‘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.

BARBIE FERREIRA: Thank you!

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.