“It’s only shocking if it’s not your experience”: Zendaya on her role in Euphoria
Currently at #2 on IMDb’s list of the most popular shows on TV, the hit HBO series stars Zendaya (KC Undercover, Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Greatest Showman) as a 17-year-old named Rue, who returns home from rehab with no plans to stay clean, and strikes up a friendship with the new girl in town, Jules (trans superstar Hunter Schafer).
Euphoria follows their group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma and social media.
The Hollywood Reporter hailed it as “perhaps the most unflinching, not to mention explicit, take on modern adolescence ever to hit U.S. television… Boundary-pushing, real and exceptionally realised.”
“I think this show allows you to remember that you’re not alone, that we all don’t know what we’re doing; we’re all just kind of doing the best we can and figuring it out as we go.”
Writers Guild of America nominee Sam Levinson (Wizard of Lies) wrote the screenplay and directs five episodes, Drake is one of the executive producers, and the ensemble cast includes Sydney Sweeney (Sharp Objects, The Handmaid’s Tale), Maude Apatow (Girls), Jacob Elordi (The Kissing Booth), Barbie Ferreira (Divorce), Storm Reid (When They See Us, A Wrinkle In Time), Alexa Demie (Ray Donovan), and Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy), who you’ll never be able to think of as McSteamy again…
Zendaya, who reached #3 on IMDb’s StarMeter last week, let us in on her thoughts about the series, which has just been renewed for a second season by HBO.
What can you tell us about the main character (and narrator) Rue?
Sometimes she’s hard to explain because she has so many sides to her. She can be extremely sweet and loving and she can be volatile and evil; she can be shy and timid and she can be funny. It’s crazy.
I’m exploring all the different parts of who she is, but at the end of the day she is a good person and I think we sense that as we watch it. Because she’s a good person, you really feel for her. I think it helps that we can hear what she’s thinking.
When she does bad things or acts out or hurts people, we all know what’s going on inside and therefore we can see past it and still love her anyway. I don’t know if she’s like my little sister or if she’s me in another life, I don’t know what it is, but I just think that we all really care for her and want her to be alright.
How did you come to be involved?
I was having this weird section in my life where I didn’t really know what I was going to do next. I was looking for something magic, some kind of feeling. Everything I was reading just wasn’t right. Nothing was making any kind of an impact or felt like anything I would want to do.
And then Euphoria came along. I read it, and I was like, “I love this and I want to be a part of this.” All the worries that I had had before, or ideas I’d had about what I needed to do or should do, just went through the window. I was just like, “I want to do this. This feels right.” And then after we had our meeting, the rest was history.
What is it about you that was right for the role of Rue?
That’s my question! How did he [director Sam Levinson] see that? From what? I mean, I’m grateful that he did – but I was like, there’s no way that you’re able to see the work that I’ve done and think that I’d be capable of delivering that performance.
“It’s important to know that you’re not alone and there are other people who are dealing with it, especially in this space where sometimes the world makes you feel like you’re the only person struggling with what you’re struggling with.”
Some scenes are quite harrowing. Did you find anything particularly shocking?
Not really. I think it’s only shocking if it’s not necessarily your experience. Just because it didn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening every day, all the time, and I think that it is.
It’s just certain people will be able to understand it a little bit more than others. Some people will have their eyes open to it; some people will say, “Damn, that happened to me”, or “That’s my sister” or whoever. Someone’s going to connect to it and whoever needs to see it will see it.
It’s important to know that you’re not alone and there are other people who are dealing with it, especially in this space where sometimes the world makes you feel like you’re the only person struggling with what you’re struggling with and you kind of isolate yourself, which I’m guilty of sometimes.
I think this show allows you to remember that you’re not alone, that we all don’t know what we’re doing; we’re all just kind of doing the best we can and figuring it out as we go.
How do you think your fans who have followed your career from the beginning will react?
I think they’re excited because they’ve watched me and they’ve been waiting for this moment too. Just as much as I have. They’re my age now. They’re adults as well, ready for me to take that next step.