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), Gia, 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 Storm Reid and Maude Apatow (who plays Lexi Howard, Cassie’s younger sister and Rue’s level-headed childhood friend) who talked about why this material appealed to them, the questions they had about the project, why this is a high school story that feels real, having Sam Levinson as a resource throughout the shoot, what they love about working with Zendaya, the conversations they hope this TV series sparks, and the desire they both have to direct, in the future.
Collider: When you got this script, was it apparent, just what this material could and would be?
MAUDE APATOW: I think so. It felt very, I don’t want to say “fresh,” but it’s very unique because nothing like this has ever really existed, and that’s really cool to see. It hasn’t existed because it’s very current and accurate. It’s amazing to see because I’m not a teenager anymore, but I just was, and even the way that our dialogue sounds and the relationships, Sam is very open to collaborating with us, which is really cool. You don’t get that, that often. So, yeah, I was drawn to it immediately.
STORM REID: When I the script, I thought about what the impact would be, and I feel like it’s gonna make a huge impact on audiences, whether they’ve been through these situations or not. It’s something that they can relate to, and it’ll be a conversation starter. I am a very purpose-driven person and it always has to have a purpose, and I feel like this show, even though we’re talking about tough topics and about what teenagers are going through, right now, the purpose is to just create a sense of empathy for what people are going through. That hit home for me.
You guys are both still so young. What’s it like, when you’re reading material, to try to find projects that speak to you, like this did? Do you feel like there are more choices now, or is it hard to find material that you want to do?
APATOW: It’s tricky with high school stuff because it’s just a very different tone. I love high school movies that aren’t necessarily realistic, but like they’re so fun, and there are parts about that are. This is just a very different type of project. It’s cool to see that Sam really does his research and really tries to make it true to what teenagers are like, in the way that they speak to each other, and the way that they speak, in general. It’s nice, as an actor, to read lines that feel comfortable and like you would say them. That’s really cool.
REID: The intersection of being yourself, but also trying to step outside of yourself to experience what your character is going through, is what I feel like the show is really about. My team really knows what I want to do and what I want to be a part of, not only as an actress, but as a producer and, hopefully, a director, down the line, just creating opportunities and giving people opportunities, and creating a lens of work to represent what the real world looks like. I feel like this is a step in that direction.
Maude, especially growing up on sets with your parents, Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann, did you have a moment where you said, “I really want to do this career for me,” and start pursuing projects on your own?
APATOW: Yeah. My parents didn’t allow me to do anything else, but they weren’t involved until I was a little bit older. They thought it was important for me to finish high school, and I’m glad that I did, but the second I graduated, I was like, “Let’s go!” I guess I always knew that I wanted to do this ‘cause I grew up around it, but I also couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It wasn’t even a question. I never even thought about it, with acting, but also directing. My goal is to become a director. Getting to watch my parents work is the most amazing thing. I have great mentors. And it’s been cool watching Sam direct. Everyone directs in such like a different way, and we’ve had a few directors on the show. Augustine [Frizzell] directed the pilot, and we also had Jen Morrison and Pippa Bianco. It’s been really cool, getting to see how everyone works so differently while playing the same character. I’ve never experienced that before, so that’s been really interesting.
Was it nice to have Sam Levinson be so involved with this? Did you use him as a resource a lot, if you has questions?
REID: Absolutely! Euphoria is basically his life and what he’s gone through, so if we didn’t understand anything, or if we had any questions, he’d be right there, and he set that tone at the beginning. He was like, “If you need to ask me anything, I probably know the answer. If I don’t, we’re gonna figure out the answer together.” I feel like most of the questions that we may have had were about the situations that we were going through, and in turn, he had gone through those situations. Whether he is the director, the writer, or the producer, he’s very important. He’s made this show what it is, so I’m very thankful for him.
APATOW: He’s very collaborative. Anytime we feel like a line doesn’t sound like something our character would say, or it doesn’t feel super fluid or easy to say, he’s not precious. He’ll totally ask our advice, and he’ll ask questions like, “Would you even say something like that?,” or “Does that make sense?” He’s got such a specific vision that it always feels like he has your back, which is really nice, when you’re doing a show that is so out there and you’re doing a lot of things that are hard. I trust that Sam wouldn’t let us do anything that wasn’t correct. He’s always got our back and he’s looking out for us, which made the whole experience amazing, knowing that he’s there.
Actors talk about looking for roles that challenge and scare them. What made you most nervous about these characters?
REID: It felt pretty natural, once I was in it, but at first, I had the concern of not knowing where they were gonna take Gia, in the first season, and not knowing if she was gonna be doing stuff that I didn’t want to do, at that moment, and taking her too fast. But I feel like they played Gia’s timeline out amazingly. Hopefully, we’ll be able to explore more of who Gia actually is, in the second season, and what path she chooses to go down. But I was really apprehensive about the first season, at first, as far as what she would be doing. I’m glad that nothing really happened, where I was, “I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that.”
APATOW: It’s scary, signing onto a show, where you don’t know what’s gonna happen, but our characters are pretty stable.
REID: We have our moments. I feel like in Season 2, there’s gonna be some deeper issues and deeper things that we explore with them, but the first season was really chill and we had our head on straight for most of it.
APATOW: We were around the drama, but not directly in it.