When I meet Hunter Schafer the morning after Burberry's London Fashion Week party, she’s warm and sprightly. "Sorry, I was just popping some Tylenol," Hunter laughs as she takes a gulp of water. I'd just interrupted to ask how she was doing. "I’m alright, yeah! I’m good. I had a fun night in London last night!"
Curled up on the sofa in a Soho hotel suite, I spot Hunter is wearing a cool pair of seemingly leather socks with metal zips. She’s also got thin green ribbon decoratively wrapped around each wrist and looped around her middle fingers. Her big, easy smile is welcoming, and though you may recognize Hunter from her impressive back catalogue of campaigns modeling for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Coach, Miu Miu and more, it’s the quiet, enigmatic energy that I immediately recognize from her debut acting role in one of the most talked-about TV shows of the year.
Hunter stars in Euphoria, the stylish and striking series that follows a group of Gen Z teenagers as they navigate sex, drugs and the turmoil of adolescence in 2019. In it, she plays Jules Vaughn, a new trans kid at their suburban LA high school. She’s magnetic, charming and has a troubled backstory that the first series only hints towards. Her parents divorced and she now lives with her dad; beyond that, we really don’t know what went down to prompt their relocation to the area.
Sleek as its aesthetic may be, Euphoria is intense and often difficult to watch. Revenge porn, sexual manipulation, graphic drug use and severe mental ill-health drive much of the narrative. From an actor's point of view, it must have been hard to keep a distance from the relentlessness of these themes. How do you separate yourself when you have to be deeply immersed in such an overwhelming world to do it justice on screen? "It’s a good question and one that I’m still figuring out the answer to," Hunter says. "I kind of feel like I’m only just now or a few weeks ago fully removed from a lot of where I was in my head because we shot for eight months straight, so a lot of it felt very real by the end. Constantly thinking about it and being in that world and shooting; it’s hard not to take that home with you and I think you end up taking it home with you whether you like it or not."
Hunter stars opposite Zendaya, who plays the show’s cynical, straight-talking narrator Rue. We meet Rue following a stint in rehab after her younger sister Gia (Storm Reid) found her passed out from an overdose in their living room. Jules and Rue meet at a catastrophic house party in episode one and something special immediately clicks between them.
Remembering her early days on set, Hunter thinks that one of their shared drug scenes might’ve been the first thing she shot for the series, and as a new actress. "It was fun! It was just like a little blanket fort and we had glitter all over ourselves and got to act high together. I was like, 'Okay, I can do this'," she says. Rue offers Jules an unidentified pill, Jules hesitates about whether it's a good idea (it's not a good idea) and next thing you know, they're in a tent made of blankets, giggling and marveling at the wonders of being super high. "And then the rest of the episode came," Hunter adds thoughtfully. Unbeknown to Jules at the time, she's being catfished by Nate (Jacob Elordi) who threatened her at the house party where she and Rue first met. "That was like, woah… I was experiencing a massive mixture of feelings about entering that space."
She says there was a lot of care between the cast, which sounds crucial to the success and impactful nature of the series. "Just going through that experience together, and how wild it was and how immersive it was and how we all had to hold space for each other and just be open to whatever you were feeling because it was often an exposing set. I mean, if you weren’t literally naked you kind of had to be naked with your emotions or whatever. I think you come out of it either loving that group of people or hating them, and thank god the entire cast is so lovable."
Exposure aside, Hunter says her favorite part of playing Jules was the personal journey of working on the character. "Throughout the season and near the end it just started feeling so natural. It was fun to watch her grow while growing as an actor. Like, growing together in a weird way."
You might remember that the series finale left Jules’ future looking a little uncertain. Though a second season of Euphoria has already been confirmed, it’s unlikely that it’ll pick up with Jules and Rue in the same space. At the winter formal dance, Rue suggests running away and Jules eagerly agrees. They speed back to their houses on bikes to pack before heading to the train station where, on the platform, Rue decides that she can’t go. She needs her medication and stability at home, and so Jules rides away into the city on her own.
"I feel pretty complicated about it because I wholeheartedly understand Jules’ desperate desire to be in a city where queer communities are easily accessible to her, and an energy that matches her frequency is accessible and a train ride away," Hunter explains. "But I also feel so much for Rue. It gets hard because their relationship was not necessarily healthy all the time and I think they both relied on each other in ways that made them want to be very close and far apart at the same time. But ultimately, like Rue, I understand why she left." Hunter hesitates for a moment and grins, unsure of what she should and shouldn’t say. "I don’t know. I do and I don’t understand."
I suspect there's an allusion there to what might be coming next but, unsurprisingly, Hunter isn't able to let on. When I ask whether she knows much about season two, or whether it’s even in the works, Hunter smiles again and gives a big, animated shrug. "I think that’s about all I can give you," she laughs. For now, we'll just have to ride the high of the first season and speculate where the show could take us next. One thing Hunter does have a hunch about, however, is why Euphoria resonated so deeply with so many viewers. "We brought realness to the table and a realness that maybe people have been afraid to bring forward, particularly with teenagers before and in a way that I think we only could’ve done on HBO, and it feels like now is the right time and it was the right place and the right channel and it just worked and people respond to realness – so, I hope that’s why."
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.