Brittany O’Grady, 26, shares what it’s like playing Gen Z mean-girl Paula on White Lotus, her brave move from Northern Virginia to L.A., and how Arlington has changed — and stayed the same.
What do you really think of your White Lotus character, Paula?
She and I have different ways of finding justice. But as an actor, you have to find justification in your character. So if I’m doing my job right, she’s justified in what she did. I personally would never go to the lengths that she did to screw other people. The part where she … got [Kai] fired and put him through a lot of emotional turmoil was hard for me. But I do love the spirit of Paula: She is able to hold her own, call out things that are wrong, and be aware of it. It was such a great role because it was so transformative.
You acted in various local theaters as a youth. How did those experiences shape you?
They gave me my work ethic. I learned so much from many brilliant people. Synetic Theater made me realize I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. It also helped me with the character of Paula because a lot of times she was feeling things internally and not expressing it in her words. And Synetic does most of its productions without words. So I learned how to internally light a fire working with them as a teenager. … It was the start to a lifetime of telling stories.
And you moved out to L.A. by yourself at age 17 to pursue your career. Bold!
I graduated early and moved when I signed with an agency. It was a hard gap year. I learned a lot. I look back and think: “What was I doing, living in L.A. by myself?” I didn’t book a lot of [acting] jobs. I was nannying, working at restaurants. It was when I turned 18 that jobs started happening.
What’s it like returning to Arlington?
The interesting thing for me is seeing people my age who have moved to Arlington rather than being born and raised there. I’m curious about their personalities, how they dress. People watching.
How else do you spend your time when you’re here?
I like being with my family and friends. I take walks through the neighborhood. I feel so grounded when I’m home: It’s homeostasis or something. … And my favorite restaurant is Bangkok 54. The food is so good.
While you won’t be returning to White Lotus for season two, you will be an audience member.
I’m curious what the storyline will be, and I’m excited to get into the hype. [Because I was part of the show,] I didn’t get to escape [into] the story itself. I just think of [what happened] behind the scenes: That’s where we lived for three months or that’s when we had a COVID scare. I always think of the logistics instead of just being able to watch.
So, anything in the works for you?
I’m filming an Amazon show called The Consultant, with Nat Wolff and Christoph Waltz. It’s about a man who takes over a company, and my character and others are challenged on their morality. I’m also excited to finally play women [rather than teenagers]. The storylines get deeper.