PHOTOS BY MIKE ROSENTHAL WORDS BY TAMARA RAPPA
Infallible in the Intense Roles She's Known For, Sydney Sweeney Crushes Comedy in Mike White’s The White Lotus, and Producing Promising Projects With Her Fifty-Fifty Films
Tamara Rappa: It was literally two years ago this month that you and I first talked, and I feel like so much has happened since then.
Sydney Sweeney: I feel like, everything....life, the world---everything, has changed.
TR: Your latest role is in Mike White's The White Lotus, and you're developing quite a career playing roles that are dark. Sharp Objects, Euphoria, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and now, The White Lotus. Are you beginning to think about how you might balance those roles by taking on different types of roles in the future? Or does this feel like your niche?
SS: You know, I actually think that they're very different from one another. And I think being a teenager and coming of age, is dark.
TR: You and I first met when, I would say, it was after Euphoria achieved some success, but probably before its major explosion in popularity. At the time of that first interview, I was really taken with and impressed by the way in which you prepare for your roles. Can you share a little bit more about what you told me then? You create books to build the characters that you play. You make an interactive timeline, a journal, a diary of their entire lives from the day they were born to the first page of the script.
SS: I had this mentor when I was younger who told me that I should separate myself as much as I can from the characters I play, because sometimes you can easily get lost in the character. And I never wanted that to happen. Also, I enjoy building worlds. I always had imaginary friends and all these imaginary worlds growing up. I create these books, and basically build this entire imaginary world for the character that I am playing. I'll build her from the day she was born to her current age. I'll figure out where she'd go to school; everything having to do with her family and friends...all the details that aren't in the script. Each role is different. When I was doing Handmaid's Tale, Eden didn't know how to read, so she wouldn't know how to write things down. So her entire book is visual. Every past memory, anything timeline-wise...is done through visual, handmade, arts and crafts within her book. My character Alice, in Sharp Objects, definitely didn't want to write anything down in a book about her life. So her book is kind of like a 'Fuck you' to whomever made her do this. Each one is made completely differently, depending on how that character would approach doing it themselves.
“I think being a teenager and coming of age--- is dark. ”
TR: Your book-building process not only lets you or allows you to build a character, it also allows you to separate yourself from the character. When you say you have this ability to jump in and out of character, is it just the book that allows you to do that?
SS: Yeah, and I think that's because I build my character so thoroughly. I know the character as an actual person, kind of like how you would know your mom or your best friend, or yourself. And I'm able to disassociate myself from whomever I'm playing, going in and out of it.
TR: It's so smart. It's a lot of work to do something like that, but the payoff is really great.
SS: It is. And especially for TV. I come from a more indie, short film background. You have the script right in front of you before you start; you can go from beginning to end. For television, I get episodes as we're filming. It's an ongoing process of building my books, changing things, and growing things for my character. It's a lot of work. And it's hard, too, because episodes change a lot, and change fast. Sometimes we don't get the script until the last minute, and I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I got to hustle.' Sam [Levinson, Director of HBO's Euphoria] knows the kind of work I've put into my character. He knows where we came from, and we build the background together. It's been great.
TR: That probably helps, too, I would think, having to think on your feet, and readjust what it is that you've planned for your book. Has your process evolved at all? Have you added anything else to your prep work for your roles?
“I create these books, and build this entire imaginary world for the character that I am playing. I build my character so thoroughly, I know the character as an actual person, kind of like how you would know your mom or your best friend, or yourself.”
SS: [Director, Producer, Editor] Jean-Marc Vallée gave me an iPod so I could listen to the songs while we filmed [The Players Table]. I loved that process. Now I've started creating albums for different projects, and for my own characters.
TR: I wonder if anyone's asked you this before. Have you ever thought about publishing or showcasing your books?
SS: You know, I've only been asked once, by my agents. I don't know, it's very personal...but at the same time, it would be a cool little capsule to show.
TR: They tell a huge story about your craft. You would literally be sharing the very specific, unique way in which you do your job. I think it would be cool to look at those books.
SS: Yeah, everyone's been wanting to see them. The only person who's ever seen one, is [Writer, Producer] Bruce Miller on Handmaid's Tale, when I was building Eden's book. He wanted to see it because they were still writing the episodes, and he wanted to see if they could put anything that I had in my book into the show. He's the only one who's actually seen the beginning of one.
“Quentin, he wants to have fun, but he's very serious too. He's a big storyteller. I think that's one of my favorite memories I've taken away from working with him.”
TR: Tell me about your book for Olivia, your White Lotus character.
SS: You know, it's funny. Olivia and Paula are always reading all of these very immersive novels on their vacations, so I created a book that looks like she's reading something very intelligent and high brow. Then, when you open it up, and it's just a teen girl diary. I created her entire life like I do for all my other ones, but hers is visually more fun and spunky, with an 'I hate my mom' kind of vibe.
TR: How do you think you grew creatively by working on The White Lotus?
SS: I got to dive into the comedy side of everything. Working with Molly Shannon and Jennifer Coolidge and Mike White, I learned so much about how you don't force funny. It just naturally has to be funny. I was always so nervous, thinking, 'Oh my God, am I going to hit the jokes, am I going to hit the moments that they're wanting, and hit the timing and the beats?' Instead, you just live in the scene, and let whatever happens, happen. That's when the funniest stuff comes.
“Creatively, I feel like I'm expanding every day. I've now gotten into art. I'm trying to find different ways to express myself, in different forms and outlets.”
TR: Did Molly or Jennifer give you any specific advice about that?
SS: If you just sit down and watch Jennifer or Molly do their thing, that's all the advice you need!
TR: Brilliant Mike White wrote and directed The White Lotus. How did you collaborate with him in terms of playing your character? What did he want from you?
SS: Mike's very specific, which I love. He referenced the Red Scare podcast, two girls talking to one another about anything and everything, every episode. He referenced their banter and their timing. They have a raspy, smoker, monotone kind of vibe to them. He loved the timing and how they spoke to one another, and he really wanted Paula and Olivia to play off of that in their most sarcastic moments. I would carefully listen to the podcast, and then flow through the scenes with Mike. We'd always run through them before we started, and would build everything together.
“I was not born into all of this. This is very different from how I was raised, so I'm still trying to figure it all out as I go. You don't have much wiggle room to make mistakes.”
TR: The rapport and banter between Olivia and Paula is really great. What a beautiful place to shoot, by the way. The story is super intense, a social satire, but the setting was so gorgeous that it makes you want to travel to Hawaii.
SS: I know! I heard that they're actually trying to shut down flights to Hawaii because so many people are going right now.
TR: Big question: how is working with Mike White different from working with Quentin Tarantino?
SS: Oh my. Oh, wow. I mean, very different. My experiences with each were very different. But Mike is hilarious. His facial expressions just crack me up. He's a lot of fun. He just wants to have fun. Quentin, he wants to have fun, but he's very serious too. He's a big storyteller. I think that's one of my favorite memories I've taken away from working with him... just sitting down and listening to him tell stories.
TR: Have you found it intimidating to work with such powerhouse writers and producers and directors thus far in your career? If I were to guess, I would say that because of the way you prep for a role that the answer to that is, 'barely'. Am I right?
SS: I'm definitely not nervous about my work when I arrive on set and begin working with these people. I, as Syd, as myself, get nervous, just because I'm a Nervous Nelly. But when it comes to work, I feel very free and I enjoy it.
“No one truly knows me. I only say what I want everyone to hear. I definitely second guess myself a lot when posting. [People] forget that behind the pictures and the videos that they see of celebrities or even normal people, are real people who have feelings.”
TR: That's beautiful. Of all those that you've worked with so far, who do you think has made the biggest impression on you in terms of the way that they work?
SS: I've been so fortunate to be able to work with such immersive and diverse, such interesting filmmakers. Every single one is completely different from one another. Jean-Marc Vallée, I hope I get to forever work with him, because of how creative he is and how when you're an actor he lets you live in a scene. Sometimes he never calls cut and just lets you live in it with whatever you're doing. It's such a beautiful exercise for an actor, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. [Writer, Director, Producer] Michael Mohan, whom I worked with on The Voyeurs for Amazon and also on Everything Sucks for Netflix, cares so much about everyone else. I really took that away with me. A lot of time you find crew members or people on set who are just there to do their job, and don't really care about much else. He truly cares about his actors and everyone involved. I've always wanted to be able to emulate that in all of my work. And, I mean, Sam Levinson is just a visionary. I hope that if I ever direct, I can direct something like he does. So I can't pick out one. Every single one of them is so unique. I hope that maybe I can steal different things from each one of them, putting it into me.
TR: And how have you grown creatively, in these last big four years, which have been chock full of opportunity and experiences?
SS: Creatively, I feel like I'm expanding every day. Because of the books and the imaginary worlds I've had since I was little, I've now gotten into art. I'm trying to find different ways to express myself, in different forms and outlets.
“I'm definitely not nervous about my work when I arrive on set and begin working with these people. When it comes to work, I feel very free and I enjoy it.”
TR: Congratulations on launching your production company, Fifty-Fifty Films. Your first project is The Player's Table, an adaptation of the YA novel They Wish They Were Us. How did the production company come together? And why was it important for you to launch one?
SS: I've always wanted to be able to do something like this, I just didn't know when the right timing would be, or when I'd be able to have access to the connections that you need, to be able to create projects. It takes a lot of work. And I'm an avid reader. I love reading...hence my imaginary worlds! When I read books, I dive into them, and I see them play out around me. I asked my agents a few years back to start sending me books. They started sending me lists of books that hadn't been released yet, I started reading them, and I fell in love with They Wish They Were Us. I called my agents and I was like, 'I see this in my head so clearly, this is something I want to do, I want to build this. I know exactly how this should be made. Can I please meet with the author?' I flew to New York and I met with [author] Jessica Goodman. She's a young female writer, which I was obsessed with. I said to her, 'Please believe in me. Please trust me. I know I've never done this before, but I will try my hardest, and I will work my hardest to make this happen for us.'
TR: What was her reaction? I can only imagine how cool that meeting was.
SS: She couldn't believe it, because she was a first time writer. She couldn't believe how quickly it happened for her. And this was in the summer when Euphoria was coming out, and she'd been watching it. She is a big fan of Handmaid's Tale too, so it kind of became this perfect timing and collaboration. When I read the book, I automatically saw Big Little Lies in my head, so I thought it would be perfect to work with Jean-Marc and [Producer] Nathan Ross. I met with them, they saw the vision the same way I did, and we started building it together. I loved that entire process. I want to do more of it. So I started my company, and I've been acquiring rights to different books and developing different projects.
“I'm really excited for the depths that Cassie goes through, if I can say that.”
TR: Can you talk about any of those other books, or no?
SS: I don't want to. I just pulled another [book] recently, that we will hopefully be able to announce soon. And then I have a few more.
TR: The amazing Jean-Marc Vallée is producing The Players Table, and it stars you and Halsey. You talked a little bit about Jean-Marc Vallée. He's someone who has great taste, and major creative vision. You worked with him on Sharp Objects. He's also known for Dallas Buyers Club and Big Little Lies. What did you both see in this particular project? Where did you meet in the middle, in terms of this particular project? Tell me all about Jean-Marc.
SS: He's really driven by music. That was one thing I've never quite experienced before on a set. When we read the book, we truly saw that what we wanted to expand on, is the social and economical hierarchies within schools and within particular demographics, and the issues of the upper class, which haven't necessarily been portrayed the correct way on the screen. We want to visually show how difficult it is to grow up an underdog and try to break the system. We just got the pilot. I read it and I'm obsessed with it. And I'm really excited.
“Jean-Marc Vallée, I hope I get to forever work with him because of how creative he is and how, when you're an actor, he lets you live in a scene.”
TR: I'm so excited for you. Is there a loose timeline for its release this fall?
SS: I have to finish Euphoria first. Euphoria takes a lot of my time. And then I'll be able to dive into it.
TR: Are there any other actors attached to The Players Table at this point?
SS: Not yet. We plan to finish the scripts and then go into the casting process.
TR: Amazon's The Voyeurs is up next for you. What can we expect of your character Pippa in the film?
SS: Pippa was a delight to play. I was able to put a lot of my own quirkiness into her, which I've never quite done for a character before. Pippa's trying to figure life out, and gets sucked into the lives of some others. She's fun, she's crazy, she is just soaking up...we're not allowed to say much about it because there are many twists and turns. It's an erotic thriller and Pippa has a crazy ride. So I love it.
“Pippa was a delight to play. I was able to put a lot of my own quirkiness into her, which I've never quite done for a character before.”
TR: How are you loving spending your time these days when you're not working? What do you love filling your days and your time with? You work so much, Sydney, but what do you like to do when you're not working?
SS: I have my dog Tank, you heard her barking earlier! She keeps me busy. I rescued her when I was in high school, and she's kind of been my best friend and daughter ever since. We hang out and watch movies. Yesterday, we slept in and watched a Nicholas Sparks movie. We just laid in bed all day. She takes up a lot of my time. And I work out. I work on my cars. But I like to work. If I'm not working, I feel like I'm going crazy. I like to feel the anxiety of too much on my plate. That's when I know I'm doing okay.
TR: What else do you do for self care besides working out?
SS: To be honest, I need to get better at it. I didn't grow up with the notion of self care, so it's not something I go to automatically. I haven't quite figured it out. I like taking long showers sometimes. I'll light some candles, try to spice it up and feel better.
“When we read the book, we truly saw that what we wanted to expand on, is the social and economical hierarchies within schools and within particular demographics, and the issues of the upper class, which haven't necessarily been portrayed the correct way on the screen.”
TR: You've been on some big time binge-worthy series. So I'm curious about what you are binge watching now, or what you have been.
SS: Oh gosh, you're going to laugh at what I binge watch. It really depends on what mood I'm in. And when I start something, I can't stop. But I always have HGTV on. Like, I love watching Property Brothers. I am currently in the midst of a SVU binge. I've made it to season seven. And I'm the kind of person who cannot watch anything else until I finish what I'm watching first. So probably for the next couple of months, I'll be watching SVU.
TR: Who are your closest friends? Who do you like to surround yourself by?
SS: I grew up in a smaller town, and I grew up with family. My cousins and I grew up next to one another, and I'm really close with all of them. So I've tried to continue staying close with them, even though I'm down here [in Los Angeles]. Family's kind of like, my closest people.
TR: What are the pros and cons of being in the spotlight?
SS: I don't really go out much, so I don't really feel it unless I'm going to events. But I think it's hard because a lot of people forget that you're just a normal person. I was not born into all of this. This is very different from how I was raised, so I'm still trying to figure it all out as I go. You don't have much wiggle room to make mistakes.
“I learned so much about how you don't force funny. It naturally has to be funny. If you just sit down and watch Jennifer or Molly do their thing, that's all the advice you need!”
TR: That's a great way of putting it. You're in what I would call an intense position, because of where you are in your career and how social media has to play a part. It's wonderful to have a platform, but it's a double-edged sword because the platform that you have on those platforms, includes a vast array of people that hide behind their screens and use social media to spread negativity. A couple of months ago, your appearance became a trending subject on Twitter. I was furious about that! You chose to address it. Why did you make that choice, and how are you feeling about that choice now?
SS: Two things. First, I was having a horrible day to begin with. I had a really shitty day, and it was kind of one of those cherry-on-top things, that kind of pushes you over. And also, in high school, when I was, I think, a freshman, one of the girls my age killed herself because of social media and bullying. When I was in middle school I was bullied really badly, and my parents ended up sending the police to school. I think that people forget how hurtful strong words on social media can be, and that it truly does have horrible effects on people. They forget that behind the pictures and the videos that they see of celebrities or even normal people, are real people who have feelings. They may not think the same things about themselves that everyone else puts on them. It's important for people to remember that things hurt, and what they say can affect people.
TR: Have you changed your relationship to social media at all, in the wake of what happened? How do you perceive social media today? Is there any fun left in social media for someone like you?
SS: It's definitely not as fun as it used to be, unfortunately. I used to feel very free with posting whatever. Most of my family follows me, so a lot of what I post is for them to be able to follow my life. Then I forget that there are way more people than them looking at what I'm doing. I definitely second guess myself a lot when posting. It almost feels disgusting that I'm having to second guess posting something so stupid like that. And I've definitely noticed people just like trying to piss you off...
TR: And it's a spiral. It's just a spiral of people not even knowing what they're really saying, not even paying attention.
SS: Exactly. And like, no one truly knows me. I only say what I want everyone to hear. They don't know how I grew up, or where I came from, or the struggles that I had to go through. Sometimes when people say things, it feels really shallow. And that's difficult.
TR: Euphoria has had major critical acclaim and success. It's HBO's most streamed show ever. People are obsessed with all things Euphoria, everything down to the wardrobe and the styling, the makeup, the writing, the acting, the plot lines. It's a thing. From your perspective, why do you think this is? What is it about Euphoria?
SS: You know, I've tried to put my finger on one specific thing, and I think that that's difficult to do. I think Sam just is very in touch with what he is creating. And also, everyone puts so much of themselves into every part of the show. The crew works so hard on the show, it's unbelievable. We work so many long hours. We work almost an entire year, when most shows can be done in like five or six months. We go to like, ten. Everyone gives all of themselves. I think that all of the hard work, the dedication, the emotion put into it, really shows. And we have a lot of fun when we do it. Also, I think we connect with a lot of people.
“I've always wanted to be able to do something like this, I just didn't know when the right timing would be. I've been acquiring rights to different books and developing different projects. I just pulled another [book] recently, that we will hopefully be able to announce soon.”
TR: How did the pandemic affect Euphoria?
SS: We had a table read, our first table read, if I can remember correctly, on a Wednesday or Thursday, with our second table read that Friday. We were supposed to start filming season two on Monday, which was March 15th, 2020. On Saturday, we got a call from the producers saying, 'So, we're going to shut down for just two weeks and play it out. We'll see. Two weeks, and we'll come back.' Two weeks later we got another call. 'We're going to have to push it another month or so, and we're just going to wait it out.' Every month or so we would keep getting another call. And then finally, I think it was towards June, we got a call saying, 'We'll let you know.' We thought, 'Oh no.' So basically what happened is that we got pushed an entire year. But we started back up in April.
TR: Mini episodes were filmed.
SS: Yes, there were a few mini episodes filmed during the fall, while I was in Hawaii filming White Lotus.
“Mike White referenced the Red Scare podcast, two girls talking to one another about anything and everything. He loved the timing and how they spoke to one another, and he really wanted Olivia [and Paula] to play off of that in their most sarcastic moments.”
TR: Where are you in your Euphoria shoot schedule now, and what insider BTS from working on this season can you share?
SS: We are currently in the middle of filming season two. We're filming on film, which is really amazing. It's such a beautiful experience. It's also a little tricky, because you'll be in the middle of a scene and all of a sudden the camera can roll out, and you have to start all over again. But it looks amazing.
TR: What are you excited by, in terms of this upcoming season? I know you can't talk specifics.
SS: I'm really excited for the depths that Cassie goes through, if I can say that.
"Kit-Kat Ice Cream Cones are to die for. I'd been searching every store, and then I went to go visit my family back home in Idaho, there were like six boxes of them, and I bought the entire store out."
"I'm wearing them right now, the UGG fluffy slides. I have them in so many different colors. I wear them all day long."
"I think my first chapstick ever was from Burt's Bees. I have one in every single purse, every drawer possible. I've been obsessed my entire life."
"I started using the SolaWave Wand within the last few weeks, and I use it every single day. I went to the gym today and everyone was like, 'Your skin. It's glowing. What did you change?'"
"I just got an iconic Fendi Baguette, but it comes in an embroidery kit. I get to knit and crochet the designs myself. I love arts and crafts, anything artsy, so I freaked out when I saw this was a thing. I can't wait to work on it."
"This stems from Euphoria. I got a Contax T2 Point + Shoot Film Camera. Everyone on Euphoria knows so much about cameras, and they have all these really cool devices. I was like, man, I'm slacking. So I got one, and have been learning about it. It's been a lot of fun. "
Story + Rain Photographer Mike Rosenthal
“Sydney Sweeney wears summer’s best. Fresh, colorful, electric. Fun fashion, girlie accessories, Bardot. She’s sassy, and wants to play,” says Stylist Cristina Erlich.
Watch Sydney Sweeney in The White Lotus HERE.
Photo curiosity of HBO/Mario Perez.
JULY 2021 COVER
THE WALL GROUP
THE WALL GROUP
ASSISTANTS: PHOTO: MORGAN DEMETER, ELIJAH AKALA, DANIEL MARTY. FASHION: BRIDGET BLACKSTEN, JARED DEPRIEST
TAILOR SARA ROTHAN