ATX Television wrapped Day 1 with a screening of HBO’s upcoming drama Euphoria, the risqué teen drama based on the Israeli series. The highly graphic series follows a group of high school students as they navigate drugs, sex, identity, trauma, social media, love, and friendship.
Creator and EP Sam Levinson, an addict who has been sober for over ten years, had a deep connection to this piece. “The hardest thing about portraying a drug addict is — there are a lot of cautionary tales, there are a lot of after-school specials — but what I really wanted to get to the core of is the pain and the shame about what you’re doing and you’re inability to get clean despite the havoc and destruction you’re wreaking round you.”
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Levinson was on hand for a Q&A discussion following the screening, along with stars Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Barbie Ferreira, and Eric Dane.
Levinson said producers are “mindful of” the risk of glamorizing drug use “just by the sheer nature of it being on screen.” “We have to be authentic about it,” he contended. “If we’re pulling our punches and we’re not showing the relief that drugs can bring it starts to lose its impact. Drugs are not the solution but they can feel like it at times, and that’s what makes them so destructive.”
Zendaya leads the cast in the role that is a departure from her Disney days. She plays the cocaine-snorting, foul-mouthed, anxiety-riddled teenager Rue, who shows no desire to change her destructive ways.
“It’s a big jump, it’s very different,” said Zendaya, describing the leap as “nerve-wracking.”
On the decision to take on a more adult role, Zendaya said, “I don’t think there was a strategy. I just knew that I had to take my time and I had to go slow and I had to earn my way up.” She continued, “It was just about being patient and slowly opening those doors for myself and getting into the rooms and getting people to see me a little bit more in a different way and not ever pushing it too far too fast. I think a moment like this, if it happened too soon, people wouldn’t be willing to accept it.”
Maude Apatow, Angus Cloud, Eric Dane, Alexa Demie, Jacob Elordi, Barbie Ferreira, Nika King, Storm Reid, Hunter Schafer, Algee Smith, and Sydney Sweeney round-out the ensemble cast.
Levinson wrote all the episodes and executive produces alongside Drake, Future the Prince, Ron Leshem and Daphna Levin (the duo who created the original Israeli series), Tmira Yardeni, Ravi Nandan, Kevin Turen, Hadas Mozes Lichtenstein, Mirit Toovi, Yoram Mokadi, and Gary Lennon.
Despite issues of drugs and sex facing the students, what Levinson hopes audiences take away is “is to be empathic, to be compassionate… to be sensitive to others,” he said. “It’s about trying to navigate a world that feels pretty unstable” and “finding a way to create your own meaning in this world, create your own family, and find those that you love and hang onto them.”
Euphoria is slated to premiere on HBO June 16
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