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.