On Sunday night’s episode of the controversial new teen drama Euphoria, the audience learned more about Kat Hernandez, and in doing so, the show once again expanded the idea of what can be shown on television — from a cartoon of erotic One Direction slash fanfiction to a Skype session with a man showing off his micropenis.
Barbie Ferreira, who prior to starring on the HBO series was a popular model known for her message of body positivity and sex-positive advice to young women, talked to EW about how comfortable she felt shooting the Skype session, and why playing Kat feels like winning the lottery.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, you’re one of those people who’s had the type of career that didn’t exist 20 years ago. I know you did a couple episodes of Divorce, and so you’ve been on HBO before, but for Euphoria, did you audition for them, or did they come to you?
BARBIE FERREIRA: I actually had got the audition through my agent, very boring, but I show up to the audition, and I just remember I felt so connected to Kat that I had a very anxious month and a half of auditioning for her because I was just like, “I know I can bring this character to life.” But people are so used to seeing me as a model, and seeing me in lingerie or in swimsuits in weird ads where the lighting is perfect, and I have professional makeup and hair done. I didn’t think people would take me seriously, but I felt a connection to Kat. The closer I got to getting it, the more anxious I got because I’m like, “Oh god, don’t play games with me, I need this.” I relate to Kat on so many levels. I remember reading the sides and just calling my agent and being like, “This is so real, and so eerily similar to how I grew up.” So, it was a long audition process, but I’m literally so grateful and so thankful that they gave me a chance, and Kat is Kat.
We had talked to your costar, Hunter Schaefer, and one thing she said that stood out was “there is only so much a white, cis, straight man can write for all these intersections that these characters fill,” and so Euphoria creator Sam Levinson understood the need to lean on you all when working on storylines for Kat or Jules. How did those collaborations manifest while you were working on the show?
I think the thing that’s so special about Euphoria is that it’s all collaboration, and there’s no ego in anything that we do. It’s all open for conversation. We cast people, and then we fill the character out around them, and that’s why the authenticity is there.
Sam is an incredible collaborator because he really respects our opinion as young people. He’ll call us for hours and we’ll talk about the darkest things that ever happened in our lives and open up. He has this way of getting people to this vulnerable spot that is so special, and one day I hope to be like that.
Obviously, we’re young people who have lived lives in high school very recently, and we know what it’s like in our identities, and in our bodies; how it feels and what happens. There’s a scene in episode three where I’m walking down the hall and the boys are making sound effects as I walk, and that was something that actually happened to me where I would walk home and these boys would follow me and make like “whomp whomp” sounds. It’s all so personalized to the actor around the character’s story, but with the same kind of motivations we have as young people. He really peeled back the layers of each and every one of us. He’s just an incredibly empathic man.
The thing that really jumps out about episode 3 is that, since Kat has this rich imagination, the show seems like it got to get experimental with how it tells her story. From an animated bit to a Game of Thrones-style set piece.
Yeah, it’s all about the escapism of being a teenager. I obviously was a chubby girl in high school and felt so invisible, and so in need of a community. The internet, especially when she does erotic fanfiction, it’s another way of performing sexuality and doing it in a way where she gets validation from the internet. But in real life it’s empty, no one really appreciates her, or thinks she’s special or anything, but she has this beautiful anonymous connection to her fans online. I can also totally relate to that in so many ways, especially when I was on Tumblr as a teen. It’s beautiful and so deeply accurate to what’s happening now where so much fanfiction is on the internet and people kind of ignore it … but it comes from a need to escape your reality. It comes from a need to have these fictional connections with people that you can project a personality onto, project a whole world onto, and then find others who also have a similar interest to you. I think it’s such a cool thing, exploring her imagination in the Game of Thrones sequence, it’s so real because she’s so scared of being vulnerable and showing herself because she doesn’t think that she is worthy of it. She kind of feels like she’s scamming people thinking that she’s some goddess, but she’s actually just like a nerdy high school girl.
Kat really begins to change in the episode after having a pretty graphic cam session with a random man from the internet shows her his micropenis. What lengths did everyone go to towards making the shoot a comfortable environment?
I was very vocal about like “I would like to see it. I want to see it because I want to have a genuine reaction,” and that kind of interaction can only really be done if I can see it and have the surprise with everyone else. I loved that day. I remember going home smiling. I had an adrenaline rush because it was so cool having a genuine reaction to something and having that be the start of Kat’s exploration of manipulating of men.
It also resonated with me, that need of finding validation anywhere and everywhere, even in a seedy place, which sometimes even adds a layer of sexiness. Like I can totally understand why she would do that, so I’m like, “Yeah if I was in Kat’s situation, I would also be Skyping with random men, and be surprised by their micropenises.” It’s an exploration of sexuality with this man, regardless of what he looks like. There’s a sexiness and there’s an allure to that. That dynamic, especially as someone who isn’t sexually involved in real life, it’s like you feel it, you know why. It doesn’t feel weird after, especially since this cast and crew are like family, we all know each other, we worked together for eight months. Even if someone wasn’t there every day, you know their name, you know who they are, they all are sweet and respectful, they all they support you. Especially with the intimacy coordinator, she’s always there and you can always tell her anything like “I don’t know about this.”
Every sex scene in Euphoria speaks volumes in either the character’s story, or the awkwardness, or creates a feeling that if we didn’t have it, it wouldn’t feel the same way. It was never like “Do this. Come over here and look at this micro dick.” They explained to me what I was doing, they asked me if I was comfortable with it. I’m not skeeved out by a micropenis prosthetic, like my reaction in that scene is what really happened. I was laughing.
Another interesting thing about Kat is that she’s not a stereotypical outcast. She’s still fashionable before her makeover scene and is pretty popular.
I think that I was approaching Kat in a way where I didn’t think of it at all like the quote-unquote ugly girl who takes off her glasses and suddenly is this goth babe. I don’t think anyone wanted to tell that story because it’s overdone. She has her style and she’s popular enough. So, when that video comes out and she feels the utmost vulnerability, her non-consensually having a video on the Internet, it’s very traumatizing. Her style changes because it’s an armor. She’s trying to embody the cam girl that she is now trying to be because she finds power over men that she’s never felt before. She feels like she has control over her own sexual needs, completely in control of the situation. She could easily just tell them to give her $200 and they will, they’re like her slaves, her sex slaves. So, I think it’s not so much like, “Oh she has a makeover and she looks good.” She tries to embody this latex-laden dominatrix because she wants to be it so bad that you fake it till you make it, really.
One noticeable detail is that she’s wearing a similar corset-type clothing item in the scene where she’s writing her Larry Stylinson story as she is when she’s walking into school after her makeover. Is that kind of like Kat’s armor that you were talking about?
Yes, she’s a highly sexual being as a lot of teen girls are, and that’s what that one fantasy scene of her in the dressing room is about. It’s not easy to be vulnerable and wear something like that at school, but I feel like there’s no choice anymore. I think there’s a point where you either succumb to always being stepped on and being the invisible fat girl who everyone’s going to have to ignore and never pay attention to, or you’re going to make yourself seen. You’re going to be seen by other people in a very out there outfit that’s very different than you because it’s this persona of like, “You can’t f— with me anymore.” Her trust is broken. The vulnerabilities are there, like she’s on the Internet, on Pornhub having sex for the first time, being put onto this website without their consent, so the air of just continuing being invisible, it’s just not there anymore. I don’t think it’s even a choice because she feels so violated that it’s almost like an extreme reaction to the violation.
This interview has been edited and condensed.