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.