“We can’t give away anything once we walk in,” Sydney Sweeney said as her SUV took a sharp right turn onto 14th street. The 21 year-old actress was about to have her first real tarot card reading, and she wanted to keep it as honest as possible—which meant serious poker faces once we walked through the doors of the Aum Shanti Book Shop in Union Square. Despite a starring role on this summer’s hottest new show (HBO’s Euphoria) and a part in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Sweeney still had enough anonymity to allow for a reading without any hints from tabloid headlines. But it’s a safe bet she won’t be undercover for too much longer. In fact, stardom is apparently in the cards. “Success is in front of you right now,” our oracle told her six minutes into the reading. “Lots of success.”
Though Sweeney grew up in Spokane, Washington, she always knew she was Hollywood-bound: When she was eleven, she created a Powerpoint presentation to convince her parents to relocate the family to Los Angeles so that she could pursue acting. “Since I could talk, I was like, I want to do this,” she said. “My parents thought it was a crazy dream, but when I showed them [the presentation], they saw it was a very mature, put together form of expressing myself.” Famously, Emma Stone pulled the same move with her folks—a coincidental fact that had somehow eluded Sweeney. “I didn’t know that,” she said. “There we go!” Like Stone’s parents, Sweeney’s agreed to the move.
Still, they were a far cry from stage parents. “Never was I allowed to miss school,” she said. “I graduated valedictorian and went to college for business. School has always been number one.” (And it remains a priority—Sweeney is currently finishing her third year of college online). But since 2009, she’s been wracking up an impressive list of credits spanning both television and film thanks to tireless—though at times unsuccessful— auditioning. “I was going through puberty, which is the most awkward time of our lives, and at the same time being rejected by the thing I loved. It was very difficult,” she said of those early calls. Ultimately, she booked a part on Criminal Minds and then a series regular role on Heroes—which ended up being a one-episode gig because the show was cancelled. “I was like, Thanks,” says Sweeney. So when the tarot card reader told her that “This isn’t success that was just put in front of you.This is success that you’ve been working on” it rang true.
Over the past year, all that work has been paying off. In 2018 alone, she could be seen on Netflix’s Everybody Sucks!; HBO’s adaptation of Sharp Objects with Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson; and season two of The Handmaid’s Tale, for which she scored a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. Currently, she stars as Cassie on HBO’s runaway hit Euphoria. “We all became friends so fast,” she said of her co-stars, who include Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Jacob Elordi, Maude Apatow, and Barbie Ferreira. “We were together for so long that you kind of become siblings.”
Like Sweeney, Cassie comes off as sweet and self-aware, if cautious and careful with her words. But the actress doesn’t share her character’s wild side. “I’m not one to go out,” she said. “I’m more of a homebody. I’ve never done drugs. I’ve never smoked weed, I don’t drink.” Cassie, on the other hand, takes MDMA after a bad breakup and then masturbates while riding a carousel in the middle of the town fair. Said Sweeney of that particular scene: “With the whole horse thing… it was interesting.”
Cassie also appears topless in a party scene in the pilot, which was, for Sweeney, a first. “I’ve never done anything like that before,” she said of the nudity. “But I love this show, and I love everything about it, and it’s way more than nudity. I think if it were my first job, it would have been completely different and I might have been typecast, but I feel that anyone who gives me shit for it, I’m like, Okay, go look at Handmaid’s Tale.”
Euphoria still has three episodes left to air of its freshman season (season two was announced late last week), and Sweeney promises they’ll include a big story arc for Cassie. “Episodes six, seven, and eight are very strong for her,” she said. Once that wraps, she’ll have another major project out in the world: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s semi-fictional depiction of LaLa land in the 1960s. Scoring that role was no easy feet. “We went to [Tarantino’s] office and were there for six hours,” she said of her ensemble audition. “I was so nervous.” But she obviously made a very strong impression; that same night, she bumped into the film’s casting director at a party and learned she got the part. “What sucked was I wasn’t allowed to say anything until the press release came out, which wasn’t until August,” she said. “And I booked it the first week in June.”
Similarly, she can’t say anything much about the film now, other than that she “shot with pretty much everyone on a level” regarding the stacked cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, and Dakota Fanning—as well as pretty much everyone else in Hollywood—and that, as of the last week in June, she herself hadn’t seen the film. “The one screening I’ve been invited to, I couldn’t go because we were shooting Euphoria,” she said.
Guess that’s one downside of a career on fire —and hers shows no sign of slowing down. In addition to the upcoming comedy Big Time Adolescence, co-starring Pete Davidson, Sweeney seems booked for the foreseeable future. “I’m doing a movie in August, and then in September and October, and maybe one in November,” she said. She’s so busy, in fact, that she’s temporarily homeless. “I got rid of my place in LA,” she said. “I had this beautiful condo in Taluca Lake, but I was like, Why am I paying for this when I’m all over? I packed all of my stuff and put it in a storage unit and I’m living out of my suitcase. It’s kind of scary.” Luckily, the cards have something to say about that, as well. “You need to start creating an environment for yourself,” she was informed. “You can always direct where your life is going to go. You are creating this life for yourself. You’re making the decisions. And you have everything to make it work and take you where you want to go… You can do it with your eyes closed.”