When “Euphoria” star Sydney Sweeney first heard about the clandestine relationship her character, Cassie Howard, was set to embark on with Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), the newly ex-boyfriend of Cassie’s best friend, Maddy (Alexa Demie), in Season 2 of the HBO drama, she had just one thought.
“Everyone’s gonna hate Cassie. I knew it,” Sweeney tells Gold Derby. “People are gonna be very upset with her.”
But the chaos created by Cassie’s decision had some advantages for Sweeney, who was given some of her best material yet and delivered. After one particularly memorable image – that of a crying Cassie seated in front of an ornate backdrop of flowers – Vanity Fair called Sweeney the season’s “acting MVP.”
“Cassie, she thinks and does everything from her heart without actually using her brain. So everything is just so emotional,” Sweeney says. “So I just wanted to make sure that everything she did was so truthful and so honest, and so just deep within her, where you start to just cringe because it’s so sad, but so beautiful because it’s coming from a good, honest place. But it’s just not the right decisions she’s making.”
Created by Sam Levinson, who wrote and directed every episode in Season 2, “Euphoria” has become a blockbuster hit for HBO, trailing just “Game of Thrones” in viewership over the last two decades. On social media, the noise around “Euphoria” is even louder. Fans obsess over the series – which focuses on a group of high school students dealing with drug addiction, sexual trauma, and other difficult issues – and aren’t shy about sharing “Euphoria” memes on Twitter. The social media platform estimated that some 34 million tweets about “Euphoria” were posted during Season 2. Countless posts featured Sweeney, particularly a scene in episode three where Cassie – wearing an outfit that made her look like a cast member in the musical “Oklahoma!” – tries to convince her friends that she’s “never, ever been happier.”
“That was the first scene we filmed back for Season 2,” Sweeney says of the sequence, which was even spoofed by “Succession” star Brian Cox on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” But while the moment now lives detached from the show, Sweeney says she had to work hard to get in the right mindset for the scene. “I had to kind of map out Cassie’s roller coaster of her arcs and make sure that I would somehow get to that point correctly and seamlessly,” she explains. Sweeney also made sure to treat Cassie with respect and not as a punchline or object of derision.
“I truly wanted to feel what she feels and try and understand what she’s feeling because I didn’t want to take lightly any of the choices that she was making,” she says. “And so by me making everything a serious matter and not making a joke, I think that is how it was able to convey to an audience [that she deserves empathy].”
“Euphoria” ended its second season with Cassie having a very public falling out with Maddy. Her relationship with Nate is over as well. What comes next, obviously, remains a mystery.
“When we finished Season 1 we knew we were getting picked up for Season 2, and I had all of these ideas that I thought was gonna happen for Cassie,” Sweeney says when asked what the future might hold in Season 3. “And then I was completely thrown off by what Sam told me it was gonna happen. And I, of course, loved all of his ideas way more than mine. So I think that I’m kind of just waiting to see what happens because I really enjoy being shocked and surprised and never knowing what’s gonna happen next with Cassie.”
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