“God, all this stuff is starting to sound like I think I know something about psychology,” says Victoria Pedretti. She’s video-chatting from Los Angeles on what’s most likely a phone, based on the tenuous video quality. As her device is connecting to the call, her Zoom profile picture, which is a bygone headshot, occupies the square. “I think it’s funny that the picture is from when I was like 18,” she says with a laugh, just as her present-day form fills the screen.
It’s early October, about a week out from the third-season premiere of her megahit series You, which is ostensibly what we’re here to talk about. But the discussion winds, touching on matters from Instagram culture to the general dread of being alive these days, and after about 45 minutes, one thing becomes clear: Pedretti does know something about psychology, most of all her own.
“I’m a human being; therefore, I’m a hypocrite. So I’m not gonna sit here and, like, preach communist values when I know that I live in a capitalist society that I’m unfairly benefiting from,” she says. “There are so many things that are out of my control, and it makes me really uncomfortable that that’s the reality I live in. But I’m gonna take it a day at a time to try to create the world that I prefer to see.”
It’s statements such as the above that make something else clear in speaking with Pedretti: She is vastly different from the ill-fated women she’s now known for playing. She’s an actor, so that makes sense, but as Nell on The Haunting of Hill House, as Dani on its follow-up Bly Manor, and now, as the murderess Love (her You character’s actual name) on the Netflix psycho-thriller, it seems her trademark has become portrayals of women who are in many ways defined by their trauma.
Pedretti has some too, of course. But the difference is that she works through it both in and outside of her job, not letting it become a driving force in her life. “Personally, I get some enjoyment from addressing my own trauma,” she says, exuding a sunniness her characters wouldn’t be caught dead with. “I think it can be truly enjoyable having the opportunity to explore humanity and these people and to think about why they do the things they do and how they’ve become the people they are. That’s part of the spiritual element of what we do as actors. For me, it’s deeply spiritual.”
An overarching quality she does share with the women she embodies, however, is an unwillingness to play by long-written rules or adhere to what she calls “arbitrary authority.” She was raised in Pennsylvania by artist parents, who “definitely taught me that the system is not there to support us, for the most part, and that there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of people and their intentions,” she says. Even in school, she couldn’t understand why she was being told to blindly accept what her teachers said: “It’s like, unless you show me that you know more than me, I’m not just gonna listen to you.”
It’s somewhat confounding, then, that someone distrustful of and maybe even a bit hostile toward all-powerful entities would become the face of not one, not two, but three properties, on the most massive streaming service. Pedretti ventures that it was precisely her indifference that made it so. “Maybe, probably, because I didn’t care,” she says with a shrug.
She certainly wasn’t chasing “celebrity” when she was studying acting at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in Pittsburgh. And when she was hand-selected for Hill House as a series lead, which would be her first professional job at 22, it felt like a fluke. The now-26-year-old recalls, “It was really surprising when I ended up thrusted into these very large-scale productions where a lot of people, a lot of money, a lot of power is at play.”
She’s also unsure what made her so seemingly, externally suited to these kinds of parts. But she does acknowledge, “When my face relaxes, I look pretty miserable. I guess that’s a good starting point for a lot of people. Let’s say that it’s because of my resting existential-crisis face.” (This, by the way, comes through at no point during the call; just a no-makeup freshness and ample smiling.)
Whatever you want to call Pedretti’s preternatural ability to transmit dread, it was enough for The Haunting creator Mike Flanagan to enlist her in his acting troupe, a pool of performers he frequently recasts; he immediately hired her to lead 2020’s Bly Manor following 2018’s Hill House. The former also solidified her as a Lesbian Meme Queen and a favorite subject of Queer Tumblr.
But her Resting Existential Crisis Face™ may serve her best of all in You, and, without divulging spoilers, especially well in its third season, which sees her Love and Penn Badgley’s Joe move to the suburbs and give it the old college try as traditional husband and wife — traditional as can be when both parties have committed cold-blooded murder in the name of their beloved, anyway.
That Pedretti was able to revisit the role for a second season makes it the longest she’s ever spent with a character, and she welcomed the opportunity to go deeper and discover new things. “She’s in grief from losing her brother [Forty]; she’s a new mother. We just have more information about her and we’re experiencing moments within the context of her entire story,” she says.
Having been picked up from Lifetime, You became a gangbusters hit for Netflix, and the new season is all but guaranteed to herald more opportunities for Pedretti. But so far, the meteoric success she’s attained hasn’t stifled her spirit of nihilism. If anything, it’s caused her to double down on the inanity of the attention she’s now receiving, and to question why she — or anyone with a dusting of celebrity — has the kind of platform where she can speak and actually be heard.
She isn’t clinging to that limelight, nor is she hoping to stay tethered to massive productions. Actually, she’d really like to do some theater. She’s also attached to lead the feature film Lucky, an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s memoir about the rape she endured in college. And she, of course, appeared in the music video/short film for Kacey Musgraves’s “simple times,” alongside the likes of Princess Nokia, Symone, and Meg Stalter, helping to usher in what feels like a “Bad Blood” era that’s both more enlightened and more disillusioned.
The same could be said of Pedretti at the moment, and it informs whatever her next move may be. More than anything, though, “I just want to tell stories that are meaningful for people,” she says. “I certainly don’t care about continuing to be in the spotlight. I don’t feel greedy about this shit. And maybe that’ll change, you know, fuck it, I’m gonna grow as person. But right now, that’s not what motivates me.”
As our conversation wraps, it circles back to a similar note on which it began. Though she’s now in the hurricane’s eye of mainstream culture, Pedretti views her stature in the industry as a personal paradox and would like to exploit it for whatever positive shifts she can. “As we’re moving away from the Method, [we’re] understanding that it’s inappropriate to abuse people for the sake of art,” she says. “I think we need to move toward a more spiritual and mindful and conscientious and conscious approach.”
In her own life, that means checking in with herself frequently and recognizing when she’s unmoored. She thinks back on past periods of depression that have caused her to be “extremely selfish.” “I don’t mean that with all the negative contexts of being selfish,” she explains. “I mean it in that you are so involved with yourself that it is hard to see beyond that, and it’s hard to see other people.”
She’s gotten better at managing internal strife. Now when she becomes overwhelmed, she cites meditation as a way to reground herself, as well as quick dance sessions to “shake out the demons.” Other than that, like most of us who are trapped in a media-saturated cyclone of toxicity, she’s doing the best she can. She adds, “I just step away from the things that make me feel like shit.”