Warning: This article contains spoilers from Euphoria season 1.
Sydney Sweeney had quite the weekend. Not only was she a part of the cast of Quentin Tarantino’s latest release, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but fans of the new HBO drama Euphoria also finally got to learn her character Cassie’s backstory.
EW spoke to the 21-year-old actress about Cassie’s troubled romantic history and what to expect from the character in the finale now that she’s pregnant by McKay (Algee Smith).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on a big weekend with the release of your Euphoria episode and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I’ve noticed you’ve recently had a lot of work that involves a large female ensemble. Is that coincidental, or are those projects you gravitate toward?
SYDNEY SWEENEY: Well, I think being able to work with all the incredible female actresses and filmmakers from these previous projects, it’s that we have writers that are creating these characters for us now that you never used to be able to see on TV. It’s a mixture of, of course, wanting to work with those people, and then this time of the industry that we’re in having all these incredible female-empowered shows and movies. Being able to be in Hollywood during this moment, and coming up during it, it’s just been amazing because I’ve gotten to work with Elisabeth Moss and Amy Adams and Margot Robbie, so it’s been an insane past two years.
You’ve said before that you like to make interactive diaries for your characters. Are those something you share with your castmates? Do the diaries help you establish your characters’ relationships?
It’s so funny, I actually I don’t really show anybody the books. The first time I ever showed somebody one of my books was Bruce Miller on The Handmaid’s Tale, and it was because [my character] Eden was still getting built, and we were taking her to different places, and I really wanted a collaborative experience with Bruce on building Eden.
I don’t really show my cast members [the books], which is interesting. When I’m on set everybody always hangs out, especially on Euphoria we’re all the same age, so we would do tons of things together, which is a lot of fun. We’re so good at keeping it light off set and having fun.
What are some ways you all bond and establish your characters?
It’s definitely dependent on the project. For Euphoria we hung out all the time, but we would have a Euphoria Valentine’s party, and just our own little group holidays here and there, and hangouts on the weekends.
On set [for example], Maude [Apatow, who plays Lexi] and I, the scene of us fighting was written completely different. We’re about to film, and we tried it once, and we’re like, “This doesn’t feel right.” And Sam [Levinson, the show’s creator], who’s just incredible, just sat there with us and we improvised the whole thing, and [he] just let us take it over and over again until it felt right, and it turned out to be what you saw on TV.
What initially excited you about Cassie’s backstory? Unlike with some of the other characters early on, this is the penultimate episode and the audience has already gotten a feel for who Cassie is without knowing her origins.
When I booked this show, actually three days before I booked another show, I had to decide between the two characters, and I had a creative call with the creators. And when I was talking to Sam and he was telling me about where Cassie’s story line goes, and also just all the story lines with all the characters, I was blown away by where was taking it, and HBO giving us the ability to take it to all the places that we have, and just his vision. He is just such an incredibly talented man, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of this project. In the beginning I didn’t quite know who Cassie was, and then she slowly started building, and I like the mystery of her, and people are slowly becoming more and more into Cassie, I guess.
Do you think Cassie has a fear of becoming her parents, or do you think that’s more Cassie’s mom’s fear for her?
I think it’s a mixture of both. It’s a mixture of her mom fearing that Cassie is going to turn into her, and I think that Cassie’s terrified she’s going to turn into her mom. But I also think that Cassie has a lot of fears because she hasn’t truly figured out who she is yet. She’s terrified of being alone, and I think that’s why she has that scene with McKay where she says, “I just want to dream about it,” because if she has a child she’s never going to be alone. That’s kind of a comforting thought in her mind, even though she’s clearly not in the right place, and he’s not in the right place. But for her, not being alone makes her feel safe because everyone always leaves. Her dad left and never came back, her mom has gone with alcohol, and her friends are — they have their thing, and she’s in the group, but she never feels like she truly is there and belongs. She’s kind of on the outside, even though she’s there, and it makes her feel even more alone.
Do you think her friends take her for granted? I don’t think she is fully aware of what’s going on with Maddy [Alexa Demie] and Kat [Barbie Ferreira], but it seems like if she was made aware, she would be a good shoulder to lean on.
Everyone just has such strong personality traits. They know who they are and they embrace it and they’re so strong and powerful, and Cassie is still just trying to find her way. I definitely think Maddy and Kat are closer even though they’re fighting right now. I think Cassie hasn’t really gone out of her space to be able to explore that friendship because she (1) doesn’t want to cross Maddy, and (2) she just doesn’t really know how to put herself out there in like a friendship/girl way.
We’ve seen quite a few men be terrible to Cassie, but with McKay it seems like there’s been more good than bad. Do you think McKay is actually good for Cassie?
I think that Cassie needs to learn how to love herself first before any relationship can be good. It’s kind of like every teenage relationship, the good and bad, and everybody’s trying to figure out what the hell is going on and what they’re supposed to do, and what to be like to each other, and I think that Cassie can’t really have a good relationship until she loves herself.
Now that Euphoria Season 2 is officially happening, are you hoping Cassie’s sister Lexi gets an origin episode?
Of course, I definitely love working with Maude, and when we finally got to the episodes where we’re performing together, I was like “Oh my gosh, I hope season 2 there’s just a bunch Cassie and Lexi and we can really see that relationship,” because I’ve never had a sister and I’ve always wanted a sister, so Maude is kind of like a surrogate sister for me. She’s awesome to work with.
Cassie has found herself in such a range of different situations that feel new to television. Are there any scenes that have stuck out to you? Where you thought, “Well, now I can say I did this.”
I was like, “I don’t know if I can pick just one.” We’ve got the carousel going on. We got the crazy frat scene that happened, the pilot itself. I feel like every episode something gets thrown at me and I’m like, “Woof, never done that before.”
And how do they help you feel comfortable filming those scenes?
We have an intimacy coordinator who makes sure that everything is how we feel comfortable. She’s kind of like this extra voice that will speak up if we don’t feel comfortable speaking up. She can be that someone who needs to speak up like, “Okay, we’re done doing this scene,” or “No, we’re not going to do this anymore.” And just having that amazing communication with her is awesome.
Everybody on set, though, it feels like a very safe environment. I’ve never felt uncomfortable or weirded out. I mean, the scenes themselves are weird and uncomfortable, which I do like to tap into because that’s as realistic as you can be, but the actual environment itself is a very safe, comfortable set, and I’ve never been like, “I don’t want to do this.”
Euphoria has been tackling weighty issues like addiction and domestic violence, and now we see in the previews for the finale that Cassie is considering the options she has with her pregnancy. Was part of the appeal in working on Euphoria tackling these kinds of sociopolitical issues?
One hundred percent. Being able to be a part of a show that doesn’t shy away from the reality of life is probably one of the most rewarding parts of it because only once in a lifetime do shows like this kind of happen. I mean, you see how The Handmaid’s Tale has become such an amazing political stance, and then you have Euphoria tackling completely different topics, and being able to be a part of the show with all these different characters that struggle with the same things. I hope that people watch it and either they learn, or they know that they’re not alone, and it also raises awareness of different situations that are happening.
Is there anything that you can preview about the finale, or how Cassie feels going into it?
I want it to be a complete shock, a very raw viewing experience.
That sounds exciting. It is bittersweet though, because I want to immediately watch eight more episodes of this show.
I know, me too. So we, as a cast, got to watch episodes 1 through 5 together, which was really cool, and now I’m having to watch it live with everybody. And watching it live by myself, I feel like I’m watching as a fan, and now that there’s one episode left, I’m like “What, no, I want more, what happens next?”
The Euphoria season 1 finale airs Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.