Landing a role opposite Emmy-winning legends like Jennifer Coolidge and Michael Imperioli is one thing, and landing said role alongside said legends on the highly anticipated second season of the smash hit (and also Emmy-winning) HBO series The White Lotus is another thing entirely. And as an actor who only just made his television debut in 2019 and his feature film debut in 2021? Well now, the stakes are somehow even higher.
Leo Woodall got his start with a guest appearance on the BBC One medical soap opera Holby City in 2019 – almost immediately after graduating from ArtsEd in London – and from there, he landed a small role in 2021’s Cherry, starring alongside Tom Holland in that crime drama. His next role of note was that of a small supporting part in the Peacock fantasy horror series Vampire Academy, and then, he struck gold after auditioning for and landing a part in the aforementioned The White Lotus, making this his true “big break.”
But no matter how many credits were on his resume beforehand, actor Leo Woodall managed to make a massive impression on audiences this past fall in Season 2 of The White Lotus as the seductive and suspicious Jack, the supposed “nephew” of Tom Hollander’s conniving Quentin and a prospective love interest for Haley Lu Richardson’s Portia, though his “plans” for her might be a little more malicious than they initially seem on the surface.
Despite being one of the “newer names” in the ensemble, Woodall’s work was instantly mesmerizing and memorable, and I had the pleasure of talking with him about how he came to be involved in the show, how he approached this role, and what he hopes the future holds for him.
Zoë Rose Bryant: I wanted to start by asking how you were “brought into the fold” of The White Lotus and what that experience was like auditioning and landing this role?
Leo Woodall: It was actually surprisingly straightforward. I did a self tape. I didn’t know that I had a self tape in my inbox for season two for about a month because I didn’t look at my emails. But luckily it was over Christmas and I had plenty of time. In that time, I’d got COVID in Portugal and went into a lockdown and spent Christmas in a hotel room. And my dad said, “I’ve just watched this show called The White Lotus. You should watch it.” I thought, “Okay.”
And then six hours later, I’d binged the whole thing and thought, “Oh my God, I’m obsessed with this show.” And then like a week later I checked my inbox and there was a tape for season two. Did it. A week later, I met [show creator] Mike [White] on a Zoom. Wi-Fi was terrible so I got told that they couldn’t hear or see me properly. So, I thought I’d screwed up. And then I got COVID again on the same job when I was in Spain and was in a lockdown. I was making a ragu and I got a call from my agent. And they said, “You got it.” And I remember I put the phone down on the counter next to the pasta and just sprinted up and down my little apartment in Spain. And yeah, a few weeks later I was in Sicily. It was mental.
ZRB: That’s so cool. And this is such a stacked ensemble, too. It’s such a dream cast to work with. What was the most exciting thing about working with this ensemble and the most challenging thing for you?
LW: I don’t know about challenging. I can’t remember feeling it was challenging in any way. The only thing that was definitely prominent was I felt like a tiny, tiny little “fish” because there [were] so many big stars in it and people that I’d been watching for years. So honestly, it was just more of a privilege. And I got to sit across [Jennifer] Coolidge during a scene and just watch her work her magic for a few hours.
And very early on, I remember I’d flown in from London and I got back at like one in the morning to Sicily and they were doing a night shoot. And I just went on and didn’t go on set, but I asked them for some cans and I just watched Michael Imperioli and F. Murray Abraham do a scene for about two hours. And I just learned a lot from doing that. It was really, really, really cool.
ZRB: Yeah, that was another question I was going to ask, building off how stacked this cast is – what, if any, lessons did you learn from some of these legends like F. Murray Abraham and Jennifer Coolidge?
LW: I think just going the way they go take by take, how relaxed they seem. I don’t know, it was just pure character. They weren’t worried about the stature of the show or what they were doing so much. They might have been, but they’re so good at what they do that it kind of made me feel like, okay, don’t worry about anything. Just go and be an actor. Go and have some fun. So that’s what I was trying to do.
ZRB: And with your character specifically, Jack, he’s someone who has a lot of secrets and his identity kind of “shifts” as the show goes on. And I’m so curious, what goes into that, initially playing that character while hinting at that darker side but not fully giving it away? What’s that experience like?
LW: It was mainly Mike and how good he is. He didn’t want me to play any of the darkness, any of the real underlying… I don’t know, I can’t think of the right word. But he just wanted me to play what was there, and what was often there was just Jack having a good old time, pretty much.
ZRB: Yeah. And with Mike specifically too, I think his dialogue and his characterization is oftentimes also a great gift to actors. What about his writing specifically has made this job different from other roles in the past for you?
LW: Good question. I mean, to be honest, I don’t have many, many jobs under my belt, so you should probably ask me again in five years and see what I say. If I’ve got many more jobs. But I think just he… I don’t know, sometimes someone’s so good that you can’t quite depict exactly why it’s so good. Or at least I can’t. I think there’s so many layers to every character and every character has such a distinct personality. And the way he’s written them to all interact with one another and create such awkward tension that often isn’t… It doesn’t turn into an explosive argument or whatever. It’s just all these often people sitting on their discontent to the person opposite. I always find that kind of funny. But it’s just so detailed, it’s so clever and so funny. And so many little seeds are planted for the story that sometimes you don’t even necessarily know where the hell it’s going. But once it goes there, you just think, it’s brilliant.
ZRB: And like you said too, you are so early on in your career and this is a huge breakthrough moment for you. What’s been the craziest part of this experience with how big this show is and how much it’s blown up, especially this season?
LW: I mean, it’s all been pretty wild for me, because a lot of the cast members had done shows that were huge and had that moment of going, “Oh, people are watching what I’m in.” I hadn’t had that. So it’s all been kind of mental. But I guess it’s just great that people love it, which we kind of knew they would, but there was always a sense of season one was so good and can we reach that bar? And I think all the theories that people had about what was going to happen as the show was airing, that was really cool, just the way people were talking about it. And that’s just a testimony to the little world that Mike had created in these hotels.
ZRB: And obviously there’s probably so little you could probably say about this right now, but would you see a future for Jack in the next season or any other iteration of The White Lotus?
LW: I’d love to. I mean, that’s a Mike question. Mike would just have to point and I would go there. Yeah, I could see it would be very different. I feel like it would be a very different storyline for Jack. You see him at the end and there was a big shift. So yeah, I would be very interested to explore where that goes. But at the same time, it’s such a good show that I’d also happily just be an audience member. But yeah, I would also quite like to revisit Jack someday. But again, that’s a Mike thing.
ZRB: And like we said, this was such a breakthrough moment [for you], but building off of The White Lotus and going forward in your career, is there a dream director you want to work with, a dream franchise you want to be in, or anything else on your mind at the moment?
LW: I’d love to work with Christopher Nolan. I’ve just loved his movies for so long. I mean, there are so many people I’d want to work with, but he’s consistently been at the top for me. So Chris, if you’re out there, yeah, Chris Nolan for me.
Leo Woodall is Emmy-eligible in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for The White Lotus.
Photo: Stefano Delia/HBO