We revisit our #39 cover story with the actor, producer and all-round dream girl, Sydney Sweeney.
Sydney Sweeney has skyrocketed onto our screens and into our lives over the past year, but if you think she’s an overnight sensation, or a one-hit-wonder, you are wildly mistaken. From making a business plan for her parents at 12 years old to filming seven roles in one year, 23-year-old actor and producer Sydney has hustled her way here, she’s put in the work, and then some.
“I’m from Spokane, Washington”, she gushes over Zoom, “no one around me had really done anything like this. It was very foreign to my family, my friends, my school – it was hard.” But Sydney pulled off the impossible, taking on small roles and starring in indies until she kicked the door down with Netflix, Hulu and HBO shows all in 2018. “It just all happened all at once”, she explained, “I mean I’ve been doing this since I was like 13, and nobody cared who I was…But people say ‘she came overnight’, and it’s like, guys, I’ve been here for 10 years! It’s been a lot of hard work and I’ll never stop trying to work harder.”
As annoying as these assumptions must be, it’s no wonder with a show as fast ascending as Euphoria, where Sydney plays the misunderstood, doe-eyed Cassie. It quickly became the series to define a generation, a neon-lit Californian Skins for Gen-Z with a cast TikTok dreams are made of. “It’s really funny because of the force that is Euphoria, a lot of people haven’t looked at the projects I’ve done before. People will say ‘That girl from Euphoria’ or ‘Of course she shows her boobs’, things like that. When literally a few months before I had The Handmaid’s Tale and Sharp Objects, and before that Everything Sucks!. All of those characters are so different,” Sydney sighs, “but they don’t associate me with those shows, so it can be frustrating.”
Whether it’s scoring roles or educating herself at business school, Sydney Sweeny is doing the most: “growing up my mom was very strict about education…as frustrating as that was at the time, I’m beyond thankful now because it gave me this work ethic”. Graduating valedictorian alongside acting, Sydney headed to college for business, something a lot of industry folks thought to be a misstep at the time. “This is a business”, she asserts, “being an actor, you are your own business and you need to be able to run it and think for yourself. [Getting my degree has] shown me that I can go down more than just one alley, it’s shown me how much more there is to explore.”
The hard work sure paid off as while some of us struggle to do puzzles and bake banana bread over quarantine, Sydney has shot The White Lotus, started a production company, taken on UCLA virtual extension classes and even turned a botched painting attempt into a (super cute) piece of art for her new home. The hustle continues.
“I’ve found quite a love for the development side of things”, Sydney tells me when I ask her about the positives of lockdown, “I definitely have had more time to focus on my production company [Fifty-Fifty Films], to build that from the ground up. It’s been good in that way as I have pretty much been filming non-stop since Sharp Objects almost four years ago, so I haven’t had much time since then to do anything else that I wanted to do”.
First up on her production resume is The Players Table, a series based on Jessica Goodman’s bestseller They Wish They Were Us, which Sydney Sweeney will be executive producing and starring in alongside Halsey. “It feels like my baby”, she smiles, “I read the book before it was released and just knew I had to make something with it. So I called my team and said ‘I want to make this: this is what I want to start Fifty-Fifty Films with’”. If you’ve read the book, Sydney promises their version will be “even more psychologically fucked up” and will “take viewers on an unexpected route”.
This is all just the beginning though, Sydney has a lot more up her sleeve. “I’m approaching the projects in the same way I approach my characters: making sure they are very different from one another, I try to not play the same character twice if I can. I don’t want to restrict myself.” In fact, Sydney sees herself stepping behind the camera one day into the director’s chair: “I’ve found that I might be a little controlling” she laughs, “I want to try everything: to write, to direct and DP one day. I think it’s so important as an actor to learn about every department on a set as you gain so much respect for everyone involved in a project. Sometimes it seems people overlook the small things, and so I really try not to and would love to learn everything so that when I produce or direct I have an understanding of it all.”
Sydney Sweeney even did the “extra credit” work for her Once Upon A Time In Hollywood audition: “Basically you could write a song, or paint something as well, because at this stage [Quentin] Tarantino had everyone auditioning for the same role and then he would place you in whatever role he saw fit. So I thought as I was having to audition for this one character, I’d do something ‘extra credit’ for another. I chose a different character that I liked, I wrote a letter from them to [Charles] Manson and I read the letter as if I was reading it to him. It was like a fucked up love letter, from a Manson girl’s mind. He asked to keep it and it was the only copy, I realise now I should’ve made a copy!” It sure bodes well for Sydney’s writing and directing goals that the incomparable Tarantino would savour her work.
Of course, there are two sides to every story, and as much as Sydney thrives from hard work and busyness, the hell that was 2020 has taken a toll on even the best of us. “There’s been highs and lows, very frustrating times, days when I don’t want to get out of bed but then days when I want to get all these imaginative activities done…I definitely give myself a hard time if I’m not working, I feel like I’m not doing enough.”
On top of the pressure, Sydney also struggles with anxiety: “I have terrible stage fright. I, as Sydney Sweeney, am more nervous to be in front of a crowd, than I am as a character. I am beyond nervous to be myself in front of people. If I was a character in front of people, I’m the most confident I could possibly be. I think I have to figure out how to find that confidence in myself.”
Easier said than done, though, both in the real world and online, with the scrutiny of fans and trolls alike: “I’m much more comfortable being judged as a character than I am myself”, Sydney confides, “Having social media makes it even more nerve wracking because people look at me a certain way and so I get judged more.” In the world of infinite content, everyone wants a piece of you, she emphasises, “It’s so sad because before I post a picture I’m literally debating for an hour like ‘should I post this or not?’ The fact that I’m mentally having to think that hard about something so simple…I know something’s wrong here. How is it okay that so much of my energy and my thought is going towards this? I know everyone always says ‘I don’t care what they think’, but that’s not me. I do read the comments and they do affect me.”
“I mean I’ve been doing this since I was like 13, and nobody cared who I was...But people say ‘she came overnight’, and it’s like, guys, I’ve been here for 10 years! It’s been a lot of hard work and I’ll never stop trying to work harder.”
It’s this purity and kindness that is a huge part of Sydney’s allure: charismatic as she is genuine, thoughtful as she is impashioned, the young star is reminiscent of the Old Hollywood ingénues, with a bit of bombshell sprinkled in. “I love Brigitte Bardot and the beauty of that era: I got to live out those dreams in this”, she says of tmrw’s shoot. “My icons are these beautiful, sophisticated actors – like [Bardot], Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie – who are so well put together but at the same time play such crazy characters”.
In her career so far, Sydney hasn’t shied away from these sort of roles. The majority of her characters have been trying both physically – learning ice skating in Euphoria (“I’m a very athletic person but I couldn’t do that to save my life”) and weighted, chained diving in The Handmaid’s Tale (“That was really cool because I would never do that in real life”) – and seemingly, emotionally. To deal with the intensity, the actor creates cohesive journals for each character, and makes a backstory for them from birth to the script: “I build my character enough to be able to jump in and out of her mind and body…I’m creating all of her memories and her thoughts that I can draw from as that character acting wise.”
“When I was younger I had this mentor who told me to never use my own personal memories or triggers to get myself in a place for character because you blur the lines”, Sydney describes, “So I took that advice. It has helped me be able to just jump in and out of literally crying and screaming to then laughing two seconds later. I must look psychotic”, she laughs, “but it helps me to be able to go home, switch off and be okay.”
For the next season of Euphoria, which is filming now, it seems these methods will again be necessary: “Cassie goes through it”, Sydney teases, “I can’t tell too much as anything I say will lead fans down a rabbit hole to figure it out, but, I did not see this story coming”.
It’s a show that gives as much as it takes: along with experience, friendship and opportunity, it gave Sydney a love of makeup too. “I used to be very intimidated by makeup”, she reminisces, “but [on Euphoria] it’s about freedom to express yourself through it. I learnt that there is no wrong way, it’s about making yourself feel powerful.”
For Cassie’s future, Sydney wants her to find her power too: “I want her to be okay with herself and to fall in love with herself. She relies too much on outside forces and other people to think that she’s beautiful and she’s worthy of love because she doesn’t believe that she is.”
On top of the highly awaited series return, the actor is gearing up for a fair few 2021 releases: “So at the moment I am filming [Ian Edelman’s] American Sole with Pete Davidson, and Kevin Hart’s producing it! It’s gonna be a really fun, crazy production. I also have an indie called Silver Star [by Ruben Amar], which is really beautiful]”. Coming up next, though, is The Voyeurs, alongside her previous collaborators from Everything Sucks!. “That was probably one of my favourite sets, so being able to work with Micheal [Mohan] the director, Elisha [Christian] the DP and Adam [Reamer] the set designer all over again was like a family reunion”. Don’t expect the kid-friendly Netflix vibe this time though, she smiles, “it’s such a different character, genre, and storyline”, Sydney explains, “The Voyeurs is an erotic thriller! It was amazing, one of my most exciting projects that I can’t wait for people to see.”
Over a decade, Sydney Sweeney has evolved from a small towner in LA into an unmissable Hollywood talent, with so much yet to give. A part of an industry that needed change, Sydney is on the revolutionary wave: grateful to have come of age with the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, she’s now pushing for more diversity and inclusivity. “It’s changed so much already…thanks to the incredible women who came forward to speak their truth. I really think it helped change Hollywood.” If Sydney and Fifty-Fifty Films are just starting out, then things can only be looking up: Sydney Sweeney promises, “We’re paving the way for more to come”.
This feature is taken from tmrw volume #39 available in stores now, find your local stockist here.