Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for GQ
Spoilers for episode six White lotus second season “Steal.”
“I thought, I’m going crazy. I’m crazy! This character will ruin my lifeSabrina Impacciatore shouted on a zoom call from Los Angeles. The 54-year-old Italian actress — who rose to fame in the ’90s on a variety show — gained popularity and love in her home country. Non è la RAI — played Valentina, manager of White Lotus Sicily, in the second season of Mike White’s HBO anthology series. His role was the Italian character in Murray Bartlett’s Armond, whose existence was paramount in everyone’s judgment, and the role for which Bartlett won his first Emmy.
“He’s become an icon of this show,” Impaciatore continued. “I was afraid of the comparison; expectations were high. And I should have had mustard on top? I want to be an international actor! And I will never work in this role again.”
However, Valentina’s foul language, delusions, and graceful swaying over the Taormina cobblestones endear her to the audience, and the Impaciatore is abuzz with media footage and memes all over the Internet. Episode six trades its comedic beats for an emotional rollercoaster: Valentina is thrilled to be accepted after thinking of asking Isabella out on a date (on her birthday, no less) — until Isabella unwittingly reveals that she’s engaged. Rocco. A very depressed manager cancels plans to drink martinis alone at the bar. Then Mia (Beatrice Granno) arrives with a proposal, and Mia helps Valentina have her first sexual encounter with a woman as the couple use Valentina’s master key to enter the suite. “Mike was very passionate at this point,” Impaciatore said of the bidding sequence. “He really wanted to prove that communication would finally set Valentina free.”
I have to start with the starfish pin I gave to Valentina Isabella. It’s been bothering me ever since fourth grade. No one should think that’s cute, right?
I still don’t know. I was amazed at the needle, A little hot? I know it was so worth it. In the first shoot, I explained the pin in great detail to Isabella to let her know how much money I spent on this gift. It was a sign that Valentina was putting in a lot of effort. But this is almost an exaggeration and a bit aggressive. I just learned that the starfish is a symbol of eternal love.
Oh! This becomes even sadder when Valentina realizes that Isabella doesn’t like her.
I mean, he’s very naive. We see him alone, and then he falls in love with Isabella. He doesn’t understand that Isabella doesn’t love his back. Then, in that vulnerable moment, the meeting of a lifetime with Mia. Who cares if they’re not together? There is one click. Mike was very passionate at this point; he came up to me and said, “Sabrina, Valentina, don’t be sad when you realize you’re not going to have a relationship with Mia.” Mike wanted to prove that this connection would finally set Valentina free. It really touched me. I cried a lot on camera with this role. Still excited. I love him very much.
Do you have a story for Valentina or did Mike work with you?
So I never talked to Mike. We never practiced. So I was very scared on the first day of the shoot because I didn’t know what he wanted from the role. We talked for five minutes, and he told me, “Valentina is very straightforward. He just says what he feels.” He wanted to tell this story through my character about how he encountered someone who didn’t treat him the way he expected while traveling through Europe.
At first I struggled a lot. He told me, “Sabrina, you should be more mustard!” And I didn’t get it right away. I was afraid that people would hate me. This is my first American show, a huge show in America; I was excited and scared! So I made up his story myself and didn’t even share it with Mike. I’m an actor who really needs to experience things. I don’t act, I live by things, the only thing in the script is that Valentina got married many years ago. After editing, that information was gone, so I created a history of abusive relationships. I imagined him at home, with no real life, no friends, and very lonely. Actually, the scene with the kitten helped me a lot, because I Valentina loves these kittens very much, because she is not easy with humans.
I loved the scene with the stray cats third grade. This is the first glimpse of something deep within him.
Sometimes people love animals more than people because animals don’t judge them. They don’t ask questions; they just love you. The more Valentina works, the more she can’t think about herself. His work is a way to control his life because all his emotions are suppressed. Valentina’s way of communicating with herself through those kittens was touching to me.
So that’s where that abusive relationship and her hatred of men comes from?
Valentina doesn’t even know why she treats men so badly. He just feels uncomfortable. She feels they want something from her that she doesn’t want to give them, but she doesn’t know why. To me it was perfectly innocent. Because Isabella came to him and said, “I adore you. I like the way you treat men,” Valentina thought for the first time. But he seems to be seen for the first time and clings to the first person who pays attention to him.
Like a lost kitten.
Exactly! He is a lost and sad kitten. In general, I worked in the opposite direction of mustard. I imagined a cactus to be disgusting on the outside but very tasty on the inside.
I want to ask about Valentina’s sexuality against the background of Sicilian culture and gender dynamics. Did it work at all?
Of course. Sexuality is still a big problem in Italy. The queer community does not have the same rights as heterosexuals or enjoy the same rights as queer people in America. It’s always been a struggle in my life. As actors, we always try to express that we have the right to love. For example, I did this in the monologue about homosexuality. We all love; Who cares about homosexuality? Why not have equal rights? But it’s a big deal because we have the Vatican in Italy. Therefore, Valentina not only does not know herself, but she is afraid to accept this idea from a cultural point of view.
Then Mia and Lucia arrive, surprising them with their sexuality. It’s an insult to Valentina’s nature, isn’t it?
Yes, of course, because they live very freely in their sexuality. Valentina probably sensed their threat unconsciously. His reaction to them is intense at first, but through them he finally meets himself and his truth.
When you think about the implications of being gay in Italy, what has been the reaction to Valentina or you online?
I was surprised. A lot of people wrote to me on Instagram. They say, “I love you. You’re my favorite. I can’t wait for your class. I want to marry you.” Even with just a few scenes, they love me and love this character.
Has anyone proposed?
Well, not marriage, but I’ve had a lot of love from different people, men, women, girls, transgender, etc. In Italy I am a strange character, but here it is also happening, and I am very proud of it. Maybe I will have a girlfriend in the future.
How did you become a stranger in Italy?
A strange fate. It was like 20 years ago. They still follow me and really support me. I’ve been a queer godmother at a queer film festival, gay pride, and they have me in their celebrations. This is something very special to me. But I don’t know how it started. When I was 18, I did a huge variety show that became a phenomenon. Even though it was released in the 90s, they release it every year. On the show, I was the comedian and would invent the character; I wrote and sang this song which was very popular in the queer community. I wore a lot of makeup and wigs. I’ve never been a pretty girl trying to please everyone, nor do I want to. I want to be myself, I want to be free, I want to fight for everyone’s rights.
So you’re basically Lady Gaga living in Italy.
[Laughs.] There are some memories about it. Allora! It says “Lady Gaga’s best performance” on TikTok, and this is a picture of me at the show. It’s weird because people say I should have done it on Instagram House of Gucci. It’s crazy. what do you know 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. Actually, I saw it A star is born, I got to know Gaga a lot. She feels like my sister and I can’t wait to meet her someday.
Hey, maybe someone – *cough cough* Mike White — Will write a sister story for you and Gaga.
Oh my God! That’s a good suggestion!