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Sydney Sweeney Still Finds Herself Asking, ‘Is This Real?’

This TV season's breakout star talks to IndieWire about the decade of work that got her to two Emmy nominations this year, and what's next.

Sydney Sweeney

Sydney Sweeney at the 2022 MTV Movie and TV Awards in Los Angeles.

Rich Polk/Getty Images for MTV

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Double nominee Sydney Sweeney had no clue which “Euphoria” scene of hers she’d want to play at the Emmys after they announce her name in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category, but for her “The White Lotus” clip she joked, “I always love the ‘Well, maybe grandpa was a power bottom’ line.”

Hopping on a Zoom with IndieWire, the good-humored actress revealed that in the video she shared of her in tears, celebrating Emmy nominations morning on a phone call with her mother, she did not actually know that she’d also made the cut for Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Limited Or Anthology Series Or Movie alongside four of her “The White Lotus” co-stars. “My mom only knew about ‘Euphoria,’” recalled Sweeney. “And then I took another call, and they were like ‘Double nominee.’ I was like ‘Double nominee, what do you mean?’ And I looked it up. I was like, ‘Oh my god. This is crazy.’”

This recognition marks a turning point in 24-year-old Sweeney’s career, where after showcasing a new, steelier side as canny college student Olivia on “The White Lotus,” and fine tuning her role as the lovelorn Cassie into the work of tragicomic genius in “Euphoria” Season 2, she is getting offered more opportunities than she could have ever dreamed of—and she had done a lot of dreaming.

“I’m still in the ‘Is this happening? Is this real?’ phase,” admitted Sweeney, thinking about how her name is now next to veteran actors like Patricia Arquette and Christina Ricci, and whether or not she now sees them as her peers. “I don’t think that’ll ever happen for me because I’m constantly still starstruck and can’t believe this life is real because for years and years and years, I dreamt and worked so hard in the hopes of being able to just have one line in a scene with somebody like that. So being able to be in a category where I’m nominated amongst incredible dream actresses of mine, I will still forever be starstruck.”

One of the stories the young star often tells is how coming from humble beginnings in Spokane, Washington, Sweeney convinced her parents via powerpoint to move to Los Angeles when she was a teenager, and take a huge bet on her acting career. While her professional development did not follow the five-year plan she laid out for them to a tee, she was eventually able to work her way up from B-movie horror to guest spots on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Pretty Little Liars,” all the way to poignant turns on the acclaimed “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Sharp Objects.”

Euphoria Season 2 Episode 8 Sydney Sweeney

Sydney Sweeney in “Euphoria”

Eddy Chen / HBO

Booking Cassie on the buzzy “Euphoria,” helmed by writer-director Sam Levinson, solidified her status as one of HBO’s most valuable players, a payoff she had long been determined to receive. “It’s always important to put out in the world what you want to come back to you, but I also believe that manifestation doesn’t have a result unless you put the hard work into it as well,” said the actress looking back on her practice of mapping out her career, and even fleshing out her characters’ backstories with detailed journals. “So it’s a mixture of putting things out there that you want, but also working really, really, really hard to be able to achieve it too.”

It was only through the relationship she had built with the network that Sweeney was able to play Olivia on Mike White’s Hawaiian resort-set satire in between “Euphoria” Season 1 and 2. “When you’re a series regular on a show, technically, most times, you can’t go be a series regular on another. But because it was both HBO, and [“The White Lotus”] was a limited series, it was easier for me to be able to get the okay to do that,” the actress shared.

Though Sweeney did clarify “I put myself on tape for every single HBO show I’ve done, and had callbacks, and I started from the same start point on all of them, so I don’t really think [my previous work for HBO] changed being able to get the okay,” she now feels like “I have great relationships with everyone at HBO. So I’m so excited for the HBO Emmys After Party because I just want to go hang out with everyone there.” Sweeney elaborated by saying that “HBO is such a beautiful home for filmmakers as well. I truly see that they support and they collaborate with filmmakers on a whole other level. And I’m really happy that I’m able to be in a place and a home that supports that.”

Reflecting on her work there with hands-on creators like Levinson, White, and the late “Sharp Objects” producer/director Jean-Marc Vallée, she noted, “I always look for projects that the character excites me, the character challenges me, the story excites me, and of course, the filmmaker, because I have been very, very fortunate and grateful for the opportunities of working with such talented filmmakers, and it does change the outcome and the reception of a project.”

The White Lotus HBO Sydney Sweeney Brittany O’Grady

Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O’Grady in “The White Lotus”

Mario Perez / HBO

This year, having become an actress that is not just on Emmy-nominated shows, but is an Emmy nominee herself, Sweeney said, “I definitely feel like I’m able to now have the opportunity to be able to sit back and really concentrate and think about what roles I want to play next, which is a complete new territory for me.”

“For 10 years there, I would take anything that I couldn’t get my hands on, because I just was so hungry to work,” she said. “And being able to be in the position that I am now, where I can say no, is terrifying. I get so scared. I don’t like saying no….I actually write letters to people saying ‘I’m so sorry I’m saying no,’ because I don’t like being that person.” Her goal now is to also “make sure I’m choosing characters that will surprise the audience.”

That said, the actress established that she still feels very new to the industry status she now has. “I’m still learning about all the different aspects and parts of this industry that come along with this,” said Sweeney. “So it has opened up the doors and my eyes to so many other avenues that I can go down, but I’m still learning all of it.”

While that includes navigating things like brand deals, with the influence “Euphoria” has on fashion and beauty leading to her landing campaigns for luxury brands like Tory Burch and Miu Miu, Sweeney still has entertainment as a top priority. “I’ve always wanted to do more than just acting, and so I started a production company in the hopes that I can produce and create content for other people, and not just myself,” said the actress, who already sold a show to HBO Max titled “The Players Table.” With her company Fifty-Fifty Films, she pronounced that she wants to “bring light to especially new female voices, and writers and filmmakers that may not have been noticed before.”

Sweeney understands that she is a Hollywood player now, but confessed that “Whenever I get asked, ‘What’s your piece of advice?’ I’m like, ‘I need advice, still. I’m 24. I’m still trying to soak up as much as I can, and hopefully one day I can have these incredible quotes that people will be inspired by.”

Though she did not start her acting journey aspiring to win an Emmy — “I don’t even think that when I started acting, I knew that there were awards for it,” the actress quipped — Sweeney did say the acknowledgment from the TV Academy “feels incredible because I’ve worked a really, really long time to just be able to act, and be able to have characters that mean so much to people, and be on shows that are just absolutely incredible.”

“I don’t think that it’ll feel real until I’m actually at the Emmys,” the breakout star of the TV season noted. “And it’s actually my birthday also, so it’ll be just a great day all the way around, no matter what.”

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