On Sunday, Sydney Sweeney showcased her acting abilities with the penultimate episode of HBO’s Euphoria. The young actress stars as Cassie Howard, a high schooler who discovers that she is pregnant with her boyfriend Chris McKay’s baby.
Throughout season one of Euphoria, which follows a number of teens as they navigate the complicated worlds of intimacy, drugs, and the internet, Sweeney’s character has suffered through major emotional lows. The seventh episode begins by exploring Cassie’s childhood toils. After her parents struggle through a divorce, her father winds up in the hospital due to injuries sustained in a vehicular accident. This transitions him to a dependence on opioids. Despite the close relationship that he once shared with his daughter, he eventually disappears from his daughter’s life. This serves as a backdrop to her eventual reputation as a promiscuous girl in need of male validation. Throughout high school, Cassie gives into her peers’ unrelenting requests for nude photos and sex tapes. These all end up on the internet for her classmates to gawk at and whisper about.
In what seems to be the start of a positive chapter in Cassie’s life, she starts dating a football star, Chris McKay. At the end of episode sixth, while staring at a box of tampons, she comes to the realization that she is pregnant with McKay’s child. Although she is torn about whether or not to keep the baby, McKay is sure that they are unready for parenthood. The seventh episode ends with Cassie breaking down in her mother’s arms, unsure of which path to take.
In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Sweeney, who currently has a featured role in Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, opened up about her role, teen pregnancy, and abortion.
The interviewer began by asking Sweeney about the influence of Cassie’s relationship with her parents and her present-day sense of self.
“I think that any young child or teenager, you take a lot from your parents when you’re growing up,” Sweeney began. “In the voiceover, it says she looked at her dad like a superhero, and when you start to see your parents not as parents but as human beings I think it’s a really hard thing as a younger child. That really affected how she moved forward with guys, especially because of everything her father has gone through and how she interacts with him.”
Sweeney then broke down her process as an actor, detailing her character journal that she keeps for all of her roles, Cassie included.
“It’s these character books that are an interactive timeline journal or diary of their entire lives, from the first day that they’re born to the first page of the script,” she said. “With TV shows I’ll usually add in more and more every episode as we learn more and more about the character, and I built her entire world: every house she’s ever lived in, every neighborhood she might have walked, friends you’ve never met on the TV show but have made her who she is today. Everybody is always like, ‘You must be a really good liar,’ and no, I’m actually a truth teller and I’m telling someone else’s truth. If I’m lying then I’m not doing my job correctly. By building these characters as real humans I’m telling this person’s truth because something that happened to Cassie or [The Handmaid’s Tale character] Eden or [Sharp Objects character] Alice — any character that I’ve played — when she’s three years old might affect the way she speaks to a person when she’s 16. Every character speaks differently, every person moves differently, and I wanted to make sure when I dove into these characters I would make it as honest and realistic as possible, so I create these books.”
An obvious point of discussion was Cassie’s tendency to solicit nudes when asked by her peers. The series premiere includes a scene where her male classmates, her soon-to-be boyfriend McKay included, are gathered around a couch laughing at nude photos and videos of Cassie. Sweeney took a moment to discuss the psychology behind Cassie’s decision to send such images.
“I think that she thinks that’s what guys want, and deep down she knows that’s not a healthy relationship and that’s not how it should be, because one of the lines is, ‘She just wants to dream for a little.’ Cassie is always dreaming of this different life and that teenage relationship that you see in the movies is everything she wishes she could have,” Sweeney explained. “She thinks that to get a guy’s attention that’s how she has to be because everyone in her life has always left: her dad left her, her mom, in a way, has left her to alcohol. To keep people around, especially men, the only way she knows how to is with her body. Slowly that starts to take a toll on her because it doesn’t make her happy, it doesn’t make her feel good. Maybe in the moment she is, but afterwards she sees all of her nudes and her videos leaked everywhere, and she acts like it doesn’t matter, but deep down to every girl it matters.”
In another complicated move, when confronted with teen pregnancy Sweeney’s character makes the decision to confide in her friends about her history of infidelity while leaving out the fact that she is with child. She asks them whether or not she should tell McKay that she repeatedly kissed another classmate, Daniel. Sweeney explained why with, “I think it was a parallel to her. She didn’t feel comfortable telling her friends she was pregnant because yes they’re her ‘best friends’ but she’s not really very close with them and doesn’t think she can trust them. She’s very scared and alone, and her way of being like, ‘Should I tell McKay about Daniel, should I tell him about the making out?’ in her mind what she was really saying was, ‘Should I tell him about me being pregnant?’ When she’s laying in bed with Lexi [played by Maude Apatow] and she’s like what’s the other thing and Cassie goes, ‘What if not telling him makes me an awful person?’ it’s about the pregnancy and not about Daniel, but the only way she knows how to communicate is about Daniel.”
Although the obvious reaction to teen pregnancy is fear, Sweeney continued on to explain how Cassie’s emotions were much more layered than that.
“She’s a teenager,” she started, “so she’s of course terrified and scared, but there’s the underlying fear of being alone. In that moment there’s a thought and a realization that maybe she could never not be alone, but being pregnant and having a child she’d always have somebody and maybe that’s her path, that’s what she’s supposed to do. That makes her feel safe, being able to have someone all of the time and like a best friend who will always look up to you and you can be that superhero. So when McKay shuts that entire idea down, it kind of breaks Cassie’s world and that’s why she says, ‘I just want to dream about it,’ because even though it wasn’t expected and she didn’t try to get pregnant, it was like, ‘Maybe this is my path, maybe this is what I’m supposed to do.’”
Ultimately, Cassie’s decision over whether or not she will keep her child will not be revealed until the season finale.
“There’s some very big decisions for Cassie to make which will change who she is and her entire life, her relationships with people,” Sweeney said. “I think it’s a very big growing point in Cassie’s life that you will see.”
Despite Sweeney’s powerful portrayal of Cassie, the seventh episode was not spared of criticism with some audience members saying that the decision to include a teen pregnancy in Euphoria is too cliché. Sweeney responded with, “I think that the whole show we make as authentic as possible. I think that teenage pregnancy is something that is 100 percent happening in the world so when people are like, ‘It’s cliché that she gets pregnant,’ I’m like, ‘Yeah but that’s happening out there.’ We definitely saw the raw, emotional side of what goes on and not really the glamorized parts of any of it.”
The season finale of Euphoria will air next Sunday on HBO.