Meet the man behind the most controversial show on TV right now


Cape Town - The first five episodes of Euphoria, the most talked about teen show of 2019, are now streaming first on Showmax in South Africa, with the last three episodes coming express from the US.

Currently ranked #2 on IMDB’s list of The Most Popular TV Shows, the hit HBO series stars Zendaya (K.C. Undercover, Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Greatest Showman) as a 17 year old named Rue, who returns home from rehab with no plans to stay clean, and strikes up a friendship with the new girl in town, Jules (Hunter Schafer). Euphoria follows their group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma and social media.

The Hollywood Reporter hailed it as "perhaps the most unflinching, not to mention explicit, take on modern adolescence ever to hit U.S. television… Boundary-pushing, real and exceptionally realised."

Writers Guild of America nominee Sam Levinson (Wizard of Lies) wrote the screenplay and directs five episodes, Drake is one of the executive producers, and the ensemble cast includes Sydney Sweeney (Sharp Objects, The Handmaid’s Tale), Maude Apatow (Girls), Jacob Elordi (The Kissing Booth), Barbie Ferreira (Divorce), Storm Reid (When They See Us, A Wrinkle In Time), Alexa Demie (Ray Donovan), and Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy), who you’ll never be able to think of as McSteamy again…

Sam let us in on his thoughts about the series, which has just been renewed for a second season by HBO.

Creator Sam Levinson.

Where did the idea for Euphoria come from?

For better or for worse, a lot of it comes from my own experiences with anxiety and addiction. I went for a general meeting with HBO because I’d written a script that they liked and they told me they had this Israeli format called Euphoria. I went away to watch it and came back to talk to Francesca Orsi, head of Drama. We were having this conversation and I said, ‘What do you like about it?’ And she said, ‘I just like how raw it is.’ For about an hour and a half, we just talked about life experiences and addiction, love and heartbreak, and then at the end she was like, ‘Alright, cool, well, why don’t you go and write that?’ That’s what she encouraged me to do throughout the process - you just put yourself in it - and that’s ultimately what led to Euphoria. I just kept writing and writing. And then we started making it and kept making it.

What sets Euphoria apart from other dramas about teenagers?

I wanted to make a show about the anxiety of being young and the insecurities and unsureness in relationships and love, and at the same time I wanted to do it in a way that I felt we hadn’t seen before. Every time we’re dealing with tough subjects or gritty material, it’s done in a docu-drama way with handheld cameras; I wanted to create something that had a real formality to it in terms of its structure, lighting and design.

I wanted to do something in television that didn’t rely so heavily on characters talking about all of the things that they’re feeling and doing, because I think one of the key aspects of being young - one of the toughest parts - is not being able to articulate how you feel. And so allowing the characters to be quiet or to say only one sentence and let us feel it through their performance and approaching it from a more expressionist perspective was really important.

How did Zendaya come to be involved?

Oddly enough I’d gone into HBO with a mood board a year earlier with Z’s photo under Rue. And I thought there’s no way she’s going to do this, it’s too crazy.

What is it about Zendaya that is right for the role of Rue?

I just felt it. I could see it in her face. I’d seen her other work; I’d seen interviews with her; I just knew it. And I couldn’t stop thinking about what she would bring to it.

What she ultimately brought to it, I will say though, exceeded any expectations I had. It’s really hard to depict a drug addict without an audience feeling judgmental towards that individual because of the choices they’re making and I think she brings a humour and a warmth and a fragility. She’s the beating heart of it; you empathise with her in a way that I could never imagine and she’s not inaccessible. You just want to give her a hug and tell her it’s going to be alright. Tapping into having that kind of compassion for someone who is going through addiction in life is really important to that person’s eventual sobriety. Z has no ceiling in terms of her talent and her ability, and it’s inspiring as a writer and as a filmmaker. I get so excited by what she brings to it.

You seem to take a very collaborative approach?

I’d be having a conversation with Barbie Ferreira [Kat] and she’d tell me something and then… there it is in the script! And she’s like, ‘I see what you did there!’ I love the experience of working with a cast, and a cast this unique. It’s so much fun to grow with them as a writer and filmmaker and just continue to volley ideas back and forth.

Euphoria has been described as ‘Kids meets Trainspotting’. Would you agree?

I tend not to think in terms of comparisons but I was happy when I saw that because I was like, ‘I’d watch that show!’


(Photos: Showmax/Getty Images)

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