The untold truth of Euphoria

Sam Levinson’s HBO show Euphoria explores teen lives, addiction, mental illness, sexuality, and social media, and it was the unexpected hit of summer 2019. Following Rue Bennet after a near-fatal drug overdose and a stint in rehab, Euphoria dives into the experiences of people in her suburban orbit, including her new best friend Jules and their psychopathic classmate Nate Jacobs. Based on an Israeli show of the same name, the American adaptation swerves from the source material to tackle hard issues like a post-9/11 America, toxic masculinity, and sexual violence, as well as themes of family, friendship, and sisterhood through dazzling lenses of glitter and fashion.

Euphoria is HBO’s first foray into teen drama, and their risk paid off as ratings for the show steadily climbed into the finale, which received the show’s highest viewership numbers. And after the first season’s ending, it’s likely people will keep talking about the series. But it’s not just what we saw in Euphoria‘s Season 1 finale that requires unpacking. What’s happening behind the scenes is just as fascinating as what’s taking place on screen. Here is the untold truth of Euphoria.

Young folks say Euphoria is realistic

When Euphoria first hit screens, alarm bells sounded for many adults. The graphic on-camera sex as well as the copious drug abuse displayed right from the get-go was concerning to older folks who felt it was exploitative. IndieWire went so far as to call Euphoria a “horror show,” a moniker that fits seeing as how much imminent danger the kids on the show are constantly in, whether at their own hands or others. Whether it’s Rue’s struggle with substance abuse, Jules’ sexual risk-taking with much older men, or Maddy and Nate’s toxic and physically abusive relationship, the kids don’t seem alright at all. 

Vice went ahead and asked a bunch of folks around the same age as the characters in Euphoria what they thought, and they overwhelmingly agreed that the show is absolutely realistic. Maybe it’s sometimes a bit over the top, but the series is close enough to real life to make it painful and powerful to watch. Many of the interviewees also noted that if they hadn’t had those specific experiences themselves — from leaked nudes to drug abuse — they know people who did, making Euphoria a fictionalized but realistic account of youth culture.

Sam Levinson wrote Euphoria based on his own experiences

Euphoria creator Sam Levinson spent much of his youth struggling with drug addiction and other risky behavior that had him in and out of rehab and halfway homes. He took these experiences, folding them with compassion and love into Rue’s troubled character. At the Euphoria premiere in June 2019, Levinson told the audience (via Variety), “Sometime around the age of 16, I resigned myself to the idea that eventually drugs would kill me and there was no reason to fight it. I would let it take me over, and I had made peace with that.” 

For Levinson, his personal struggle with addiction is in the past, and he was able to channel his experiences into Euphoria to phenomenal effect. Euphoria wasn’t just about showing the escapist side of addiction or glamorizing drug use. Levinson also wanted to explore the trauma and shame that comes with being an addict. His firsthand experiences are partly what makes Euphoria feel so authentic.

There were mood boards created for Euphoria's characters

Scrolling through the Euphoria tag on Instagram reveals fans trying to recreate some of the show’s looks. Since the characters have such singular presentations, there is a goldmine of inspiration in virtually every frame of Euphoria. Creator Sam Levinson and costume designer Heidi Bivins worked closely with each actor, having many create detailed mood boards for the characters.

Speaking to Teen Vogue, Bivins revealed that Hunter Schafer’s Jules starts out as a human anime character, wearing only cute pastel skirts and lots of glitter. As her sexuality and personality evolve, Jules expands her wardrobe to include trousers as she explores herself through new outfits. Alexa Demie’s character, Maddy, is the opposite. Maddy’s look has been the same since she was a pageant kid: lots of stick-on jewels à la Nomi Malone in Showgirls. The character was also influenced by Sharon Stone’s character in Casino.

Regarding Rue, by the Season 1 finale, we find out she has been wearing her late father’s red hoodie the whole season. Fashion can display personality, but it can also show grief.

This Euphoria fan theory about Rue has been debunked

Because Euphoria is narrated by Rue who knows a lot more about people’s inner lives and fears than she should, many viewers theorized that Rue is narrating from beyond the grave. Adding steam to this is the fact that Rue overdosed at the beginning of the series, and many of her classmates actually did think she had died. But in the wake of the Season 1 finale, Euphoria‘s stars spoke out, saying this theory simply doesn’t track. Talking to Entertainment Weekly, Hunter Schafer, who plays Jules, said, “I guess you could apply that perspective if you wanted to. But I don’t really see anything that confirms that.”

Jacob Elordi, who plays Nate, told IndieWire, “My feeling is that that’s pretty morbid. That’s a different show isn’t it?” Given how Euphoria is meant to be about the reality of social issues like addiction and mental illness, having Rue be dead would only serve to take away its realism and power.

Furthermore, creator Sam Levinson has put this theory to bed once and for all, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “Yes, Rue is not dead. That I can say for certain.” 

Jacob Elordi gave himself a concussion during his Euphoria meltdown scene

Euphoria is filled to the brim with powerful and disturbing imagery. Arguably one of the most horrifying and painful moments comes when Nate and his father get into a loud and violent physical altercation. Once Cal Jacobs (Eric Dane) physically restrains his son, Nate begins bashing his own head against the floor in a screaming bout of self-harm.

Actors Eric Dane and Jacob Elordi went full-on method for this scene, deciding to actually fight each other rather than pretend. Talking to IndieWire, Elordi said, “He [Dane] f**king smashed me,” adding, “I was bleeding. I got a concussion. I ended up throwing up after work. It was gnarly. It was really, really gnarly.” The scene is brutal and heartbreaking, and it ends up deepening Nate’s character development. There might be more to Nate than just his villainous jock persona, as indicated by his extreme suffering in this scene.

Yes, that was Zendaya singing in Euphoria's Season 1 finale

Zendaya’s first claim to fame was in Disney Channel’s Shake It Up, in which she played the character Rocky Blue. Her acting career merged with singing when she released singles “Swag it Out” and “Watch Me” in 2011, making her an up-and-coming musical star as well as actor. Both of these talents met in The Greatest Showman, where she was also able to put her dance talents on display.

But Zendaya embodied the role of Rue with such nuance and empathy that her fans seemed to have forgotten she’s known for her singing as well. Social media freaked out when she began singing a remixed version of Labyrinth’s “All For Love” at the end of Euphoria’s Season 1 finale, as reported by BuzzFeed. This emotional response was an incredible testament to Zendaya’s remarkable performance as Rue that nobody even expected her character would have an opportunity to sing even though, as soon as it started happening, it made absolutely perfect sense.

Euphoria doesn't shy away from sex

One of the aspects of Euphoria that caused a host of mixed reactions was its frank and raw treatment of sex on screen, particularly teen sex. While all of the actors are adults, they look their characters’ ages, which caused certain scenes to be distressing. In its first episode, Euphoria showed a graphic statutory rape, nonconsensual choking, and revenge porn. And it may have broken the record for most penises seen on television in the now-infamous boys’ locker room scene. 

In the same Season 1 episode, we see Cal Jacobs’ erect penis before his encounter with Jules, which for actor Eric Dane, who plays Cal, was a harrowing scene to film. Dane actually wore prosthetic genitalia, which he told Entertainment Weekly is protocol. Dane also noted there was an intimacy coordinator on set to make sure everyone felt safe and comfortable. 

When Kat Hernandez (played by Barbie Ferreira) starts doing cam sessions, one of her first clients is a man with a micropenis, which was also prosthetic. Ferreira told Entertainment Weekly that her reaction in the scene is 100 percent natural.

One Direction was upset about the erotic fanfiction Euphoria's Kat wrote

Yet another controversy stirred by Euphoria happened after the episode featuring the animation of her One Direction erotic fan fiction aired. In her fictionalized story about the band members, Kat details a romantic and sexual relationship between One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles, a fake romance called “Larry Stylinson” by fans who want the singers to be together in real life (via Stereogum). Like most of the sex on Euphoria, the cartoon version of the fictionalized romance is graphic and detailed.

However, Louis Tomlinson wasn’t too thrilled by the fanfiction HBO aired. He took to Twitter to express his upset and make sure everyone knew that he hadn’t approved of the story — and that he wasn’t even informed that Euphoria creators were including it. Expressing their support, One Direction fans put together a petition to have HBO remove the scene, which many fans found disrespectful to the two singers, as reported by Insider.

At the time of this writing, Harry Styles has yet to address the controversy.

Euphoria is Hunter Schafer's first acting role

There is so much talent in Euphoria that it’s really difficult to pick just one person who stands out. But if we had to, that person would probably be breakout star Hunter Schafer for her stunning performance as Jules — her first-ever acting role, as shown on her IMDb page. She is raw and vulnerable — yet strong and fierce — in the role that she seems like a seasoned veteran actor already. Up until Euphoria, Schafer was a model studying fashion design, and she made a name for herself as an LGBTQ activist who was named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the discriminatory transgender bathroom bill proposed by North Carolina’s legislation (via W magazine).

But then the call for Euphoria came. Not only does Schafer play one of the most three-dimensional transgender characters ever put on TV, but she even had the opportunity to help craft her character, Jules. Besides make mood boards for her character’s fashion and makeup choices, Schafer told them. she and creator Sam Levinson “were sharing our life stories and figuring out how they could fit together like puzzle pieces in order to fill [Jules] out properly.”

Euphoria star Angus Cloud was discovered walking down the street

Playing Fezco, a drug dealer with a kind heart, Angus Cloud is another breakout star of Euphoria. Yes, his character peddles pills to high schoolers and has some dangerous colleagues, but Fez also loves Rue and takes care of hospice expenses for his grandmother. Like Hunter Schafer, Cloud didn’t have acting experience before landing Euphoria, which makes his nuanced and emotional performance even more impressive.

Cloud was invited to audition for Euphoria after a casting agent saw him walking down the street in Manhattan, as he told GQ. At first, Cloud thought the opportunity was a scam based on how aggressive the agent was, but he took a risk and gave her his number. The next thing he knew, he was on his way to shoot the Euphoria pilot in Los Angeles. Even though he’d been cast in a major role of a soon-to-be-hit show, Cloud was forced to rent rooms in AirBnBs because he didn’t have good enough credit to rent an apartment. Fortunately, with the success of Euphoria, Cloud was able to snag an apartment and has taken up studying acting.

Jacob Elordi doesn't think Euphoria's Nate is a psychopath

When actors play villains, they often end up seeing the story through their characters’ eyes, which can get complicated when the character is a monster. Villains, after all, are the heroes of their own stories and have their own goals and challenges, but, unlike other TV villains, Euphoria character Nate Jacobs pretty much fits the description of a psychopath, as he can be abusive and physically violent, blackmailing, lying, expressing sociopathy, and displaying narcissistic rage in Euphoria.

But Jacob Elordi, who plays Nate, doesn’t think that his character is an actual psychopath. Talking to TheWrap, Elordi said, “I think he’s like an incredibly traumatized little boy,” noting, “I just played off the circumstances of him being a victim of abuse, in a way.” Elordi went on, “His dad physically hurts him, he mentally hurts him, he’s messed up his whole interpretation of what it is to be functioning human being. So I didn’t really come at it with any medical assessment of him, just a human being dealing with what it would be like [under] those circumstances.”

The inspiration behind Euphoria's visuals

Euphoria has been lauded for its dark and sparkly gorgeous production design that features lots of glitter and wild light shows.

One of creator Sam Levinson’s visual inspirations was the photography of Ohio native Todd Hido, who creates dreamy portraits of suburban life in a state of early decay. Levinson told Entertainment Weekly that Hido’s imagery involves “night, suburban landscapes that felt almost sci-fi-ish in a way where you had these kind of striking cyans and golds.” He continued, “It was sort of a way to express the kind of alien nature of the world when you’re young.”

Levinson also noted Paul Thomas Anderson’s Los Angeles ensemble drama Magnolia as another inspiration for the filming style in Euphoria. This is evident in the long close-ups on actors’ faces, making their performances almost part of a stage play, as well as the long, dramatic tracking shots that tell multiple stories in just one take.

Euphoria perfectly breaks down toxic masculinity

While we don’t have a psychiatrist’s assessment as to whether Euphoria‘s Nate Jacobs is a certified psychopath or not, Entertainment Weekly’s Clarkisha Kent argues that he is the most horrifying and realistic villain on television. Kent notes that Nate is singularly terrifying to people of color and other marginalized identities. Kent writes, “He represents an honest and unflinching look at the intersections between rich white male privilege, white male rage, and toxic masculinity.”

Nate’s father, Cal, is a statutory rapist, and he also appears to own much of the land in Euphoria’s suburban town. Because of Cal’s economic and social power — and Nate’s superstar athlete clout — Nate is able to get away with things nobody else can, such as choking his girlfriend in public and then framing an innocent man for it. It’s also possible that Nate’s sexuality might not be as heterosexual as he presents, and this kind of sexual repression can often lead to violence, according to Psychology Today. In Nate’s meltdown scene during the Euphoria Season 1 finale, we see the breadth of his rage, and it’s scary to think what will happen if he doesn’t get help.

Kat's character shatters fat girl tropes in Euphoria

Euphoria’s Kat Hernandez (played by Barbie Ferreira) is not a token plus-size friend, as noted by Entertainment Weekly. After she loses her virginity to a classmate who secretly filmed the event, the video is released. She denies that she’s the girl in the video, but, when she sees online how many people are into her and think she’s hot, Kat spins revenge porn to her advantage. She begins doing cam sessions, developing a keen new fashion sense inspired by online dominatrixes, and exploring her budding sexuality without shame. 

On screen, overweight characters are often used as props for the skinny lead characters to vent their problems to and serve as a constant ego boost for their peers without any character development of their own. But that’s not the case with Kat. An excellent example of Kat smashing this trope is when Maddy calls her having a panic attack, needing Kat’s support. Kat is in the middle of a sexual tryst and tells her bestie that now isn’t a good time. Prioritizing herself and her own needs is a revolutionary act on screen for characters of similar sizes.

Euphoria was renewed for a second season

After a controversial and eye-opening first season, it’s no surprise that HBO would decide to renew Euphoria for another ride around this haunting merry-go-round, as reported by CNN. Plus, the freshman season ended on such a wild series of cliffhangers that it would be cruel to leave viewers wondering about the fates of many now-beloved characters. Is Rue okay after her relapse? What will Maddy do with the DVD of Cal and Jules? How will Jules change after spending more time in the city?

While Sam Levinson hasn’t released any specific plot details yet, we know that Rue is, in fact, still alive and will still be the main character of Season 2, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Levinson also shared that Fezco’s and Lexi’s pasts will be revealed in future episodes. While Levinson may not have a full arc for the show or any estimate of how many seasons fans can expect, he’s planning to take each season as it comes and see where the fascinating characters will take him next.

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