From show creator and writer Sam Levinson (who also directed five episodes), the eight-episode HBO drama series Euphoria follows 17-year-old Rue (Zendaya, in a haunting and heartbreaking performance), a drug addict who’s just out of rehab and trying to figure out what’s next. As she comes to terms with how deeply her addiction affects her mother (Nika King) and sister (Storm Reid), she forms a deep connection with Jules (Hunter Schafer), a trans girl who’s new to town, and the two search for where they belong among the minefield of high school life.
At the Los Angeles press day for the series that’s a shocking, beautiful and uncomfortably honest look at teenage life, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with co-stars Hunter Schafer and Barbie Ferreira (who plays Kat Hernandez, a body-conscious teen who’s finding power in her sexuality) to talk about what made them want to be a part of Euphoria, what they were most concerned about with their roles, being new to acting and what they learned on set, working in a very safe and collaborative environment, having a voice in their characters, the relationship dynamic between Jules and Rue, the most challenging and most fun days on set, and where they’d like to take their careers next.
Collider: Great work in this! You guys are all fabulous.
BARBIE FERREIRA: Thank you!
When you read material like this, do you just immediately want to be a part of it?
FERREIRA: Yeah. It was fun to read a script like this. I haven’t read many scripts before, but it just took you for a ride, with every sentence. There was like a hundred and something scenes in each episode. It was incredible.
HUNTER SCHAFER: It was fascinating because this was the first real script that I ever read. In that sense, I’m spoiled because it was deeply relatable and lovable, and such a joy.
Actors talk about how they want to find roles and projects that challenge and scare them, and it seems like there were so many scary things that were scary, when it came to this content. Were there things that you were most concerned or worried about?
FERREIRA: Mostly just like for personal reasons, putting myself out there, in a way that I wasn’t used to felt very vulnerable, but so like right for this. I knew it was gonna be great, but I had to put a vulnerability out there that I’m not used to. That was scary to feel and have out there, for other people to consume, but I got over it. After like seeing it, I was like, “Okay, that makes sense!”
SCHAFER: Especially with not really having a background in acting, the idea of externalizing emotion, in that way, was really frightening, but I also wanted to give it a shot, just to see what would happen. It turns out that that’s enthralling, and I’m obsessed. But some of these scenes were really intimidating.
Did Sam Levinson create an environment on set that felt very safe?
FERREIRA: Yeah, we’re spoiled for that, too. Everyone is best friends, on the cast and crew. It was just a comfortable environment, to do all of these things. When we were doing it, it didn’t even seem like it was especially explicit because it just felt so necessary to the story and so real. There’s a reason for all of it. It just felt right.
SCHAFER: It was a massive bonding experience in that sense, too, ‘cause we just had to be real with each other and see the whole range of what we’ve all got inside of ourselves. We all have a lot of respect for each other, and love.
FERREIRA: And support.
Do you feel like you had a voice the process of figuring out who your characters are?
SCHAFER: Yeah, definitely. Sam was really good about that. He’s an amazing listener, and he was very open to sitting down with us and talking through what we thought about what he wrote, and then he’d talk about what he thought about what we would share with him.
FERREIRA: When they were auditioning, the descriptions were so vague that we created our own characters from ourselves, with the looks to the hair, to everything. I’d call Sam and talk for hours about my life experiences, and then have that incorporated into the script. It was the most collaborative work. One person can’t understand everyone, but Sam understands so deeply that he listens and takes his talents and really brings a real authenticity from us to it because we’re the ones who lived it. That’s really dope.
And it definitely shows on screen because it makes it all feel that much more real.
FERREIRA: It’s honestly weirdly fun to delve into these like deep, dark places in you. I’ve never really had an opportunity to do that, and it felt really good after, but it was awhile after. I was like, “Yeah, I did that!” It came out of me, and it was really fun to do it.
SCHAFER: It’s like affected my real life. At one point, in my life, I hadn’t cried for three months. Now, I’m worried, if I haven’t cried like in the past three days. I’m not holding back. It’s normalized feeling things ‘cause we’re forced to feel everything, so frequently, on this show. It’s been beautiful.
Hunter, what’s it been like to explore the relationship between Jules and Rue?
SCHAFER: It’s a really special arc and journey that they go on. They both have pretty unique circumstances that are affecting them, individually, and that they bring to each other. They find solace in each other, from those situations, and that’s part of the beauty of their relationship. They just have something special and palpable. And I couldn’t have been more thankful to have like an awesome scene partner like Zendaya for that.
Sam Levinson directed five of the eight episodes, but you also had three woman – Pippa Bianco, Augustine Frizzell and Jennifer Morrison – come in to direct the other episodes. What was it like to have their voices and perspectives on your characters?
FERREIRA: It was really fun. It was also fun because we’re new actors, so it was really interesting to see how different directors work. With the heavier scenes, when there’s a female director, they bring their own thoughts into it and it’s very collaborative. It was great.
SCHAFER: It was nice to like see the different directing styles and how that can change the entire experience. Everyone was really talented and had their own frequency. It made it fun to explore that, and to have different perspectives on the show.
The tone changes a little bit, depending on which characters are being spotlighted in each episode, so it seems like those different perspectives could really help and make an impact on a show like this.
FERREIRA: I feel like every episode is so different, in its own way, and it’s all visually stunning and compelling. It really brings that energy for each of our characters into each of the episodes, which is super fun to see, especially when you see little us. That was so fun. We loved that.
What did you grow to appreciate about your characters, the more you got to know about them?
SCHAFER: As you learn their story, they become relatable because you can see yourself in each character. While you might find one more relatable than another, there is a level of empathy and feeling for that person that comes in when you see the reasons why they act the way they do and what brought them to where they are now. That’s really special because it blurs the lines between right and wrong, and it’s conflicting.
FERREIRA: For me, when Kat starts going through her changes, I learned a lot about having the physical change represented inside and how she deals with it. From the outside perspective, you may see her becoming more confident or less insecure, but there’s a complexity to it, where it’s just a shield and not the solution to the problem. Her insecurity is still there, and she has sadness and pain from having things taken from her without her permission. So, I had to learn how to balance that, where she’s getting more confident, but it’s also affecting who she is as a person.