The breakout star has followed a string of back-to-back breakout gigs opposite Amy Adams in Sharp Objects and Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale with two of this year’s buzziest projects -- playing Cassie on HBO’s ensemble teen drama Euphoria and a Manson girl in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. While the latter sees her sharing the screen with Brad Pitt and Lena Dunhman, it’s the former that’s proven Sweeney is a formidable star on the rise.
On creator Sam Levinson’s provocative series, which garnered headlines for its onscreen nudity and drug use, Cassie is just one of many teenage characters (played by Zendaya, Jacob Elordi, Hunter Schafer and Maude Apatow, among others) navigating “a minefield of drugs, sex, identity, trauma, social media, love and friendship.” Ahead of the premiere, Sweeney described Euphoria to ET as “a real look at growing up and nothing is sugar-coated. Parents are going to watch this and go, ‘Holy crap! This is not what my kids are doing!’ And then teenagers are going to watch this and go, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s what we’re doing.’”
Over the course of season one, which takes place during the first semester of their junior year, fans watched as Cassie was shamed for having a sexually promiscuous reputation, fending off Nate (Elordi) and others, while also trying to maintain a positive relationship with boyfriend Christopher McKay (Algee Smith). Later, during Cassie’s emotional flashback episode, audiences learn about her troubled childhood, coming to terms with her parents’ divorce and her father’s descent into addiction as well as fending off disturbing interactions with male relatives. Cassie finds out she’s pregnant with McKay's baby before making the tough decision to get an abortion in the finale.
Ahead of its season finale, the HBO series found a fan in Leonardo DiCaprioand was renewed for a second season, which was met with jubilation from Sweeney. “We put so much work into the show,” she said at the time. “We were working [for] eight months [on] the entire season. So, being able to do another season and come back together, and bring our stories back to life -- I can’t wait!”
With season one behind us, Sweeney hopped on phone with ET to discuss the controversy faced by the show, Cassie’s journey and hopes for season two.
ET: Congrats on season one. How does it feel to have it all out there?
Sydney Sweeney: I mean, it's kind of crazy because we filmed for so many months and then, all of a sudden, in the course of eight weeks, all the episodes are out. And, it's out there for the world to see. People can go binge it now, and it's like, “Wow, that was fast.”
A lot of the conversation around Euphoria before it premiered was shrouded in controversy. Do you think that was overhyped or distracted from the focus of the show?
I don't think it distracted from the show at all. I think that people are going to have different opinions on the show, whether they think it's controversial or they don't. I just think it's where you are, where you come from and how you perceive what you want.
Cassie probably has some of the toughest scenes in terms of her sexual encounters. How do you feel about her journey and what she went through this season?
I think that she has such a big journey and arc in just the first season alone. I mean, it was just over the course of half a school year and she went through so much. She had to overcome a lot of hardships and she had to become a very strong and independent person and woman. So I think that the audience was able to watch someone who has been used and walked all over by different men and boys and then turn and the reins for herself.
What was it like working with Algee, especially on some of those tougher sex scenes?
Algee and I had such intense scenes together. We were kind of thrown into it because his character was recast last minute. So he and I just had to be thrown into it together without really getting to have a table read together or hanging out together. So, we just went into it and I couldn't be more thankful because he's an incredible scene partner and he's an awesome guy in general.
Based on all the social media posts, it looked like the cast got along really well. Can you tell me what it was like filming together and how it may have differed from other on-set experiences?
I think that any time you put a group of kids -- because we’re kind of still kids -- together and you put them through some of the most difficult scenarios, you have to make it lighthearted somehow. We just became best friends, we would have cast parties, like we had our own cast Valentine's, and we would all go out together. We became more like a family than just passing [co-stars]. We actually would hang out. If one of us got done with our scene, we would still hang out for the rest of the day so that we could see everybody else do their work and sit around, talk and hang out. So, we felt like we were at home.
In some ways, it sounds like freshman year of college, when you're thrown in with this group.
That's totally how I felt, because we started in October and we didn't finish until May. I was like, “This is my school with all my friends.”
Cassie’s flashback episode came so late in the season. How much did you know about what Cassie was going through from the beginning?
When we started, we had the first four episodes to begin with and then later on, we would get more episodes. But I had an initial conversation with Sam when I first started the show about her storyline and different things that she's gone through because her episode was so later on. I wanted to make sure that I was building my character the same way Stan was building her. But I didn't have everything until a couple weeks before.
Was there anything that surprised you the most, in terms of the choices Cassie made or a revelation about who she was?
Her wanting to keep the baby. She doesn’t say it flat out, but she says that I want to dream for it a little bit. Cassie, in a way, wanted to keep the baby and that was something initially that I did not think of until we started working on that episode. I sat down with Sam and I was like, “Sam, I think that maybe this is what she wants.” So he rewrote that scene actually and put that in there.
What was it like to film the abortion scene and get into Cassie’s headspace in that moment?
I think Cassie’s headspace when she was in the abortion clinic was this is what she’s having to do. It’s not initially something she wanted to do. But she grew up without a father and she doesn't want the same for her kids. In her teenage mind, she thinks that McKay is not going to be in her child's life whether or not that would have happened, I don’t know. But in her mind at that moment, she doesn't feel like the child's going to have the kind of life that she dreams of giving a child. So, I think that bringing something into this world and having to have a child go through the same things you go through is her worst nightmare.
During the abortion, we cut to the ice skating montage. What did that represent for Cassie?
For Cassie, it was like this dream space she got to go to. When she was little, her dad wanted her to be the professional ice skater, and she wanted to be that for him and that dream never came true. So when she went there and she closed her eyes and listen to the music, that’s what she dreamed about: her dreams coming true. It’s symbolizing, in a way, that still has a part of her.
I’m sure you didn’t have music in the headphones, but did you have an idea what kind of song was going to be used in that scene between her in the clinic and her ice skating?
You know what’s interesting, is when we were doing the ice skating routine we had a completely different song. It was a Lana Del Rey song. I believe it was “Young and Beautiful.” So it was like it was a completely different song than what was on the show. And I loved the song [Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is a Cage”]. The lyrics are so spot-on.
Now that the season is over, where is Cassie in terms of understanding her reputation and how she’s perceived at school and by her classmates?
I think that she still has more of that to overcome. I don't think that that's completely gone away. So, she still has to work with that and figure that out, especially now that McKay's not in the picture and the abortion and not wanting it to get out. There's more pressures of what people think of her.
So does that mean Cassie and McKay are officially over at this point?
Ooh, I don’t know if I can say that.
It was also fun to see Cassie and Lexi share a few moments together this season, especially to see them interact as friends as well as sisters. Will we get more of that in season two?
We both want more of that in season two. Maude and I honestly have become sisters -- I call her my surrogate sister. She is what I would dream to have as a sister. She's such a special, incredible person. When we finally got to episode seven, we started doing more scenes together and we had those scenes together in episode eight, we loved it. We were like, “Sam, we need more of the next season because we love working together.” I think that there's such a cool sister relationship to build and see on screen. We definitely explore more of that relationship together.
What are your hopes for season two?
I really hope that, like we said, explore more between Cassie and Lexi’s relationship and their family and a little more about the dad. I definitely want to see her grow up and figure out her reputation and how to deal with all of that and just comes to terms with who she is as an individual.