Sam Levinson Sets the Stage for a Candid Conversation at ATX
By Marissa Blanchard
“If you keep your heart open you can meet people who change your life.” Creator, writer, director and executive producer Sam Levinson opened up about his deeply personal first foray into television at ATX Television Festival’s Euphoria screening and panel. Actors Zendaya, Hunter Schaffer, Barbie Ferreira and Eric Dane joined Levinson for the discussion at the Austin, Texas event, hosted by Vanity Fair’s Sonia Saraiya.
To kick off the panel after the screening, Saraiya prompted Levinson very simply: “This is a very different type of teenage show.” The hour-long conversation took off from there.
Levinson, who wrote all eight episodes of Season 1, admitted to having Zendaya on his vision board for his lead character, Rue. The character is a reflection of his own teenage life and struggles with addiction and anxiety. At their first meeting, Levinson recalls thinking, “This is Rue.”
Zendaya revealed she wanted to meet Levinson as soon as she read the script. “I met Sam and clearly understood why this project so special,” she shared. “All the doubts and worries I had disappeared and I just had to be a part of this.”
While the series is inspired by Levinson’s life experience, he was cognizant of how easily drugs and sex can be glamorized on television. “I really wanted to show the pain and the shame about what you’re doing, and the inability to get clean despite the havok and the destruction you are wreaking around you,” he explained. “That’s a tricky thing for an actor to pull off, but Zendaya does it with a level of warmth, humor and sensitivity that I could never have dreamed of.”
He continued that he felt showing every angle of addiction was critical to staying authentic to those who experience it: “I’m sensitive to portrayals of drug addiction, but if we aren’t showing the relief drugs can bring it loses its impact. Drugs aren’t the solution but they can feel like it at times.”
The goal of the series was to not only portray addiction, but also the authentic lives of what young adults are experiencing today. “Each character, while having their own identities, is allowed to have a story and an arc that is beyond their identity crisis,” said Schaffer. “They are able to be amorphis and have complicated, deep stories.”
Ferreira touched on how empowering it was to play a character that pushes the boundaries: “Feeling like a sexual being is incredibly hard to grasp when people don’t see you that way. She wants to feel like she’s in power and that people see her as a sexual being. I felt those feelings as a chubby girl in high school and it’s very hard to feel like you are worthy of attention in that way.”
“Being able to see yourself in a character is a really powerful thing,” added Levinson when asked about the diverse representation in Euphoria.
Zendaya received applause after explaining how she sees Rue as a real person that she feels protective of: “I want her to know that she’s good. She’s worthy of love and beautiful things entering her life. If Sam is any indication of who Rue can be, she’ll be alright.”