Dec 2023

Time of her life

The infectious spirit and BIG FEELINGS of actor Haley Lu Richardson. By Courtney Thompson

PHOTOGRAPHY by GEORGES ANTONI

STYLING by RACHEL WAYMAN

Here's the thing,” Haley Lu Richardson says. “If you wanna know the truth, I’m really good at time off.” This is good news because, like many actors in Hollywood, when we speak, Richardson is in the midst of a 118-day hiatus due to the SAG-AFTRA strike. Instead of showing up to set, sitting for junkets or attending red carpet premieres, they’ve all been relegated to, well, figuring out what to do with themselves when they’re not allowed to work. Initially, this was fine for Richardson. “I’ve never been a workaholic,” she says. “I mean, I’ve been acting for 13 years now, so it’s taken time. But a lot of the time I feel like Pooh, as in Winnie the Pooh. I just feel like I’m really good at sitting and, like, eating.”

TOP: LOUIS VUITTON dress, POA, PIAGET earrings, $3550, $4300, and $4500, and rings (on right hand, from left), $7800, $6850, and $3100, (on left hand) $5850 TOP LEFT: ZIMMERMANN blouse, $595, KHI SWIMWEAR top, $150, FELLA SWIM bottoms, $120, HERMÈS scarf, $395, LOEWE shoes, $2800, PIAGET rings (on right hand, from left), $7800, $6850, and $3100, and (on left hand), $5850, bangle, $5350, and earrings (from top), $4500, $4300, and $3550 TOP RIGHT: BONDI BORN swimsuit, $275, HERMÈS scarf, $320, GENTLE HABITS dive mask and snorkel set, $99, PIAGET rings (from left), $7800, $6850, $3100, $5850, and $5600, bangle, $5350, earrings (from top), $4500, $4300, and $3550, and necklaces (from top), $3750, $7700, and $9200 BOTTOM LOUIS VUTTON dresses, POA, EMMA MULHOLLAND ON HOLIDAY sunglasses, $225, PIAGET rings (from left), $7800, $3100, and $5850

To be clear, Richardson’s talents extend far beyond sitting and eating. After building a solid career with roles in heartwarming indie dramas, the 28-year-old’s performance as Portia in the second season of The White Lotus (2022) catapulted her into the spotlight. A lot of people didn’t really vibe Portia. She’s bored and aimless and unsatisfied – so, you know, Gen Z – and some had problems stomaching her mismatched second-hand outfits. However, as people aired their distaste for Portia, everyone fell hard for Haley Lu. There was her unashamed embrace of her past as a “crazed teeny-bopper” Jonas Brothers fan, as well as the time she attended the Vanity Fair Oscar Party and was asked by an interviewer if she was ready to party. Her reply – “No, I think I’m gonna go home, I do. I’m tired and it’s way past my bedtime and my cat misses me and I just want a bath” – went viral with everyone echoing the sentiment: same.

But while the actor is usually very good at the whole chilled out, time-off thing, she’s starting to feel a bit restless and itching for some semblance of normality to resume – which happens just days after we speak, with the actors’ union and studios reaching an agreement to end the historic strike. “I literally can’t imagine crocheting another hat or making another beaded necklace or going on another walk around my neighbourhood,” she says.

It’s also Halloween, and Richardson has her camera off because she’s getting ready for the annual Fright Fest event at Six Flags in Los Angeles. “I look ridiculous, like, I have half a smoky eye on and concealer dots all over my face,” she tells me. As such, I’m staring at a Zoom screen that says “POOPY” and only get a glimpse of the star when she turns on her camera (for the record: she looks great), before she seemingly jump-scares herself and swiftly turns it back off. “I’m sorry, I can’t take myself seriously,” she says, laughing.

“When you feel a lot... you can feel like you’re too much.”

And there lies the charm of Haley Lu Richardson. What you see (or, in my case, don’t), is what you get. And what you get is someone who many people resonate with. Because Richardson is a person who has Big Feelings; emotions are full-body experiences that run deep. You can see it in basically any press appearance she gives. Like when James Cordon surprised her with a FaceTime from Nick Jonas and she had the kind of full-blown menty-b that will be familiar to anyone who has harboured a parasocial love for a boy band member. “I have always been like that, but I’ve definitely tried to fight it a bit,” she explains. “When you feel a lot and let yourself show those feelings to people around you, you can feel like a burden. You can feel like you’re too much.”

A particularly resonant fact is how this aspect of her life has affected her romantic relationships. “If it’s not the right match, I’ve been made to feel like I’m, you know, embarrassing or needy or too loud or, uh, I mean, you could literally put any word after ‘too’ and I’ve been called it,” she admits.

TOP LEFT: MIU MIU dress, POA, ONITSUKA TIGER shoes, $180, PIAGET rings (from left), $3100, $5600, and $5850 TOP RIGHT FELLA SWIM top, $150, MARIAM SEDDIQ skirt, $2890, HERMÈS scarf, $395, PIAGET earrings (from front), $3550, $4300, and $4500, and rings (from left), $5600, and $3100, DAFIN AUSTRALIA flippers, $129.95; BOTTOM LEFT: CHANEL top, $5120, shorts, $3530, belt, $4590, gaiters, $440, and shoes, $5820, PIAGET earrings (from front), $3550, and $4300; BOTTOM RIGHT: COACH dress, $995, KHI SWIMWEAR top, $150, PIAGET earrings (from left), $3550, $4300, and $4500, AJE bag, $355, BAINA towel, $130

“In one of my most recent, like, situationships, it came to a point where the other person was trying to say that I was too much in all of these ways. I think ’cause of where I’m at in my life right now, which has taken a lot of work to get to, I was listening to this person try to make me feel this shame or that I’m too much, and I realised, ‘Actually, I’m not too much. We’re just not right for each other.’” This is the work Richardson has been doing for the past few months: accepting those big feelings and surrounding herself with people who don’t weaponise them against her. “The person that I’m gonna be with one day,” she tells me, “they’re gonna love that about me and support those feelings and that expression and that loudness and goofiness and my poop jokes.”

It’s worth it, as well, because she’s discovered that this trait makes her better at her job; her performances sing because of her empathy and heart. “I’ve always been a very emotional human being and I’ve always been very vulnerable,” she explains. “I wear my heart on my sleeve and I can’t help it. And I think that does help me with acting. The more I act and the more that I’m comfortable doing all of that in front of 100 people on set who I’ve never met before, the more emotional and vulnerable I become as a human.”

Growing up an only child in Arizona, she wasn’t immediately drawn to her eventual career. “Oh, um, well, what did attract me to acting, honestly? Why am I doing this?” she asks, laughing. Like many millennials, the Disney Channel basically shaped her, and dancing was her gateway into performing. “I got really intense about dancing when I was around eight and it just all clicked for me,” she explains. “I got really confident. I had all my best friendships through dance. It became a part of my identity. I was able to process all my emotions and my feelings at this angsty time in my life through dance. And really, my favourite thing about it was the expression of emotion and telling stories.”

When she won a dance competition, where the prize was to visit Los Angeles, Richardson put together a presentation for her parents to make the case that they should allow her to move to LA, aged 16, to pursue acting. “Somehow my parents were kind of nuts enough to believe in me and support me,” she recalls. She moved to the City of Angels with her mum and never looked back. “I had an insane amount of determination at the time. And, like, I kind of had a one-track mind in a lot of ways, focused on getting my life together in LA and starting my career.”

“I didn’t have wild ‘college’ years until I was 26; things have been non-linear.”

LEFT: LOEWE dress, $2100, and shoes, $2800, PIAGET earrings (from top), $4500, $4300, and $3550, and rings (from left), $3100, and $5850 RIGHT: GENTLE HABITS dive mask and snorkel set, $119

HAIR Ramsell Martinez MAKEUP Jenna Kristina

Despite being so young when she started working, she doesn’t feel like she lost out. “I definitely feel like I was a teenager,” she says. “Though I didn’t really have crazy wild college years until two years ago.” When probed for more details here (because obviously we need details), Richardson will only share that there was one particular night that involved a bathroom, a two-metre-tall security guard, and getting kicked out of a bar. “Still to this day I don’t think it was my fault,” she says, giving a very convincing delivery of the line many of us have uttered after a night out. “I remember the morning after. I was so embarrassed about what happened, but then everyone I told the story to was like, ‘Haley, we’ve all been there. That’s what college is.’ And I was like, oh, cool, so I’m just experiencing college as a 26-year-old. So yeah, things have been kind of a little bit non-linear.”

As for her direction right now, Richardson turns to her new hobby: tarot card reading. She says she’s been getting the same future card over and over. “I don’t know if it was just ’cause I had a weed gummy before the last time I did it or if it was something mystical,” she starts recalling with a laugh, “but there’s this card called The World and it’s a major Arcana card and it’s the final card in the whole deck. It’s like the embodiment of feeling enough, but not because you’ve got everything you thought you wanted. It’s just like, no matter where you are, you feel full, you feel enough, and you trust that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve pulled that so many times. I’m definitely on a journey to getting to a place where I can really just trust in where I am, and that be enough.”

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