In a recent interview, showrunner Sam Levinson talked about pushing boundaries in HBO’s dark teen drama Euphoria. Before it debuted on Sunday, Zendaya issued a warning to audiences about the show’s “raw,” “graphic,” and “triggering” content on Instagram. Unbeknownst to many viewers, HBO’s bleak but beautiful depiction of adolescence is based on the real-life experiences of Euphoria creator Sam Levinson.
Before the premiere of the hour-long drama, the 34-year old Sam Levinson opened up about his struggles with addiction as a teen. “Since around the age of 18 or 19 before I cleaned up, I was always playing around with this idea of chronicling a version of myself from birth to, in its own crazy, mad way, discovering drugs and the need for it.”
Levison shared that he spent his teen years in and out of rehab, and that he wanted the show to chronicle his experiences and explore why he started using drugs. Euphoria stars Zendaya as Rue, a drug-addicted 17-year-old who is navigating relationships in a world of drugs, trauma, sex, and social media.
Given the graphic, gritty nature of the show, Levinson thought Zendaya would never agree to do the project. “Just given what she had done prior, I thought, ‘I don’t think she’s going do this.’ Or that her team might not let her do it. But she got a hold of the scripts and the moment I heard she wanted to meet, I was excited. She came in hoodie up with her glasses and she started talking, and even though she has lived a very different life, I just immediately was like, ‘This is it. She’s Rue.'”
In his attempt to strive for authenticity, Levinson drew from his own experiences. When Jules (Hunter Schafer) picks up a kitchen knife and cuts herself at a party, Levinson explains that “that’s a real story. I was at a party, I was wearing a dress or some outlandish outfit and I was about to get the shit beaten out of me. I thought, ‘Maybe I can avoid getting punched and beaten up if I hurt myself first.’”
Levison talks in more depth about the show’s explicitness, saying that he doesn’t think that the show is gratuitous in its graphic content. “The show is far more restrained than our world, and certainly more restrained than the internet. But there’s always been a puritanical streak in America, and just the idea that there is any kind of nudity onscreen is always something certain people recoil at. And I think we’re authentic to the experience of being young. We didn’t want to pull any punches. We didn’t want to make it feel like we were holding anything back or that we are hiding anything. We wanted to make it feel like it feels.”
Euphoria debuted this past Sunday on HBO and will air this coming Sunday at 10 p.m.