How the Most Devastating 'Euphoria' Scene Yet Came Together
Zendaya, Nika King, Hunter Schafer, and Storm Reid break down the heart-wrenching argument that breaks out in the standout fifth episode of Season 2.
When it's not banking up outrageous, meme-able moments, Euphoria is an unflinching look at teen addiction. The portrayal of substance abuse in the HBO series from Sam Levinson has only gotten darker in Season 2, which culminates in a difficult intervention in Episode 5, "Stand Still Like the Hummingbird."
Even though Zendaya's character Rue has convinced herself she's never been happier—getting quick relief by using narcotics and finally being in a relationship with Jules (Hunter Schafer)—she's started to spiral out of control ever since she relapsed in the Season 1 finale. She's gotten it in her head that dealing is a good idea; she's hanging out with enablers, lying to loved ones, and none of it is helping her grieve her father's death. In the fifth episode, Rue is finally forced to confront her actions when Elliot (Dominic Fike) and Jules tell her family that she's been using again. It's one of the most powerful installments in the season, with Zendaya and Nika King (who plays Rue's mother, Leslie) giving their all, as they go head-to-head for an extended sequence.
While Leslie tries to understand and reckon with Rue and get the her the help she needs, she sees her daughter is losing herself to her addiction. Then, once Leslie finally gets her to agree to come with her and her sister, Gia (Storm Reid), to get checked into in-patient care, Rue jumps out of the car in the middle of traffic and sets off across town in a runaway attempt that results in disaster—from run-ins with law enforcement to revealing to Maddy that Cassie's been sleeping with Nate. It's as stressful an episode of Euphoria as any, but likely the one this season that gets Zendaya her second Emmy nomination for the series, as her raw portrait of a teenaged addict has never been more heart-wrenching. Below, the cast breaks down how the standout episode came together.
Thrillist: In the first season, there's a similar scene with a confrontation between Rue and Leslie that was entirely improvised. Was the scene in Episode 5 also improvised?
Nika King: We always have an opportunity to improv and ad lib. That's the great thing about being on set with Sam [Levinson]. He's not so firm with the script because he understands that we're passionate and there are going to be things that we say and do that's not on the page. Some of those moments are improved. The great thing is I trust Zendaya, I trust Stormy, and we trust each other, and it's like hey, if you go there, let's go there. I got you.
Literally after every take we're like, "Are you good? Are you body?" We're checking in. We're not just flying off the handles. This is still acting—let's keep it real. You can't mess with the billion dollar baby! You feel me? You got to make sure that if you're handling her, you're keeping true and authentic to the character.
Zendaya: It was different from the first season, [though]. In the first season, we had a hallway fight where [Sam Levinson] was like, "Just go fight each other," and that's what happened. This one, the structure of this episode was one that was written quite a long time ago. It's been around for a couple of years, and I [was] stressed about it for so long because I knew that the day would come where I would have to do it.
I understand the shoot of this episode ran over a couple days, but the shot of the fight between Rue and Leslie itself looks continuous. Was it filmed in one long sequence?
Storm Reid: I think a lot of was continuous. Sam does like to be continuous, especially with those type of scenes where we go at it and it's one thing. I think parts of it were chopped up a little bit, but I think he really said "action" and we did what we needed to do [laughs].
King: Until it was time to reload the camera! We went all the way until it was like, "Reload!" It was handheld so [the cinematographer] Marcell [Rév] was right there in the middle of us and, of course, we're in that room, so finding areas where he can tuck in and not be seen with the cameras and mics and everything. It was like a dance. We were always in this dance of like, "Be free to move around and throw things and do whatever you need to do," but of course we still have to capture. To do that is not easy and there has to be a level of trust. When I tell you this cast is very tight with each other and understanding each other's talents and respecting each other, it's beautiful. It really is.
Zendaya, you were anxious about filming the scene for a long time. What was it like when you finally shot it?
Zendaya: [Filming the scene] was scary for me. It's one of those episodes where it's painful to anybody who not only cares about the character, but it's just painful to watch, [the lines are] painful to say—it's not something I particularly enjoyed doing to people that I deeply care about. I'm very grateful that I did it with these people because I know that I was in safe hands, I know that I was in a place of love and I feel that they felt that, too, so that when the ugliness came out, they knew who was still in there. It's heartbreaking.
How do you prepare for such an intense, emotionally exhausting scene like that, and then come out of it?
Zendaya: Even though the preparation was almost years of waiting to do this episode—like I knew it was coming and did my prep work earlier—I tried to distance myself from it as much as I could, so that I wouldn't psych myself out. I do that: I get in my head and then I can't just let go, and you can't really can't have any fears when you do a scene like that. You just have to let yourself go in that way.
We shot the whole run [of that scene] for a few days, but I literally got off a plane from Venice for Dune, so the running joke was I looked quite different from when I got off a red carpet to where I was in that hallway. I just didn't give myself time to think about it too much, which I think is a good thing, and we just dove right in the deep end.
Like I said, I have a lot of life guards. I have a lot of people who have my back and I feel very much supported, and [laughs] I know I'm not the only one crying. I'm not the only one in pain. We're all kind of going through it together [on the set of Euphoria], which was helpful to say the least. Our literally crew will cry with me. It's great, but it's because I feel that and they're going through it with me.
It's just as devastating to watch Leslie and Gia in the scene. What do you think they're going through?
King: For me, when I was crafting these moments, I think Leslie is really, really trying to get Rue to see who she is becoming. She's young and she's still developing, but it's like, "You have to take responsibility for your actions, and what you're doing right now is not reflective of a good person." Of course, Rue is going to go lower. I think it's like, "If you go here, Rue is going to go here." That's just where her mind is right now. She doesn't want to take accountability. She wants to be the victim—I think she kind of dwells in the victim space. Unfortunately, if you're living your life as a victim, you're going to always have things happen to you as opposed to you creating the life and the world that you want.
Reid: I think Gia is going through everything. She is going through that pain that we saw in Season 1 of her not being able to fix the situation, being helpless. She, of course, doesn't like her mom and her sibling fighting—these are the closest people to her. I think she's missing the presence of her father, which even though she was young, she thinks would be different if he was there. There are a lot of things that I think she goes through in those moments of being silent and quiet. She's hurting. She's in a lot of pain.
This season, when I was on set and I would step into Gia shoes, a lot of it for her was a daze. She's there, but she's not really there. She's there because she has to be there—this is the house that she lives in and this is the situation that she was presented, but her mind is always somewhere else because she would rather be in a different situation than she is presently in those moments.
Jules and Elliot are also in the room over, and Rue eventually lashes out at them, too. It's especially upsetting since viewers know from Jules' special that she's is the child of an addict. Given that Rue is unaware of that about Jules, do you think that will that factor into the series and their relationship eventually?
Hunter Schafer: I think it could potentially, but I think before that could ever happen Rue and Jules need to be upfront with each other about what's happening right there—the first layer between what's happening with them, which they are still unable to do to some degree. I think those kind of details could become a part of a conversation that would happen after some sort of emotional breakthrough between the two, which would be cool.
What did you ultimately try to portray in the episode and that scene in particular?
Zendaya: What I think the message that really gets across is addiction is not something that only affects the person who is dealing with addiction, it affects the entire family, it affects your friendships, your loved ones—those that you care about. Everyone becomes a victim to it, and I think it's important to acknowledge that and to show that it affects people deeper than you really understand. There's no right way to deal with a situation like that. The right thing feels wrong, the wrong thing feels right. It's extremely complex and it is different for everyone
I know that, for me at least, it was extremely emotional [to get that across], but like I said, I'm grateful to the crew, I'm grateful to our team of people that I had surrounding me because it wasn't the easiest however many days of work it was. So, I appreciate everyone bearing with me with that.
I have a little insight into where Rue is going, but hopefully that is rock bottom and hopefully that there is a hope and a promise of something beautiful, if she would just let that in and feel that she's worthy of it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.