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We liked her in White Lotus. Then this Insta star took a dark turn

We liked her in White Lotus Then this Insta star took a dark turn
Alexandra Daddario casts a spell in Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches as a neurosurgeon who discovers a troubling family secret.

As a neurosurgeon who discovers a troubling family secret, Alexandra Daddario casts a spell in Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches.

By Sarah Bahr

January 12, 2023
Mayfair Witches star Alexandra Daddario has become the expert millennial influencer.

Mayfair Witches star Alexandra Daddario has become the expert millennial influencer.Credit:New York Times

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Despite much evidence to the contrary, Alexandra Daddario still does not consider herself a famous person. But there are moments when she is reminded, as she was recently at a cafe and juice bar in Manhattan’s West Village. For most of an hour-long conversation, she had managed to sip her honey almond matcha latte unnoticed. Then a college-age woman approached the table, as giddy as she was effusive.

“Excuse me,” the young woman said. “I’ve literally seen you in The White Lotus. You’re my favourite actress.”

Daddario’s striking sea-blue eyes widened in genuine surprise. She glanced around, as if to verify that there were, in fact, no other White Lotus actresses in the cafe.

But there was only this woman whom millions watched in her Emmy-nominated performance as Rachel in Season 1 of the HBO series. This woman who has since taken her first lead in a major TV series, Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches, now streaming on AMC+, in which she plays Dr Rowan Fielding, a neurosurgeon who discovers that she is descended from the family of Mayfair witches.

Daddario smiled, stood up and put her arm around her admirer. In her cheetah-print coat, black turtleneck and strappy black sandals she was, she acknowledged, a little overdressed for the setting, but she had come straight from a photo shoot. She clicked into red-carpet mode as the woman’s friend took a picture on her phone.

“Is that OK?” she asked, examining the photo to make sure a do-over wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t.

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This was familiar territory for Daddario, 36, who is no stranger to successful self-curation. Her Instagram account, with nearly 23 million followers, is full of tasteful photos of herself in Paris, at home in Los Angeles with her new husband, or on vacation with no clothes in the infinity pool; it’s a careful mix of #inspo and sex appeal that marks the expert millennial influencer. Call it cheugy, call it smart; either way, she appears to be doing something right.

But after a string of action-adventure roles — demigod Annabeth Chase in two Percy Jackson movies, intrepid lifeguard Summer Quinn in Baywatch — Daddario’s choice of characters in recent years, and her persuasiveness in inhabiting them, speak of greater depths. Like Rachel, who faces anguish over recent big decisions, Rowan must also reckon with opposing forces inside her. There is darkness beneath her comely exterior.

It was that complexity, Daddario said, that drew her to the series, based on Rice’s Lives of the Mayfair Witches horror trilogy from the 1990s. Rowan’s less savory impulses were especially a draw.

“If you were given powers, what would you do?” Daddario asks. “Would you be able to control yourself and do only good? I don’t know if any of us can say yes.”

Mayfair Witches is AMC’s second big series to draw from Rice’s work. The network acquired rights to 18 of Rice’s novels in 2020, the year before her death, including the many books of her Vampire Chronicles series and the Mayfair trilogy.

The reimagining of Interview With the Vampire, which premiered in October, was the first of at least five Rice-based series it hopes to debut.

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Those two book series have combined to sell tens of millions of copies and earn a famously protective fan base, known for scrutinising every decision taken in a screen adaptation. Daddario is familiar with that kind of stress. The pressure was similar when she was doing Percy Jackson.

“You’ll always have people who think something is supposed to be this or that way, so you just have to go in with good intentions and try to bring life to the character,” she says.

The new series’ showrunner and creator, Esta Spalding (On Becoming a God in Central Florida), who is an executive producer with Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex), point to Daddario’s versatility as a major factor in their decision to cast her as Rowan.

Alexandra Daddario as Dr. Rowan Fielding and Harry Hamlin as Cortland Mayfair in Mayfair Witches.

Alexandra Daddario as Dr. Rowan Fielding and Harry Hamlin as Cortland Mayfair in Mayfair Witches.Credit:Alfonso Bresciani/AMC

“The tricky thing about this part is that she’s going to become a witch, but she starts out a surgeon,” Spalding says. “So you have to believe this woman is going to stride through the hallways of a hospital and open a person’s brain up and do an operation.”

Daddario, the daughter of New York lawyers, knew well the pressures and requirements of the white-collar world, too. After attending the Professional Children’s School, an Upper West Side institution geared towards aspiring child actors and dancers, she booked her first professional role, as Laurie Lewis on the ABC daytime soap opera All My Children, when she was 16.

After small TV roles on Law & Order and The Sopranos, her big break came at 22 when she landed the female lead in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, based on the children’s fantasy novels by Rick Riordan.

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“Kids are such a great fan base,” she says. “They don’t judge the movie harshly because they don’t know any better than to just love the characters.”

Alexandra Daddario in, from left, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The White Lotus and Mayfair Witches. 

Alexandra Daddario in, from left, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The White Lotus and Mayfair Witches. Credit:

That experience prepared her somewhat to star in the reboot of another popular franchise seven years later. Although Baywatch was a critical flop, it changed her trajectory. Two years later, she was part of a stellar female ensemble in Marc Cherry’s Why Women Kill.

And then came the pop-culture juggernaut that was the first season of The White Lotus. Her turn as Rachel, a newlywed who begins to suspect that her decision to marry the rich and obnoxiously entitled Shane (Jake Lacy) might have been a huge mistake, provided one of the season’s few truly sympathetic characters.

“Rachel in that season was one of the few characters who needed to be kind of likable in a way the other characters didn’t,” says Mike White, who wrote and directed both seasons of the series. “Alexandra had an unpretentious, natural approach to the character that was very sweet.”

Daddario, who has said she experienced similar romantic heartbreak to Rachel’s, slipped right into the role. “Coming out of COVID, I really connected with her. She lives in this fantasy world where everything is going to be OK and is always trying to please. There was something so heartbreaking and cathartic about being able to tell that story.”

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Rachel’s story is ultimately a tragedy, a grievous study in the pressures of class and the cost of compromise. If her character in Mayfair Witches is darker, it is perhaps more in kind than degree. But with Rowan’s darkness comes power.

“She toes the line between good and evil,” Daddario says, “and that’s interesting to explore.”

Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches is now streaming on AMC+.

The New York Times

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

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