Euphoria star Zendaya breaks down Rue's 'painful' intervention scene: 'It's like a war zone'
"Pain" is a word that comes up often when talking to Zendaya about the excruciating fifth episode of Euphoria season 2, "Stand Still Like the Hummingbird."
Talking to EW about its calamitous opening scene, in which her character, Rue, contends with her mother Leslie (Nika King) and sister Gia (Storm Reid) over the location of her drug stash, the Emmy winner says "it was a very tough day. I mean, I beat myself up. I still have some scars on my legs, and got quite a few bruises."
She refers to the high-octane hour of television written and directed by Euphoria creator Sam Levinson as the "Rue-run episode." According to Reid, it has been a long time coming. "I think since season one, we knew that Sam had a vision of having an episode like that, where it would just be all on the line, and we would just be going at it, trying to just tell her that she needs help, but it was challenging to film."
Zendaya agrees, saying "it's always been a really intense episode." She explains that while certain specifics within the episode have shifted over the years since Euphoria season 1, "the general idea was always the same, which was this idea of, we cut right into an intervention and it's Rue just ripping her life apart and setting her life on fire and kind of tearing everything to the ground to basically come to hopefully what feels like rock bottom for her."
While the entirety of the episode sees her running around town, escaping cars, cops, cronies, and criminals, it was her character's intervention that haunted the actress, especially when having to film it immediately after coming home from the 2021 Venice Film Festival. "It was so intense and scary to tackle, and obviously something that would be incredibly emotionally taxing, but also physically taxing," says Zendaya. "Also, I care about Rue and I hate when she's in pain. And I think this whole episode, there's so much pain and it's bubbling to the surface, and it's also crossed with her withdrawing, which is extremely physically painful."
She cites the show's first special episode, where Rue and her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) get clinical about what it means to be an addict, as providing a framework for where Rue is at this point in season 2. "She's in the midst of a degenerative disease and it's taking control of her life. And in many ways she feels out of control. She doesn't have the ability to control her emotions, her body. And like I said, she's in a lot of pain and I think we really wanted to see that viscerally and feel that pain and how much it inflicts upon other people who also have to love people who go through these things." She adds that in making the episode, "especially during this intervention, it was always important to never really know what Rue's about to do next because I don't think she knows what's gonna happen next. Is she going to hit someone? Is she going to cry? We have no idea of the unpredictability of her brain and where she is."
Rue has "lost all control of who she is," says Zendaya, "and you can see there's a little moment after that where all of it becomes regret. You can see her doing it and then immediately regretting it and wondering why she's doing it. And then she does it again, like it's just a really painful cycle to watch her go through. And I didn't particularly enjoy having to watch her deal with that."
She establishes that much of the difficulty came from the empathy she had for the characters, and the importance of the story they were telling. "The reason I'm an actor is I'm quite empathetic person and what I often do, I take on a lot of other people's pain and a lot of other people's stress and fears and anxieties, as well as my own, and I think [that scene] just allowed me to just kind of release all of that. And I'm very grateful that I'm in a space where I feel comfortable and safe, and with actors and actresses that I'm obviously very close with," says Zendaya. "After every take, we're hugging each other, we're talking through it, we're embracing, checking in, because obviously it's like a war zone."
Her TV mother King adds, "It's definitely not pretty at all, but Sam realized that that needs to be seen. We need to see this Bennett family really go through it because that's the only way the audience and people who are also going through this in real life understand. And they're like, 'Wow, this is authentic. This is real.' "
Speaking to the greater scope of Euphoria season 2, Zendaya notes episode 5 should in hindsight quell some of the criticism the show's gotten about straying away from Rue's storyline in the beginning half. "It was important for certain characters who we didn't really get to see much of last season having more time to get to know them and explore their characters," says the actress of the first few season 2 episodes. "But it's kind of also Rue as an unreliable narrator, in the sense that she's just trying to skate by without people noticing that she's doing what she's doing, and trying not to get caught."
"Stand Still Like the Hummingbird" is supposed to be a major shift in the narrative. "We don't ever leave Rue and what she's dealing with. We're with her the whole time. There's not much internal dialogue, and unlike the other episodes where there's always an opening, ours just kind of starts immediately with violence. We just jump right into it," says Zendaya. "And I think we always knew that that would take up an entire episode and thus, once you hit that point, you have to, after that, pick up the pieces of what happens from there, and where Rue goes."
Zendaya, for one, tries to maintain optimism for her tragic protagonist. "I think if we can still care about her after this, then I hope that other people can extend that to non-fictional characters, to real people, or just be a little bit more understanding and empathetic over the experience of addiction and what it does to people, what it does to their families."
In reaction to D.A.R.E. condemning Euphoria for supposedly glorifying teen drug use and addiction, Zendaya says "Our show is in no way a moral tale to teach people how to live their life or what they should be doing. If anything, the feeling behind Euphoria, or whatever we have always been trying to do with it, is to hopefully help people feel a little bit less alone in their experience and their pain. And maybe feel like they're not the only one going through or dealing with what they're dealing with."
In fact, it has become so indicative to her just how much Rue's story means to people familiar with addiction and loss, that it has shaped what Zendaya has in store for her character's future. "We can't leave her here," she states, also being an executive producer on the HBO series. "It's really important that there's light at the end of the tunnel for her, because I think she has a lot of beauty inside of her. Whether or not she quite sees that yet, is her own thing."
Zendaya concludes her thoughts on the episode by saying "my biggest hope is that people are able to connect to it and those who need to heal and grow with Rue hopefully, by the end of this season, feel that hope and feel that change in her." She's thankful that she has already seen success on that front. "I've had a lot of people reach out and find so many parallels from all ages, all walks of life. So many parallels with Rue and her story and Rue means a lot to them in a way that I can understand, but also maybe in a way that I could never understand, and that means that means the most to all of us."
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