It’s just a couple of hours away from the red carpet premiere of HBO’s next big show Euphoria, and star Hunter Schafer is debating whether or not she should get bangs. It’s her first premiere, and instead of having meticulously mapped out every detail, Schafer is following her instincts, moment by moment—and keeping calm, cool, and collected throughout. Take this, for example: Despite being in the middle of makeup and hair (she ultimately opted for wispy baby bangs left loose from her pulled-back hair), it was Schafer herself who ran out of her Silver Lake apartment to open the building’s door for me when I arrived, rather than send out one of the many people buzzing around her apartment. Despite staring down the biggest night in her career thus far, the Raleigh, North Carolina, native is still keeping it real—just one of the many reasons she was cast alongside stars like Zendaya in the upcoming gritty teen saga.
The actress, who earned fame as a model prior to the show, posing for the likes of Dior, Miu Miu, Rick Owens, and Marc Jacobs, also happens to be exceedingly relaxed about what she’s wearing on this special evening. “I’m going to be honest and say that we did the fitting this morning,” she says, before adding that, like with the bangs, she had one thing in mind but ended up going in a softer direction, with a floral Rodarte dress in a muted palette, paired with metallic combat boots. You could say the whole night is an exercise in restraint, something Schafer is now getting used to. “I’m lucky to have a solid team to keep me in check and say, ‘You probably shouldn’t wear head-to-toe Comme des Garçons sculptural shit on your first premiere,’” she jokes. So she settled on Rodarte, a brand with punk roots that has perfected the red-carpet realm. “I feel really happy about the piece we choose,” Schafer says. “And Rodarte is obviously really special.”
“Special” is a word that gets thrown around a lot when talking to Schafer about the premiere, to which she is bringing her mom and sister as her dates. (Her brother and dad are back in Raleigh, as her brother finishes his eighth-grade finals, which her mom lovingly asks me to mention.) But so is the word “scary.” That and similar descriptors have been used an awful lot by those close to the show, from the costume designer Heidi Bivens, who recently told W it’s more intense than Harmony Korine’s teen classic Kids, to, now, Schafer. “As far as the realness, it’s comparable [to Kids], but Euphoria is specific to 2019,” Schafer says. “I don’t think Euphoria can capture the entirety of the teen-in-high-school experience, but I think it is realistic. It’s scary in that sense because I don’t think we get to see a lot of depictions of high school this raw. I think that truth might scare people.”
In the show, Schafer plays Jules, a transfer student in her junior year who “frequently affirms herself through a toxic relationship with men,” as Schafer describes, which gets “challenged from the get-go,” thanks to her relationship with Zendaya’s character, Rue. “Rue doesn’t so much help Jules get out of the toxic pattern as much as Rue becomes an alternative,” Schafer explains. For the role, Schafer ended up drawing “a lot from her own experience” and lending the sensitivity with which Jules is portrayed. “It was a very collaborative process, and Jules had a similar storyline to my life, at least as far as transition timelines—not what happens within Euphoria,” she says. “Also, [writer] Sam Levinson was really open to collaboration because he can only write to some identities, so it was up to us to help him fill in little pieces.”
As much as Schafer tried to step back out of the character when she returned home from work each night, she says it was a struggle: “The lines got blurred.” But her castmate Zendaya offered support and plenty of laughs to lighten the heavy mood. “I remember one of the first days Zendaya and I shot together we were filming in a blanket fort that the crew had built and she has glitter tears in this scene so we basically got to act really high together, which was fun, and that sort of began the glitter-absolutely-everywhere spiral that continued for the rest of season,” Schafer recalls. “Because Zendaya was my main scene partner throughout the season, we’ve seen each other in about every emotional state that we have. It kind of puts the friendships on hyperspeed.”
As for how that onscreen vulnerability compares to stepping onto the runway, Schafer explains, “I think the anticipation is similar. When you’re anticipating a scene, you get nervous for it and you’re trying to combat it so you don’t fuck up. It’s similar because you have to have your guard down for these scenes and let yourself be.”
But one is definitely harder for her than the other. “I would say runway is easier because your job is to look good or play a character that is just going somewhere,” she says. “It’s rather physical, whereas acting is terrifying because you’re dealing with your subconscious and those can be murky waters. But I definitely can say that I enjoy acting more as an artist.”
What might be hardest of all, though, is letting her mom watch every moment of her screen time in the show. “My mom has seen the pilot. We had to skip through one scene, but overall she reacted well to it,” Schafer says. “She wanted to see the next episode, which was a good sign. But that was a scary scene. I don’t know if she’s seen these sides of me.” So will she get to see that scene tonight? “I might have to cover her eyes for it. We’ll see. We’ll probably have to decompress. We’ll have to talk about it a little, and maybe order some ice cream at home and let it out.”