Within the first 30 minutes of the pilot episode of “Euphoria,” a young woman’s bare breasts enter the frame. Then, just six minutes into the second episode, 30 penises flop across the screen in a locker room scene gender-swapped with the one from “Carrie.”
But, despite what viewers may think, Sam Levinson, the showrunner of the “raw and honest” HBO show about a group of high school students grappling with sex, drugs and violence, didn’t want the nudity to feel gratuitous. He wanted it to be “authentic to the experience of being young.”
“I think the show is far more restrained than our world, and certainly more restrained than the internet,” Levinson told The Hollywood Reporter. “But there’s always been a puritanical streak in America, and just the idea that there is any kind of nudity on screen is always something certain people recoil at.”
That statement rings even more true in terms of nakedness on a show about teenagers. As most adults might say, it’s troubling to watch a graphic depiction of 16-year-olds having sex. But the goal for “Euphoria” isn’t to outrage; it’s to shed light on the anxieties of growing up today in the ever-expanding, and frightening, time of internet culture and social media.
Sydney Sweeney, who plays popular cheerleader Cassie Howard on the show, was understandably nervous when it came time to shoot her various nude scenes ― and even had a long sit-down conversation with her mom about the daunting task. But the 21-year-old actress said she also was really proud to work on a project that wasn’t afraid to go there in order to tell these stories truthfully.
“The thing about the nudity in this show is that it’s not glamorized. It’s not, ‘Oh, here’s a pair of tits.’ It’s just real,” Sweeney told HuffPost during a Build Series interview on Monday. “I had to look at the whole picture of the entirety of the show, and I just fell in love with the rawness and the situations and the emotions that all these characters go through.”
She continued: “I always tend to find things that scare me and there hasn’t been a TV show that has really represented a real look at growing up today, and I wanted to be a part of something like that.”
HBO and Levinson, who based the show around his own experiences with drug addiction, sexuality and violence as a teen, hired an intimacy coordinator, Amanda Blumenthal, to be on set for his young cast to make sure they were comfortable doing what was being asked of them. “Talking about a sex scene beforehand or shooting a sex scene, it’s all uncomfortable. No one is thrilled about it,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
Sweeney said it wasn’t as much “uncomfortable” as it was nerve-wracking. “I was timid at first because I’ve never done anything like that before,” she said.
Although she can’t reveal much about Cassie’s upcoming storyline, Sweeney did say that her character’s arc is “very powerful” and will definitely move people when Episode 7 debuts on July 28.
“When I booked [the part], I was speaking to Sam about my character and I was like, ‘What else happens to Cassie? I want to know the full arc of her.’ And when he told me her arc, I absolutely fell in love,” Sweeney said. “If many people would read the page, you’d see the stereotypical blonde, sexual, popular, teenage girl. But really, there’s so many layers to her and she’s gone through so much.”
She continued: “I always look for characters that will hopefully develop into a more powerful symbol. I hope that as Cassie’s storyline progresses, she becomes that symbol for people.”