Sydney Sweeney needs you to know that toplessness does not trump talent
“I’m very proud of my work in Euphoria. But no one talks about it because I got naked.”
We’ve discussed that Euphoria is a show about teens that isn’t geared towards them as a viewing audience. The show is so explicit, especially in its now-airing second season, that the show’s central star, Zendaya, released a content warning on her social media ahead of the second season premiere. But the show is about more than just the character of Rue, and now that we are more acquainted with the rest of the cast, the other characters’ storylines are going deeper. The plot development for Cassie, portrayed by actress Sydney Sweeney, has meant a lot of toplessness. She recently talked with The Independent and gave insight into the creative decisions around using nudity, and what has made her feel uncomfortable in the past.
Cassie’s character has the highest amount of nude scenes in a show that is already uncomfortably sexual for being about teens (and yet we all still stress watch every week). She spoke about how those scenes affected her in season one, particularly when nude images of her character were screen-grabbed and shared online, with some trolls tagging her younger brother. “What I do is completely separate from my family,” she said. “My character is completely separate to me. It’s just so disrespectful and distressing.
“I don’t think there is actually a coping mechanism, to be honest,” she admitted. “You just get used to it.” And while Cassie has just as much, if not more nude screen time this season, she’s taken a careful approach to it — and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson appears to take her opinion seriously.
“Sam is amazing...there are moments where Cassie was supposed to be shirtless and I would tell Sam, ‘I don’t really think that’s necessary here.’ He was like, ‘OK, we don’t need it,’” she revealed. “I’ve never felt like Sam has pushed it on me or was trying to get a nude scene into an HBO show. When I didn’t want to do it, he didn’t make me.” Euphoria also has an intimacy coordinator on set, a new production trend that many hope sticks around. Sweeney has been on sets before though with less careful attention to handling intimate scenes and the nudity of its stars. “I’ve had experiences where I want to go home and scrub myself completely raw because I feel disgusting,” she said. “... I didn’t feel comfortable with my castmate or the crew, and I just didn’t feel like my character would be doing it. That made me even more self-conscious. I didn’t feel like I was able to speak up.”
Sweeney also discusses the implications of nudity on screen. The 24-year-old is fully aware of how misogyny and patriarchal standards subconsciously shift views of female actors who go nude. “When a guy has a sex scene or shows his body, he still wins awards and gets praise,” she lamented. “But the moment a girl does it, it’s completely different.” This frustration was highlighted for Sweeney when her performance in The White Lotus was more heralded than what she felt were similar acting chops in Euphoria. “With The White Lotus, I felt like people were finally recognizing the hard work I’ve been doing. ... This is something that has bothered me for a while,” she said. “I’m very proud of my work in Euphoria. I thought it was a great performance. But no one talks about it because I got naked. I do The White Lotus and all of a sudden critics are paying attention. People are loving me. They’re going, ‘Oh my God, what’s she doing next?’ I was like, ‘Did you not see that in Euphoria? Did you not see that in The Handmaid’s Tale?’”
But Sweeney is already getting major attention for “acting down,” as Twitter is calling it, this new season of Euphoria. Her character who in season one was insecure and fumbling through a revenge porn scandal is now more dynamic, as she forwardly seeks sexual encounters for validation to hide last season’s insecurities. She’s quickly becoming the most scene-stealing supporting cast member, and that’s saying something for Euphoria, a show in which the whole ensemble is powerfully written and performed. And though Sweeney surely has more nude scenes ahead while playing the sexually complicated Cassie, it’s good news that it’s on her own terms. Luckily, despite Euphoria making its audience uncomfortable, it’s not making its cast feel the same way in its creation.