Simona Tabasco on her Sydney Sweeney produced horror film

She shares her name with a brand of American hot sauce. But the only thing hot around here, folks, is The White Lotus star’s new movie, Immaculate.

Simona Tabasco dies within the first five minutes of Immaculate. That’s OK, though – the first five minutes of any horror film worth its salt are always the best. Think: six-year-old Michael Myers stalking his first kill in Halloween, poor little Georgie being lured into the sewer by Pennywise in It. Not to mention pretty much every cameo from the first three Scream films.

Those opening scenes have to do a lot of heavy lifting, giving a taste of the terror that’s to come while setting up the bones of the plot. In Simona’s case, that means a frantic attempt to escape a secluded convent in the Italian countryside as she’s chased by faceless nuns. Spoiler: she doesn’t make it. Those nasty nuns break her legs, chuck her into a coffin and bury the Italian actor alive. Christ.

So you can only imagine the hell that Sydney Sweeney’s main character Celia goes through when she arrives at the convent in the following scenes. Sydney, who is also a producer on the film, endures psychological and physical torture for the remaining hour and 25 minutes, making a convincing argument for sacking off sanctimony for a life of sin.

Being terrorised by nuns is not the only thing Simona and Sydney have in common, of course. Both actors have appeared in The White Lotus (Sydney in the first series, Simona in the second) and received Emmy nominations for their respective roles.

But although The White Lotus gave Simona her international breakout, the 29-year-old was already a big name in her home country, critically acclaimed for roles in projects such as neo-noir film Perez. Now, she’s busy brushing up on her English, and making sure she’s ready to take on any opportunity that comes her way, whether it’s filmed in Venice or Venice Beach.

Hey Simona! You open Immaculate with a pretty intense scene. What was filming like?

I trusted the director Michael Mohan and when I read the script it was very clear what the character had to do. For me, it was three days of shooting on set. It was very funny, but difficult because I’ve never been part of a horror movie [before]. When I was on set, I was like, OK, this is exhausting, because you have, you need, you must keep the fear [in your face] all the time, shot after shot.

How did it feel to be buried alive?

Oh my God! Very scary. I needed to light these matches while I was in the coffin, so I was really scared because the fire was so close to my face. It was very close and there was no air. I couldn’t breathe!

Did you do any specific research to prepare for the role? Binge watch some classic horror films, maybe?

I grew up in Italy and when I was very young I studied with nuns, so I just remembered the feeling that they gave me at the time. And in general, I love to watch horror movies, especially psychological horrors like Titane.

What’s the scariest horror film you’ve ever seen?

From the same director as Titane [Julia Ducournau], there is a movie called Raw about cannibalism. That was very scary!

What scares you the most?

A lot of things, actually. But maybe [the thought of] not being able to talk to my parents.


Back to Immaculate: what was it like working with fellow White Lotus star Sydney Sweeney?

It was magical. When I was on set Sydney was there as a producer, because we haven’t got any scenes together. But she was present all the time. She wanted to make sure that everything was done the right way.

How has your life changed since starring in The White Lotus in 2022?

If I say that my life hasn’t changed, I will lie. But before White Lotus, I was an actress in Italy for 10 years and I was in several projects. The White Lotus was my first audition in English and my first job for another country’s production, so my life is changing because I want to try to act in a different language. This is taking time, but I feel very good about it because I think English is the right language for acting – it’s direct and very simple to express.

You have a chilli tattoo in honour of your last name. How good are you with spice?

I like spicy food! I love to add Tabasco to tacos and meat. My favourite spicy Italian food is spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino – it’s just pasta with onion, peppers and oil. It’s very easy.

Is there an Italian film or TV show that you’ve worked on that you’d particularly like your new international fans to see?

I’m working on something exciting in Italy now and it will be out this spring. I can’t wait to let you all know what it is…

What’s the best thing about your hometown Naples?

The energy – you never feel alone in Naples.

If you like films in which the person you’ve just read an interview with is killed in the first five minutes, Immaculate is in UK cinemas now.

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