As a rule, Sydney Sweeney is drawn to characters that are nothing like her. “I find that challenge interesting,” she says. But playing Cassie Howard, the LA teen who wears her emotions on her sleeve in Sam Levinson’s Euphoria was a welcome exception for the 24-year-old. “Cassie is one of the most relatable characters to me, because I search for love and acceptance, and I’m scared of being alone.” Deadline talked to Sweeney about embodying the intensity of her character, showing real depth to Cassie and what makes her character Olivia on Mike White’s black comedy The White Lotus so terrifying.
DEADLINE: Going into Season 2 of Euphoria, how was it different for you?
SYDNEY SWEENEY: It’s the first time that I’m able to revisit a character. I was really excited because it was the longest time I’ve ever spent with another character — another person. So being able to go back into her shoes and learn more about her and grow was truly an experience that I’ve always dreamt of.
DEADLINE: How did Sam prepare you for the intense arc that was coming?
SWEENEY: He gave me a heads up of Cassie and Nate’s love affair in between Season 1 and Season 2. But other than that, I was just along for the crazy rollercoaster ride.
DEADLINE: This girl is so alive. What is Cassie like to live in?
SWEENEY: I truly feel everything Cassie feels. I like to look at it as if I am living and breathing that character’s life, and the moments that are happening are truly affecting her. I’m just allowing whatever hits her to hit me. It’s quite a process, but it’s why I fell into acting.
DEADLINE: From the affair that begins in the first episode of Season 2 until Cassie’s unraveling in the finale, do you have a sense of the season’s arc, or do you get the story script by script?
SWEENEY: We will do a chunk of episodes at the same time. We filmed the first four episodes all at once. The first scene that we did was the scene of me in the bathroom going, “I’ve never, ever been happier.” But everything is out of order, and you have to keep track of where you came from and where you’re going, and follow that path that your character’s on. I had no idea what was happening after Episode 4, until we got towards the end of that block. You just have to let go. It’s like this beautiful feeling of, yes, you know your character, but you also have to be open enough to whatever happens next.
DEADLINE: The bathroom scene is so powerful. If you are not actually building up to that chronologically, how do you get to that level of intensity?
SWEENEY: It goes back to me being able to allow a character to just affect me. I truly believe when they call action, I am now Cassie. And when they call cut, I’m Sydney. Anything that is happening [in between], whether it’s the scene partners, the atmosphere, anything in a moment — like a conversation you are having, I just truly listen and feel what Cassie is experiencing. I don’t like to plan it. I don’t do line reads. I just truly allow myself to live in my characters.
DEADLINE: Which is interesting, because sometimes that means that the body doesn’t know the difference between reality and fiction. Do you find that it affects you afterwards? Is she hard to shake off?
SWEENEY: No. Before I even come to set, I am able to flesh her out so much as her own individual that I know her memories, the way that she moves and the way she talks, to the point where what you see on screen is Cassie. I don’t put my own memories and my own life experiences into a character. So, I’m able to separate myself as completely as I need to.
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Sydney Sweeney Made You Look
Hiding in the tub (as Euphoria’s Nate-crazed Cassie), dominating the tub (as our Love Issue cover star)—whatever it is, the 24-year-old powerhouse is commanding all the attention.
Sydney Sweeney changed my life. In 2019, I was Cosmo’s op-ed editor—a busy job unto itself. But I was also in the midst of another professional challenge: finishing my first novel, They Wish They Were Us. Around the same time, Sydney was stealing scenes in Sharp Objects and The Handmaid’s Tale—and although she was about to debut as the hungry-for-love, bad-decision-prone Cassie on Euphoria and the snarky, privileged Olivia on The White Lotus, she was dreaming even bigger too. Determined to be the person in control of her career, she was plotting the launch of her own production company, through which she’d option books, adapt them for the screen, and become a Reese Witherspoon–level Hollywood boss. She was, by the way, 22.
Sydney ended up reading my book—a prep school murder mystery—and flying to New York to talk to me about buying the film rights. Now she’s in the midst of turning it into an HBO Max series called The Players Table, starring herself and her real-life best friend Halsey (casual). So like I said: life, changed.
Along the way, Sydney’s been dramatically transforming her own life. She’s been optioning a slew of projects through her up-and-very-much-running company Fifty-Fifty Films, writing screenplays, and solidifying her spot as a next-gen A-list actor in movies like Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, the erotic thriller The Voyeurs, and the Netflix vampire flick Night Teeth and, of course, on the new season of Euphoria, where her already nuanced character goes to even more complex places.
She dives deep into all her projects by creating what she calls “character bibles,” backstories and inner lives that often take months to catalog. (“There are characters I love, and then there are characters I’m scared of—those are the good ones,” she explains.) It’s a process that wouldn’t surprise anyone who really knows her. This is, after all, the same woman who, as a preteen, convinced her family to move from Spokane to Los Angeles via a PowerPoint presentation that included a five-year plan for how she’d become an actor. “I love something that feels like a challenge,” Sydney says as we reconnect for this interview. The more daunting, the better.
Most actors wait for what seems like decades before they get involved with the business side of the industry. Did you have a plan for how to get started?
I’m obsessed with branding and marketing. I love the idea of being like, Okay, I love this project, now how can I make this consumable to a mass market? So I called my agents and was like, “Do you think this is something I can achieve?” They’ve always believed in everything I put my mind to, so they supported me and sent me books to consider. Of course, I fell in love with yours, and you know the rest of that. But I don’t think they thought I’d become so engrossed in it.
What’s surprised you about being in the driver’s seat of Fifty-Fifty Films?
One, how many steps it takes to get something made. There are so many hurdles and passageways and people. Two, as much as people in the industry say they support young female voices, I’m still having to fight, even among older women. I was told that I couldn’t get a credit I believed I deserved, and I couldn’t get my company’s name on a project I was developing. I have my theories why. Maybe they feel like we’re getting it too easy. I was told I have to do multiple things before I can get a credit like that, as if I didn’t deserve it. And that came from women. I found that very surprising. Everyone puts on the charade that we’re supporting each other, but I have not felt that fully yet.
It’s like they want you to jump through the hoops they jumped through. What else—besides the projects we already know about—are you working on right now?
Like, a shit ton. I sold a movie. I may or may not have adapted a book as a screenplay. I have about seven different books that I have the rights to. It’s terrifying because this is the kind of industry where everyone gets to watch you fail. It’s a lot of pressure. But everyone is going to have good and bad; no one has a perfect slate of box-office hits.
Are there any roles you look back on now and, well, cringe just a little?
Anything before Everything Sucks! and Sharp Objects. I pretend that was a whole different person—I have blocked out so much of that time, of my high school life. Going to school in L.A. was so different from back home in Spokane. People’s values were on a whole different level. My grandparents gave me their old Volvo that squirrels were living in. I had to put cardboard on the floor because oil would just spill out everywhere. All the other kids had Range Rovers and BMWs, and I was so embarrassed by my car. I feel bad because I’m so beyond grateful that I had grandparents who were able to give me a car, but I would leave the keys in the ignition hoping someone would steal it so I could take the insurance out on it. No one did.
It sounds like you were straddling a double life as you were trying to get your acting career off the ground.
Yes. And at that time, I wasn’t the most confident person. I knew I was a good actor, but no one believed in me. I was told to lose weight or that my hair was the wrong color. Random things that make you start to question, Am I not going to ever become my dream?
And you had a lot going on at home too, right?
In Spokane, I played sports every day. My cousins were always over at my house, teaching me how to start fires with magnifying glasses. I miss my childhood a lot. I miss how beautiful the world looked and I miss having a family unit, my mom and dad and brother all in one place. After we moved to L.A. so I could act, finances were a huge stress. My dad lost his job and we went bankrupt. They always say, “It wasn’t your fault.” It was. And when my parents were getting a divorce, my brother blamed me. But at first, I think they enjoyed L.A. It was an escape from routine. That’s what I tell myself. There was definitely a different, rough route that I could have taken.
There’s a history of alcoholism and drug addiction in my family tree. I’ve never done any drugs—I’m terrified that I’m going to have that addiction. There’s something in my family’s blood that just hits a different way when they do stuff. I drink maybe once a year, because I have social anxiety. I prefer intimate gatherings. I’d like everyone to pile up on the couch and play board games or watch TV. I can’t do the pointless standing around and drinking and getting nowhere in life. But around the time my parents got divorced, I did act out with guys. I would run into the arms of guys to try to fill this void.…I was looking for love to replace the emptiness of a home.
This is the stuff that makes us. How has your relationship with your family changed?
My relationship with my mom became way healthier, and my dad and I kind of drifted apart, which broke my heart. My brother and I are way better now. Do I wish that we could all be together? Of course, what kid doesn’t? I tried, once. When you’re an actor who’s a minor, a small percentage of your paychecks goes into a bank account you can’t access until you’re 18. I naively thought I was going to have all this money, and I had this grand plan for it. When we left Spokane for L.A., we had to sell the house I grew up in. It was my mom’s dream house. So when I turned 18, it wasn’t even a year after my parents divorced and I thought, I’m going to buy this house back and I’ll save everyone. I’ll get my family back together. Turns out, I had nowhere near enough money. I never cried more in my entire life.
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Play it again, Sam!
Sam Levinson is one creative machine. When that pesky pandemic halted a traditional production plan for his Euphoria Season 2, Levinson responded by producing two special episodes, one focusing on Zendaya’s Rue and one focusing on Hunter Schafer’s Jules, during that very pandemic — and then made a friggin’ feature film starring Zendaya and John David Washington. Now, it sounds like that restless spirit will continue with Levinson telling IndieWire quite optimistic plans about shooting and releasing a proper Season 2 of Euphoria by the end of 2021.
During an interview on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast, Levinson revealed his plan is to begin shooting Euphoria Season 2 in March 2021 (exactly one year after Season 2 was originally meant to begin shooting), and “to release episodes this year” as well. Levinson wasn’t exactly sure if this schedule could be made, using the word “hopefully” in his comments.
While I’m certainly more than ready for Season 2 of this thrilling and unpredictable show to get here sooner rather than later, I’m more more than ready for all of its participants to stay safe and healthy, rather than kowtowing to the needs of content in sacrifice of inherent humanity. Euphoria is a show of massive craft, intense filmmaking styles, and gobs of people; and while the COVID-era special episodes are planned and executed in much more contained, limited spaces to navigate these safety issues, I would imagine Levinson’s plan for Season 2 proper is a lot grander. Or, perhaps he’s been using this time to reduce it all to a manageable, safer space. Whatever the case, if we get Euphoria Season 2 by the end of 2021 or not, I sincerely hope safety is coming first. We can wait, Sam!
The actress opens up about her new supernatural horror, life since ‘Euphoria’ and the sacrifices she’s made for her dreams.
If staying indoors has finally given you the chance to catch up on all the best award-winning series to come out of recent years, it’s likely you’ve seen Sydney Sweeney’s face at least once. The actress has appeared in The Handmaid’s Tale and Sharp Objects, but she is best known as Cassie in Euphoria, the popular blonde who is portrayed with more shattering complexity than high school dramas usually allow for such characters.
“I enjoy trying out different lives,” Sydney says with a shrug. She chooses roles that challenge her, that take her to different headspaces and different worlds. However, there’s one thing her fresh-faced, fallen angel-esque characters all have in common, whether she’s playing a Manson girl in Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood or a child bride in The Handmaid’s Tale. They’re all lost somehow and still figuring life out. That makes them relatable to viewers in their teens and twenties, but it’s hard to imagine Sydney herself in the same position. She’s always been headstrong, ambitious and determined as hell. Aged 12, the actress made a PowerPoint presentation with a business plan persuading her parents she was serious about acting. It worked, and the rest is history.
Her ambition is far from slowing down. Instead of putting work on pause altogether in lockdown the 23-year-old launched her own production company, Fifty-Five Films. “Still being able to work on something helped me get through quarantine,” she says. For her first production project, Sydney is executive producing The Player’s Table, a TV series in which she will star alongside Halsey.
Below, Sydney tells us about getting into character, her latest movie Nocturne and what she’s been up to this year.
Firstly, how has this year been for you? What have you been getting up to in isolation?
I’ve had good days and bad days. There are days where I really enjoy being able to snuggle my dog endlessly and then there are days when I was just losing my mind and wanting to go back to work. I mostly hang with my dog. We go on crazy long walks now. We average six miles a day these days. I watch a lot of TV. I read a lot of books too.
You’ve been working virtually non-stop in recent years. How have you been feeling emotionally this year having had to slow down and take a break?
It was definitely difficult. I had some set withdrawals but I started my own production company called Fifty-Fifty Films and being able to develop projects and, in a sense, still work helped me get through quarantine.
Your new film Nocturne is a psychological thriller about the bargains and sacrifices we make for success. What initially attracted you to the project?
When I first read the script it reminded me of Black Swan. It had Black Swan-esque vibes to it and I’m a huge fan. I think Natalie Portman’s incredible. I wanted to do something that was completely different from my character Cassie in Euphoria and I felt Juliet was that. She struggles with a lot of her own demons and there are a lot of mental complexities to her so I wanted to challenge myself and portray that.
I heard that when you take on a new role you create character books to help you get into character. Could you tell me about that?
Yeah, so these books are basically like a journal diary map to all of my characters from the day they’re born until the first page of the script. I take everything I can from the script and then I build and fill in all the gaps about why she is the way she is today and what memories led her to hold herself the way that she holds herself or sit the way she sits. It’s just like this really cool, creative development process to build a person. Just like we are all people with different memories that create who we are today. I take the same approach to a character.
How did you come up with that method? Did you keep a journal yourself as a teenager?
I would always try to make my own diaries and journals but I could never get into it which is weird. I would always just imagine the characters when I was younger and then I started writing it down slowly and it progressed into what it is today. I’m very artsy and I love arts and crafts so I put my own love into each of these books.
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What do ‘Euphoria,’ ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’ ‘Sharp Objects,’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ have in common? They all feature Sydney Sweeney. We spoke with the actor about her dream role, her new indie film Clementine, and why you don’t want to catch her in a fighting ring.
Sydney Sweeney has had quite the past two years. Between taking the internet by storm as Euphoria’s Cassie Howard and playing a Manson Family member in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—plus roles alongside Amy Adams in Sharp Objects and in the award-winning series The Handmaid’s Tale—Sweeney has proved herself a force to be reckoned with.
“It definitely has been an amazing last couple years,” she says. “Being able to ride off the momentum, and having all these amazing projects that lined up one after another.”
This string of prestigious projects didn’t just fall into the actor’s lap. As a 12-year-old, Sweeney prepared a PowerPoint presentation for her parents outlining her path to both stardom and a college degree. She proved convincing, and has been working hard at both ever since, studying entrepreneurship while racking up an impressive repertoire of diverse characters alongside some of the most respected names in Hollywood.
Sweeney’s latest release is the Oregon-filmed indie, Clementine. Part coming-of-age story, part psychological drama, Clementine tells the story of Karen, played by Otmara Marrero, as she reels in the aftermath of a breakup with her older girlfriend. Karen holes up in her ex’s secluded Pacific Northwest lake house, and there meets Lana, played by Sweeney, a bewitching teenager with a secret. “I was really looking for a beautiful film,” says Sweeney. “I loved [Lana], I loved the mystery to her and the twist at the end of who she is.”
Lana and Karen’s mutating relationship drives the film forward, morphing from sisterly to maternal to sexual and back again. What is constant, however, is the air of suspicion that hangs around Lana, and we’re left wondering which parts of her are real and what is a game. “I think that when you are that age, and you’re coming into your own sexuality and your own confidence, you do play around with it,” Sweeney says. “That was something that came naturally.”
Sweeney herself is also more than meets the eye. The 22-year-old is a trained MMA fighter, and counts a Ronda Rousey biopic as one of her dream roles. “I really fell in love with [MMA]. It’s a really cool skill and strength and power that I hold that many people, when they look at me, they’re like, ‘Yeah right,’ and I’m like, ‘Let’s go to a ring, I’ll fight you,’” she says.
In addition to spending time in a dojo, Sweeney is also a classically trained vocalist and self-proclaimed book nerd. While quarantined at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, she started a book club on Instagram. “I collect a lot of books and my dream one day is to have a giant library,” says Sweeney. “So I wanted to share my love for books and reading with people to kind of bring us all together right now.”
As for the second season of Euphoria, the pandemic has put production on hold. While Sweeney has enjoyed having a moment to rest and focus on self-care, she’s excited to reunite with the cast and get back to work. Though she can’t reveal too much of what we can expect from season 2, Sweeney promises we won’t be disappointed. “It’s going to be absolutely incredible,” she says.
Source: L’Officiel USA