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.