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'Waves' and 'Euphoria' star Alexa Demie is a new kind of "It Girl"

Alexa Demie doesn’t realize she's been credited with rescuing #HotGirlSummer.

A fan turned her into a meme in August, posting “Maddy Perez saved hot girl summer” on Twitter with a mashup of clips featuring Demie's character in the HBO teen drama Euphoria, scored to “Hot Girl Summer,” the song by Megan Thee Stallion. The tweet went viral, but the actress hadn’t seen it, so when we sat down for our interview in A24’s New York offices on a recent November afternoon, I pulled it up on my phone.

“What is this?” Demie asked, as we watched it together. “Oh my god, that’s hilarious.”

I asked her what it’s been like to blow up so suddenly and make such waves as a style icon. “It’s been kind of crazy to see it on such a global scale, I guess,” Demie said. She quickly pointed out that she’s used to forging her own sartorial path. “Ever since high school, I’d wear or do things, and I remember girls being like, ‘What are you wearing? What is that?’ and then a week later would be wearing it,” she said. “But this level is insane.”

The day we met, she was wearing a slouchy, oversized three-piece suit ensemble that somehow didn’t overwhelm her petite frame, with a black leather vest and a necklace that said “DEMIEGOD.” But the most remarkable thing about the 24-year-old actress is the gravitas, strength, and personhood she brings to her characters. Maddy in Euphoria and Demie’s latest role, Alexis in Trey Edward Shults’ forthcoming film Waves, are both victims of abuse. Demie is adept at bringing nuance to the roles, depicting the complexity of women in these circumstances. I asked if she did this on purpose.

“I don’t think that I do that consciously. In my real life, I am a really, really strong person. I’m not at all submissive, and so it was hard playing those characters,” she said. “I’ve had to really pull back a bit of my strength and have compassion. I would get really frustrated, but you can’t do that with your character. You have to dive in fully, so I think I’ve developed a lot of compassion for people in those situations.

“I mean, look, I’ve been in toxic relationships in high school that were really mentally abusive,” Demie added. “As strong as I was, I was fighting nonstop with this boyfriend I had in high school, and it took a minute to get out. I think even the strongest people can be so weak when it comes to love. With these characters, I had to develop compassion, especially for Maddy.”

Alexa Demie in 'Waves.' Courtesy of A24

In Euphoria, Maddy’s boyfriend Nate (played by Jacob Elordi) struggles with a particularly nasty cocktail of toxic masculinity, and when Maddy challenges him on it, Nate gets violent. In a central twist of the narrative, however, Maddy decides to stand by her man. In Waves, which centers on the members of a suburban Florida family, Alexis and her boyfriend Tyler seem like a picture-perfect couple. But life throws them curveballs, like an unplanned pregnancy, and Tyler unravels to the point of catastrophic violence, setting off the events of the second half of the film.

“With Alexis, that was a bit more personal,” Demie told me. “My mom had me at an extremely young age. Everyone told her not to go through with the pregnancy, because it just didn’t make sense financially, and she didn’t have any support. My dad was in jail at the time. She’s being torn all these different ways, and she’s that young. I tried to really connect with her, with Alexis, and what she must’ve felt like.”

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Waves balances tragedy with levity and love masterfully, mirroring real life. Part of what makes the film so compelling is the nuanced performances from its actors, especially Demie and Kelvin Harrison Jr., who plays Tyler. The two packed years worth of bonding into the week before filming began in Florida.

“He would have me answer a bunch of questions, like 50 questions of getting to know someone. It was cute! And we watched a lot of videos of this woman who basically talks about codependency and what those relationships look like,” Demie said. “Kelvin likes to get really specific with everything in the script, which I really appreciated and also just respected.”

(L-R) Alexa Demie, Kelvin Harrison Jr. Courtesy of A24

The actress noted she also felt supported and empowered by Shults, who wrote and directed Waves, as she navigated the darker parts of his script. “He’s super open and collaborative. As soon as we got to Florida, he wanted to meet in person and sit down. He asked if there was anything I didn’t like in the script, if there was anything I wanted to change. I ended up changing my character’s name, it was going to be Courtney,” Demie told me.

At one point, Demie and Taylor Russell (who plays Tyler’s sister Emily in the film) realized they didn’t have a scene together and thought they ought to, so they asked Shults for one. He said yes. “You don’t get to do that, ever,” Demie told me. “I mean, we had to do it wherever we were at in the script. Our next scenes were those [high school] dance scenes, and so he set it up in the bathroom that was there. I think we just did one take or two, and we improvised the entire thing. Afterwards we were being really hard on ourselves, like, what the hell was that? What’d we just do? Did it make sense?”

The scene turned out to be one of the most poignant, tender moments of the film. “It feels like this exchange of energy that Alexis is giving to Emily, and then things start to change and there’s the second half of the film,” Demie told me. “It ended up being way more special than what we even anticipated and very unplanned, and I feel like that’s just the way Trey is. He’s very spiritual, he’s very trusting. He just allows things to happen, and I feel like that’s the best way to be, because you end up getting magical things that you didn’t even plan for.”

(L-R) Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie. Courtesy of A24

One wonders how she's approached playing characters who endure so much pain. “I feel like every time I’ve had to portray trauma it’s traumatic, to a degree,” Demie said. “I remember after filming [the climax of Waves] I was crying, like, every 20 minutes.”

“It took me a minute to come back fully to myself after that,” she added. “But I feel like I know how to bring myself back slowly, with little things that feel nurturing. I would go back to where I was staying — we were all in this condo in Florida — and I would just write letters to myself and to my younger self. It’s really weird to think about, because [these roles are] a bit traumatic, but at the same time they’re a bit healing.”

A movie like Waves offers catharsis for the audience, too. As tough as parts of the film are to watch, it’s also a visually beautiful reminder of how intertwined pain and joy can be in life.

But I feel like I know how to bring myself back slowly, with little things that feel nurturing.

Demie shifts the paradigm a bit by refusing to recede into the background as a tragic footnote. “I guess I’m attracted to darker and more complex characters. I’ve always been,” she said. “But they’re not easy characters, and sometimes you’re like, ‘Wow, these have been heavy, heavy roles. Am I gonna do another one?’ And I will. Maybe not specifically on this subject. I feel like I need a bit of a break from that.”

Still, the actress admits she feels cosmically linked to Maddy and Alexis. “It’s weird. I think about it often. Why did these two roles find me?” Demie confided. “I’m always trying to figure out the deeper meaning behind everything — I’m a Sagittarius, we’re, like, constantly doing that.”