Hunter Schafer On Euphoria , Why She Loved Rue And Jules' Storyline And Taking A Break From Instagram
The actress talks to ELLE UK about the show’s ‘controversy’ and why she’s taken on a social media hiatus
Zendaya might have enchanted audiences with her dazzling performance as drug dependent Rue, dealing with grief and growing pains, in HBO drama Euphoria. But Hunter Schafer’s breakout portrayal as her otherworldly best friend Jules is like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
In the eight-part series, Rue and Jules act as each others’ anchor, in a whirling plot of high-school horrors and issues ranging from revenge porn, slut-shaming and underage sex, through to depression, addiction and the dark side of technology.
To look at, Jules is ethereal with her blonde hair, elfin features and trademark multi-coloured eye make-up – now one of the biggest make-up trends this year – with Schafer saying the eyeshadow was used to ‘reflect or or contrast the mood of the scene’.
But internally, Jules is struggling with childhood trauma, a dysfunctional family life, and a proclivity for sleeping with an undeserving older man.
Incredibly, Schafer is tackling all this in her on-screen debut. The 19-year-old model and LGBTQ+ activist has previously walked the catwalk for Dior, Miu Miu, Helmut Lang, Tommy Hilfiger, and Marc Jacobs. Her first ever acting audition was for Euphoria, giving her a 100% success rate when it came to trying out for roles.
‘Yeah, I mean, not anymore!’ Hunter laughs to Elle UK. ‘I’ve done auditions after [and not got the part].’
In the show, Jules and Rue are immediately drawn to each other, with their friendship eventually progressing into something more. The romantic development appealed to Hunter because it went against TV and film’s outdated vision of a trans woman ‘lusting after men’ and, more than that, she could relate on a personal level as a trans girl ‘moving into queerness’.
‘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,’ Hunter recalled.
‘And this was something I’m more interested in portraying because, number one: its had less screen time, and number two: because 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.’
Before the show reached UK shores, Euphoria had become a talking point across the Atlantic, primarily for the sheer number of naked penises displayed, during one particular locker-room scene in episode two (there are 30, no more, no less, and creator Sam Levinson says he actually compromised by editing out 80).
The excessive male nudity could be interpreted as an attempt to tackle the familiar gender imbalance when it comes to female versus male nudity on screen, as it is usually women required to show skin.
The locker-room scene in question also exposes the male form out of the context of sex, another anomaly, which felt like a statement against the dominant heterosexual male perspective in popular culture.
‘Amen,’ Schafer agrees. ‘Amen’.
Schafer also suggests the furore over the full-frontal male nudity was projected from an older generation whose antiquated views belong in the past.
‘I’m not surprised by the shocked reaction to the nudity, I think it’s a lot different for younger people to watch, and [all the fuss] was coming from an older, maybe more closed-minded, demographic,’ Schafer ruminates. ‘But I think, also, it’s HBO! If I learned anything about HBO, it’s that they’re going to serve the piece best as a work of art. That’s what we did.’
For Schafer’s sex scene with Eric Dane – a harrowing piece of viewing, which takes place in a dingy motel room, and for which Dane, as character Cal, wore a prosthetic penis – an intimacy co-ordinator was hired to ensure they both felt safe and comfortable.
‘She was really helpful, Schafer says. ‘I was really surprised to find out it was a new practice, because with something as fluid as sex and recreating that, you either have to let it happen and let your boundaries down, or have a pretty rigid understanding of what’s going to happen.
‘And, for the safety and well-being of the actors, the rigid way is the way to go. So that was taken on by the co-ordinator, which was really nice because it’s not necessarily something an actor should have to stress about. They need to be concerned with the emotions of the scene, so I’m glad [intimacy co-ordinators] are becoming more of a common practice.’
While the show handles tough and powerful themes, many of which are informed by writer Levinson’s personal experience of drug addiction as a teenager, Hunter doesn’t think Euphoria is trying to be the voice of any one community or aim at just one age-group.
‘I don’t think we were trying to be a voice for something,’ the star said. ‘I think it addresses addiction as it’s central plot-line really well, and mental illness and family dynamics, and puts it on display in a way that is smart.
‘I hope it can be digested by a wide audience because I think there’s something to be taken away by everyone.’
As the success of the series has catapulted Schafer into the mainstream, it’s been an overwhelming experience and one she is still adjusting to, hence her social media hiatus (she’s only posted once on the platform since July).
‘Yeah, it frankly has been overwhelming in a lot of ways, it’s been such a massive blessing and something I’m so thankful that has happened, but over the course of two months I went from 30,000 to 90,00o followers [she currently has 1 million], and it’s a scary transition.
‘I’m still trying to understand how that changes my platform and my responsibilities in trying to restructure my own time before I come back.’
As for what’s in store for Schafer going forward, the star says she doesn’t want to rush into anything too quickly, and besides, she’ll be busy reprising Jules in season 2.
‘I’ve been looking at some things and I’m really excited about acting and getting that ball rolling. I’m taking it slow. I don’t want to tumble into anything too fast. I’be been balancing new work and recovering from the old work and also now knowing that we’re going to do it all over again in a few months.’
As for Jules, like us, Schafer wants her to have a happy story arc, but accepts that could be quite limited and boring, which is everything her character is not.
‘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, so she would probably not have the same fate… And it’s hard to choose which direction to go.’