Sydney Sweeney on Hollywood Fakery, Fame, and the Stress of Making a Living
Sydney Sweeney saw her first peek of millennial burnout this summer. The actress is technically a member of Gen Z because she is 24 years old, but given how much life experience she has, this feels like a technicality. Beginning in June, she started having panic attacks. These sudden, intense events led her brain to believe she was about to die. She claims, “I was losing my shit.”
She returned to the Northwest for two weeks of family-mandated phone-free vacation to re-center herself in the area’s clean air while “hiking, skiing, and doing what I actually enjoy.” The programme helped her recognise that her gruelling schedule of back-to-back film and TV productions was working against her, even if she continues, “I still can’t get my mind to shut talking, and I don’t sleep.” Given the pressure Sweeney is under to make the most of this significant moment in her career and the way that same anxiousness frequently makes her believe that the momentum could halt at any minute, it’s a difficult lesson to learn.
Three days after the Emmy nominations were released, we are eating breakfast in New York. She received nominations for The White Lotus and Euphoria (both for supporting actress in a drama) (supporting actress in a limited series). She recently took a flight from Boston to New York, where she would spend several months working on the Madame Web movie for Marvel. Little is known about her role in the general public. In an effort to learn something—anything—about the intensely guarded Spider-Man spinoff, I’ve been asking her about her time there in the New England metropolis.
She declares, “I’m a pretty open person. “I love to talk about everything,” she said, expressing her frustration at being unable to discuss about Madame Web. I ultimately find out that she’s training for the part in a variety of ways, including Reformacore Pilates, movement training, and combat choreography, and that she was drawn to the movie because she “loved the personal problems that the character goes through.” She spends a lot of time discussing the cross-country drive she took to arrive to Boston with her mother and her rescue dog, Tank, and how much she likes Boston’s calmer pace better than New York’s hectic atmosphere. But since we are on the rooftop of Sweeney’s preferred Manhattan hotel, we are shielded from the commotion of midtown.
She’s made friends with the employees despite the location’s differences from typical hangouts for aspiring A-listers — it’s not the Sunset Tower — and despite good-natured teasing from her friends and family, she hasn’t left for nicer lands. Later, when numerous boxes filled with luxury clothing for this shoot start arriving at the cheerfully obliging front desk at a record pace, her loyalty proves to be valuable cash.
She has had to learn how to adapt to many environments during the course of her brief career. A specific Eloise at the Plaza energy was instilled into her life by White Lotus: The HBO miniseries was filmed on site at the Four Seasons in Maui during the height of the pandemic and is a darkly satirical investigation of white privilege at a posh Hawaiian resort. The cast, which included fellow Emmy nominees Connie Britton (who plays her mother), Murray Bartlett, Jake Lacy, Steve Zahn, Jennifer Coolidge, Alexandra Daddario, and Natasha Rothwell, had the opportunity to immediately bond during the sequestration thanks to what Sweeney describes as an idyllic routine of celebrating each day’s end with a sunset swim. In a phone conversation, Britton reveals that Sweeney and she actually initially met in the Four Seasons’ swimming pool. When asked to confirm the atmosphere on the set, show creator Mike White laughs and replies, “To be honest, the shoot was more fun for the cast than for me.” “While working, I would glance out from my balcony and watch them enjoying beverages. But it brought everyone together and deepened their bonds, which we were able to use for the play, especially with Connie and Sydney.
It was Sweeney’s first time at a posh resort as well, giving her a first-hand view of a class gulf she is still unable to reconcile between her lower-middle-class upbringing and the opulent environments she now inhabits. She had free reign of the location for the majority of the shoot and got to know the crew well enough to pop into the kitchen and retrieve something from the refrigerator. We were all close friends, and the resort felt like a home we shared, according to the woman. The resort was eventually made available to visitors, and it quickly became apparent that I did not belong [among the clientele]. I used to show up for breakfast in my hoodie and pyjama shorts and receive the most repulsive looks from the other visitors.
Although it was “nearly horrific,” White says that the way the real world was brought into the cast and crew’s COVID bubble was ultimately compelling for the story: It added to the meta impression of the show reflecting life that “suddenly we’re witnessing employees, our family, get bossed around.”
After Game of Thrones, Euphoria is HBO’s most viewed programme. With its rampant drug use and brutal sexual politics, it destroys everything viewers believed a high school drama could or should be. Sweeney was first advised not to bother coming in to audition for the part of Cassie, a sweet, popular girl whose fears and daddy issues lead her into the arms of boys at school, by Euphoria’s casting director. Her agent had other clients who had gone in to read for the job and was willing to pass Sweeney the material. She has worked with the same reps at Paradigm her whole career. In the end, she recorded herself reading aloud to her mother and forwarded it to the Euphoria team. She was taken directly. (She adds, “No hate to the casting director. I now adore her.
Sweeney is open about the struggles she faced and claims to still be facing in order to succeed in this industry. She claims that the rejection you experience while attempting to discover your unique identity is ridiculous. “How adults view you is ridiculous.” She claims that after receiving two Emmy nominations, she still feels like an outsider in Hollywood. “Before entering this industry, I had no idea how many people had connections. Since I had to start from scratch, I am well aware of how difficult it is. Now that I realise how easily someone may enter a door, I think, “I worked my fucking ass off for 10 years for this.
Sweeney characterises her childhood in a small town outside Spokane, Washington, on the Washington–Idaho border as bucolic, wholesome, and almost chaste. She was a valedictorian in high school and had a strong commitment to her education at the pastoral private school that she attended. She never attended a party, in contrast to the hedonistic personalities on Euphoria, choosing instead to study and be available for the usual call at three in the morning from pals needing a transport home. She remembers having to watch Shailene Woodley’s ABC Family show The Secret Life of the American Teenager in secret because her parents were so strict, but she never rebelled. She still prefers water, and she informs me during breakfast that she has never even tried coffee. I’ll have a Shirley Temple “if I’m celebrating or it’s a very uncommon event,” she says.
Money was tight at home, but until the family relocated to Los Angeles when Sweeney was 13 to pursue her acting goals, it was never a serious issue. Financial aid helped pay for private school and college. She is unable to place the beginning of the itch, characterising it instead as a “concept in my head, a goal, of who I wanted to become.” The enormous cost of living in Los Angeles forced Sweeney’s parents to move into a hotel after giving up their home and way of life in Spokane: “We lived in one room. My dad and younger brother slept on the couch, while my mom and I shared a bed. Sweeney claims that until her parents’ relationship began to break down as a result of losing their house and funds and the stress of having their life decisions disapproved by family and friends back in Washington, she was largely uninformed of their financial difficulties. Throughout her teenage years, she continued to audition, accepting “very awful productions” for meagre remuneration (sometimes $100 per day), in the hopes that it would be sufficient to maintain her parents’ faith and perhaps even bring the family back together. I believed that if I produced enough money, I would be able to reunite my parents and buy back their home, she adds. But I had only $800 to my name when I reached 18 years old. I was powerless to intervene as my parents hadn’t reconciled.
Sweeney claims that her first truly successful audition was for the 2018 HBO miniseries Sharp Objects, based on the same-named novel by Marti Noxon. She shared a reading with the late Jean-Marc Vallée, and she described it as “wonderful.” She obtained a part as Alice, a mental health institution patient whose demise haunts actress Amy Adams. She would collaborate with renowned actors on numerous occasions, including Elisabeth Moss on The Handmaid’s Tale, and it would be her first of many dramas on the premium cable network. In March, rumours surfaced that Sweeney was engaged to restaurateur Jonathan Davino after she was photographed with an engagement ring; she declines to comment on her relationship status and doesn’t wear a ring to the interview. Sweeney remembers Adams for her advice about juggling a successful acting career and her desire to have a family. She says, “I want to start a family because I’ve always wanted to be a young mom, but I’m scared about how this profession stigmatises and devalues young mothers.” “I was concerned that if I didn’t work, I wouldn’t have any money or support for my kids.”
Adams told her it could be done, but even years later, she still worries about her career’s momentum and financial stability. She has learned how to negotiate her salary and enjoy the process of sticking up for herself, and there is no longer any pressure to accept every offer. Despite this, she continues to jam her schedule with as many films and television shows as she can. “I don’t have the income to support a six-month hiatus,” the woman claims. “I don’t have anyone helping me, I don’t have anyone I can call for aid or to pay my expenses to.” HBO salaries must allow for a lifestyle unaffected by rising gas prices, right? Sweeney observes that “they don’t compensate actors like they used to, and with streamers, you don’t receive residuals.” “The established stars still receive their salaries, but I have to pay 5% to my lawyer, 10% to my agents, and 3% or so to my business manager. Every month, I have to pay my publicist, which is more than my mortgage. She is adamant that the pleasures of the job not obscure the realities of the industry, not because she wants people to feel bad for her. Being a young actor who is so ingrained in and dependent upon the internet age requires investment in order to remain relevant. There is a lot of publicity to be done, and the expenses — style, tailoring, hair and makeup, and travel — aren’t always paid for by a network. If I merely acted, I wouldn’t be able to afford my life in Los Angeles, so that’s what drove me to pivot into brand deals, taking jobs as a Miu Miu ambassador and starring in an Armani beauty commercial. I must accept bargains, so I do.
After five years of nonstop effort, she was able to purchase a property in Los Angeles, which is still well beyond the means of many locals. Almost immediately, the neighborhood’s location was leaked onto real estate blogs. The house is close to one of the city’s universities, so college students frequently drive past her front door to try to take pictures, as she saw one day while scrolling through TikTok. Paparazzi have set up camp, defying her mother’s personal requests to pack things and leave. She deadpans that she maxed out with this home purchase; there is nothing left for a gate when I mention the Kardashians, who live in gated neighbourhoods outside of the city. She claims, “I couldn’t believe I was even able to buy a house.” “I wish I could stay there,”
According to Britton, “I was horrified the first time I watched her morph into this petulant child [on The White Lotus].” But she’s also hilarious. We were having the time of our lives while investigating these acrimonious relationships. White was impressed by Sweeney’s choice to play Olivia Mossbacher with an aura of intimidation throughout the audition process as opposed to the straight-faced humour that other actors adopted. It was really excited because she is certainly nothing like that in person, he continues. She is incredibly endearing and charming, but when she is in front of a camera, she exhibits certain abilities. I don’t want to sound like some Old Hollywood freak. She most definitely possesses the special kind of magic that only some performers possess.
The Handmaid’s Tale was able to premiere on the network before Sharp Objects, making it her television debut for many viewers. In the second season, she portrayed Eden, a teenage handmaid who was forced into an arranged union with Nick, played by Max Minghella. It was a minor yet significant role. She was frequently recognised in public for the first time because of her role, frequently by women who felt forced to express their dislike for her: “I think most people wanted Elisabeth’s [Moss] and Max’s characters to be together, and Eden interrupted that.”
Sweeney initially gained attention in public thanks to her portrayal as Nick’s young wife, Eden, in The Handmaid’s Tale. Frequently, women would express how much they despised her character to her.
That year, Handmaid’s Tale received 20 Emmy nominations, and the whole cast was present. She will be back for the telecast this year, which NBC plans to broadcast on September 12, Sweeney’s 25th birthday. For the first season of Euphoria, only Zendaya received a nomination, and Sweeney says her own nomination was unexpected given the calibre of the other actresses who performed this year. “Of course I was hoping for Euphoria because I’m so proud of my character and I put a lot into it, but I didn’t think I was going to get it,” Sweeney says of her surprise nomination.
“Sydney has a great capacity to create unique, breakout performances, and with Cassie and Olivia, she brought such diversity to her portrayal of these two very different young people,” says Francesca Orsi, head of drama and executive vp programming at HBO.
In addition to putting Maddie (Alexa Demie) against Cassie as Sweeney’s character self-destructs with her best friend’s ex-boyfriend (Jacob Elordi’s Nate), the second season of the programme, for which she is nominated, concentrates on the growing addiction of Zendaya’s Rue. During the intermission between the first and second seasons, Sam Levinson, who has almost complete creative control over the programme (he is the creator, director, and only staff writer), phoned Sweeney. She recalls the tragic couple’s first covert encounter: “He read me that first scene where Cassie and Nate walk into the restroom.” “Oh my God, Sam, you’re a maniac,” I exclaimed. The storyline surprise worked in Cassie’s favour, leading to one of the show’s most widely shared photos (of her cowering in the bathtub, terrified), and it also set the stage for her tear-filled breakdown monologue (“I have never, ever been happier!”), which felt like the star’s obvious Emmy submission. Cassie is losing herself so badly, and I genuinely feel awful for her, Sweeney says of her. However, I get by doing that shit. Despite how heavy some people find this season to be, I enjoy it.
Additionally, there have been reports about Levinson’s management of the show’s production: In response to complaints about the long hours on set, HBO was compelled to issue a statement stating that the set was in “full compliance with all safety guidelines and guild protocols.” Guest stars Minka Kelly and Barbie Ferreira have spoken out about the initial drafts of scripts they felt were overly sexual. Sweeney says, “I totally trust in the filmmakers that I work with, and I’m always so happy about anything Sam writes,” when asked to elaborate on this aspect of the programme. She continues, “It’s as if it’s someone else’s life.” I forget a lot of the details of my shows and what it’s like behind the scenes. ” A few hours after our brunch, she loses herself so totally during the photo shoot that this could be an evasion, but I’m almost prepared to believe it. Sweeney becomes so intensely concentrated when the cameras start rolling that it nearly seems like she is dissociating. She claims that in order to calm her nerves and put some distance between who she actually is and the character that the profession demands of her, she will even make up a persona for herself to use in photo shoots and on red carpets. “Daphne” is the version you see on the cover.
In reference to the several nude moments she had in Euphoria, she claims that “people forget that I’m portraying a character” and instead assume that she is a sex symbol because of her on-screen nudity. And I’m unable to move past that. I won’t stop doing those moments because I have no issues with them, but I wish there was a simpler way to have an honest discussion about the stereotypes that exist in the profession regarding actors.
Sweeney in HBO’s The White Lotus (with Brittany O’Grady, right). Right: The Euphoria actress from the cable network. For both shows, she was nominated for an Emmy. COURTESY OF HBO (2) (2) With the opening of her production firm, Fifty-Fifty Films, she is attempting to regain some of that influence. The Player’s Table, an HBO Max limited series based on Jessica Goodman’s 2020 young adult novel They Wish They Were Us, is the first production on the schedule. Goodman identifies it as a murder mystery set in an affluent East Coast private school about a young woman (Sweeney) who struggles with class politics and sexual politics while looking for agency in her life. When we first met, Goodman recalls, “it was clear to me that Sydney was very astute, that she was very conscious of how she was perceived in the public, and that she wanted to take control of her own career.” “Young women are undervalued throughout all fields, but notably in the media and entertainment. She is such a powerhouse and has a knack for getting things done, which could surprise those who just see her on television.
Sweeney is considering her professional principles a lot as she begins to move into the next stage of her career. The industry doesn’t encourage commitment, either to oneself and your values or to the people around you, which is one of the most unsettling things she’s observed about it. She claims, “It’s designed to try to make you backstab somebody.” It’s crazy. My agent is the best member of my team, and I will always have her. I see how people say, ‘We support each other,’ but I’m like, ‘No.’ “She continues. You absolutely do not. She is questioned about whether she has anybody with whom to vent. Not the other Euphoria girls? We don’t really discuss that sort of thing, she says.
Although fame has increased her understanding of how the world functions, it is freezing her personal life. She explains that she feels a loss of control and says, “I can feel my bubble of who I can talk to, discuss intimate things with, and have relationships with decreasing, shrinking, shrinking.” If you write about this, nobody will trust what I have to say. And that’s incredibly difficult.