The Euphoria moms on developing their characters, holding their tongues, and TikTok theories
Euphoria has made household names out of its young stars — but the veteran actresses who play their mothers have made a real splash on season 2 of the Emmy-winning HBO drama.
"I remember looking at the guest stars that would come in and play the moms, it's like, 'Look! They're still acting. They're so old, but they're still acting. How lovely for them,'" Paula Marshall tells EW. "And now that's me."
Reassuring her is her co-star Nika King, who quips, "Well, you know, according to social media, we're MILFs." "I'll take it," responds Marshall with a laugh.
The two are joined on Zoom by Alanna Ubach, their fellow Euphoria mom, who says, "I watched something on TikTok the other day, and the kids are starting to recognize us from other projects that we did in the past, which is really fun. It's like a video game to them."
The recently-renewed show's latest episode showcases how Marshall, King, and Ubach foster both humor and heartbreak as they convey to audiences how hard raising a teenager can be.
While the show has been forward with what shaped their children's lives, the trio shares that playing their parent characters has been like seeing a mystery slowly unfold. Remembering her first day playing Suze, the messy, spirited mother to lovesick Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and pragmatic Lexi (Maude Apatow), Ubach mimics a conversation she had with creator Sam Levinson: " 'Hey Sam.' 'Yeah.' 'Can you see me?' 'Yeah.' 'What do I do for a living?' He's like, 'I think you're a manicurist. You're probably a manicurist.' I was like 'That's a great idea. Okay. I'm a manicurist. Where did I come from? Where am I going? Where did I come from? Where do I go? So I was at work. Where was I working?' And we figured out she was a manicurist on the spot while we were filming."
She adds, "the longer you are on the show, the more you get to know the character, and because all of them sneak up on you gradually, you are just as surprised as the viewers."
King agrees, explaining that the ways in which her character Leslie, the conflicted mother to addict Rue (Zendaya) and efflorescent Gia (Storm Reid), has evolved. "She's definitely taken a little more time with Gia. I think they're developing a storyline and she's been on the outside looking in, so taking some time and saying, 'Hey, at some point you may have to choose between the daughters, which one you're gonna fight for.'" She still sees a lot of opportunity in building Leslie as an individual though, saying "Season 3, I'm hoping to see maybe a little more backstory, like where does she work? We never had that conversation. I know in my head where she works, she's got multiple jobs. But I think it'll be fun to see where she comes from."
Marshall plays Marsha, the initially quiet, cagey mother of the show's antagonist Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), and hasn't had as much to do as her co-stars — until her recent meaty scene letting loose opposite a rancorous Nate. "I was just shocked when Sam wrote actual words for Marsha, because Marsha really never said anything. And I was fine with that because I never f---ed up any lines," she jokes. Of the scene with her and Elordi, she adds, "I was scared to death because even though they broke it, they edited it in three different parts, it was one big monster scene that we never really cut, but it was nice to see, once [her husband] Cal (Eric Dane) is out of the house, she's dancing, she's drinking, [she's] smoking badly."
All three women appreciate writer-director Levinson allowing space for improvisation. "There's a freedom on set to make it as real as possible. So how lovely it is that no script supervisor ever comes up. Because I know you ladies have probably been on shows like that. They come up and go, 'I'm sorry, you missed a little word there,'" says Marshall. "That doesn't happen on this show. They're like, 'Hey, make magic and I'll film it.'" Addressing Ubach, she asks if it was her decision in the moment to add an extra expletive at the end of Suze's fight with Cassie over the nuances of her relationship with Nate. "Oh God. Yes. You know, Sydney brings it out in me," answers the actress. "She's in character mode the whole time and it gets rather scary because it's so real. And I grew up in a very unpredictable, Latin, feisty household to say the least, and my mother and father fought in front of us. They weren't afraid to fight in front of us and throw things. And so it just sort of comes out."
King does make one distinction though. Her biggest challenge is that she would react to the situations Leslie is in very differently. "When Rue is cursing a lot, I'm like, 'Yo, it ain't no way in a Black household, with a Black mom, you're gonna be having that type of potty mouth constantly.' And Sam and Z had to be like, 'It's not about the cursing, it's about [how] she's on drugs, she's high.'" In the actress's experience, Rue's behavior would get a shoe thrown at her, but King says, "I just had to release that and say, 'OK, I won't respond to that.' But in Nika the actor, I was like, 'I wanna respond to that.'"
Marshall felt similarly about acting out Marsha's reaction to Cal's big exit, saying, "I wanted to say more, because like Nika was saying, sometimes you would say more in those moments. So you gotta figure out a way. Why aren't you saying something? How are you holding your tongue?" She accepted that Marsha would shrug it off and just go upstairs "because that's what you have to do sometimes, because I'm not in the mood to fight. I knew it." In terms of what's revealed about the Jacobs family patriarch, she says, "I think Marsha has known all along, but you do put your blinders on sometimes to keep the marriage together for the family."
Getting into some burning questions for their characters, like why would Suze would let Cassie leave with Nate, Ubach says "She wants to be a big sister to her girls and she doesn't wanna be feared. And she wants them to be able to lash out at her. It's the only way she will know what's going on in their lives." With Cassie in particular, Suze "wants her to make mistakes and hopefully learn from them at the age of 16 or 17. . . She has to f--- up. It's the only way that she will come back."
Thinking of how "now people are coming back on the Leslie train and being like, 'Oh well she's doing the best she can,'" King says she is in favor of Leslie finding love with Rue's sage Narcotics Anonymous sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo). "I think it makes sense. It moves the story forward." She does shirk off suggestions she's seen that would lead to a worst-case scenario with the former addict. "We don't wanna go there," states King. "But I think it's nice to see that family unit, and them creating some type of normalcy for the Bennett family."
Finally, responding to maybe the biggest Euphoria conspiracy emanating from TikTok, Marshall shuts down the idea that Ashtray (Javon 'Wanna' Walton) is the lost Jacobs son seen in the family picture Cal took down when he left their house — though she's been curious about it, too. "There's gotta be a backstory because this is HBO. They could have reshot a picture. They could have photoshopped [it]. I could have photoshopped that third son out," she jokes. "Why is it still there?"
Teasing the end of season 2, and the upcoming season 3, King concludes that "Sam knows exactly where he's going with this story. And I think we're just at the table waiting to be served."
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