Hunter Schafer Swears She’s Not as Cool as Jules on ‘Euphoria’—but We Strongly Disagree
On getting cast from Instagram, cuddling with Zendaya, and bringing a different trans narrative to the screen.
Hunter Schafer was walking into an unmarked building in downtown Manhattan to do an interview when she was caught off guard by a ton of flashing lights. She was wearing a full lewk—a pink-and-lime-green striped skirt with a matching cutout top and green saddle shoes with a heel. But it was a hot July day, and she was totally unprepared for the person with a camera who called out her name and snapped a bunch of photos. That’s when she knew it was official. She had just been paparazzi’ed for the first time.
“It was so insane,” she says a day later. “They knew where we were going. I don’t know how, but they did. It was one of those moments that’s very fast, when you realize, Oh shit, that’s never happened before.”
Hunter has experience in the spotlight: She spent a year as a runway model for designers like Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang, and Miu Miu, and when she was still in high school, she was one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU’s case against the North Carolina Bathroom Bill, which led to her writing viral op-eds and landing magazine covers. But none of that compares to the attention the 20-year-old actor is experiencing now because of HBO’s breakout phenomenon Euphoria. Ever heard of it?
The HBO series, led by Zendaya and featuring Jacob Elordi, shows teens posing as cam girls, snorting fentanyl, vaping too many Juuls to count, rocking hipless pants, and wearing dreamy neon eye makeup that has basically started a movement. It’s the show where Zendaya tells the world “nudes are the currency of love” and that counts Leonardo DiCaprio as a fan—and the Parents Television Council as a hater (the true sign of legit-ness). The series made hilarious headlines earlier this summer for showing 30 penises in one scene.
Despite all the charisma onscreen, Hunter is the show’s breakout star. She plays Jules, the sweet new girl in town who just wants to find love, make friends, and have so much freaking fun. Oh yeah, and she’s trans. But unlike most other trans narratives onscreen, Jules’s transness doesn’t define her—nor is it the most interesting thing about her. In fact, Jules never even says she’s trans until episode 3. Until then, there are quick visual cues that hint at her identity but don’t overpower her story line.
“It’s not that a transition story doesn’t make a character whole,” Hunter says while sitting in the backseat of a black SUV. We’re heading to her hotel after seven hours of photo shoots and interviews. It’s a moment of rare downtime, and she leans against the window, folding her arms around her waist. She is wearing a sleeveless lace turtleneck with bold orange, blue, and black stripes, has barely any makeup on, and has fastened her long platinum hair into a messy topknot. “It’s like, in my life, my transness may affect the way I move throughout the world, but I’m dealing with a whole lot of other shit too.”
You know, like dating apps (“the longest I’ve lasted on one is about six hours”), what to do when she’s not filming a hit TV show (“I want to get a sewing machine as soon as I get home”), and her recent move from New York to Los Angeles to focus on acting full-time (“I haven’t really experienced neutral life in L.A. yet”). And then there’s the whole I’m actually famous thing too. Although that doesn’t seem real yet. “I don’t feel like I’m changing as much as the other elements of my life are changing,” she says. “I want to be very purposeful and not let that change me, but it’s a scary thought.”
Acting was never part of Hunter’s plan. Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Hunter and her family moved from the Northeast to Arizona and then settled in Raleigh, North Carolina, when she was still a kid. She was always obsessed with drawing, sketching fashion designs, and making all kinds of visual art. “I was not as cool,” she says when asked how it compared to Jules’s high school experience. “But I snuck out one time to go to a college party.”
Instead, she spent most of her teenage years with a sketchbook and posting her work on social media, which eventually drew interest from Tavi Gevinson, founder of the now-defunct website Rookie. “I tagged Tavi in a happy birthday post because Rookie meant that much to me,” Hunter says. “She found my Instagram where I had been posting my work and invited me to start contributing.” Soon, her line drawings, tender comics, and style shoots about high school graduation, friendship, and love began appearing on the website. They were earnest and sweet, peppered with themes of identity and connection.
In 2016, when she was just 17, Hunter also became the youngest plaintiff in the lawsuit against North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which said people had to use the public bathrooms that corresponded to the sex on their birth certificates, not their gender identity. “I just wanted to be an example of who the bill was affecting so the lawmakers could see that,” she says now.
But the experience also gave her national attention, and in her final year of high school, a North Carolina photographer suggested she reach out to Elite Models. After a trip to Manhattan, she signed with them. “By the time I graduated, I had this nice little check and I was like, okay, this is my ticket to New York,” she says. “Since middle school, all I wanted was to be in a city, particularly New York. I just wanted to be immersed in [the fashion] industry that I looked up to for so long.” That same year, she started walking in shows for top-tier designers at New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week and booking shoots for ASOS’s magazine and Vogue Japan. Casual, right?
The idea was never to jump into acting. Instead, she had plans to go to Central Saint Martins fashion design school in London. But while HBO was casting Euphoria, it ditched the TV world’s traditional way of doing things and went more rogue, choosing to pluck unknowns from the street and blast out ads on Instagram. That’s how Hunter first heard about the gig. Her friends passed around a post looking for femme trans actors, but Hunter didn’t think to audition until her agency suggested it. Once she did, casting directors said she “won it in a beautiful way.”
After she was offered the role, she spent about five hours with creator Sam Levinson at a coffee shop, spilling her guts. She says she told him basically everything about her life so he could understand what it was like to grow up trans and how Hunter’s experience could inform Jules as a character. “Sam really ripped himself open to write this story,” she says. “Seeing his commitment made it easier to put my own love and full self into what I was doing.” Although Sam had an idea of who Jules was, viewers can spot shades of Hunter throughout the show, inspired by her real life.
“Jules’s transition toward queerness is definitely something that I felt like I could bring to this story,” says Hunter. “I wasn’t acting like Jules, but some of the frameworks in my head are around being a femme person and how I relate to the world that way. But they weren’t necessarily healthy or accurate for who I am as a person or who I want to be around. I can relate to Jules deconstructing and starting to do what feels better.”
She hints at that idea in her art too. Back in January 2018, she posted a sketch to Instagram where she wrote, “My gender was so influenced by a need to be used by men.”
Which, yep, sounds like Jules. In the most recent episode, she talks this out even more explicitly. When a new friend asks her about her relationship to men, Jules responds, “In my head, it’s like, if I can conquer men, I can conquer femininity.”
But TBH, Jules really just wants “a cute-ass relationship,” says Hunter. And true stans aren’t into her dangerous trysts with rando men in town (or that whole Tyler catfishing story line that we don’t even need to go into, but damn you, Jacob Elordi!). No, they ship Rules, aka Jules and her best-friend-turned-romantic-interest Rue, the drug-addicted, potentially bipolar star of the show played by Zendaya.
Although their relationship throughout season 1 has been full of glittery highs and depressing lows, it’s in these scenes that Hunter shows her low-key incredible range as an actor. With a slow, coy smile, long platinum hair, and limbs that stretch into eternity, Hunter commands your attention onscreen. Her face moves in tiny motions. A lip tremble or a narrowed eye can make you truly feel all the feels. Her warbling voice, which is the same onscreen and off, feels so genuine and authentic that you almost forget Hunter isn’t Jules IRL. While watching, you have to remind yourself this is her first acting gig. You’d never know by how she and Zendaya, a bona fide movie star who’s been on camera basically all her life, play off each other.
“We’d spend three hours just cuddling in bed together as our characters,” Hunter says about acting with Z (yes, that’s what she calls her). “There are a lot of scenes where Rue and Jules are just in bed talking and holding each other. Shooting that broke down a lot of the physical intimacy barriers.”
But let’s be real, there were basically no walls left between anyone by the end of filming. It was an intense experience that went on for eight months. “At some point, it felt like we were never going to finish,” she says.
Hunter only met the rest of the cast when they began production in Los Angeles. While filming the pilot, the studio put them up at the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood. That’s where they all got to know each other. (Your visions of room service and slumber parties are correct.) “We would just go swimming and hang out,” she says. “It was also during Pride, so the Standard was just absolutely nuts. We watched from the sidelines, but to witness that together was wild.”
Once they started filming, the whole group grew to have a “familial vibe,” she says, and spent their time between takes riding bikes around the Sony lot or sunbathing on a concrete slab between their trailers. “Every once in a while, we’d manage to steal a golf cart and take that for a ride,” says Hunter.
Her favorite day happened at the end of the shoot at the wrap party, during which Drake reportedly handed out wads of cash to the cast. “It was such a surreal moment, and a lot of people hadn’t been partying for so long because we did so many night shoots,” she says. “People couldn’t really go out, so I think everyone just went really hard that night, as they should.” How hard, you ask? She’ll never tell.
Now that Euphoria is out in the world (the finale airs this Sunday), Hunter says the cast has a near-constant group text where they keep in touch and talk about basically everything. Today’s topic? Leo professing his love for the show. “That’s been the past 24 hours for us.”
Next, though, Hunter will head back to Los Angeles, prep for Euphoria’s second season, and figure out what other kinds of acting roles she can get into. “I’d love to try playing a character who is a stark difference from me,” she says. “Fantasy would be fun.”