By Maureen Lee Lenker
June 16, 2019 at 11:00 PM EDT
HBO
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Fans once fell for Eric Dane as Grey’s Anatomy‘s handsome Dr. Mark Sloan, a.k.a. McSteamy, and they followed his heroic exploits as Tom Chandler on The Last Ship — but now he’s taking a step to the dark side.

On HBO’s boundary-pushing EuphoriaDane plays Cal Jacobs, a married man with a secret. The explicit series makes no bones about pushing the envelope, and in the pilot, which premiered Sunday night, Dane’s character courted controversy by committing statutory rape with a 17-year-old trans girl, Jules (newcomer Hunter Schafer, 20).

The scene features full-frontal nudity and fully erect male genitalia, which required the presence of an intimacy expert on set. “Those scenes are very difficult to shoot,” Dane tells EW. “It helps to have one voice in your ear. One voice that you can express your feelings to, and somebody that is an advocate for the actors. It just simplifies a lot of things and makes for a safe and comfortable environment while shooting something that is fairly uncomfortable to shoot. And certainly, the stuff that we did in the pilot is no exception. It’s a pretty intense scene.”

Series creator Sam Levinson already noted the appendage on display is a prosthetic, which Dane confirms. Though, he says he was up for anything that served the story. “I’m willing to do anything that’s critical to the story and crucial to creating a very real and truthful feel to how the story is gonna go down,” he reflects. “I just don’t see how you shoot a scene like that without showing nudity. And, you know, it kind of matches the stakes. The stakes are so high, you can’t hold anything back, really.”

Dane says he was willing to bare it all for an isolated shot, but they ultimately used a prosthetic for all scenes. “Using a prosthetic is sort of protocol. It’s protocol and it’s also very considerate to your scene partner,” he elaborates. “There was one isolated shot that I suggested, ‘Look if it makes more sense to not use a prosthetic, I’m willing to go there.’ At the end of the day, because of the context, we decided that the prosthetic was the way to go, and we came to that decision as a group.”

The role requires (and exposes) a lot more of Dane than audiences might be accustomed to, but that was exactly his intention. “I just got tired of playing characters that appear to be the right fit,” he says. “Sam [Levinson] is such a strong writer. He’s got such a unique and articulate vision. I felt like if I were going to play a role like this, then I was in really good hands.”

“I read the pilot and it was wonderfully written and it was fresh and it was unique and it was unapologetic, and at this point in my career I need to do something different,” Dane adds. “Who wants to see me play the same guy over and over again?”

As for how audiences, particularly parents and teens, might react to the explicit content, Dane says the show is about being real about life today. “To a degree, this is a cautionary tale,” he reflects. “It’s certainly not a love letter to drugs or drug addiction, but as a cautionary tale, these are some pretty realistic circumstances and how these kids are navigating them is probably how a lot of kids today are going to navigate them.” He adds that he would’ve loved to have a show as frank and honest as this on air when he was a teenager.

“The show provides no-nonsense optics on what it means to be a teenager today – drug addiction, personal conflict. When you’re tackling issues like that you do it a disservice to not be truthful about it,” Dane says. “You can’t sugarcoat stuff like this. I believe that people now are more open to things like drug addiction and sexuality and mental health issues. Thank God there’s been sort of an open dialogue about it for the last few years.”

As for what lies ahead for Cal, who was revealed to be the parent of one of Jules’s classmates by the end of the pilot, Dane promises, “more will be revealed.” Teasing what’s ahead he says, “It absolutely evolves. After the first four episodes, you get a pretty good idea of where Cal sits in the big picture.”

Euphoria airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.

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