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Q&A: A NC Teen And Her Parents On The Transition From Male To Female

Hunter Schafer is one of several North Carolina residents challenging the state’s controversial new discrimination law in federal court.

Schafer, 17, is a junior at the UNC School of the Arts high school, and she’s transgender. She was labeled male at birth, but transitioned to female her freshman year of high school. Her parents are Katy Schafer and Mac Schafer, a pastor at Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Jess Clark sat down with the three of them as they share the story of Hunter’s transition.

When did you first realize you didn’t identify as a boy?

Hunter: I’ve always had this persistent need for femininity and expressing that—like ever since I was a teeny, tiny toddler.

Katy: I would say age two. We would show Hunter all the superheroes and he would want Catwoman or Hawkgirl… And I’m saying “he” because he was our oldest child and our son….

We made a point to see a preschool teacher when Hunter was three… I remember asking her “Is this ‘normal’ that our kid comes to school every day and puts on a pink dress, when all the other little boys have on plaid vests and fireman coats?” And that was not what our kid did.

Hunter, you came out as gay before you came out as transgender?

I came out to my parents as gay in seventh grade—like a gay boy at this time. And so they were beginning to understand where I stood as to where my sexual orientation was at the time. But gender identity was still a very separate thing from that. But coming out as gay—that set me apart enough for me to think about what else set me apart.

Katy and Mac, how did you react to Hunter coming out as gay?

Katy: We were going to love our kid no matter what. Everybody was on board. But it didn’t move forward from there. I just didn’t understand why it was still so difficult to buy clothing. If I took Hunter to the mall I didn’t understand, if Hunter is a gay male, why can’t you walk into something like the Gap and buy clothes? Like why is this always an issue?

Hunter, can you describe how you were feeling in your eighth grade year, and why you were so anxious?

It was later in the year and I could start to see peach fuzz on my upper lip… I was just really worried that I was starting to develop these secondary sex characteristics— especially facial hair just terrified me. That was something that just did not resonate with me at all, and I don’t really know why… [Gender dysphoria] is mostly this feeling of just dread and wrongness.

How did you come to learn about transgender identities?

I met some really open minded people that were educated in all the LGBT terms and what it was. And they were “fangirling” over people, Curt and Blaine on Glee... It was, like, a really positive new image of that whole community that kind of let me explore that part of myself. And so it was in seventh grade that I came to terms with the idea that maybe I wasn’t a boy.

Katy and Mac, Hunter says she tried to come out to you twice as transgender before her message finally hit home for you. Why do you think it took so many tries?

Mac: For me it was harder than Hunter being gay because I thought, this is not something that will just be who Hunter is on the inside and may be expressed in relationships, but how Hunter even appears has the potential to change.

Katy: I remember saying to Hunter, “Well just because you’re an artist and just because you like pretty things, that doesn’t mean you’re transgender. It doesn’t mean you’re a girl.”

Mac and Katy, What was it about that third attempt that finally allowed Hunter’s message to get through to you?

Katy: The anxiety level in Hunter was so apparent that I know that we could not continue kind of turning an eye or not listening. I felt like we were reaching a crisis point, because we had kind of lost our kid. I think Hunter was just really struggling inside, and the anxiety was coming out. I remember there were lots of tears. It was kind of just this reality of we were going to have to let go of who we thought our kid was going to be… There were some things that had to be put away.

Mac, was there an important moment for you when you realized Hunter was transgender?

Mac: I remember going to pick Hunter at fashion-design camp. And they had a fashion show the final night of camp. And Hunter came up to me the morning before the fashion show and said “Dad, do you mind if I wear heels?”… Inside everything in me was going “no, no, no,”…but outside I said, “Yes, you can.”… I think that’s when everything became real. And I thought, you know, the ideas I’ve had in my head of raising a son, in a sense, I’m putting those away and have grief in saying goodbye to that idea, but joy in sense of Hunter being birthed into who she was created to be.

Katy and Mac, how did you know this wasn’t just a phase, or that it was serious enough to take a medical intervention?

Katy: As a mom, I look over this trajectory of 17 years, and the draw to what is traditionally feminine has always been there. Since Hunter could express any kind of option for one thing or the other, maybe from 18 months on, it has always been the thing that you would have thought a girl would have chosen. So I can’t look at the arc of Hunter’s life and deny that that hasn’t been there always… It was always there. We just didn’t know what to call it.

Was it hard to start using the pronoun “she” for Hunter?

Katy: Some of Hunter’s friends really showed us—they were so far ahead of us. Kids would get in the car, and then one of them would say something about Hunter and use the pronoun “she.” And I would think, “Is this kid talking about Hunter?” And so I realized most of Hunter’s friends used “she” for a pronoun… Instead of going straight to a feminine pronoun, I really found myself as a mom just focusing on using Hunter’s name. If you hear me talk a lot I won’t use the pronouns, and I will just say “Hunter.”

Mac: When Hunter expressed that female pronouns were important to her, that was a game changer. And that’s when we really started using the female pronouns. And we would make a lot of mistakes, but eventually at least for me it became very natural to this point where I don’t think twice about it.

Hunter, you use hormone therapy so that your body matches your gender identity. Does it ever validate you in some sense when someone just assumes you are a cisgender girl (designated female at birth)?

It used to, because I was like “Ooo! I’m passing! I am looking more feminine than masculine!” But now as I’m exploring the nonbinary part of myself, it’s becoming almost—not annoying—but like I just wish that some people could see more to me than that right away …

I do like people to know that I’m not a cisgirl because that’s not something that I am or feel like I am. I’m proud to be a trans person.

What does it mean to explore a nonbinary self?

I just feel like I don’t really need to be put in the male or female box… Taking myself out of the binary is something that’s appealing to me, and not having one of those labels. Because gender has kind of been this crazy thing that I’ve had to—not defy—but move past and through because I’ve moved from male to female and now I’m swinging back to somewhere in between. So kind of existing without that is appealing to me in a lot of ways.

How Transgender Teens Are Fighting Against Bathroom Laws

Every time I use a public bathroom, I have to make a choice: Do I break the law, or do I disregard my comfort and face the risk of harassment and violence? As a 17-year-old transgender girl who began transitioning at 14, I’ve been wrestling with my gender ever since I was a child. At school, I’ve become accustomed to using the women’s restroom, where I feel safest and most comfortable. I’ve finally begun to accept myself as more than what is stated on my birth certificate. But a new law in my home state of North Carolina rejects all of this.

Except it doesn’t make sense to invalidate my identity and put me in possible danger by forcing me to use the men’s restroom. I was appalled and desperately wanted to fight back. A few weeks after the bill passed, I joined a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and several other plaintiffs challenging HB2. I did this not only in the hope of reversing it but also to represent other transgender youth in North Carolina who are as hurt as I am, and to raise awareness and acceptance for transgender individuals.

HB2’s supporters argue that they’re protecting girls from men entering women’s restrooms. But they’re actually labeling transgender people as predators. Forcing us to use bathrooms that run counter to our identity is incredibly damaging. We already face a disproportionate amount of violence, discrimination, and bullying, and are vastly more likely than the general public to attempt suicide. Laws like HB2 promote false stereotypes that perpetuate these dangers. When we use the bathroom, we’re there to relieve ourselves, not attack others.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Justice is on our side, having deemed the law a violation of three civil rights statutes, including Title IX. The Obama administration also recently issued guidelines for schools to allow transgender students to use our correct restroom, and for staff and contractors to respect our name, gender, and pronouns. This national recognition that transgender youth exist was enormous. While we still face opposition, I’m confident that we’ll overcome the hateful legislation that North Carolina has imposed with HB2. We deserve equal treatment — that is “common sense” to me.

Hunter Schafer on why she’s fighting for much more than bathrooms

On March 30 2017, North Carolina nominally repealed HB2, the state’s so-called ‘bathroom bill.’ But the compromising conditions of the deal still leave the transgender community vulnerable to discrimination.

As a transgender teenager who grew up in North Carolina, navigating bathrooms on my own was an extremely difficult journey, particularly at public school. In early high school (during a more primary stage in my transition), I felt safer using the women’s restroom and locker room. But I was often met with compromises, like being told to use a staff bathroom or the men’s room, which was basically a sentence to eternally hold it in. I felt like an outlaw every time I had to pee, as if I this natural bodily function were some unforgivable act.

Later, when I began to pass as a cis-woman, I was able to start using the women’s restroom without question — because I didn’t “look like a man.” This change signified to me that my peers and society cared more about how I appeared than how I openly identified. That same mentality is embodied in HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that North Carolina lawmakers supposedly repealed yesterday — a bill that continues to prove the state’s legislature has no regard for the identities of North Carolina’s trans community.

What exactly is House Bill 2? Passed in March, 2016, HB2 states that users of public restrooms must visit the restroom that corresponds to their assigned sex at birth, rather than the room that corresponds to their gender identity. The law was created as a speedy and fearful response to an ordinance protecting trans/LGBTQ individuals passed in Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city. The legislature argued that protecting the trans community would legitimize a hypothetical sexual predator dressing up as the “opposite gender” in order to peep or commit other crimes. (This was never a problem in the state to begin with.)

Making this dangerous and discriminatory portrayal of the trans community even worse, the only way to enforce HB2 is to profile trans individuals who don’t pass as men or women. Meaning that while some trans people might be able to avoid the consequences of breaking the law — because they pass as a cisgender man or woman — much of the community risks being profiled, facing harassment, and potentially violence. The bill doesn’t just present external dangers either; the internal detriment that trans individuals endure, by being forced into facilities and boxes in which they don’t belong, is excruciatingly painful. The trans community is no stranger to this kind of treatment. Transphobic bills like HB2 have been bubbling up in state legislatures all over the nation. Transgender students in public school systems like Gavin Grimm are being denied access to necessary gendered facilities. And just this year, eight transgender women of color have been murdered.

Much of the media’s reporting on HB2 implies that bathroom access is all that’s at stake — as if the restroom is the only space where transgender people face discrimination. While the fight for the trans community’s just use of restrooms is urgent and essential, the core issue is the deep-rooted transphobia that lies beneath this “bathroom bill” controversy. Transphobia resides at the heart of HB2, a bill which appeals to a public still clinging to the gender binary and fearful depictions of those who reside outside of it.

In the court and in the media, the conversation about HB2 continually comes back to gender expression — a sort of mirror to how surface-level “bathroom bills” have become. The most vulnerable victims of the law aren’t even all trans men, women, or non-binary individuals, they’re the people who don’t directly fit into our idea of what a man or a woman looks like, whatever their identity may be. Our society assigns an overwhelmingly high value to other people’s perceptions of us, rather than emphasizing the importance of our own sense of self. The discussion around bills like HB2 spotlights how uncomfortable so many people are without the social crutch that the idea of a gender binary provides.

Yesterday, the North Carolina legislature made the decision to repeal House Bill 2 in order to make a “compromise.” While it might have seemed like lawmakers were providing instant relief for the transgender community of NC, this compromise produced the exact opposite effect. The new House Bill 142 perpetuates the damage that North Carolina has endured, leaving the LGBTQ community without protections and local governments unable to pass nondiscrimination ordinances until 2020.

Why did the NC GOP go to all that effort just to make an arbitrary change? Considering the monetary impact of the bill is a good place to start. As the NCAA tournaments approached earlier this month, the state was under pressure to repeal HB2 in order to keep the privilege of taking part in the events and enjoying their enormous financial returns. This “fake repeal,” as Simone Bell, Southern regional Director at Lambda Legal, named it, proves that North Carolina’s legislature doesn’t care about transgender people, it cares about profit.

To combat laws like this, organizations like Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood have been taking action by filing lawsuits against North Carolina and providing services that help the trans community. Services such as providing hormone replacement therapy or lawyers to change gender documentation. Trans youth have also taken to the internet, using their own platforms to share their stories and spread awareness about the discrimination that they face on a daily basis.

I hope that my community can advance discussion and provoke thought when we confront transphobia like we are experiencing in North Carolina. In my own experience, creating artwork that reacts to HB2 has not only alleviated my pain but also become a form of protest. I have found, too, that it’s useful to simply be a presence and give testament to my community’s existence, whether through showing up to anti-HB2 rallies or acting as a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against North Carolina. Ideally, we can use the state’s oppression as a vehicle to initiate a global conversation in which we are redefining many people’s understanding of gender and making our society a more tolerant space for all.

This “bathroom bill” goes far, far beyond North Carolina’s public restrooms. It touches the founding tenets of our country’s social structure, and the ideas of gender within which our society functions. Trans youth and activists are slowly but surely breaking down the social binary through our own empowerment, thanks in part to the conversations created by our oppression. We are on the forefront of a revolution in which identity and expression will take priority over the labels assigned to us at birth. In which self-identification will take priority over perception. In which gender will fall away entirely.

Hillary Clinton Discusses Equality and Feminism with Teen Vogue’s 2017 21 Under 21 Nominees

Hillary Clinton Discusses Equality and Feminism with Teen Vogue’s 2017 21 Under 21 Nominees

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the guest-editor of our Volume IV issue, on newsstands nationally December 5. She will keynote at the first-ever Teen Vogue Summit in conversation with actress, scholar, and activist Yara Shahidi. The Teen Vogue Summit will take place on December 1 & 2 in Los Angeles.

Here, meet five members of Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 Class of 2017. The full Class of 2017 will be profiled in Volume V.

What would you tell the first female presidential nominee for a major party if you could? Five trailblazing talents from this year’s 21 Under 21 list sat down with Hillary Clinton to tackle the issues facing women and girls around the world.

Hunter Schafer, Mari Copeny, Muzoon Almellehan, Nadya Okamoto, and Simone Askew. These are just a few of the exceptional individuals on Teen Vogue’s annual list of the young women and femmes who are changing the world — all under the age of 21. Taking action in STEM, the arts, social activism, and beyond, they are the brains, voices, and visionaries whose brilliance is helping to shape our future for the better.

Eighteen-year-old Hunter Schafer has made waves both in the courtroom and on the runway. As a trans model and activist, she’s walked for some of fashion’s most high-profile designers while also advocating on behalf of LGBTQ youth. In 2016, she served as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the discriminatory bathroom bill HB2 in her home state of North Carolina.

At 20, Simone Askew has already made history. Earlier this year, she became the first African-American woman to be named first captain of the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the highest position in the cadet chain of command.

Harvard sophomore Nadya Okamoto is working to normalize the conversation around periods, and through her nonprofit organization, Period, she provides menstrual products to those in need. But that’s not all. At press time, the 19-year-old was also running for city council in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after deciding the best way to effect the change she wanted to see in government was to be the change.

In 2016, then president Barack Obama visited Flint, Michigan, at the request of Mari Copeny. The pint-size activist, now 10, wanted to draw attention to her hometown’s water crisis and went on to become the youngest Women’s March youth ambassador, the national youth ambassador for the People’s Climate March, and youth ambassador for Equality for Her, proving that no voice is too small.

After fleeing Syria’s civil war and spending nearly three years in Jordanian refugee camps, 19-year-old Muzoon Almellehan settled in the U.K. and decided to dedicate her life to advocating for girls’ education. She has traveled the world on behalf of her cause, and this year she became the youngest-ever goodwill ambassador as well as the first with official refugee status.

Here, in an intimate conversation with Hillary Clinton, these five young game changers discuss everything from how more women can break into politics to the ongoing fight for female equality.

MARI COPENY: How did you know when you had found your purpose? Was there a moment? Did you have other childhood dreams?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I had a lot of dreams when I was a child, but I think I found my purpose pretty early, which was to help other people in my community and make my world a better place. When I was little, I thought, Well, maybe I’ll be a reporter, a journalist, a doctor. I ended up becoming a lawyer. And I never stopped thinking about what I could do to give back to people. I think that’s the best way to have a meaningful life.

NADYA OKAMOTO: In the U.S., less than 20 percent of [elected congressional] positions are held by women. And when it comes to advocating and fighting for progress — whether it be reproductive rights, equal pay, or talking about menstruation — how do you approach working for that progress in a male-dominated space?

HRC: There’s that great line by Shirley Chisholm, who ran for president back in the 1970s: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” And that can be in terms of activism, building a platform for yourself, or in public service, government, or running for office. And there’s no substitute for being prepared, knowing what you want to say, and being brave enough to say it. It can be groundbreaking, and you might receive backlash — as I know you have online — but you just have to keep persevering.

SIMONE ASKEW: We had a women’s equality lunch at West Point a couple of weeks ago, and the speaker, in a very positive light, noted that women are required to perform twice as well as men for half of the credit. How do you acknowledge that but also balance the value of nonbiological ideals and capabilities when you are a leader?

HRC: This is the highest, hardest balancing act, Simone. I just finished writing a book about my life, but in particular my experiences in the 2016 campaign. In it I said I thought it mattered if we were pre-pared. And I worked really hard to prepare for the three debates because tens of millions of people were watching us. And one of the reporters who judged me as having won the debates actually said, “She seemed too prepared.” And I thought to myself, How do you seem to be too prepared to do the hardest job in the world? I want to underscore the importance of preparation and hard work. There’s no substitute for that. But I want us to get to a point where women are judged fairly and equally. You don’t have to be twice as good to do the job. You have to be good enough to do that job. Society has to recognize that we are losing a lot of great talent in elected office, in the military, in business, in every walk of life, because women are made to feel that they aren’t good enough.

HUNTER SCHAFER: I want to address how public schools in America are continuing to struggle with accommodating the bathroom needs of gender-nonconforming and trans young people. This was made evident in my home state of North Carolina when they passed the bathroom bill, House Bill 2. How can we as a society and even on institutional levels ensure the safety and comfort of gender-nonconforming students and children as they continue to come out?

HRC: It is an issue that really calls on people to be compassionate, kind, and understanding. We are at our best in our country when we treat people with respect as individuals and worry more about the content of our character, as Dr. King said, and have an open education system, an open society. I was very disappointed when the decision was made to reverse the openness of our military for trans soldiers who are serving our country. I think what happened in North Carolina should give you some measure of hope because there was such an outcry. It fundamentally struck people as wrong to discriminate like that, and there was an effort made to reverse the legislation. That doesn’t change attitudes overnight, but you’ve got to have the institutional barriers like the legislation and regulation come down first. Then you begin to hope people will be more under-standing and compassionate. In schools [is] where all of this has to start.

NO: Running for office is the most terrifying experience ever. It’s been challenging; I’ve dealt with everything from racism to constant questioning about my qualifications, even from my peers. How do you stay close to your values, stay confident in yourself and your motives, and avoid the superficial claims made about you, from what you’re wearing to your hair and makeup?

HRC: Whoa. How much time do we have? It can be, and usually is, terrifying the first time you run for office. And you’re knocking on doors, you said?

NO: Every day.

HRC: Then there’s a very simple answer: If you’re eligible to run for office, you have every right to run. You’re making your case. You are presenting yourself. And people have the opportunity to support you or not. And at the end of your campaign, you’ll find out whether you were successful. But you shouldn’t allow anybody to undermine you and go after your confidence or your commitment to doing this. Easier said than done because it is incessant. It’s hard for any first-time candidate, but it is harder for women. Wear what you want to present yourself to the voters because that’s who you are. You will be criticized no matter what you do. The fact is, people should be much more interested in hearing what you would do, so you have to get through the superficial judgments and constant second-guessing. That’s one of the reasons when I started running for office — and the whole time I’ve been in the Senate, secretary of state, running for president — I adopted a uniform. For me it was pantsuits. After a while, people get bored talking about it and don’t really pay much attention to it.

SA: You are a leader, and I am the commander of the entire corps of cadets. And there is value in your being a woman and in my being an African-American as well as a woman. How have you aimed to be an inclusive leader expressing and promoting the value of all people while acknowledging your personal connection to minority groups?

HRC: Well, it’s really an important question, Simone. And you’re living it. So many of the articles that were written about your becoming the commander of the brigade pointed out that you were the first African-American woman to hold that position. It’s an important statement, but that’s not all of who you are. You are a scholar, an athlete, a leader. This new position gives you a chance to demonstrate the inclusivity, to demonstrate high standards without discrimination and bigotry.

I think it was clear to anybody in this past election: There are a lot of Americans who are uncomfortable with progress that’s made by African-Americans, women, the LGBTQ community, people with different ethnicities. We have to demonstrate that we’re better and bigger than that bigotry. Not by just talking, but by demonstrating. One of my favorite people that I’ve ever met and one of my favorite people in history is Nelson Mandela. I got to know him in 1992 alongside my husband and my daughter. We had watched him as he had come out of prison. [He] negotiated to end apartheid, and he could have been very negative toward the Afrikaner white population, justified on so many grounds. But he wanted to be a leader for all of South Africa. I was privileged to attend his inauguration on behalf of our country, and we were invited back to the president’s house for a lunch. There were hundreds and hundreds of leaders from around the world, and President Mandela stood up and said, “I’m very honored to have all of these VIPs, kings and queens and presidents and prime ministers and distinguished people from around the world here. But there are three people I want particularly to recognize. I want them to stand.” And he called out their names. They were three of his white jailers from Robben Island. He said, These men treated me with respect. I was a prisoner. I was working in the stone quarry. I was treated brutally and badly by many. But these three men showed humanity. And I want to thank them.” That’s leadership.

SA: It’s deliberately choosing to seek out the positive even in an adverse situation.

HRC: That’s right. And lifting people up. And you’re supposed to lead everyone, not just people who agree with you. And to bring people together, not further divide them. That’s going to be especially important in our country, but even in the world, in this century.

MUZOON ALMELLEHAN: When I was in the refugee camps, I saw many refugees who had given up on their dreams and become so hopeless. I told them that when we think this is the end of our stories, maybe it is the beginning of our stories. So if you had a piece of advice that you could provide to children all over the world, especially girls, what would this be?
HRC: Well, you said something very important, Muzoon, and that is everyone has a story. And history is about our collective story. We need to make sure people are given the chance to tell their individual story. Through your work with UNICEF, [people] see you. They listen to you and think, I didn’t know that’s what a refugee would say or look like. I went to a refugee camp when I was secretary of state in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a part of the country that had been subjected to a brutal conflict in which more than 5 million people had been killed. And girls and women were particular targets for abuse, and terrible atrocities were committed. I met with a group of adults there and asked them, “What is the most important thing that we could do for you?” One of the mothers in the camps said, “I want my children to learn. Their only way forward is if they get an education.” That is the fundamental hope of families everywhere — whatever your background [or] your income, people want the chance to see their children educated. So you being a voice for children who are living in refugee camps will make a big difference because people will see them as individuals, not just as numbers.

HS: On a different note, I wanted to address how climate change is affected by corporations and industries — particularly the food and drug industries — and how that is connected to our own government on a financial and social level. I’m wondering if you think we can create change through the government or if it needs to happen on a more social level?

HRC: It has to be both. And it has to be not only national governments; it has to be local governments. There has to be international cooperation. But it also requires that communities and individuals see this as the great threat that it is. As you point out, agriculture and pharmaceuticals have a role to play, but the principal problem is the way we produce and consume energy. The production of greenhouse gas emissions has been warming our climate and oceans, which contributes to more intense, stronger, and frequent hurricanes. Clean, renewable energy is the key; there are energy sources that will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are more people [working] now than there were five years ago in solar and wind energy. And we need to keep up that momentum. I think there’s an unfortunate willingness by some in political leadership positions to deny signs in order to satisfy powerful interests that support their political ambitions. But we need to get back to addressing it with seriousness because we’re losing ground and time. I was very proud when the United States under President Obama’s leadership signed the Paris Agreement because I’d worked with the president when I was secretary of state to begin that process. I knew how hard it was to convince countries to get on board. Currently, our new administration is not abiding by it and doesn’t want to. I think even they are going to have to be realistic about what it’s going to take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate our efforts, because we’re going to be paying hundreds of billions of dollars in storm damage and rising water damage.

MC: I want to run for president in 2044. Do you have any advice for me?

HRC: You’re doing so much of what you need to do. You are learning a lot, and that’s great preparation. I would be excited if you ran for president in 2044. Gee, how many years is that from now? I hope I’m around!

This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

In Transition

In Transition

“I’m just an overall creative, trying to create worlds and pieces of artwork that reflect a world beyond gender and beyond hyper-masculinity that I would like to see.”

That is how Hunter Schafer wants her narrative to read. Refusing to be labeled or put in a box, Hunter has in fact spent the majority of her young life fighting other people’s perceptions. Carving out a fluid and authentic path for her work as an artist, a transgender rights advocate and a human in transition. And now, as a model with a break out runway season and scores of high profile editorials, she has the eyes and ears of the fashion world.


“I’ve always had a sense of feminine expression, but it’s really just who I am and that did not fit the mold of what I was assigned at first, which was male. I don’t think I knew what being transgender was until middle school when I was around more open minded friends who introduced me to characters in the media who were of the LGTB community. That’s where I learned the language and the terminology which enabled me to label myself, and not be what people told me I was. That allowed me to start playing with my gender expression and sense of femininity in an outward direction.”

After coming out as gay in seventh grade, Hunter says she was “the only gay kid who took on that stereotypical role of being gay. Expressing some femininity really wasn’t enough and I wanted to keep pushing the envelope of what my gender could be. Eventually I started wearing makeup and sneaking high heels to school under my parent’s noses, they didn’t really know what was going on. It was only after I started experiencing gender dysphoria in high school, that I came out to them as transgender. I felt so overwhelmed and anxious that I needed their help. Of course, they were confused and angry but over time they came along and did their own research and got me to hormone doctors.”

“It was when I moved away from home to attend a fine arts high school that I was able to play with my gender expression. Away from the eyes of my parents and the church, both of my parents are pastors. Gender has always felt like a performance to me. Gender is a performance to everybody. It’s just like, how aware of the fact that you’re performing is what I think influences how you go about it. I’ve since graduated high school and now live in New York City, still exploring gender, still transitioning, I don’t think that’s ever going to end.”


“I’m not sure how I feel about being called an activist. It’s a heavy word because I feel like I can be doing so much more on a political level. I understand that my existence is political in the world we live in –  but I don’t know if that justifies being called an activist. I’m just trying to activate other people in whatever way I can by being open and present with the following I have.”

Hunter’s journey was brought in to the political spotlight when House Bill 2 was passed in her hometown of North Carolina. HB2 legislates that in government buildings, individuals may only use restrooms and changing rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. In turn, preventing transgender people who do not or cannot alter their birth certificates from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity. This legislation essentially removed anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Hunter was contacted by an ACLU lawyer at the time and joined a lawsuit against House Bill 2. 

Although the bill has since been repealed, the lawsuit is still in place because of the tragedy the trans community in North Carolina faced as a result. Hunter says, “the bill was not limited to discriminating against trans people, it was affecting people of color in neighborhoods below the poverty line. To see not only my trans friends, but trans friends who resided within those communities as well, being affected by the law was really frustrating.”

“finding refuge from the hella toxic environment that young people in masculinity can find themselves in. That gave me an idea of who I wanted to be, sharing the same space as them and everything.”


With Schafer slated to study fashion design at Central Saint Martins, the worlds of fashion and art seamlessly and politically manifest themselves into her work. “I want to make work that is physical and kinetic with other people. I use clothing as my main form of artwork and as a way to create conversation about the binary and social constructs that we are all navigating through, because the binary is so heavily enforced by clothing. The first thing you might see about a person when you look at them is if they are a man or a woman, because that’s all that we’ve been trained to do. I am interested in making clothing that contradicts that, and that may even literally talk about or in some way represent how it’s contradicted that immediate need to put a person in a box.”

“Art has always been if not a way to escape, then a way to approach things in my life that I either can’t have or am unfamiliar with. It was this idea of creating something that didn’t exist for myself and having it be a tangible product that I could touch and know is real and I think that is directly related to the fact that I never saw myself in a way that was represented in the media. Now it’s evolved to working through my head space, like in my Instagram bio I have “map maker” because I think that art work in all forms is like a form of map making and mapping out the self-conscious and how our minds are functioning. When I’m struggling with how I feel about my place within the gender binary, I can go to my journal and try to map it out and write words down and draw pictures to try to express some sort of feeling or emotion that I can’t really articulate.”


“Some of these genuine actions towards diversity are being taken at the same time as less genuine actions and it’s hard to make the distinction. A fast fashion brand came out with an A-gender line last year and it was literally blue jeans and sweatshirts. It was labeling the spectrum between being a man and being a woman as normcor. It was such a cop out.”

“It’s been interesting to watch because it points out the differences in how our society raises us, men and women. It is still unconventional for a man to wear a skirt out in public or honestly outside the fashion industry and even within some contexts. But with women, it’s fashionable to wear a suit or pants or whatever. I think it puts a spotlight on the masculine construct specifically and how oppressive that is. Which is just an interesting facet of gender that is getting some light right now.“

“I think I entered the fashion world at an interesting time to be a trans person – there is a lot of ‘openization’ happening within the industry so that brands can feel like they’re on board with diversity. But there is still definitely a sense of work that we need to do as an industry to be more inclusive, I don’t think that journey is over. I think I have gotten a lot of the jobs that I have because of my position in the industry as a trans person. I am cool with people casting me because I am trans, but I would rather the people casting me be trans as well or be from a community that can understand what it is like to be marginalized and excluded. Because it is really wierd entering this industry, walking around with this privilege and white privilege, and being thin and meeting the industry standards, but also having that kind of background and having been through that journey.“


“Modeling is a window in to working in the fashion industry, something I’ve wanted to do since middle school. It’s like being an actor or having the opportunity to play with gender and make characters and play with identity and therefore, I do find it stimulating. But I’m not going to limit myself to being a model because there is so much that I want to do. But it is an interesting window and I am getting to work with people I really admire and have admired for a long time. Like Shayne Oliver from Hood by Air, absolutely one of my favorite designers and I think one of the most important designers of our generation. He knows what is up as far as how to play with gender in masculinity and race and how those all intersect in our day and age, in a way I kind of think is unprecedented. His runway shows are so performative and challenging to what the rest of the fashion industry looks like.”


“I’m in a point of transition and I believe I always will be. But I believe my purpose right now is to use my platform as a model and as someone in the community who is fighting legislations. I feel like I need to be speaking my truth as much as possible and using my privilege to help others empower themselves to transition, move forward, and liberate themselves from the mess of our society. Honestly, I believe everyone is transitioning and some are just given more opportunities to do so. To outwardly and publicly transition is somewhat radical right now because we are expected to be the same person or the same entity or identity for our entire lives, and that is so not reflective of how human beings grow, void of gender or whatever else we are working through. And I guess most importantly, just be allowed to evolve and change and grow with it.“

From Transgender Activist to Runway Model

From Transgender Activist to Runway Model

Hunter Schafer, 19, is an A.C.L.U. plaintiff who has modeled for Helmut Lang, Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu.

Name: Hunter Schafer
Age: 19
Hometown: Raleigh, N.C.
Currently Lives: In a four-bedroom loft in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn that “looks like it’s from a sitcom or something,” she said.

Claim to Fame: Mx. Schafer, who prefers that nongendered courtesy title, is an artist, designer and model who has appeared on the cover of Teen Vogue and in runway shows for Mansur Gavriel, Versus Versace and Helmut Lang. “Walking runway has been something I didn’t even think would be a possibility in my lifetime with my circumstances and my origins,” she said.

Mx. Schafer was assigned male at birth, but always found herself searching for and expressing femininity through art and fashion. She started transitioning during high school. “What I’m trying to do in all senses is deconstruct our idea of gender, and use the privileges that come with looking like a model to bring attention to that,” she said.

Big Break: Mx. Schafer first made headlines in 2016, when she became a plaintiff in the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which forced individuals to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex assigned to them at birth.

“I don’t know if I would call myself an activist, as much as someone who’s just vocal about being trans, which sometimes can feel like activism, because just existing as a trans person can often be hard enough, particularly for people of color or people who don’t pass,” she said. After graduating from high school in 2017, Mx. Schafer moved to New York to sign with Elite model management.

Latest Project: During the recent fashion weeks in New York and Europe, Mx. Schafer did “almost a full circuit,” she said, by walking in nine shows, including for Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs and House of Holland. It was her first time traveling abroad. “I got myself there, and it was really exciting to know that I was doing this for work,” she said. “A lot of the designers that I admire are in those European cities that kind of seemed untouchable before.”

Next Thing: Mx. Schafer plans to open a studio and gallery in Manhattan specifically for trans artists, using grant money from Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 program, an annual contest honoring young trailblazers. Her exploration of genderless art extends to fashion. In the fall, she will attend Central Saint Martins in London, where she plans to focus on nonbinary clothing design.

Turning Point: Mx. Schafer is approaching the point in her transition when her hormone blockers will stop working, and she needs to decide whether to start taking spironolactone alongside estrogen to maintain her feminine body type. If she were to return to a more conventionally masculine body, her measurements would change, and she’d likely have a harder time booking modeling jobs. “I’m probably going to make art about it soon,” she said.

Meet Today’s Chic Crew of Change-Makers

Meet Today’s Chic Crew of Change-Makers

Those lamenting that the world is going to hell—what with terrorism, the risk of nuclear war, and environmental catastrophes—need only look to today’s youth for peace of mind. Indeed, they are an inspiring group, fighting for everything from gun control to gay rights, and effecting change where the older generations could not. And what style they have! In approaching fashion with the same fearlessness that they assume political matters, they make for a seriously radical lot. Take for example, the Japanese model Manami Kinoshita and her spiky red hairdo. She is among the handful of young people who were cast—many via Instagram—for this fashion feature. Also in the bunch: Ariel Nicholson, the six-foot-tall Pre-Raphaelite beauty who has become vocal in raising awareness for the trans community. We could all definitely take a cue from her, and her ability to turn a tough situation—in her case, coming out—“into something great.”

Hunter Schafer

With her spindly figure and mane of white-blonde hair, 19-year-old Hunter Schafer projects an otherworldly air. Raised in North Carolina, she began modeling in her final semester of high school, and moved to Brooklyn last year, after signing with Elite. An illustrator and activist, she came out at 13 and transitioned at 14, relying on the Internet to help her “put a finger on my identity, and discover small queer publications and Instagram ­presences, like Tavi Gevinson and Laverne Cox.” Being in high school as a trans teen was not without its complications. “Going to dances was weird,” she says, “because dressing up is always very binary.” She started out making “comics exploring my trans-ness and my sexuality” that soon drew the attention of Rookie magazine, Teen Vogue, and, eventually, her current agent. After modeling full-time for seven months and interning for the up-and-coming New York label Vaquera, she has her sights set on a degree in fashion design at Central Saint Martins, in London, where she’s moving this fall. “The influx of trans models is interesting, but, like myself, most of them pass as cisgender, meaning that someone on the street isn’t going to look at us and assume we’re trans,” says Schafer, who longs for a broader awareness. The Women’s March, she points out, “was applicable to the higher end of the privilege spectrum: white, cis, heterosexual women. But when it comes to Black Lives ­Matter or a trans intersection of that sort of feminism, people are not there in the same way.”

The Newest Generation Of Hollywood Is More Queer Than Ever

The Newest Generation Of Hollywood Is More Queer Than Ever

As Hollywood grapples with greater calls for meaningful diversity, it’s the next generation of LGBTQ+ actors who are the keys to true inclusion. And though they’ve traditionally been secondary or part of an ensemble, the queer characters they play are far from the stereotype. Check out eight actors taking the leap to center stage below.

Acting was not Hunter Schafer’s desired career goal. She was a theater girl, but lived backstage and actually wanted to work as a fashion designer. Making it to New York City from her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina wasn’t going to be easy (or cheap), but she knew she fit some of the standards of a “conventional” model, so she reached out to agents she found on Instagram. During a visit to the big city in her senior year of high school, the now 19-year-old signed with Elite Model Management.  “A little over a year of modeling made the camera a lot less intimidating,” she says. So when the audition for HBO’s Euphoria came her way, she was prepared. The drama, which is Schafer’s first role, follows a group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma, and social media. “I thought I was gonna be in college right now,” she says. But when she discovered that some of her life experiences lined up with her character Jules, she felt she could handle it. As she looks to getting more involved in acting, “a huge motivator is just to create and world-build,” she says, “because I think trans and gender non-conforming people are the best at that.”

Hunter Schafer: final fantasy

Hunter Schafer: final fantasy

Ahead of her breakout role in Sam Levinson’s teen drama Euphoria, Hunter Schafer talks to Rowan Blanchard about her love of fantasy and moving to California

At a time when trans rights are more under threat than ever, the spring 2019 issue of Dazed takes a stand for the global creativity of the LGBTQIA+ communities and infinite forms of identity. You can pre-order a copy of our latest issue here, and see the whole Infinite Identities campaign here.

For her role in Euphoria, a forthcoming HBO show set to update the high school drama for 2019, Hunter Schafer had to make a few life adjustments. For one, she had to reconnect with what it felt like to be a sophomore, before she became the model and artist she is known as today. Secondly, it required a move from New York to Los Angeles. In the show, Schafer plays Jules, a new-to-town trans teenager navigating the trials and triumphs of coming of age. As the brainchild of Sam Levinson, director of last year’s gonzo big-screen satire Assassination Nation, the project is both the next stage of Schafer’s multiplicitous career, and the one which has felt like the most natural fit.

Schafer, 20, has always aligned herself with iconoclastic talents. Last September, she cut a spiky figure at Rick Owens’ SS19 show, striding around the designer’s blazing, witchy pyre in the courtyard of the Palais de Tokyo. Her elven-like beauty – austere with flickers of a youthful sincerity – was the perfect foil for the designer’s meaningful severity. “Rick Owens is one of my absolute fucking favourite designers!” Schafer exclaims. “I had been wanting (to do) that show ever since I started modelling.” It was also earlier that year, at Miu Miu’s 2019 cruise show, where Schafer met kindred spirit and politically minded actress Rowan Blanchard – when they phone me while sitting next to each other one day in December, Blanchard interviewing Schafer, it’s a proper young actress summit.

“I was a fan of Hunter long before I actually met her,” says Blanchard, referencing Schafer’s work outside of fashion, which includes her stint as a contributing artist for the seminal, recently folded Rookie magazine. From the age of 15, Schafer created watercolour paintings, collages, sketches, comics, photos and essays displaying her romantic, buoyant touch for the website. It was a style in conversation with that of founder Tavi Gevinson, who has also parlayed her knack for world-building into fashion, then acting. Working for Rookie, Schafer says, introduced her to the idea of making art to a deadline and with an audience in mind.

When Schafer was 17, she was a plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against her home state of North Carolina regarding House Bill 2, which, per the ACLU, banned “transgender people from accessing restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity and blocks local governments from protecting LGBT people against discrimination in a wide variety of settings.” Schafer was, notably, the youngest plaintiff in the suit and her considered, heartfelt perspective cut through the noise. At the time, she penned a widely shared piece for Teen Vogue, explaining her position, writing that she was fighting not only to reverse the law, “but also to represent other transgender youth in North Carolina who are as hurt as I am, and to raise awareness and acceptance for transgender individuals”.

Three years later, the label of ‘activist’ feels a bit baggy on Schafer. She sees the course she’s charting as primarily an artistic practice, explaining, “When I took my place as a plaintiff in the House Bill 2 lawsuit, I did that because I could. I was in a really privileged place where I wasn’t struggling with my transness in the way I had been previously. I felt like I could be of use to my community, but before that it had always been my intention to be an artist.” For now, she’s relishing the chance to focus on being an actress, and is already thinking about the worlds she could create for herself on-screen. “There’s a lot of room for us to expand into roles that are completely out of this world,” she muses to Blanchard, in typically thoughtful fashion. “I think trans people know fantasy really well.”

Where in California are you guys right now?

Hunter Schafer: I recently moved to a house by Silver Lake.

Rowan Blanchard: Yeah, she’s in this cute townhouse in Silver Lake.

And Rowan, are you nearby?

Rowan Blanchard: I’m literally right next to her… (laughs) Oh, you mean in LA. Yeah I’m really close to Hunter! Like, 15 minutes away.

Did you meet in LA, or had you met through friends elsewhere?

Rowan Blanchard: I was a fan of Hunter’s long before I actually met her. I followed her on Instagram and was just really captivated by her art. Then she followed me back and we started talking a little bit, I think.

Hunter Schafer: We kind of mutually acknowledged each other.

Rowan Blanchard: And then we were both in Paris for Miu Miu! We were walking the show and I saw her backstage and I was like, ‘I am so overwhelmed and I’m freaking out…’

Hunter Schafer: It was so nuts!

Rowan Blanchard: Then we had a fun night in Paris and got close. We’ve been friends ever since!

Amazing. So, Rowan, I think you’re supposed to take over from me and be the journalist?

Rowan Blanchard: All right! Can I go in?

Thora Siemsen: Go for it!

Rowan Blanchard: I guess the first thing I wanted to talk to you about, Hunter – seeing as we’ve gotten closer since you moved to LA – is how LA has impacted you as an artist, as opposed to New York?

Hunter Schafer: It’s hard for me to compare the two cities from a neutral perspective because my circumstances were just so different. When I was living in New York I tried to make it work for a year but I didn’t really have my own space to be creative. It was really inspiring, but I think that coming to LA has allowed me to take a breath. Having a job is a different circumstance. I get allotted time off and I only have to really focus on one consistent thing, which is being this character. I have room to grow here. I think there’s more contrast between the circumstances of my being in those cities than the cities themselves. They’re both really lovely and I love them both in their own ways.

Rowan Blanchard: Did you ever see yourself coming to LA until you had booked Euphoria?

Hunter Schafer: No, I thought I was going to be in school in London right now. I was on my way to Central Saint Martins (to study design). I had wanted to nurture that practice with my gap year in New York and make a little money to help pay for school, and make contacts in the fashion industry. LA was never part of the plan.

Rowan Blanchard: I feel like you’re responding so well to it. How did Euphoria come into your life?

Hunter Schafer: I saw the open call over Instagram. A lot of trans women I know in New York were sharing it, trying to get each other to audition. So I saw that and then a few days later I got a call from my modelling agent saying they were asking if I would be interested in going in for the audition. I took a look at the people involved and was like, ‘I don’t know, this looks kind of weird. This is a white, cis, straight man writing what seems like a really intense show about a lot of different intersections of various identities that aren’t directly related to him.’ But I decided to give it a shot because I had been interested in performance art and acting and hadn’t really been given an opportunity to try it. I went in, got asked to come back, and kept getting more and more of the script.

Rowan Blanchard: When I’m auditioning for something over and over again, I start developing this connection to the character that gets very possessive in a way. When did you start feeling that connection to Jules and her inner workings?

Hunter Schafer: At one point in the audition process, I got all four of the first episodes. A lot happened in those first four episodes that I, as a transfeminine person and a queer person, really identify with. Seeing the arc of what she’s going through really clicked with me. I could start seeing her in my brain and I sketched her out.

“No matter what I’ve worked on or what art practices I’ve delved into, they’ve always been an attempt to world-build” – Hunter Schafer

Rowan Blanchard: How old is Jules?

Hunter Schafer: She’s a sophomore in high school, 16 or 17. I was looking back to when I was a sophomore and putting myself in the situations she was in. That’s when it clicked. It’s the way Sam writes and the way he writes music into the script – and which music correlated with Jules’s scenes. I could see her and feel her.

Rowan Blanchard: Even though this is your first time acting, it doesn’t feel like a big departure from what you’ve been doing before. I was looking back at your performance art and the photos you take of yourself. It’s all performative, in a way.

Hunter Schafer: No matter what I’ve worked on or what art practices I’ve delved into, they’ve always been an attempt to world-build. Whatever was not in my direct vicinity that I needed in order to feel fulfilled, I tried to create. When I decided to start acting it just felt like another level of world-building, because the way I’ve been approaching acting and this role, I feel like I’m living in two realities right now. This is the most fully realised world I’ve helped build or create.

Rowan Blanchard: Those worlds can start to feel confusing, especially when you’re doing TV.

Hunter Schafer: I’m definitely still in the thick of that. I just got a separate journal for Jules, so I’m not journalling in my own journal as Jules any more.

Rowan Blanchard: That’s a really healthy update! (laughs)

Hunter Schafer: I’m starting to develop my practice, learning how to come home after a really long day of shooting and letting myself breathe. I’m drawing and painting and listening to my music and keeping those things separate.

Rowan Blanchard: The way that Jules’s character is set up in the pilot is so beautiful. She’s very fully formed, even in how she does her hair and the clothes she wears.

Hunter Schafer: One of my favourite things about working on this show is the fact that it is so collaborative. We had sessions where we just tried on outfits for hours – it was like playing dress-up at home! I think earlier in my transition, where Jules is right now, I definitely relied on clothes and dressing-up as a way to affirm myself. More than I do now, I think. Being in high school and having that many eyes on you, or feeling like you have that many eyes on you, and sticking out like a sore thumb. I feel less pressure to dress for the eyes of other people now. I think that happened once I started modelling, near the end of high school.

Rowan Blanchard: Tell me, what was it like walking the Rick Owens show?

Hunter Schafer: Oh my God, it was just magical. Rick Owens is one of my absolute fucking favourite designers! I had been wanting (to walk) that show ever since I started modelling. The space that he used for the show – the Palais de Tokyo – was magic, and they had this giant, burning, witchy sort of totem in the middle. I really was feeling what I was wearing – I felt like myself. It was the closest I felt to myself while on the runway.

“I come from a background of working in modelling and high fashion… Not a lot of transgender women are able to occupy that space” – Hunter Schafer

Rowan Blanchard: I feel like as an actress you do interact with fashion in a different way. Do you see acting as something you want to do for a long time?

Hunter Schafer: I think so! Jules is an amazing place to start, because she is so close to home for me, but I would love to delve into something that’s not so close next time. I think that’s something trans women in this industry might be able to identify with, because we have a sense of adaptability that a lot of cisgendered people might not have to think about. There’s a lot of room for us to be able to expand into roles that are completely out of this world. I think that trans people know fantasy really well. That’s something I’m really interested in, a fantasy role.

Rowan Blanchard: You want to do it all! Let’s talk about your relationship to Sam (Levinson). I spoke to Hari (Nef, actress in Levinson’s film Assassination Nation) about him, too. How did you come around to accepting that a cis straight person was able to portray (a trans woman)?

Hunter Schafer: In the final audition for Euphoria, when it started getting serious, I had to sign something saying that if I got this role, I was going to commit. That meant I wasn’t going to school and was fully committed to filming this entire show. It was an intense moment, but I came out to that audition in LA and that’s when I met Sam, and we became really close. We had a five-hour meeting on the day that I got the role. We met at this coffee shop; he really wanted to listen to me and my thoughts. He’s writing these roles around all of us. He’s listening and using his privilege to uplift our stories and make them complex.

Rowan Blanchard: It feels good that he was able to write these characters with identities that are different from his without trying to make them represent the entire community.

Hunter Schafer: I was worried about that. I come from a background of working in modelling and high fashion, which has a pretty toxic set of standards. Not a lot of transgender women are able to occupy that space. I have a lot of privilege working in an industry like this and I was putting pressure on myself, worrying about how many facets of the trans community would not be represented by this one singular trans character.

Rowan Blanchard: Well, there aren’t a lot of trans roles in Hollywood right now, so of course you’re going to feel that pressure and expectation.

Hunter Schafer: That’s a really good point. There’s much more freedom in the idea that people can represent themselves instead of feeling that pressure to represent others.

Rowan Blanchard: Did you see the Hilma Klint show (at the Guggenheim) yet? I was thinking about her, and (feminist filmmaker) Barbara Loden…

Hunter Schafer: Yeah, I feel like we all identify with (Loden’s 1970 film) Wanda!

Rowan Blanchard: I wanna remake Wanda with you in it! (laughs) Yeah, I was just thinking about all these women who made work that was never seen at the time). Even though I never feel like things are changing, it does feel nice that we’re making things that get to be seen in our own lifetimes, and we don’t have to hide them.

Hunter Schafer: That’s a huge thing. Just think about all the beautiful things that are made behind closed doors, the things that haven’t been seen yet or are still to come – especially from your brain! Women are fucking powerful.

Thora Siemsen: You’ve both just said some really lovely things to each other and I feel lucky to have talked to you. Rowan, come and take all of our jobs, please.

Rowan Blanchard: Oh God, no, I couldn’t! I can’t.

Hunter Schafer: Yeah, this is the best interview I’ve ever had.

Rowan Blanchard: Aw, I love you!

Getting Ready With Hunter Schafer, Euphoria’s Breakout Star, Before the Show’s Big Premiere

Getting Ready With Hunter Schafer, Euphoria’s Breakout Star, Before the Show’s Big Premiere

It’s just a couple of hours away from the red carpet premiere of HBO’s next big show Euphoria, and star Hunter Schafer is debating whether or not she should get bangs. It’s her first premiere, and instead of having meticulously mapped out every detail, Schafer is following her instincts, moment by moment—and keeping calm, cool, and collected throughout. Take this, for example: Despite being in the middle of makeup and hair (she ultimately opted for wispy baby bangs left loose from her pulled-back hair), it was Schafer herself who ran out of her Silver Lake apartment to open the building’s door for me when I arrived, rather than send out one of the many people buzzing around her apartment. Despite staring down the biggest night in her career thus far, the Raleigh, North Carolina, native is still keeping it real—just one of the many reasons she was cast alongside stars like Zendaya in the upcoming gritty teen saga.

The actress, who earned fame as a model prior to the show, posing for the likes of Dior, Miu Miu, Rick Owens, and Marc Jacobs, also happens to be exceedingly relaxed about what she’s wearing on this special evening. “I’m going to be honest and say that we did the fitting this morning,” she says, before adding that, like with the bangs, she had one thing in mind but ended up going in a softer direction, with a floral Rodarte dress in a muted palette, paired with metallic combat boots. You could say the whole night is an exercise in restraint, something Schafer is now getting used to. “I’m lucky to have a solid team to keep me in check and say, ‘You probably shouldn’t wear head-to-toe Comme des Garçons sculptural shit on your first premiere,’” she jokes. So she settled on Rodarte, a brand with punk roots that has perfected the red-carpet realm. “I feel really happy about the piece we choose,” Schafer says. “And Rodarte is obviously really special.”

“Special” is a word that gets thrown around a lot when talking to Schafer about the premiere, to which she is bringing her mom and sister as her dates. (Her brother and dad are back in Raleigh, as her brother finishes his eighth-grade finals, which her mom lovingly asks me to mention.) But so is the word “scary.” That and similar descriptors have been used an awful lot by those close to the show, from the costume designer Heidi Bivens, who recently told W it’s more intense than Harmony Korine’s teen classic Kids, to, now, Schafer. “As far as the realness, it’s comparable [to Kids], but Euphoria is specific to 2019,” Schafer says. “I don’t think Euphoria can capture the entirety of the teen-in-high-school experience, but I think it is realistic. It’s scary in that sense because I don’t think we get to see a lot of depictions of high school this raw. I think that truth might scare people.”

In the show, Schafer plays Jules, a transfer student in her junior year who “frequently affirms herself through a toxic relationship with men,” as Schafer describes, which gets “challenged from the get-go,” thanks to her relationship with Zendaya’s character, Rue. “Rue doesn’t so much help Jules get out of the toxic pattern as much as Rue becomes an alternative,” Schafer explains. For the role, Schafer ended up drawing “a lot from her own experience” and lending the sensitivity with which Jules is portrayed. “It was a very collaborative process, and Jules had a similar storyline to my life, at least as far as transition timelines—not what happens within Euphoria,” she says. “Also, [writer] Sam Levinson was really open to collaboration because he can only write to some identities, so it was up to us to help him fill in little pieces.”

As much as Schafer tried to step back out of the character when she returned home from work each night, she says it was a struggle: “The lines got blurred.” But her castmate Zendaya offered support and plenty of laughs to lighten the heavy mood. “I remember one of the first days Zendaya and I shot together we were filming in a blanket fort that the crew had built and she has glitter tears in this scene so we basically got to act really high together, which was fun, and that sort of began the glitter-absolutely-everywhere spiral that continued for the rest of season,” Schafer recalls. “Because Zendaya was my main scene partner throughout the season, we’ve seen each other in about every emotional state that we have. It kind of puts the friendships on hyperspeed.”

As for how that onscreen vulnerability compares to stepping onto the runway, Schafer explains, “I think the anticipation is similar. When you’re anticipating a scene, you get nervous for it and you’re trying to combat it so you don’t fuck up. It’s similar because you have to have your guard down for these scenes and let yourself be.”

But one is definitely harder for her than the other. “I would say runway is easier because your job is to look good or play a character that is just going somewhere,” she says. “It’s rather physical, whereas acting is terrifying because you’re dealing with your subconscious and those can be murky waters. But I definitely can say that I enjoy acting more as an artist.”

What might be hardest of all, though, is letting her mom watch every moment of her screen time in the show. “My mom has seen the pilot. We had to skip through one scene, but overall she reacted well to it,” Schafer says. “She wanted to see the next episode, which was a good sign. But that was a scary scene. I don’t know if she’s seen these sides of me.” So will she get to see that scene tonight? “I might have to cover her eyes for it. We’ll see. We’ll probably have to decompress. We’ll have to talk about it a little, and maybe order some ice cream at home and let it out.”

Hunter Schafer: Leading the Charge for Femme Representation

Hunter Schafer: Leading the Charge for Femme Representation

We live in tumultuous times. On one end, hate and right wing extremism have suddenly plunged itself out in the open. Then on the other, there’s the so-called ‘woke culture’ that comes with its own set of pitfalls, namely the tokenization of minorities and marginalized communities that for so long have been erased from mainstream pop culture.

The films, shows, and books that attempt to ignorantly tick boxes under the guise of ‘representation’ are usually led by a cluster of cis heterosexual white men in boardrooms. And understandably, they usually fail to accurately depict the intricacies of their “diverse” characters.

Euphoria, HBO’s upcoming teen drama that follows a group of younglings — as they navigate a world of drugs, sex, and bullying — has Sam Levinson as its creator, also a cis white man.

Except Levinson isn’t here to tick boxes or tell you the story of young Black teenager through his perspective. On the contrary, the show finds its strength in its collaborative format that channels the voices and traumas of its own actors to give you an in into the lives of multiple teenagers in suburban America today.

At the center of the saga is Zendaya’s Rue, a recovering drug addict who is back in town (and on drugs) after a brief stint at a rehab. Levinson primarily uses his own experiences with addiction to carve Rue’s arc throughout the show, sprinkled with input from Zendaya herself.

As it progresses, the drama delves deep into its range of assorted characters, including Hunter Schafer’s Jules — a young trans woman who transfers to a new school and actively seeks toxic relationships with really fucked up men.

A trans woman herself, Schafer drew on her personal life to painfully dissect the struggles of coming to terms with your own identity all the while dealing with the emotional trauma dumped on you by your closest family and friends. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s worth it, as Schafer’s character is a striking example of the collaborative process employed by Levinson to tell individual stories.

“Hollywood is beginning to recognize the [trans] community a little more, but we still have a long way to go.”

“[Levinson’s] ability to understand other people’s positions in life is really special,” Schafer tells PAPER. “However, some of these experiences that he is portraying are pretty specific. He has been great about listening and being collaborative in terms of our storylines and our backstories. I remember when I got the role, they kept me in LA for a few extra days. We would have a meeting with him. We went to this cafe and talked for hours about our lives and how his life can mix with my own experiences to creates Jules. Ultimately, Jules is a combination of him and what he wrote for her before I was in the picture. Then, we added some of my own stuff in as well. So, it’s a mixture.”

This relentless dedication to authenticity is also what has led fans to draw parallels between the series and Larry Clark’s 1995 classic Kids, ahead of its premiere this weekend. And though Schafer’s character mirrors her own reality in many ways, portraying her hasn’t exactly been straightforward.

“It was intimidating as a new actor,” the novice actress says.

Although the 20-year-old has walked the runways for some of the biggest designers (including Miu Miu, Maison Margiela, and Tommy Hilfiger) across the world, Euphoria marks her acting debut, something that will be hard for viewers to tell from the get-go.

“Filming the pilot, I was definitely nervous and anticipating some of these more intense scenes, but the entire cast is just so warm and gentle,” she says. “I think the thing that surprised me most about acting is how you really have to go back into archives of your own mind and think about a lot of things that you might have been pushing down for years. But to be able to work through that stuff again has also just been incredibly therapeutic and rewarding.”

Euphoria brings a level of realness to the table that maybe other teen dramas haven’t in a while.”

In pushing its young and fairly new actors to performances that even experienced actors might find challenging, Euphoria also emerges as an outlier that skillfully avoids the familial teen drama tropes of high school cliques, mean girls, and an outcast protagonist that ultimately triumphs against it all. There are no winners in this story: only the gritty, hard truth.

“I think Euphoria brings a level of realness to the table that maybe other teen dramas haven’t in a while. Mostly because we are really focused on what it’s like currently to be a teenager,” explains Schafer. “That’s why the several storylines are so important, because it’s panning out across several different experiences. Of course, it can’t encapsulate the entire teen, high school experience, but I think it covers some ground.”

Led by its powerful Gen Z, cast the show also makes the case for LGBTQ representation, something most Hollywood executives and TV producers have only nodded at in the past. “As a trans feminine person, I had a really good experience portraying a trans feminine role. I think it’s just how it’s going so far. Hollywood is maybe beginning to recognize the community a little more, but we still have a long way to go. I think we will for a bit, but change is happening.”

As we pave the way for a more inclusive and unerring visual interpretation of a generation that continues to puzzle older millennials and Baby Boomers everywhere, understanding the role of social media plays in their lives is no doubt top of the list.

“I think what makes this show the most distinctive to now is the aspect of social media and phones and how that influences almost all of the storylines, because it’s a new reality that we’ve added to our lives,” Schafer adds. “It makes everything more complex and fast-paced, which I think the show pays attention to as well with its pace and its vicariousness. A lot of people or parents perceive teenagers’ use of social media as lazy.”

“That’s our main goal: to create a mass sense of empathy for each and every individual that is going through these experiences.”

She continues, “I think this show gives some light to the fact that it really is just a level of reality and perhaps their involvement in this digital world is more active than their real vicinity that is right in front of them. They can jump around to all these different locations on the internet and find communities. They can have completely separate lives than what’s in front of them. I think from maybe a parent’s view, you don’t see that. You just see a child going into their own zone, on their phone, when this kid is really somewhere else in the world right there.”

Euphoria doesn’t hold back on pulling any punches and gives you a modern day teenage saga that’s perhaps devoid of the charm of predecessors like Gossip Girl or Skins. And that’s okay, because it’s not a story of misfits trying to fight their way in.

The teenagers on the show and IRL today are more than okay with doing away with the stale notion of ‘fitting in.’ Beyond anything else, Euphoria is a cry for empathy for a generation that continues to navigate the banalities of life and growing up in a highly politicized climate where some of their basic rights are challenged everyday. “The show can be for everybody and I think everybody can take something away from it. We made a piece of art and we feel one way about it, but we are really interested in how it’s perceived among other people,” adds Schafer. “I just hope that people stick with it and ride all the way through the season, and let it hit them — and really empathize with all of the characters. I think that’s our main goal: to create a mass sense of empathy for each and every individual that is going through these experiences.”

With HBO’s ‘Euphoria,’ Zendaya and Hunter Schafer aren’t afraid to raise eyebrows

With HBO’s ‘Euphoria,’ Zendaya and Hunter Schafer aren’t afraid to raise eyebrows

“Nobody is getting their head cut off,” Zendaya says. She’s referring to the hubbub over her latest project: “Euphoria,” HBO’s unflinching portrait of teen life.

It’s true. There aren’t the beheadings viewers came to expect from “Game of Thrones.” But that doesn’t mean the new HBO drama isn’t raising eyebrows. The first episode includes a drug overdose, an unsettling statutory rape scene, and a sexual encounter involving unsolicited choking. ”Euphoria” has spurred controversy ahead of its Sunday premiere for its gritty use of sex, drugs, and nudity to illustrate the grown-up situations Generation Z must navigate. While such mature content has become a hallmark of HBO, adding teen characters to the mix has provoked criticism.

Inside the energetic Crossroads restaurant on Melrose Avenue, Zendaya and her costar, Hunter Schafer, are deep in discussion about the need for a dark, uncensored exploration on teen life — an antidote to the glossier version typically pushed on television.

“This show is in no way to tell people what the right thing to do is,” Zendaya, 22, says. “This is not ‘The Moral Message Show.’ This is to inspire compassion among people for other human beings and to understand that everyone has a story you don’t know about, a battle that they’re fighting that you don’t understand. I don’t find the show shocking, but there will be people who do.”

“But I also think that’s what being a teenager is,” Schafer, 20, adds. “Finding the middle ground between being an adult and being a kid and that transition. I think that’s one of the hardest parts, is finding yourself in adult situations but not knowing how to navigate them. And that makes people uncomfortable — because it is uncomfortable. So, yeah, it’s not easy to watch, but to some degree, everyone will be able to relate to it because everyone has experienced what that’s like on some level.”

Based on the Israeli series of the same name, “Euphoria” was adapted for HBO by Sam Levinson (the son of filmmaker Barry Levinson) and counts rapper Drake — a graduate of the more wholesome teen series “Degrassi: The Next Generation” — as an executive producer. Levinson, 34, pulled from his own troubled youth and battle with anxiety, depression and addiction to opiates in creating the series.

“I think people like to kind of put their head in the sand when it comes to some of these conversations,” Levinson says in a telephone interview. “And there’s such a generational disconnect. It’s not like 30 years ago, when one generation could provide at least a bit of a road map for the next generation. Life now moves at such a fast speed. I think we’re all adapting at the same time, so it’s difficult to give any kind of real advice to the younger generation about how to navigate the world.”

While “Euphoria” features an ensemble of teen characters, it centers on the intimacy that develops between Rue and Jules, who become each other’s confidantes and advocates amid the pressures of adolescence. The series is full of hefty material for Zendaya and Schafer to dig into: Zendaya’s Rue is a high school student fresh off an unsuccessful stint in rehab who can’t stop her destructive compulsions — “I know you’re not allowed to say it, but drugs are kinda cool,” Rue confesses while riding a high. Schafer’s Jules is a trans girl who recently moved into town and is battling her own demons, including a habit of spending her nights having sex with closeted older men and a harrowing past of self-harm.

“I think Rue and Jules are soul mates,” Zendaya says. “Whether that’s healthy is questionable. But I think that at a point in time, there’s a connection that nobody else will be able to understand but them and they’ll always have it. … There’s a lot of beauty in it, but there’s also a lot of toxicity. They’re both leaning on each other in a way and finding comfort or safety … or a bit of a new addiction within each other.”

“They become each other’s alternative to the toxic elements in their lives” is how Schafer describes the relationship between the characters.

Stepping into the roles was its own coming-of-age tightrope for the young actresses.

A Disney Channel darling since the age of 13 in 2010’s “Shake It Up,” Zendaya (whose last name is Coleman) was facing a transition in her career. During breaks from her subsequent Disney gig, “K.C. Undercover,” she built a list of credits that took her beyond the bounds of Mickey Mouse. She appeared in 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as Peter Parker’s love interest, MJ — a part she’ll reprise in the forthcoming sequel “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” She also starred in 2017’s big-screen musical “The Greatest Showman.” But plotting her post-Disney career after “K.C. Undercover” came to an end in early 2018 proved daunting.

“It’s very hard to go from what feels like elementary school and feels like the same grade over and over and over again to finally being able to go to college and then having to go back to the same [elementary] grade,” she says. “It was just tough. I’m not saying it made me sad or anything. But it didn’t feel great. And after [“K.C.”] was done, it was weird because I’ve had a consistent job, or that kind of schedule, since I was, like, 13. So then to face the fact that I didn’t have that anymore was a little weird. And all the scripts I was getting just did not feel right to me because they were with the pretense of what I’d done already, still in that world. Nothing fit. Nothing worked.”

For Schafer, “Euphoria” marks her first TV series. The Raleigh, N.C., native had been working in New York as a model for fashion heavy-hitters like Dior and Marc Jacobs. She was set to go to fashion design school when she saw a casting call on Instagram seeking a trans actress for the series.

“I was a little scared about being trans and falling into an archetype,” she says. “But after getting a few scripts, it started to make more sense to me and started to resonate even more.”

On the day of this interview, the two are nestled side-by-side in a booth at the celeb-spotting restaurant (on this visit, Tobey Maguire and Sara Gilbert). There’s talk of whether oat milk is worth the hype — Zendaya is skeptical, while Schafer touts it as the “whole milk of the non-dairy milks” — and a duet of Cher’s “Believe” as it blares through the speakers.

When the conversation turns to whether they share any similarities with the characters they play, the two become contemplative.

“One of the first things that lined up was just that we had similar transition timelines — we both transitioned on the earlier side of high school,” Schafer says. “I kind of could see her from the beginning, as far as what she looks like and what her energy was like, and it wasn’t that far off. But I would say [Jules] was probably a little more confident than me in high school. Where we really differ is the way we coped and the way we survived high school. Because my way of coping was fantasizing about where I could get myself in the future. [Jules] wants to have relationships and go to parties and has built these toxic relationships with men that she turns to for affirmation.”

Zendaya says it’s hard to explain how she relates to Rue. Unlike the character, the actress says she has never done drugs or consumed alcohol. “I know in that sense people kind of assume this is a huge acting stretch for me,” she says. “But as a human being, I think Rue is very similar to me. She’s a good person. There’s an innocence to her.”

Beyond the shocking nature of the series, the two hope “Euphoria” provides a sobering window into the anxiety and stress facing young people today. There have been a number of studies that assert Gen Z to be the most stressed and depressed generation.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand how intense and complicated it is to be a teenager today,” Schafer says. “I think a lot of parents see their kids on their phones and think they’re a [damn] zombie. That is an entirely alternate reality that they are immersed in in that moment that is probably way more complicated and fast-paced than [parents] even realize.”

“Even I don’t fully get it,” Zendaya says. “But I understand a good percent of it. Rue says in the first episode something like, ‘We just showed up here without a map or compass.’ And it’s true, because we don’t know what the … we’re doing. Nobody actually knows what they’re doing. Imagine growing up in social media and being a child. It’s not easy. It’s confusing. And it’s uncomfortable. It’s a lot of things. It’s created by the very people that call us the zombies or whatever. It’s like, we’re the byproduct of this … , you know?”

Hunter Schafer Prepped For “Euphoria” by Time Traveling

Hunter Schafer Prepped For “Euphoria” by Time Traveling

The 20-year-old actress and model Hunter Schafer stars this summer opposite Zendaya in HBO’s sex-and-drugs-fueled high school drama Euphoria. Off camera, the Raleigh, North Carolina native is interested in fashion design and has devoted her time to fighting the state’s House Bill 2, which forces individuals to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex assigned to them at birth. “Dude, acting has been a trip. I had never really acted before, so I really didn’t know what I was doing. The casting director for Euphoria set me up with an acting coach in New York, and he completely flipped my world around. The way you learn to utilize your brain and your emotions really freaked me out. We did something called Effective Memorization, where you put yourself into a relaxed state so that you can walk through a place from your childhood—almost like time travel.”

Euphoria’s biggest breakout stars Barbie Ferreira and Hunter Schafer reject the ‘activist’ labels they’ve been given

Both fashion models, spokeswomen, “activists” and actors, Barbie Ferreira and Hunter Schafer have had different journeys, but share similar experiences and views on how quick people are to thrust them into a specific role.

“In modelling and fashion, there’s this thing where everyone’s an activist or people put that label on people. That’s a lot of pressure and I think it’s not used correctly a lot of the time. People simply being themselves and having a political opinion doesn’t necessarily mean they’re an activist,” Ferreira says.

Ferreira is best known for being a champion of the body positivity movement. She first made waves in the fashion world when unretouched images of her for Aerie (American Eagle’s lingerie brand) went viral. This led her to being named one of Time Magazine’s “30 Most Influential Teens” and she’s since modelled for Teen Vogue, Nylon and Grazia as well as Adidas, Asos, Forever 21 and H&M, to name a few.

“I think that pressure that people view me or Hunter as someone who’s a spokesperson for people – not one person could ever do that! Real diversity and the real inclusivity would be an array of stories from these people,” she adds.

“Not one person can represent the entire community,” Schafer says, nodding in agreement.

“There’s so many experiences and stories that still need to be told and portrayed in so many forms of media.”

20-year-old international fashion model Schafer is frequently referred to as an LGBT rights activist. She’s open about her identity as a transgender woman on social media and through her art. Three years ago in high school, she protested in her home state against North Carolina’s House Bill 2, also known as the “bathroom bill”, forcing individuals to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. She’s also modelled for the likes of Miu Miu, Versace, Gucci, Marc Jacobs and Dior.

In Euphoria, Schafer and Ferreira play Jules and Kat respectively. Based on an original Israeli series, the show centres around 17 year old Rue (Zendaya), a drug addict out of rehab who befriends and develops a crush on new girl, Jules. Meanwhile Kat is trying to navigate teen life. She’s yet to encounter her first sexual experience and is soon lured into a troubling online world.

The script and premise immediately appealed to both actors, because diversity isn’t what defines their characters’ narrative.

“One of my favourite things about this show is that while it’s representing multiple different identities and backgrounds, it’s not about that,” Schafer explains.

“The characters are allowed to be multi-dimensional and while their identities or backgrounds may influence them to act a certain way or make certain decisions – that’s not their arc. I think that’s something that a lot of communities who are underrepresented crave: a sense of normalcy and being able to have storylines that are just as, if not more complex than communities who are represented. So while it may not be about that, it does feel constructive,” she says.

“I think that’s really special about this show. Nothing is sensationalised in that way where it’s like, oh, let’s jab in that we’re diverse a thousand times!” Ferreira adds.

While Ferreira has a few acting roles up her sleeve, including a guest role on Sarah Jessica Parker’s Divorce, for both, this is a first major venture into acting. The transition from modelling to TV has been helpful in some ways, but mostly, it’s a new and welcomed change.

“I think we both are comfortable in front of cameras! That helps a lot in that respect,” Schafer laughs.

“In modelling you don’t really have to bare your soul in the same way. This was so much more collaborative.”

“It is very different, modelling and acting,” Ferreira jumps in.

“You’re literally a walking clothes hanger in modelling. I like doing something that people can really see in front of the camera, so this is a good dream to go from that to this because I’m already comfortable! I brought a lot of me six years ago into this role. I feel like a lot of young people are struggling with feeling like they’re worthy because of their body. I’m very blessed that my first role could be something I could bring a lot of my own experiences so directly into.”

Trans Superstar Hunter Schafer on Her Moment of ‘Euphoria’

With “Euphoria,” a drama about teens at an American high school, HBO has placed a bet on attracting a young audience that favors Instagram over TV. And the premium cable network’s greatest asset may be a digital-native star who never aspired to be an actress until the role found her.

As Jules, 20-year-old actress Hunter Schafer plays a part in a complicated Gen-Z story of love in the time of “likes”; her character (who, like her, is trans), embarks on a complicated friendship bordering on courtship with new BFF Rue (Zendaya). Jules is a habitué of the everything-on-demand web — which provides opportunities for self-discovery, at times through after-curfew encounters — and is unafraid to stand up for herself or to risk real danger. But there’s a core of unfulfilled romanticism at the character’s heart, a dreaminess that contrasts with Rue’s dour realism.

In conversation, Schafer is as light and airy as her idealist character. Describing how she ended up auditioning for an HBO drama — after experiencing the first blush of fame as a model for Christian Dior, Helmut Lang and Marc Jacobs, among others — Schafer says, “I was just like, ‘F–k it; why not? Let’s try!’ It snowballed from there.” Her reps suggested she attend the first audition, which Schafer had already seen posted on Instagram; she’d been planning to attend fashion design school. “Eventually, I did my final audition out in L.A., and I was filming a pilot a month later.”

The allure of HBO and Zendaya aside, it’s easy to see why Schafer disrupted her plans. Jules represents a too-rare opportunity — the character grapples with desire but not, in the show’s early going, with gender identity, in which she is secure. Playing a role in which gender was not the struggle was exciting. “There need to be more roles where trans people aren’t just dealing with being trans; they’re being trans while dealing with other issues. We’re so much more complex than just one identity.” “Euphoria” hasn’t just changed the way Schafer sees her career unfolding: “It’s altered the way I think, period. As a trans person I worked really, really, really hard to figure out who I was and solidify that and take hold of it. The idea of having to put that aside and create this new person is scary. But it’s also really exciting to me, continuing to morph and to evolve.”

Schafer comes by her wisdom about rapid change, and her knowledge of high school, honestly. She’s already experienced a few breakneck years of career evolution, and she was practically just a high schooler (she brought her younger sister to a “Euphoria” screening recently to verify that the series rang true). Growing up in North Carolina, Schafer was a named plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit with her home state over the “bathroom bill,” which sought to prohibit expansion of protections to LGBTQ people and to govern who could use what public washroom. “I was in a place of privilege in my transition and felt like I could handle making myself visible in order to help my state understand why what they were doing was detrimental to my community,” Schafer says. “But I don’t think that makes me an activist.” As for whether she’s a role model to young teens, Schafer says, “I don’t feel prepared or mature enough, but I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next few months of the show airing. It might not really be up to me anymore.”

Euphoria breakout Hunter Schafer on daring show: ‘There’s a lot of stuff that hasn’t been on TV before’

While HBO’s Euphoria has garnered a lot of attention for its explicit content, it’s the sweet, moving relationship between teens Rue (Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Schafer) that is truly the heart of the show.

The 20-year-old Schafer has never acted before onscreen which makes her almost ethereal performance as Jules even more remarkable.

EW talked to the model about this groundbreaking role and what she hopes viewers take from watching Euphoria.

EW: Euphoria is your first acting job, right? How did this come about?
HUNTER SCHAFER: Yeah, I have not acted before and was not planning on it really either. I was modeling for about a year in New York and had my sights set on fashion school afterwards and then as I was getting ready and gearing up for fashion school I saw this casting call floating around on Instagram. It was for trans girls, who didn’t have to be experienced and it didn’t say Euphoria or anything but I was like, “Huh.”

I had been interested in trying acting and like I went to school with actors and whatnot, and I was interested in the craft but, didn’t really push myself to do it. Then, my model agency rang me up a few days later and had me go in for an audition and it was the weirdest thing—it kept going. And they hooked me up with an acting coach through the audition process and he cracked me like an egg and I kind of, like, started falling in love with the script and, like, acting itself over that period of time and it happened, like, I got cast. It’s just the wildest process, over, like, a few months I would say.

So much of this show hinges on the relationship between Jules and Rue (Zendaya). Did you all do a chemistry read? Or meet before?
Thank you so much. We met after it had been cast and I think we got really lucky because we both love each other a lot and, you know, we feel like family and that makes it like the best work environment. It’s amazing.

It’s rare to see a show with a trans teen as the lead. Did you offer your own life experiences to the creator, Sam Levinson?
It was very important to me that he was collaborative and he has been amazing, everything I could wish for as far as listening to my story and my experiences and letting that influence the script, and, like, talking to me about it and wrestling together with ideas.

I remember the weekend I got cast, HBO had brought me out, me and Barbie [Ferreira, who plays Kat] actually. We both were staying at the same hotel and doing our final auditions together, and when I found out I got the role they kept me for a weekend just so that Sam and I could, like, sit at a café for, like, four or five hours and just, like, share ideas together so he could hear my story as a trans person. Because that’s another thing I was worried about, entering this project not only just being a completely inexperienced actor but also, like, the script was written by a white, straight cis man. And you know, there is only so much a white, cis, straight man can write for all these intersections that these characters fill as far as, like, Barbie is a plus size woman or me as a trans woman. So it was really important to me that he would listen to us and be collaborative. And he has been all that and more.

A lot of teens are going to watch this and connect to you and Jules’ story. How do you feel about that?
I think it’s cool as f—. I personally am thrilled about that, especially because of how it has lined up with my own feelings and experiences of, like, as a person. It’s diverse in some respects. It’s not about their labels, you know. It’s about them going through real wild teenage s— together and, like, experiencing that. It’s not about some discourse about them finding, like, their identity or, like, being comfortable with that. And so in a way, I think it strays from, like, the typical coming of age and it just lets them be three-dimensional characters. Because I think if it was about Jules, like, finding herself as a young trans woman, you can only get so much out of her with that. It’s so much more interesting to just, like, let her being a trans woman be a part of that and something that sways her in certain ways throughout the plot, but that’s not what it’s about. And that’s 100% my favorite thing because I think it can be easy to fall into, like, the whole identity discourse trap and they just get to be fully-rounded human beings.

What do you hope people take away from Euphoria?
I mean, more than anything, I just want people to, like, let themselves be taken on the ride that Euphoria will be over eight episodes and just, like, let it, like, hit them. There’s a lot of stuff that hasn’t been on TV before or at least not to the degree that Euphoria is putting it out there. Just watch the whole season, don’t give up on it and, like, let yourself find love for these characters who are going through a lot. Or hate them. I just want people to, like, let themselves be affected by it. Despite the fact that lot of this stuff they might not have seen before and that might make them feel uncomfortable, I want them to stick through it and witness a transformation and, in my opinion, a beautiful, tragic story.

Euphoria’s Breakout Star Hunter Schafer on Playing an Unprecedented Character

Hunter Schafer is not your typical tween starlet. For one, her most recent endeavor—a breakout role in HBO’s Euphoria as Jules, whose life is complicated not only by being the new girl in town but by also being trans—is something of a second (or possibly third) career for her. Before she starred in the suburban dystopian drama of millennial life, she was a model, photographed by Inez & Vinhood for Vera Wang, and stomping down the runway for Rick Owens. And before that, she was on her way to Central St. Martins, where she planned to study fashion design. Before that she was an activist, joining in the ACLU and Lambda Legal’s lawsuit against HB2, North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill” that prohibited transgender people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identities. It’s a hefty resume for someone who has not yet entered her third decade of life. And it’s understandable that she’d prefer to focus on the direction her career has taken her recently, not her activist past. Doesn’t three years ago seem like another lifetime when you’re in your teens?

But it’s not just her perspective that makes Schafer seem to want to steer the conversation toward her latest work. It’s the sense that the making of Euphoria has been an all-consuming, high-stakes, intense experience for her (not unlike teenage life itself). When I speak with her, she is just coming off a two-week break from filming the final episodes of the show’s first season, and she says she’s been in “a moment of decompressing and letting that part of my life go.” Not that she has been slacking off. It’s hard to tell exactly how she’s been spending her days, but it sounds as though there have been some projects in the works. “It’s cool how to see how my creative juices have shown themselves when they’re not being used for Euphoria every day,” she says, speaking from L.A., where she’s currently living. “I’m trying to find a new rhythm as to how I’m going to externalize my artistic energies. It’s a moment of re-formation.”

But before the re-formation, though, comes the formation: a sharp-yet-tender performance that becomes something like the shining light at the center of the increasingly dark world that Euphoria depicts. “I’d never known anyone like Jules before,” comments the character of Rue, played by Zendaya, the narrator and protagonist of the show. If Jules is a beacon, Rue is a dark pit, her trajectory toward self-annihilation seeming to know no impediment. Schafer is captivating in the role not because she’s a purely sunny antidote to the depravity and confusion surrounding her, but because she’s sometimes subject to that confusion (and violence) herself, and she still looks at life as an optimist and romantic.

I spoke with Schafer about the show, the controversial reaction its extremes have elicited, and what it’s like to portray a nuanced trans character in popular culture.

So what kind of creative work are you most interested in now that you’re not working on the show anymore?

I’m interested in everything. If I had enough time on this earth, I’d like to learn every art practice. But recently, of course, I’ve been transfixed with acting. Ever since I can remember, I drew, and visual arts have been my main way to express myself. I like dancing, although I’ve never done that very seriously. It’s something I’d like to explore more. I almost went to Central Saint Martins for fashion design. I deferred for a year when I graduated high school so that I could go model and make some money and immerse myself in the fashion industry for a year. I needed a break from school. But I was set to go there until this role came up and turned my whole life upside down. I don’t think I even told them I wasn’t coming.

You don’t come from a typical acting background. You definitely weren’t a Disney kid! How did the casting come about?

I saw a casting call floating around on Instagram last year, and then a few days later, my model agents told me that I’d been asked to come in for it. I’d heard that other trans models were doing it, so I was interested. I could have never really seen myself taking on such a performative art practice, because I’m pretty shy, but I went in and gave it a run, and they asked me to come back and come back again. Eventually, I got a few scenes and then more and more of the script, until I had the first four episodes. Having those first four episodes made me fall in love with the project.

The show has been criticized by some for its violence. The Parents Television Council condemned the show for “overtly, intentionally, marketing extremely graphic adult content—sex, violence, profanity, and drug use—to teens and preteens.” What’s your take on the level of violence in the show.

This is the first whole script I’ve ever read, so I didn’t really have much to compare it to. But I think I found it really exciting to read, and there was a realness to it that Sam Levinson [the show’s creator] brought that was really appealing. Yes, I was definitely intimidated by some of the scenes, particularly those in the pilot that get pretty graphic. I was definitely intimidated, asking myself, can I do this? I’ve never acted before, and these are really intense scenes.

And then as a trans girl playing a trans character, I had to ask, where is this going, what’s her backstory? Is this going to depict a trans girl in a weird way that I think needs to be in the world? But as I got more of the script and witnessed her arc develop, I became more confident in the way she had been constructed. And I really fell in love with her and Rue and their overall trajectory.

What about the script made her character not a caricature and gave you this confidence?

When I got a few more of the episode, and I read her backstory, I started to understand where all this shit that she’s pulling was coming from. By the end of episode four, we begin to see her sexuality take a turn, and I identified with that shift, in terms of having a toxic idealization of men, and then letting that fall away and putting more value in relationships with femme people who you trust and love deeply. That was something I hadn’t really seen on TV before: a trans girl in a non-hetero relationship, in a queer relationship. Seeing that spoke to me as a queer trans woman.

Enthralled by ‘Euphoria’? Hunter Schafer Knows Why (It’s Because of Her)

Enthralled by ‘Euphoria’? Hunter Schafer Knows Why (It’s Because of Her)

The transgender actress talks about her newfound fame, raves about Zendaya and explains why she doesn’t want to be called an activist.

It’s hard to upstage Zendaya, the Disney Channel star who soared through “The Greatest Showman” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” into the Hollywood stratosphere.

But in HBO’s “Euphoria,” Hunter Schafer has done just that, in what is remarkably her debut acting role.

Schafer plays Jules, the new kid in town — a trans girl with a dreamy Sailor Moon vibe and a self-destructive yearning for affection — who becomes best friends with Zendaya’s addiction-tormented Rue at their sex-and-drugs-deluged high school.

Her performance as a sensitive, stabilizing force amid the insanity has captivated viewers and critics alike, who’ve anointed her the series’s breakout star. And its fourth episode, on July 7, explored Jules’s story, following her harrowing journey from a depression-filled childhood into a psychiatric hospital — and, eventually, a happier transition.

Shafer was modeling in New York, with plans to study fashion design at Central Saint Martins in London, when her agency informed her that she’d been asked to audition for “Euphoria.”

“I gave it a shot just because I had been mildly interested in acting, but it wasn’t something that I thought I would be pursuing seriously in any way, shape or form,” she said. “Then I just kept going back in and getting more of the scripts and eventually started to fall in love with my character.”

After landing the role, she spent hours with Sam Levinson, the show’s creator, helping to fill out Jules’s experiences transitioning. “We were just telling each other stories and bringing forward timelines that we thought could make sense for Jules and then conceptualizing and sharing ideas, and that was the beginning,” she said. “I feel like Jules was being built until the last day we wrapped.”

“Euphoria” may be her first on-screen gig, but Schafer is no stranger to attention. Raised in Raleigh, N.C., she was a plaintiff in the American Civil Liberties Union’s 2016 lawsuit against North Carolina House Bill 2 that required people to use the restroom for the gender they were assigned at birth. She wrote about the experience of navigating bathrooms in her public high school for i-D, and for her convictions made Teen Vogue’s 2017 list of “21 Under 21.”

In a phone interview as she shuttled between a photo shoot and her New York hotel room, the sunny Schafer, 20, talked about her newfound fame, representation in entertainment and why she doesn’t want to be called an activist.

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How does it feel to be having this moment as a breakout star?

It’s pretty surreal. I feel so lucky to have “Euphoria” as a first experience with taking on a character and exploring acting, and in having this group of people as well. I couldn’t be happier about the situation, and so whatever people are calling me is just the cherry on top.

You’ve said that your life was similar in certain ways to Jules’s. How?

I transitioned in early high school, and her transition might have been a little bit earlier than mine. But transitioning while you’re in public school is a pretty intense experience, so I knew I could bring that to her. And then Jules’s drive and motivation for the way she acts from the start, as far as a desire to be treated “like a woman.” And I’m saying that with quote fingers because that’s a loaded term. But I think one of Jules’s main battles is her desire for romance and normalcy and love, which I think she’s kind of locked down a routine as far as getting some form of that. But of course it’s not healthy, and I can relate to that point in my life. I didn’t act out on it, but I certainly desired to be treated a certain way in order to affirm my femininity.

What’s it like working with Zendaya?

She’s amazing. Z was my main scene partner for most of this season and I just feel so lucky to come out of this experience with a new best friend.

As an aspiring fashion designer, did you have any input into Jules’s distinctive style?

Some of Jules’s looks were already written into the script, and it was clear that she was expressive and stood out at her school. But as far as narrowing down what that aesthetic was, that was something that was really fun to work on with Heidi Bivens, our costume designer. I remember she let me make mood boards coming into filming. Then throughout Jules’s arc I think we start to witness a little bit of a change in style, which was fun to navigate as well. Heidi and I were just constantly sending each other references and photos and general guides that we think Jules could inhabit so it was really collaborative.

The Parents Television Council issued a warning about “Euphoria” before its premiere, calling it a “grossly irresponsible programming decision” for its graphic content. Does the show ring true to your memory of your own high school experience?

I can’t say I lived the way these characters do, just because my default is to be internal and stay home. Making artwork was my saving grace in high school. I didn’t really go out to parties very often the way these characters do. Oftentimes their actions make their experiences kind of messy where there’s no parents involved. But it’s interesting because my siblings have recently seen it, and I think they have a different experience of high school than I did. And they found it extremely true or relatable. It just sort of clocked high school in a way that they hadn’t seen before, which I was really excited to hear.

You’ve been what most people would consider activist, and yet you say you don’t like that word. Why?

When I think of an activist, I think of a community organizer who is working every day and directly with community members, and making it a job to take care of and speak up for a community in some way. So as an actor and an artist whose primary focus is making artwork or world-building, I don’t think I fall into that category. There might have been a point in my career where, because people have been telling me I’m an activist, I took on that label. But in retrospect, I don’t think that’s what I am — or what I’ve been — just because I’m vocal about my identity sometimes.

You’ve listed “Pose” as one of your favorite shows. How do you feel about trans representation and opportunities in Hollywood?

I think it’s always preferable that a trans person plays a trans person — one, because there’s enough cisgender actors in Hollywood, and two, because trans people can bring levels of experience to the trans experience that they might be portraying. A cisgender actor might be able to conceptualize and get it down to a T but won’t have the experiences in their back pocket that they can bring forward to use for that character. Trans people deserve to see themselves represented on their own TV screens, not being inhabited by people who might not completely understand them.

You’ve walked the runway for Helmut Lang, Miu Miu and Marc Jacobs, to name a few. Any plans to return to modeling?

I think I’ve taken a step back for now just because I really liked the way I felt in front of the camera acting and I want to keep exploring.

Are you auditioning for other parts, and do you have a dream role in mind?

I’m still kind of winding down from “Euphoria.” It’s taking a bit of time, just because we were doing this for eight months and I’m very immersed in that world, and I’m still in the process of letting it go. But I think I will start auditioning soon, and I’m really interested to explore what other characters I could inhabit. Jules was so parallel to me in a lot of ways. I would love to branch off to someone who is cisgender or a fantasy role. There are many different ways to go and I feel so new to acting and really excited about the art form. I’d love to just keep exploring.

In a 2016 interview, you said you came out first as gay, and then trans. Then you began exploring non-binary identity. Could you explain what you mean?

Earlier in my transition, I think I relied on a vantage point of the world that was very close to the gender binary and was only able to be myself in the gender-binary viewpoint. And as I’ve learned more about my community and come to understand gender as a spectrum, and the gender binary as something that’s nonexistent and a construct and a product of colonialism, I have sort of let go of the idea that I need to do the one or the other — and just let myself be.

In Episode 4, we see Jules admitted to a psych ward as she struggles with body dysmorphia and self-harm, and her desire to transition initially treated as a mental illness. Was that something you could relate to?

That experience is something from Sam’s life actually, something that really happened to him, not necessarily because he was trans but because he was dealing with similar symptoms of anxiety and depression that I think Jules was dealing with at that time as well. He was talking about being on the set and how it looked exactly the same and how intense that was.

I remember when I was early in my transition and had just come out and was starting to get help, I had to meet with a therapist for a year and have that therapist confirm to doctors before I could have access to hormones — have that therapist confirm to them that I was, in fact, female in my head, which is nuts just to have to have some doctor making decisions about your identity when you know the whole time. I don’t think it’s like that everywhere but that’s one experience that I remember specifically that was just really weird and not affirming as far as people believing me when I’m saying who I am.

This episode is also the moment we see Jules rethinking the ways in which she has pursued affection. And then that kiss with Rue as they’re lying in bed …

What I just loved about the script is that we see her start to recognize [her reliance on men] and eventually move away from it, particularly with her relationship to Rue, which I found really exciting as well as a young trans girl in a not-heterosexual relationship.

‘Euphoria’s’ Hunter Schafer on Exploring Trans Identity Onscreen

Schafer also discussed working with a trans consultant and shooting those sex scenes with Eric Dane.

Hunter Schafer takes on her first acting role in HBO’s boundary-pushing drama Euphoria as Jules Vaughn, and on Sunday night’s fourth episode, the show dives into her character’s past and current traumas.

Over the course of the episode, the audience learns how Jules struggled with depression as a child and was forced into a psychiatric hospital by her mother, eventually leading to a suicide attempt. After leaving the facility, she begins to transition into a woman, and by high school is sleeping with a constant stream of married and unavailable men as an emotional escape. That seems to finally stop when she meets Tyler online and quickly falls for him, only to find out that it was really Nate (Jacob Elordi) pretending to be her dream man, blackmailing her to keep quiet about sleeping with his father, Cal (Eric Dane). The final moments of the episode are of Jules being comforted by best friend Rue (Zendaya), resulting in a passionate kiss between the two.

Schafer, who is also trans, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her character’s emotional backstory, that Nate face-off and working with a trans consultant on set.

In this episode we see a young Jules tricked into going to a psychiatric hospital and becoming suicidal. What was your reaction when you learned about her past?

Her backstory is really emotional and not something that I necessarily expected when reading the first three episodes. I was really curious as to how that formed her into the person we’re introduced to at the beginning of the series. Talking to Sam [Levinson, Euphoria creator] about it some, a lot of this he’s pulled from his life directly. As we’ve said as a cast before, each character is, in some ways, different facets of Sam and I think Sam brought a really potent moment of his childhood into Jules’ backstory. Obviously it’s sad and you really learn that she’s been through something transformative. I think it was something that intended to make her better but might have made her worse or made her feel more conflicted than she already was at the time.

Jules’ dad is really accepting of her transition as a teenager. Why was that important to show that she had one supportive parent at home?

For Jules, it says in her story that she begins transitioning at 13 years old, which is pretty young in the scheme of trans people. To transition that young, you need the support of a parent or guardian because it’s hard to acquire the resources at that age to move forward with that process and be able to recognize all of your needs, mentally and physically. I think her dad being supportive allows her to be where she’s at when we first meet her, so it’s pretty vital.

As a trans woman yourself, why was it important to you to shape this character and have this deep, emotional backstory?  

I think there might be some confusion about why she’s acting the way that she is from the first episode, why she’s putting herself through that, from an outside perspective. So to know where some of that is coming from and to understand that some of her issues run really deep and formed when she was maybe even too young to clearly remember or too young to make that connection, that’s insightful and necessary.

Jules has a confrontation with Nate’s dad, Cal, at the fair after their hookup. Why does she protect him and promise not to share their secret?

I think she understands the parallels between her life and her search for that feeling that she can often only find in hotel rooms with these other men, and that they’re looking for the same thing. And while her experience with Cal might not have been great, I don’t think she’d use him that much differently than any other man she’s hooked up with, until she’s made the connection that he’s Nate’s dad. Even so, I don’t think she’d stir anything more up or make anything more complicated by trying to out him because she’s scared of Nate from the get-go. Nate is pretty scary.

Speaking of, you have an intense scene when Nate reveals he is actually Tyler. How did you and Jacob prepare for that?

I remember coming to set that day, and Jacob and I were really tight throughout the series and filming but that day was hard for us because we knew what was coming. I remember both of us staying in our own headspaces and we said, “Hi,” to each other but didn’t really move beyond that until we were filming. Which I think helped create some tension which was palpable. I just had to go back into a place in my head, a loss of love or a realization that this person wasn’t who you thought they were, and that’s a pretty hard moment for lost people.

What is that realization like for Jules?

I think one, all Jules really wants is romance despite the constant highly sexual hookups she has. I think the way she wants to engage people is with some form of love and care. She thinks she’s really found it with Tyler, she believes she has a chance to push into that feeling with another person — physically or face to face — with someone who can give that to her and that she can make someone feel the same way, which is exciting because I don’t think she’s ever really had an opportunity like Tyler presented her. When Nate reveals that it’s actually him, everything comes crashing down in that moment and it’s a major turning point for her to sort of distrust not only in herself, but also in this system.

Your character has had some fairly intense sex scenes so far this season, especially with Dane’s character. How were those to shoot and how did having an intimacy coordinator on set help with those moments?

The intimacy coordinator was amazing as far as being able to create clear boundaries and navigate a scene. Not everything would be scripted and you’d have to feel things out in a scene like that. Eric was amazing and very accommodating, I think we had a good thing toward each other in making sure we were both OK, but having that extra layer of protection and navigation for a scene like that was really helpful and comforting, as far as getting down to specifics.

Sam has also talked about having a trans consultant on set to help with your storyline. Was he available to you as well?

Yeah he was on set, Scott, he was on set usually when I had a scene where something about my trans identity would be more prevalent or he felt that I might need him there. And he was always available to me, I could always ask him to be there if I wanted him there. That was really nice to know that I had another trans person around to be able to support me through moments where there might be a lot of other cisgender people around who might not be able to completely understand where I’m coming from. I think having some sense of community, even on a super-safe space like our set, it’s really important and that should be involved on any set.

This episode continued to explore the relationship between Jules and Rue. Why are they so connected and mean so much to each other?

I think Rue and Jules represent a home that only they can really bring to each other, which of course has its complications and will continue to grow more throughout the series. I think more than anything, they can make each other feel safe and when they’re together or making each other laugh or in each other’s arms, nothing else really matters, which I think to some degree is what they’re looking for. I think they’ve used different vices to acquire that feeling, but when they’re together the vices don’t matter as much and they really can just push into each other.

The episode ends with a passionate scene between Jules and Rue, which is the culmination of a lot of buildup between them. What’s next for those two?

In episode three, Rue kind of makes it clear that she feels something more than a friend toward Jules, and I think between three and four Jules has processed that, and then also while she’s still invested in her relationship with Tyler, she’s now more aware of that and knows that that’s there. So when she has this final straw with Tyler/Nate, Rue is there yet again to turn to, and I think Jules’ understanding in that moment that she can find the feeling she’s been searching for in all of these men with her best friend who knows, loves and supports her and would love and support her through anything, is so exciting. I think we can expect Jules to continue to understand how to find that feeling with Rue and then also dealing with Rue’s desire to use or desire to not use in the name of keeping Jules around will come into play.

Beyond all of the sex and drugs, what do you want people to take away from this show?

I don’t think our show is trying to teach anyone how to act or set an example, but I hope for people who are going through experiences that feel parallel to the ones on the show that they can feel a sense of comfort or a little less lonely, not feel normalcy but some sense of recognition in the fact that they aren’t alone in the experiences they’re going through.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

‘Euphoria’: Hunter Schafer and Barbie Ferreira on Making Their Characters Personal

From show creator and writer Sam Levinson (who also directed five episodes), the eight-episode HBO drama series Euphoria follows 17-year-old Rue (Zendaya, in a haunting and heartbreaking performance), a drug addict who’s just out of rehab and trying to figure out what’s next. As she comes to terms with how deeply her addiction affects her mother (Nika King) and sister (Storm Reid), she forms a deep connection with Jules (Hunter Schafer), a trans girl who’s new to town, and the two search for where they belong among the minefield of high school life.

At the Los Angeles press day for the series that’s a shocking, beautiful and uncomfortably honest look at teenage life, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with co-stars Hunter Schafer and Barbie Ferreira (who plays Kat Hernandez, a body-conscious teen who’s finding power in her sexuality) to talk about what made them want to be a part of Euphoria, what they were most concerned about with their roles, being new to acting and what they learned on set, working in a very safe and collaborative environment, having a voice in their characters, the relationship dynamic between Jules and Rue, the most challenging and most fun days on set, and where they’d like to take their careers next.

Collider: Great work in this! You guys are all fabulous.


When you read material like this, do you just immediately want to be a part of it?

FERREIRA: Yeah. It was fun to read a script like this. I haven’t read many scripts before, but it just took you for a ride, with every sentence. There was like a hundred and something scenes in each episode. It was incredible.

HUNTER SCHAFER: It was fascinating because this was the first real script that I ever read. In that sense, I’m spoiled because it was deeply relatable and lovable, and such a joy.

Actors talk about how they want to find roles and projects that challenge and scare them, and it seems like there were so many scary things that were scary, when it came to this content. Were there things that you were most concerned or worried about?

FERREIRA: Mostly just like for personal reasons, putting myself out there, in a way that I wasn’t used to felt very vulnerable, but so like right for this. I knew it was gonna be great, but I had to put a vulnerability out there that I’m not used to. That was scary to feel and have out there, for other people to consume, but I got over it. After like seeing it, I was like, “Okay, that makes sense!”

SCHAFER: Especially with not really having a background in acting, the idea of externalizing emotion, in that way, was really frightening, but I also wanted to give it a shot, just to see what would happen. It turns out that that’s enthralling, and I’m obsessed. But some of these scenes were really intimidating.

Did Sam Levinson create an environment on set that felt very safe?

FERREIRA: Yeah, we’re spoiled for that, too. Everyone is best friends, on the cast and crew. It was just a comfortable environment, to do all of these things. When we were doing it, it didn’t even seem like it was especially explicit because it just felt so necessary to the story and so real. There’s a reason for all of it. It just felt right.

SCHAFER: It was a massive bonding experience in that sense, too, ‘cause we just had to be real with each other and see the whole range of what we’ve all got inside of ourselves. We all have a lot of respect for each other, and love.

FERREIRA: And support.

Do you feel like you had a voice the process of figuring out who your characters are?

SCHAFER: Yeah, definitely. Sam was really good about that. He’s an amazing listener, and he was very open to sitting down with us and talking through what we thought about what he wrote, and then he’d talk about what he thought about what we would share with him.

FERREIRA: When they were auditioning, the descriptions were so vague that we created our own characters from ourselves, with the looks to the hair, to everything. I’d call Sam and talk for hours about my life experiences, and then have that incorporated into the script. It was the most collaborative work. One person can’t understand everyone, but Sam understands so deeply that he listens and takes his talents and really brings a real authenticity from us to it because we’re the ones who lived it. That’s really dope.

And it definitely shows on screen because it makes it all feel that much more real.

FERREIRA: It’s honestly weirdly fun to delve into these like deep, dark places in you. I’ve never really had an opportunity to do that, and it felt really good after, but it was awhile after. I was like, “Yeah, I did that!” It came out of me, and it was really fun to do it.

SCHAFER: It’s like affected my real life. At one point, in my life, I hadn’t cried for three months. Now, I’m worried, if I haven’t cried like in the past three days. I’m not holding back. It’s normalized feeling things ‘cause we’re forced to feel everything, so frequently, on this show. It’s been beautiful.

Hunter, what’s it been like to explore the relationship between Jules and Rue?

SCHAFER: It’s a really special arc and journey that they go on. They both have pretty unique circumstances that are affecting them, individually, and that they bring to each other. They find solace in each other, from those situations, and that’s part of the beauty of their relationship. They just have something special and palpable. And I couldn’t have been more thankful to have like an awesome scene partner like Zendaya for that.

Sam Levinson directed five of the eight episodes, but you also had three woman – Pippa Bianco, Augustine Frizzell and Jennifer Morrison – come in to direct the other episodes. What was it like to have their voices and perspectives on your characters?

FERREIRA: It was really fun. It was also fun because we’re new actors, so it was really interesting to see how different directors work. With the heavier scenes, when there’s a female director, they bring their own thoughts into it and it’s very collaborative. It was great.

SCHAFER: It was nice to like see the different directing styles and how that can change the entire experience. Everyone was really talented and had their own frequency. It made it fun to explore that, and to have different perspectives on the show.

The tone changes a little bit, depending on which characters are being spotlighted in each episode, so it seems like those different perspectives could really help and make an impact on a show like this.

FERREIRA: I feel like every episode is so different, in its own way, and it’s all visually stunning and compelling. It really brings that energy for each of our characters into each of the episodes, which is super fun to see, especially when you see little us. That was so fun. We loved that.

What did you grow to appreciate about your characters, the more you got to know about them?

SCHAFER: As you learn their story, they become relatable because you can see yourself in each character. While you might find one more relatable than another, there is a level of empathy and feeling for that person that comes in when you see the reasons why they act the way they do and what brought them to where they are now. That’s really special because it blurs the lines between right and wrong, and it’s conflicting.

FERREIRA: For me, when Kat starts going through her changes, I learned a lot about having the physical change represented inside and how she deals with it. From the outside perspective, you may see her becoming more confident or less insecure, but there’s a complexity to it, where it’s just a shield and not the solution to the problem. Her insecurity is still there, and she has sadness and pain from having things taken from her without her permission. So, I had to learn how to balance that, where she’s getting more confident, but it’s also affecting who she is as a person.

And with Kat, she’s not just getting more confident, but she’s also learning how she can use it to manipulate people.  

FERREIRA: I think it’s super interesting. There’s power in never being seen as someone who is “sexy,” or a sexual being, and having all of these anonymous, random men that you don’t know, saying all of these things that you would never associate with yourself. Having that burst of confidence to do that and having that permission be consensual, and to like it and want it, and incorporating that in her real life, so that she can feel in control of something, is really what Kat wants. Kat just wants to feel control of herself and how she’s perceived.

Which is impossible to do when you’ve got things, like social media, where everybody has an opinion.

FERREIRA: Exactly! There’s only so much you can do.

What would you say was the most challenging day, and what was the most fun day of this shoot?

SCHAFER: The most challenging day, for me, was probably the kitchen scene in the first episode because I was still feeling brand new to acting. I really worked myself up for that scene because I had been anticipating it, and that was a rough night. That was not easy. It was a lot, and a massive learning experience for me, as far as how to move forward with preparing for something. But also, shooting that party was really special because everyone was there. When we weren’t shooting, we were all on the couch together.

FERREIRA: My favorite parts were always when everyone was around. Doing the little fantasy scenes were always fun. What was challenging for me, emotionally, was in the last episode. I’m not used to getting there, as a new actor. I had a few scenes where I had to experiment on how to get myself to really feel the emotion without over-thinking or under-thinking. Finding that balance was a challenge for me.

Did a project like this, where you’re doing so much, as actors, give you a real perspective on where you want to take your career next?

FERREIRA: I’ve known, since I was a little kid. I’m very goal-oriented. This just makes me feel more confident in my dreams because now they’re reality, which is nice, and I feel like I’m worthy of it. I put in some work and I’m like, “This could actually happen.” It’s hard to feel that way, when it’s so in the distance. But I definitely have a clear vision of what I want to do. It’s things that I love, so I’m excited.

SCHAFER: I thought I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a fashion designer and was going to go to school for that, until this audition came up and changed everything. Learning how to access my mind and use my brain, in the way that we’ve picked up, in this experience, has been life-changing, in every sense, as an artist and as a human being. I’m addicted to. I can’t wait to like get back to work.

‘Euphoria’ Star Hunter Schafer on What That ‘Completely F–ed’ Nate Twist Means for Jules – and Rue

Actress tells TheWrap “traumatic” backstory episode is based on creator Sam Levinson’s own childhood

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Sunday’s “Euphoria”)

The fourth episode of HBO’s “Euphoria” finally slipped in to actual euphoric territory Sunday, when the ending saw Rue (Zendaya) and her best friend Jules (Hunter Schafer) kiss while romantic, instrumental music swelled.

And this kiss, unlike the one from the previous episode — which was initiated by Rue and caught Jules completely off guard — was an act of mutual affection that occurred as the two 17-year-old girls held each other in Rue’s bed after an installment packed with trauma, both in the past and present.

But what does this mean for the BFFs — and possibly lovers — going forward, seeing as it occurs just after Nate (Jacob Elordi) has revealed himself to be Tyler, the boy Jules was falling in love with over a dating app, and threatened to ruin her life if she tells anyone she slept with his father, Cal (Eric Dane)? Schafer says “something really exciting.”

“I think Jules, from the first episode, knows Rue is there for her and would do just about anything for her,” she told TheWrap. “And while I don’t think she necessarily suspected a romantic side of that from the beginning — that we first get a glimpse of in Episode 3 and even before that — I think after her heart is broken in this moment with Nate. She knows Rue is there and that Rue loves her on multiple levels, and so of course that’s who she turns to.”

“And in some respects, I think this is such a beautiful moment for Jules, because I love this idea of her turning away from this really repetitively toxic relationship she has with men and that she turns to her best friend,” Schafer continued. “And she finds something really beautiful and meaningful and intimate, and somewhat physical, with one of the people she feels closest to in life, who happens to be a femme person. And I think that’s really exciting for how it might affect her vantage point on her own sexuality and sense of romance.”

And that beautiful moment comes when Jules is in a very fragile state, having learned “Tyler” is actually Nate, a guy who has been out to get her since he found out she slept with his father — one of many married, older men she’s had sex with since hitting puberty.

Oh, and Nate tells Jules he’s prepared to turn her in for distributing child pornography — her own nude selfies, that she sent to “Tyler” — if she reveals Cal’s infidelity and act of statutory rape. And this move is “completely f–ked,” according to Schafer.

“I think more than anything, Jules was so excited to delve into a romance that felt real and was more than just some hookup in a motel room,” she said. “And I think she’s never really had much of an opportunity to experience that before, or even let herself experience that. So the fact that she’d gotten this far with Tyler was really exciting for her. And then to find out that Nate was catfishing her or playing her was heartbreaking just by itself.”

“And then he goes on to explain why, like, his intentions behind this, and it’s completely f—ed,” she continued. “So I think it’s another pretty traumatic experience as far as really letting her guard down with this person and for them to expose themselves to be different from who they were portraying them to be. And it’s a major turning point for the character.”

That twist comes toward the end of an episode in which we learn Jules’ childhood was riddled with dark moments, including her own mother driving her hours away from home and tricking her into being admitted into a facility due to Jules (whose gender at birth was male) starting to identify as a girl.

Schafer told TheWrap this storyline of Jules’ time spent at this center where she slices her wrists open after the doctors try to “cure” her came in part from “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson’s own childhood experiences.

“From the get-go I could understand how deeply emotional it was, and I was curious as to where it came from and it started to make sense as to why she acts the way she does,” Schafer said. “And the way she’s acting out as a 17-year-old, you wonder where that’s coming from. And so to make that connection with this traumatic, at least one traumatic event in your life, it started to make a lot of sense. And then later on, after I’d been cast, and Sam kind of got into it more with me and we talked about it a bit, it turns out this is a true story for him and this is part of his experience, at least what happened to Jules earlier in her childhood and with her background story spending a lot of time in the hospital. It was really emotional learning the connection between her and Sam and where we’re seeing her now currently.”

“Euphoria” marks Schafer’s first on-screen role, one she “had a really beautiful time delving into” as she, a trans feminine person, was playing another trans feminine person and what was “true to the trans experience.”

“It was really exciting from when I first read the scripts to read about a trans femme girl who is battling battles outside of trans-ness and that she can be trans while exploring a multitude of other facets of her life,” Schafer said. “And I think that’s true to the trans experience. Being trans does influence just about everything in your life, but from a trans person’s perspective, that’s just your everyday and there are so many other parts of life that we struggle with or push through and those deserve stories on their own. So I think it’s really exciting to watch that now and have it be subtle.”

HBO’s Euphoria Is The Real Talk We Need

HBO’s Euphoria Is The Real Talk We Need

As high-chasing bad girls on HBO, IRL pals Barbie Ferreira and Hunter Schafer recast the archetype.

When HBO’s Euphoria hit screens in June, filling the network’s GoT-shaped void with a pure-cut dose of contemporary teen life, its trippy dramatics and issue-tackling realism had been preceded by a much-publicized production. While Zendaya’s lead role as the high-chasing Rue and Drake’s attachment as executive producer accounted for much of the buzz, the show’s unorthodox recruiting tactics didn’t stop there. Hunter Schafer and Barbie Ferreira, both non-professional actors who happen to deliver two of the show’s most surprising and complex performances, each came across the show’s open casting call on Instagram.

On paper, Schafer plays Jules and Ferreria plays Kat, two ennui-stricken friends in Rue’s orbit. The first episode establishes their respective archetypes: Jules the put-upon transfer student and Kat the posturing bad girl. But each of their storylines touch on distinctly of-the-moment themes, from body shame to identity politics to app hookups gone wrong. While the show, trafficking in narrative clout and meta-narrative social savvy, may seem particularly suited to both Schafer and Ferreira’s progressive modeling tracks, their well observed performances suggest major dramatic careers to come.

Ferreira says 16-year-old Kat reflects much of her personality pre-modeling. “[16] was a special age for me, because that’s when I started breaking out of these insecurities, and just thinking that I am not worth it,” says Ferreira, who, after being scouted by American Apparel in high school, became an early drumbeater of the body-positivity movement. After she and her recently divorced mom moved from Queens to suburbia, Ferreira, like Kat, put up walls around her creative impulses. “I mean, I am like a theater kid; all I wanted was to be on Disney Channel. I would try my hardest to see managers by myself without my mom,” she says. “[But] I started isolating myself even more after [I started modeling] because my classmates never really gave a fuck about me… Our experiences aren’t identical, but the feelings are all the same. The lines are blurred between where Kat ends and where I begin.”

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Schafer harbored no such showbiz dreams. “I was never really into acting; I was so shy and not sure of myself. I didn’t ever see myself being able to do [this],” says Schafer. After being diagnosed with gender dysphoria in ninth grade, Schafer’s first taste of the spotlight was as a plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit against the state’s anti-LGBT law HB2, which forced trans people to use public restrooms according to their assigned gender. Before serving as the face of the “bathroom bill” and then as a model for the likes of Versace, Helmut Lang and Miu Miu, Schafer says she experienced some trauma similar to that of Jules, which the role brought back to the surface. “Of course, it was uncomfortable to revisit those places in my life because I was pretty insecure at the time and I did not really know who I was,” she says. “The way I have functioned, as a human being, is to push through [painful experiences] and work really hard, so that I had a good future. [But] a hundred percent, Jules and I have a similar transition timeline, as far as [being] in high school and dealing with that in front of your peers.”

Ultimately the similarities between Schafer’s past and Jules’s present endowed her with a whole new outlook. “Acting blew my mind,” she says, recalling her first session with an HBO-enlisted coach. “It’s definitely been therapeutic to look back at those points in my life and to relive them,” she says. “It’s like picking old scabs on purpose because you want to bleed a little again.” Acting out the first episode’s climax, which takes place at a crowded party, was a learning curve, Schafer adds: “Frankly I was terrified for that scene because I never had to be that open in front of a camera before and there were like 200 extras watching it happen… I had never screamed at anyone like that before in my real life.”

Between filming or rubbing shoulders with Drake (“It was fun to be in the middle of work, and then be like, ‘Oh, Drake’s here,'” says Ferreira of set life), Schafer and Ferreira, who had briefly met in New York, found a chance to reconnect on set, free from modeling-world varnish. “We [met] at some random fashion-y event, some award show, so we didn’t really hit it off,” Ferreira recalls. “But now Hunter is like my best friend. We had two very different spirals in high school, but the bottom line was that we both needed to get out of wherever we were. To this day, we’ll be in the car together, and just scream, like, ‘Sis… What is going on?!’ She is the only [other] person who gets it.”

Whatever turbulence they experienced in high school has made multi-hyphenate status that much sweeter. “[We] both are so thrilled about the transition [to acting],” echoes Schafer. “While modeling was fun and we got to travel and make some cool work, doing this project together and getting to be artists together is immeasurably valuable.”

With Euphoria mid-season and continuing to garner buzz, the saga of Ferreira and Schafer has only begun to take shape. But as their characters and careers illustrate, stories are best when you don’t know the ending.

Euphoria’s Hunter Schafer reveals fate of TV show

HBO’s Euphoria will be returning for a second season but star Hunter Schafer isn’t certain about the show’s future beyond that because creator Sam Levinson wants the show to stick to the confines of a high school, and most of the characters are close to graduation.

The series – produced by Drake – has been met with critical acclaim and some controversy, confronting sensitive issues such as drug abuse, underage sex, webcam sex, slut-shaming, and the general horrors of growing up in the social media age.

Hunter Schafer plays Jules, best friend to Zendaya’s Rue, and the season concluded on a cliffhanger with Jules running away from home and leaving Rue behind, while Rue falls back to drugs again after a brief spell of sobriety.

On whether the series could continue beyond season two, Schafer told Digital Spy: “I think Sam said he didn’t see it going on for too long logistically. The story this season followed a semester of school. Rue and Jules and most of the cast are juniors and so it’s like we maybe get two school years, or one more school year.

“The early adult years would be a different story. That’s another show maybe.”

Speaking about what could be next for Jules, the 19-year-old LGBTQ+ activist recently told Elle UK: “It’s a hard question because the part of me that loves her and wants to protect her, wants wholesome things to happen to her. And then the part of me that loves Euphoria wants an interesting story. And it’s hard to choose which direction to go.”

Schafer also revealed that she could personally relate to her storyline with Zendaya’s Rue, which progresses from friendship into something more, because she’s a trans girl “moving into queerness”. It also goes against preconceptions of trans women “lusting after men”.

“I remember I got the first four episodes when I was auditioning, and that was definitely an intriguing part because I think we’ve seen the trans girl lusting after men, that narrative has been available,” Schafer recalled.

“And this was something I’m more interested in portraying because, number one, it’s had less screen time, and number two, it relates to me more personally as a trans girl moving into queerness. Once I saw a glimmer of that, I was really excited and it’s kind of what drove me toward going back to more auditions.”

Hunter Schafer Is the 2019 Breakout Star We Didn’t See Coming

Hunter Schafer Is the 2019 Breakout Star We Didn’t See Coming

We’re four episodes deep into HBO’s polarizing new series Euphoria, and it’s all any of us at Who What Wear can talk about. “Did you watch last night’s episode?!” “Can we please discuss that one scene?” “I’m officially shook.” Yes, it’s dark and controversial and oftentimes uncomfortable to watch, but truth be told, it contains some of the best performances from a young cast I’ve seen in a long time. One such performance is that of Hunter Schafer. As new-to-town outsider and transgender teen Jules, Schafer has some of Euphoria’s most shocking, gut-wrenching, and beautiful scenes. But here’s the mind-blowing part: This is actually Schafer’s first-ever acting job.

While Schafer reads like a seasoned actress on screen, it wasn’t too long ago (just last year, in fact) that acting wasn’t even on her radar. The North Carolina native and LGBTQ+ activist (she appeared on Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 list) was thriving in New York City, changing the face of fashion one runway and major editorial at a time, when an open casting call and the local transgender community led Schafer to her next big calling: Hollywood It girl.

It’s easy to see why Euphoria casting director Jennifer Venditti gravitated to the 20-year-old for the character of Jules. When we meet Schafer on the set of our Who What Wear shoot in New York last month, she exuded a cheerful, ethereal energy that could not be ignored. I had to make a point not to stare at the delicate features that have made her muse-worthy to such industry elite as Dior, Miu Miu, and Marc Jacobs, to name just a few. But it’s not until I sat down with Schafer, feet up on a plush leather couch in the corner of Root Studios in Brooklyn, and we chatted about everything from breaking down emotional barriers to bringing normalcy to trans people on screen, that I was treated to Schafer’s true potential for greatness. Watch out, world: Hunter Schafer is here, and she isn’t going anywhere.

You went from fashion girl on the rise last year to Hollywood girl on the rise this year. Can you connect the dots between the two?

I got into modeling, because I wanted to be involved in the fashion industry. That was my goal since middle school. I wanted to take a gap year and make some money before going to the next round of school. So when I kind of figured out that I might be able to model and made the right connections through Instagram and photographers I knew, that became a reality. Modeling for a year taught me a lot. I got very involved in the fashion industry and met a bunch of people who I admired. Acting happened because Euphoria was casting all over the country and they were looking for people who were inexperienced. I was lucky enough to be interested in the idea of acting and not really knowing how to navigate that I was given the right resources from Jennifer Venditti, the casting director, and really great writing and scripts from [creator] Sam Levinson. The whole Euphoria team to work with was amazing.

How did you hear about the open casting call?                                                        

I saw it floating around on Instagram, because a bunch of trans girls in New York were trying to get each other to audition and everyone was going in for it. I heard buzz about it, and then I got a call from my model agents a few days later saying that the casting people had asked for me. So I went in and it kind of snowballed.

Most might dip their toes into the acting pond with their first role, but you plunged head first with Euphoria, a role that puts you in some pretty exposing and vulnerable situations. Did you have any fears or hesitations going into this project?

Absolutely! I got three scenes to audition with, and one of them was the kitchen scene, and one was the motel room scene with Cal, which are two of my most intense scenes. And that was really intimating. I was definitely worried about my ability to put myself in an emotional place like that, because I’ve never explored using my mind in this sort of artistic realm. And I was not sure I could do it. I was definitely anticipating these auditions and was nervous. Also, having not seen the character arc, I was a little worried this character might just be really messy, but I got more of the scripts and began to see where Jules moves throughout the story and that was really exciting to me, to be able to know that she is changing.

Did you work with anyone to prep for the auditions?

Jen Venditti recommended me to an acting coach, and he was really helpful in sort of breaking the ice or like cracking the shell that was naturally around my emotional headspaces and being able to pull from those and immerse myself in them. It was really a mindfuck but also really exciting and some of the most visceral artistic experiences I’ve ever had, which obviously drew me into really wanting this.

I love how spirited Jules’s wardrobe is. It is in direct opposition to the dark things she is experiencing. Did you have any involvement with the wardrobe?

Yeah, Heidi Bivens, the costume designer, was super down to collaborate. And even before I think we started filming the pilot, she texted me and was like, “Send me ideas, and let’s talk about it and have a really solid idea of what we want Jules to look like by the time we start filming.” So we would send each other references; she let me make mood boards, which I love. It was really exciting to be able to have a hands-on experience in molding her look.

What did you, in particular, want to bring to her look?

I mean, I had a relatively clear picture of what she looked like from reading the scripts. One of the first things it said about her is that she is this Sailor Moon–looking chick, and then also I think just because how similar our drives are as people and how I can see myself in her, I was like, okay, I can bring what I was wanting to look like at 17 years old to her. So it was that and sort of the idealism of having access to clothes that Heidi does that I might not be able to in the actual setting, which was fun.

What is your favorite Jules look?

It hasn’t had its moment yet. It’s near the end, and it’s poppin’.

You mentioned in another interview that Jules is a combination of you and creator Sam Levinson. What was important to you to get right or include in telling Jules’s story or that of a trans person?

I think I wanted to bring a relatability as far as portraying a trans person with a sense of normalcy. And despite Jules sticking out like a sore thumb at her school and having a sort of out-there personality and presence, I think for her to be relatable to everybody was important. I think cis people should be able to see themselves in a trans person on screen—that should be something. Obviously, I place more value in trans people seeing themselves on screen, but I wanted her to be relatable to some extent and then also to honor Sam’s experiences that he was bringing to Jules specifically, while bringing my own trans experience to that. He has experiences with gender nonconformity and how that affected his high school experience. And it has been interesting to watch it become sort of an “us” soup.

What do you think parents will take away from the show?

We get asked what we want people to take away from it a lot, and it’s hard to answer that because I don’t think we are trying to teach a lesson here. I don’t think you should be looking up to any of these characters or following their example, because they are all messy and all a little broken. Our slogan is Feel Something, and I think that we made a piece of art that is eight episodes long, and more than anything else, we want viewers to feel it and let it hit them.

Now that you have your first acting gig out of the way, what’s next? Do you want to keep doing this?

I’m fascinated with acting now. In retrospect, I was only beginning to chip off the tip of the iceberg with how far I can go or what I was exploring inside of me that I hadn’t touched in a while as far as emotional headspaces. And I really want to keep going and keep pushing and see what can happen. I hope, I really hope, we get a season two because I love this story so much, and I love these characters, and I want to keep watching them grow. But I’d also love to explore a character who is less parallel to who I am and maybe something where I would have to transform myself more. To play a cisgender person would be interesting or someone older or a mythical creature. I’m down; I just want to keep going.

What about modeling and fashion?

I mean, I still love fashion, and I definitely would like to keep interacting with that world. As far as doing all four fashion weeks and going to every casting that I can, maybe not that again. But I think it’s kind of exciting to be able to interact with it in a way that isn’t relying on necessity or money and more because I love it, which goes back to the roots of I why I got into it in the first place.

Let’s talk about working with stylist Petra Flannery. How did the relationship come about?

My publicist just called me one day and was really excited about this new opportunity because she had apparently reached out. She sent me her information, and I took a look at her work, and it was really beautiful and exciting, and so I wanted to give it a shot. We’ve only worked together on a few looks now, but I’m excited to see where it keeps going and what we can make in the future.

This being your first acting project, was there a specific fashion plan in mind?

Not necessarily. I know for myself, I have a very distinct style, and I know what I like, and I know what I don’t like. But it has been a process of learning how to cater to the different events that happen with Hollywood and how you might want to dress for red carpet and what things photograph well. There’s definitely more strategy involved. It’s a challenge; it’s fun.

How would you describe your off-duty style?

I don’t really go out in LA, but when I have I usually keep it pretty dressed down. I’ve gone clubbing in an oversized t-shirt and my Dr. Martens and little tiny shorts and that’s felt good for the night.

So you are pretty casual?

Definitely more casual than when I lived in New York, just because I went out more there and the functions are a little more extravagant, especially in the LGTBQ community. I think the LA energy kind of rubbed off on me and now I don’t care as much.

You’ve had the opportunity to work with some notable designers, walking in shows and in editorials. Who in the fashion space do you think is doing really cool and exciting things right now? 

I think some of the newer designers, like Luar, Vaquera, and No Sesso. I really love Lou Dallas. [Designers] who are taking a more DIY approach or a less conventional beauty approach and have diverse casting with diverse bodies are really exciting, because I think that’s where we are headed and what I’m excited to see on a runway.

You yourself have created some pretty incredible, thought-provoking designs. Are you still making these kinds of pieces?

When I moved to LA to film Euphioria I took all my creative energy and poured it into that, and since we only wrapped a few weeks ago I’m still coming out of that. I’m looking forward to channeling that creative vibration somewhere else. So yeah, I would like to get back into making garments and stuff. When I commit to something, I’m putting everything in it.

Okay before you go, what’s the plan for summer?

I’m taking it easy. Barbie [Ferreira] and I might try and take a vacation, but we still need to plan it. But mostly just coming down from this wild ass high that was filming Euphoria and learning how to be in just one reality again is my goal.

Hunter Schafer, Hollywood’s New Obsession From the Fashion World

Hunter Schafer, Hollywood’s New Obsession From the Fashion World

Hunter Schafer, the trans model who broke barriers on the runway and as an ACLU plaintiff, has quickly become the scene-stealer of HBO’s “Euphoria,” her first acting job.

Hunter Schafer has recently come to the realization that she’s a New York person. Despite having lived in Manhattan for only a year, it’s taken just a short four-day trip to remind Schafer of all the city’s magic — and flood her with memories from her time rising in the modeling world, when she was a recent transplant from North Carolina with dreams of attending fashion school.

The New York dream will have to stay on hold for a bit, though — Hollywood has caught up with Schafer, and as the breakout star of HBO’s controversial, sexy new show “Euphoria,” Schafer might be calling L.A. home for the near future.

She first ventured to New York while touring colleges, stopping by Elite Models at the suggestion of a local photographer from her native Raleigh.

“And they wanted to sign me!” she says. “I was like ‘OK, that’s my ticket to New York. That’s going to pay my rent and I am going to make it work and figure it out.”

She spent the next year modeling full-time, doing a full circuit in Europe and walking for brands like Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu. She also interned with Vaquera before modeling took over full-time.

“My plan was to model and pay the rent and then intern with designers and work on the other side of the industry however I could,” she recalls, “but then it just got to be too much, especially with casting, fashion week and also working for a fashion designer.”

She was gearing up to study fashion design at Central Saint Martins in London when her agents at Elite called to say HBO was interested in her for the role of Jules in “Euphoria,” which stars Zendaya alongside a who’s-who of rising Hollywood stars, from Sydney Sweeney and Maude Apatow to Alexa Demie and Algee Smith.

While Zendaya is the big name on the project — and billed as the frontrunner — audiences have quickly identified Schafer as the reason to keep coming back each week (the season’s fifth episode premieres on Sunday). Jules is a young transgender woman who has recently moved to town with a complex past and a desire to fit in; she and Zendaya’s Rue immediately become friends, and navigate their respective chaos together.

Like Jules, Schafer transitioned in high school, and says she was interested in the role — which is her first acting job — based on the similarities they share.

“I just relate to her deeply, as far as being trans in high school and what that does to you and how it affects the way you navigate life and romance and sex,” Schafer explains. “The more time I spent with her the more complicated she got, which is really exciting. By the end of the season it was like I would just go there and I wouldn’t even have to substitute emotions anymore, because hers felt that real for me.”

Schafer, who is taking a beat before auditioning for new projects — though “Euphoria” was just confirmed yesterday for a second season — says her experiences on the runway helped her to be comfortable in front of the camera when it came to filming — and it also helped steel her for Hollywood.

“That year of modeling, I grew up a lot — I was alone in New York and just grinding and making it work, and I feel it kind of prepared me for the responsibilities of being an actor alone in L.A. and taking care of yourself,” she says. “Which I am still working on.”

Being a trans woman portraying a trans woman on a major platform such as HBO comes with responsibilities, which Schafer takes to heart.

“There is always the thing of ‘am I going to properly represent my community in this role?’” she says. “And there was also the thing of young people who are watching the show can look up to Jules and want to be like her and that’s a really scary thing [because of the show’s extreme nature], but just getting messages from other trans people or people relating to her shooting her estrogen before she goes out for a night with a man — people found that relatable, which is good.”

In 2016, Schafer was a plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit against her home state of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 regarding bathrooms — but she doesn’t see her role in “Euphoria” as a kind of activism.

“I think the term activism has been sort of watered down,” she says. “Because when I think of an activist I think of a community organizer who’s doing that every day of their lives and working with the community, and for this job I have been inserted in a very cisgender, very white, very straight world that is Hollywood, and I don’t know how much that does for the community. I don’t think it is activism.”

That said, she does point out certain acting choices she made to bring a level of authenticity to Jules.

“It felt important for me and felt exciting, as far as that imagery on the TV screen, whether it’s a young trans girl who’s not tucked and has her bulge out and seeing that on TV and what that could do,” she says. “Or a trans girl being in a queer relationship — I don’t really think I have ever seen that imagery on TV either. But I still don’t think that’s activism. I think that’s just you wanted to see yourself represented on TV.”

Hunter Schafer, a genuine new kid in town

Hunter Schafer, a genuine new kid in town

It’s hard to upstage Zendaya, the Disney Channel star who soared through “The Greatest Showman” and “Spider- Man: Homecoming” into the Hollywood stratosphere. But in HBO’s “Euphoria,” Hunter Schafer has done just that, in what is her debut acting role.

Schafer plays Jules, the new kid in town — a trans girl with a dreamy Sailor Moon vibe and a self-destructive yearning for affection — who becomes best friends with Zendaya’s addictiontormented Rue at their sex-and-drugsdeluged high school.

Her performance as a sensitive, stabilizing force amid the insanity has captivated viewers and critics alike, who’ve anointed her the breakout star of the series.

Shafer was modeling in New York, with plans to study fashion design at Central Saint Martins in London, when her agency informed her that she’d been asked to audition for “Euphoria.” “I gave it a shot just because I had been mildly interested in acting, but it wasn’t something that I thought I would be pursuing seriously in any way, shape or form,” she said. “Then I just kept going back in and getting more of the scripts and eventually started to fall in love with my character.”

After landing the role, she spent hours with Sam Levinson, the show’s creator, filling out Jules’s transition experience.

“We were just telling each other stories and bringing forward timelines that we thought could make sense for Jules and then conceptualizing and sharing ideas, and that was the beginning,” she said. “I feel like Jules was being built until the last day we wrapped.” “Euphoria” may be her first onscreen gig, but Schafer is no stranger to attention.

Raised in Raleigh, N.C., she was a plaintiff in the American Civil Liberties Union’s 2016 lawsuit against North Carolina House Bill 2 that required people to use the restroom for the gender they were assigned at birth.

She wrote about the experience of navigating bathrooms in her public high school.

In a phone interview as she shuttled between a photo shoot and her New York hotel room, the sunny Schafer, 20, talked about her newfound fame, representation in entertainment and why she doesn’t want to be called an activist.

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How does it feel to be having this breakout moment?
It’s pretty surreal.

I feel so lucky to have “Euphoria” as a first experience with taking on a character and exploring acting, and in having this group of people as well.

You’ve said that your life was similar to Jules’s.
I transitioned in early high school, and her transition might have been a little bit earlier than mine. But transitioning while you’re in public school is a pretty intense experience, so I knew I could bring that to her. And then Jules’s drive and motivation for the way she acts from the start, as far as a desire to be treated “like a woman.” And I’m saying that with quote fingers because that’s a loaded term. But I think one of Jules’s main battles is her desire for romance and normalcy and love, which I think she’s kind of locked down a routine as far as getting some form of that. But of course it’s not healthy, and I can relate to that point in my life. I didn’t act out on it, but I certainly desired to be treated a certain way in order to affirm my femininity.

What’s it like working with Zendaya?
She’s amazing. Z was my main scene partner for most of this season and I just feel so lucky to come out of this experience with a new best friend.

The Parents Television Council issued a warning about “Euphoria” before its premiere, calling it a “grossly irresponsible programming decision” for its graphic content. Does the show ring true to your memory of high school experience?
I can’t say I lived the way these characters do, just because my default is to be internal and stay home. Making artwork was my saving grace. I didn’t really go out to parties very often the way these characters do. Oftentimes their actions make their experiences kind of messy where there’s no parents involved. But it’s interesting because my siblings have recently seen it, and I think they have a different experience of high school than I did.

They found it extremely true or relatable. It just sort of clocked high school in a way that they hadn’t seen before, which I was really excited to hear.

You’ve been what most people would consider activist, and yet you say you don’t like that word. Why?
When I think of an activist, I think of a community organizer who is working every day and directly with community members, and making it a job to take care of and speak up for a community in some way. So as an actor and an artist whose primary focus is making artwork or world-building, I don’t think I fall into that category. There might have been a point in my career where, because people have been telling me I’m an activist, I took on that label. But in retrospect, I don’t think that’s what I am — or what I’ve been — just because I’m vocal about my identity.

How do you feel about trans representation and opportunities in Hollywood?
I think it’s always preferable that a trans person plays a trans person — one, because there’s enough cisgender actors in Hollywood, and two, because trans people can bring levels of experience to the trans experience that they might be portraying.

Are you auditioning for other parts, and do you have a dream role?
I’m still kind of winding down from “Euphoria.” It’s taking a bit of time, just because we were doing this for eight months and I’m very immersed in that world, and I’m still in the process of letting it go. But I think I will start auditioning soon, and I’m really interested to explore what other characters I could inhabit.

Hunter Schafer, Model Turned Euphoria Star, on Her Bond With Zendaya and Her Future in Fashion

Hunter Schafer, Model Turned Euphoria Star, on Her Bond With Zendaya and Her Future in Fashion

Euphoria, one of the most anticipated shows of the year, promises to be the Kids of this generation. The HBO series follows a group of young suburbanites as they deal with sex, drugs, social media… you know, the everyday life of a teenager. Zendaya leads the cast as Rue, a young woman struggling with addiction, but there is someone else vying for the spotlight: Hunter Schafer, the trans model and activist turned actress who is making her screen debut with Euphoria. She plays Jules, the new girl in town who becomes fast friends with Rue, and who moves even faster with mysterious men she meets on Grindr.

To her peers, Jules and her “Sailor Moon chic” sense of style may be, in high school parlance, freakish or weird, but she also telegraphs a sense of experience beyond her years. Bewildered to learn that one of her summer school acquaintances is still a virgin, she quips, “Bitch, this isn’t the ’80s—you need to catch a dick!” (Later, in that same episode, there is a graphic motel sex scene between Jules and a much older married man.) Her identity as a trans girl is further explored later in the series, when she is given her own breakout episode told from her point of view. Schafer’s performance is a vast showcase of her natural talents as an actress. Expect to see plenty more of her in the future.

You moved to L.A. to film Euphoria. Are you sold on West Coast life?

If I like work, I’m a happy camper, and I love my job here. So I’m sold in that sense! I do find myself missing the energy of New York more and more often as my time away from the city progresses.

What do you miss about New York?

My friends and loved ones, the energy, how productive I was, the subway, and walking everywhere when I wasn’t on the subway.

How does working in television compare to working in the fashion world?

In the entertainment world, you can have more of a personality, and be yourself. You don’t have to look like a standard of beauty. You can have something provocative to say.

Did you take acting classes to prep for your role?

I went to an arts high school, and was surrounded by drama students who dreamed of working in the industry. I almost feel a sense of guilt, because I didn’t go to acting school. I think I got the role because I was perhaps the best contender for telling Jules’s story.

What is the best part about playing Jules?

Revisiting psychological landscapes I was in as a high schooler in order to fill her storyline with the correct motives. It’s been therapeutic to readdress that part of my life, using Jules as a pathway, and building a beautifully complicated relationship with Rue, Zendaya’s character. We’ve formed a really special bond over the past eight months that I’m so thankful for.

Do you identify with her experiences?

While Jules and I have some similar experiences, my life is not completely parallel to hers. What I do identify with is the driving force behind her decision-making throughout much of the show. Additionally, I identify with the way she begins to reframe her perspective as she becomes more aware of the roots of her motives.

You walked the Rick Owens show recently. Would you like to continue working in fashion? What kind of projects would entice you to do so?

Since it’s no longer my singular source of income, I’ve withdrawn from fashion spaces a bit. However, I still have a deep love for fashion and want to continue to work with designers and houses that inspire me—like Rick Owens, whose show I would no doubt walk in again if the opportunity arose. But long term, I would love to collaborate with my fashion idols more than anything else.

You mentioned loving fantasy. What kind of characters would you like to take on next? What does your fantasy role look like?

I would love to move into a fantasy realm of Hollywood! I think I could play a really solid femme-mythical-humanoid creature. Maybe something a little more scary-aggressive than Jules would be fun. And honestly, I’d live for a superhero moment. I grew up on comic books, so I feel like I owe that to my younger self.

Is film acting something you’re interested in?

It’s captured my attention 100 percent! I wasn’t looking to be an actor, but could not be more grateful to have (more or less) fallen into this art practice. It’s been life-changing as an artist and as a human being. Pretty sure I’m hooked, and have not yet found a reason to stop.

Has your move affected your style?

I definitely have scaled down my commitment to attempting to pull looks as often. Partially because I don’t really go out here [in L.A.], partially because I don’t have to dress up for castings anymore, and also because I have become accustomed to wearing sweatpants on a daily basis, mostly when going to work. (I have to change into costume when I get to work—what’s the point!) But don’t get me wrong, I still love to dress up.

Do you wear makeup in daily life?

I don’t usually wear makeup or nail polish, although sometimes I use a brow brush. When people put makeup on me to make me look beautiful, it feels strange. I used to wear makeup earlier in my transition. I worked really hard to like my body and face, and now I’m at a point where I don’t need makeup in order to feel good about myself. That said, it can be fun to approach it from a face-painting perspective, and use it to flesh out a character.

How do you keep healthy and happy with your busy schedule?

I’m definitely still working on this. Allowing myself to decompress and be low frequency when I’m at home has felt good. Making myself go hang out with people when 90 percent of the time my instinct is to stay at home alone has felt good. Eating the Brazilian burrito from Sage Vegan Bistro on a nearly daily basis has also felt good. I have a fantasy of forming some sort of exercise routine. Making dance classes a thing I do every other day or something. We’ll see…