an orgasm. You know when you have sex and you have the best orgasm? I had the best orgasm with Mike White about acting. In some scenes, the magic happened and I felt I was somebody else, somewhere else; I didn’t have any control. I just was living the feelings. This is what I look for as an actress. It gives a deeper sense to me in my own life.
You mentioned Armond, who is played by Murray Bartlett in season 1. Have you had any contact with him to talk about your roles as the hotel managers?
Not yet. I hope one day we’ll meet. I adore him, he is such an incredible actor and I loved him so much in the first season. He was so brilliant.
I’m sure you’d have a lot to talk about!
He became my nightmare. I hated him, I wanted to kill him. I wanted to punch him. I wanted him to disappear from this planet. I love him.
Onto the Culture Diet questions. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Allora, the first thing I do—like, the very, very, very, very first one—is, I give water to my plants and I talk to them. They are like kids. For years and years and years and years, I killed plants; I had a black thumb. Then I came to California a few years ago for a love relationship and I discovered the beauty of succulents. I thought, “Oh my God, they live by themselves.” I started to collect pieces of succulents from California and I took them to Italy. I planted them, and now my terrace is full of them.
What do you find is the biggest difference between life in California and life in Italy?
Two planets. Everything is different. The culture of food that we have in Italy has many roles that become social and affect our lives. It's not possible for Italian people not to eat all together, and the meals can last for hours. Here, I see people eating on their own, standing up.
What books are on your bedside table right now? What are you reading?
Allora, I want to quote an Italian actor that probably you know, because he made this movie called The Postman that was a candidate for the Oscar, Massimo Trosi. He used to say about his relationship with books: “You are so many. I am alone.”
I struggle a lot with books because I would like to read every book on the planet, but there are so many and I’m alone. I always have four or five books in my bed, but I’m frustrated because when I actually try to read, I fall asleep—because it’s nighttime. But I love classics. Because I only have one lifetime, I don’t want to waste my time reading what’s contemporary. What’s contemporary can be useful, but it doesn’t really feed my soul.
And what about TV? Are you watching any shows right now that you like?
Yes. The White Lotus.
No, but I really watch it! HBO sent me the episodes but because I was so scared to be disappointed by myself, I didn’t watch any. So every Sunday, I’m waiting—and I’m thrilled, scared, excited.
How do you feel watching your performance?
Can I be honest? Allora, on Sunday nights, after watching the show, I never sleep. The day after, I'm very depressed. I feel so blue. I hate myself. It’s a struggle. But this is me. An artist is never satisfied, because when you are satisfied, you are dead. You always have to feel uncomfortable.
What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed at night?
In Italy, I live on my own—and here, I live with five people. In these weeks, the last thing I do is hug everybody and say sogni d’oro, it’s like “golden dreams.” It brings me peace in my heart and makes me sleep better. When I’m alone in Italy, the last thing I do is write goodnight to some people or I listen to sweet music.
If you had to recommend one piece of Italian culture—artworks, a book, a movie—that every American should experience, what would that be?
The art we have in Italy is beyond. Italy itself is a work of art. Let’s make it easier: Italian movies. My favorite actress on this planet is Anna Magnani. You should watch a few of her movies, like Roma Città Aperta by Roberto Rossellini; a master of neorealism who inspired Martin Scorsese. And you should watch Bellissima by Luchino Visconti, another incredible, great director that created a masterpiece. These two movies absolutely should be watched with this unbelievable actress Anna Magnana. She will make you laugh and cry. I promise.