Sydney Sweeney, along with the rest of us, saw her character Cassie take an emotional turn in the second season of HBO’s hit Euphoria. From embarking on a secret relationship with her best friend Maddy’s ex-boyfriend Nate (Jacob Elordi) to a chaotic end of Maddy’s birthday party, Cassie is front and center this season and, while battling her inner demons, has sparked some great meme-able moments that have taken the internet by storm. Sweeney talks to THR about diving into Cassie’s darkest places and the other buzzy HBO show in which she starred this season, The White Lotus.
How was this season of Euphoria different for you than the first?
I was definitely given a lot more real estate to be able to explore Cassie, between Cassie’s relationships, her own relationship with herself, her mind, her emotion. There was just more there for me to be able to play with.
What was your most challenging scene this season?
I feel like I personally thrive and thoroughly enjoy very difficult, emotional up and down roller coaster scenes of Cassie. And the ones I had the hardest time with was in the hot tub with all the girls and Nate because I actually had to hold this tube in my mouth that was getting pumped with fake throw up. And I had to hold it in my mouth as my mouth was getting filled with God knows what and act as if nothing was happening. I’m a very picky eater, so there was random stuff getting put into my mouth and I know that that was the most difficult.
Your character finds herself in dark moments this season. How do you get yourself to that place?
I’ve created a very safe bridge for myself to become my characters where I create these character books that allow me to lose myself as Sydney completely. I don’t really have to do a process or think of anything other than the homework that I’ve put into Cassie, because I’m able to live in the moment through her. Whatever is said to Cassie, whatever happens to Cassie, truly are reactions during that moment. They aren’t premeditated, it’s just however Cassie would naturally react to something. Once they call cut, I’m able to jump into Sydney and be completely separate from all of it. It’d be very heavy if I had to think about everything Cassie was going to have to go through because she did have so many hard, emotional scenes. Being able to jump in and out easily definitely saved my sanity.
Can you talk more about those books?
Basically, it’s my character’s entire life in a book, and I fill in all the gaps that maybe aren’t in the scripts. I create an entire world for her so that I know how something is going to trigger her because of a moment that happened in her life. We all are who we are because of our memories and moments that have happened throughout our lifetimes. I’m able to organically react however that person would because there is a life behind it. I do that for every single character.
How long does that take?
However long I have! For Cassie, because we had to wait to find out whether we were picked up in season one and then we had such a long gap between season one and season two, I had an immense amount of time to be able to work on it.
Was this something that came to you organically?
It was. When I was little, I had all these imaginary friends and worlds, and I love creating things. I am an arts-and-crafts kind of person — Michaels is my heaven. When I was auditioning, I would not understand all these acting coaches wanting to rehearse a certain way and not build a person. I always felt like it wasn’t natural and organic, so I just started doing my own thing. It’s so much work. I stress myself out, and half the time my mom’s like, “You’re doing it to yourself,” and I’m like, “But it’s the craft!”
How do your co-stars support one another when you’re going through tense arcs?
We have a really strong sisterhood on set. We’re all experiencing this together, and we spend a lot of time together. We’ve all become friends. It’s basically like slumber parties every day. We go back to our trailers and hang out, watch TV or random videos — truly just hanging out and decompressing with one another.
A few months ago, you spoke about having a voice and what you’re comfortable with when filming, particularly the nude scenes. What did you learn from that experience about where your personal boundaries are?
I’ve always felt that there are necessary moments [in which] Cassie only knows how to communicate through her body. I’ve always wanted to make sure that anything that is used sexually through Cassie actually is moving the story forward. Sam [Levinson, showrunner] does a beautiful job on what he does convey through the eyes of the audience, and through the eyes of Nate with Cassie, or Cassie’s own mind through sexuality. And having an intimacy coordinator on set is so incredible. It’s another person that’s an advocate for you, and it’s very technical. It’s not really sexy in any way. But I never said any scenes were unnecessary — things were taken out of context. Sam is so incredible, but he would never force us or make us feel a certain way about it. I could call Sam and say, “Hey, I never want to do a scene like that again,” and he’d be like, “OK.”
Around the end of the previous season, there were reports about how Sam runs his set. What were your thoughts on that?
It takes a lot of hours and people to put it together. It’s definitely not a normal 9-to-5, and if you’re expecting that, you’re going to be thrown off. It’s a lot of work, but we’re very lucky that Euphoria has touched so many people’s lives, and the hours and the hard work that everyone puts into it shows.
Is it true that you felt pigeonholed after this role?
Cassie is a sexualized character, and that became a mold that was then [forced] onto me as a human being instead of just Cassie. I was seeing people say, “Oh, she only got this because she showed her boobs.” I had multiple shows and movies before I even did Euphoria. I look very different in everything I do because I want to become the character individually, and I don’t want people to associate Sydney Sweeney with a character — I want them to fully feel like they’re experiencing another world and another person. People didn’t tie in that a couple months before, I did Handmaid’s Tale, or before that I was in Everything Sucks. And a month before that I did Sharp Objects and when people then started putting that together and then seeing White Lotus, I think that’s what kind of turned it for everyone. You look at some of these incredible male actors who get to play the coolest, most diverse characters, and people are just like, “Oh, cool.” No one ever puts any type of stigma behind it.
How did you become attached to your role in The White Lotus?
We were supposed to start filming like March 15 or 18, 2020, but literally the day before, we got shut down due to COVID and they were like, “we’re gonna go on a two-week hiatus and just let it all calm down,” and then two weeks later, it turned into another five months, eight months and then a whole year later. In the midst of that, around summer time, there was a show called White Lotus. My team heard about it and saw that they were having auditions. I did my tape with my mom, and I got a callback and met with Mike White on Zoom. I was so blessed and honored to work during such a hard time and in such a safe environment, and it was incredible to be surrounded by the greatest comedy cast you can ever be a part of. I’ve always been scared of comedy because I never knew if I could do it. If something scares me, that means I’m going to challenge myself to do something that isn’t innate to me as a person. Being able to be there and learn from everybody and build and create Olivia … It was a great, great experience.
Do you see any similarities between Olivia and Cassie?
No, I think Cassie would be terrified of Olivia and Olivia would hate Cassie.
What was your favorite scene to shoot?
Any time that we were able to do family dinner or breakfast scenes and everyone was sitting at the table and Murray [Bartlett] was walking around. You truly felt the energy in the dynamic of what Mike was building.
What was your most challenging?
I’d never smoked a bong before. I had no idea how to do it. I was like, “I’m going to look stupid!” That’s one of those moments where all of the crew is like, “This is how I do it!” It was hard not coughing, but I ended up laughing and we just kept it.
You have Madame Webb coming up. What drew you to it?
Oh my goodness. I grew up watching Marvel movies and superheroes are just the coolest thing ever. So I just dreamt of being able to be a part of something bigger than life itself. And that’s what I feel like I’m getting to be a part of with Madame Webb.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.