Before she heads into a grueling six-month production of Marvel’s Madame Web — she’ll co-star opposite Dakota Johnson in the top-secret Sony Pictures action flick — Sydney Sweeney will head to Texas to receive the Breakthrough Award at the ATX TV Festival, an honor that caps off a year marked by showstopping turns in The White Lotus and Euphoria. Ahead of the fest, she rang up THR to reflect on her rise to fame — and the childhood imaginary friends that helped her get there.
What do you consider your big break?
I have two stages of it. I first felt it when I did Handmaid’s Tale; to be able to say I was a part of history in that way was definitely a breakthrough moment. Then, of course, the combination of White Lotus and Euphoria. That’s when this started to feel like the career I’d always dreamt of.
When did you realize Euphoria was going to be the sensation it is now?
We didn’t really know what to expect; we weren’t sure who it would reach and how it would speak to people. It’s about teenagers, but it has so much to say. After season one, we knew that people loved it, but this past year it became a whole different beast.
How have you seen Euphoria impacting its audience?
I see it in the way people talk about Cassie. They often want to hate her (laughs) because of the kind of person she is, but they find themselves unable to. It’s amazing to me that I’m able to take a character who has made so many terrible decisions and make people feel for her and understand those decisions. When I first started playing her, I connected to how she makes decisions very drastically and from the heart.
The show can be heavy at times. How do you get out of that headspace at the end of a day on set?
I have found a very healthy separation, so the moment Sam [Levinson] calls “cut,” I can go home and be happy and hang with my dog. I grew up building all of these imaginary worlds and creating imaginary friends; I would build out their lives and would become someone else in those moments. So I have a lot of practice.
Now you have to tell us about one …
Oh my God, I’ve never told anyone this, but one of my favorite imaginary worlds was that I was at spy school, training to become an undercover spy. I’d build obstacle courses throughout my house and train myself.
Tell us about your decision to launch your production company, Fifty-Fifty Films.
I’ve always loved the business aspect of the industry, and I love surprising people. On Sharp Objects, I found myself hanging out more with the producers in video village than with the cast, and learning as much as I could about the mechanics behind the scenes. It reminds me of the way I would world-build when I was little, and I realized I wanted to do that more. It’s going to be a long road. I started acting when I was 12 or 13, and now 10 years later, you’re just now talking to me. But I love to build things from the ground up, and whether it takes 10 years or 20, I’m putting my heart and soul into it.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the June 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.