Haley Lu Richardson Opens Up Like Never Before on Therapy, Heartbreak and Learning to ‘Be Capable on My Own’
The ‘White Lotus’ star shares how she overcame difficult times through dance and her unexpected journey of self-discovery
Haley Lu Richardson exudes an effortless, self-deprecating charm. Between bites of pineapple and dragon fruit during a PEOPLE photo shoot in Malibu, the actress radiates good humor in the sweltering September heat. “Organic deodorant doesn’t work—it makes you sweat more,” she declares with a laugh, taking off her Akila sunglasses. “My shirt smells like feet.”
Moments later Richardson, 28, struts in with a new look, tossing back her golden-brown locks and tilting her head this way and that, considering her image in an oversize wooden mirror. “My hair is less in front. Do you think I’m balding?” she jokes with her team. As a photographer approaches, her vintage dress falls. “Free the nipple, baby!” she exclaims, quickly pulling her gown back up.
Richardson’s personality often gets compared to that of her breakout White Lotus season 2 character Portia, the quasi-nihilistic Gen Z assistant forced to vacation with her codependent boss Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge). Wearing wacky, mismatched outfits that launched 1,000 memes, Portia gallivants around an Italian resort, trying to find purpose in the world. But lately Richardson is experiencing a different kind of transformation.
In July she got vulnerable on Instagram, telling her 2.2 million followers that she was going through a difficult time. “I was experiencing deep heartbreak and fully letting myself feel how scary that was, how unknown,” she says. Richardson declines to give more specifics but has no regrets about posting.
“I don’t know if I’d ever just let myself actually feel those things without trying to fight it so much. It was a lot. I let myself feel sadness. And I just felt compelled to share that I wasn’t actually doing that great. It was so overwhelming, the effect that had, because I immediately felt less alone. Maybe because I hadn’t let myself feel that at other times in the past, where I’d felt lonely, down or lost—I just felt what I was feeling in that moment.”
Richardson garnered nearly 200,000 likes on the post, connecting deeply with her followers and feeling comforted by them. “It sounds so dumb that an Instagram post could affect me so much, but I just felt like people were being so honest and experiencing a shared feeling. We all go through these painful times, and to come together in that—that’s where compassion comes from. I felt like I was getting hugs from everyone.”
She takes a deep breath. There’s another side to the actress that many don’t know from her quirky onscreen persona. Her humor is a shield, but in the last few years—through life changes and therapy—she’s started to lean into her emotions.