SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of “Euphoria,” which aired on HBO on Feb. 27.
“Euphoria” has captured the hearts, minds and Twitter feeds of millions. With its Season 2 finale, “All My Life, My Heart Has Yearned for a Thing I Cannot Name,” the HBO high school drama — created by Sam Levinson — will once again leave fans craving more, until it eventually returns for Season 3.
Season 2 featured plenty of intense scenes and character development to go around, but many of its core plot lines orbit around Jacob Elordi’s complicated and controversial Nate Jacobs. At the beginning of the season, Nate begins hooking up with his ex’s best friend, igniting a firestorm of jealousy, manipulation and teen drama. At the end, he turns his dad into the police for child pornography.
Following the season finale, Elordi spoke with Variety about what happened in between, his approach to playing Nate and why he doesn’t view him as an “antagonist.” And he also addressed some of the rumors of discontent surrounding the”Euphoria” set.
“Euphoria” has done so well for HBO, and is a social media phenomenon. How does it feel to be a part of something so massive?
It’s incredibly humbling to feel like you’re part of something that’s seemingly a big part of the current time. It’s incredibly surreal.
What were some of the challenges going into this season?
I try to kind of come at everything as a blank canvas. So I think the only challenge was maybe shedding the knowledge that I had of myself and of Nate in the first season. I wanted to come back at “Euphoria” as if it was a completely new TV show — like it was essentially a new character. I wanted to find a new way of playing Nate that would like be exciting to me but also true to the story. He’s got this feeling to him in the first season, and I wanted to disestablish that and remember that I was playing a kid, playing a person, as opposed to a fictional TV character.
Is it easy to snap in and out of the character?
I try to make a conscious decision when I’m shooting, that from the start months to the end months, that’s “Euphoria” time — that’s Nate’s time. Any byproduct of that is kind of to the wayside for me, because it’s like, I’ve got a job to do from then to then.
When shooting intense scenes, how do you build trust with your co-stars? I’m thinking specifically of the scene where Nate brings a gun to retrieve the DVD from Maddy (Alexa Demie).
With Alexa, I know that girl so intimately now. Over the years, we’ve done so much intense work together, and we’ve both put our bodies and minds on the line with each other so many times. I think there’s a natural trust there.
She has spoken specifically about that scene, and how it took two days to shoot and you both improvised a little.
Definitely. When we just look in each other’s eyes, there’s a whole season of memories. It’s always very real. We had to map out the scene and figure out how we were going to do specific shots that Sam Levinson wanted to do. But he also wanted us to feel comfortable because it’s such an insane scene, so we had to be able to get to where we were going. It was super charged, but actually quite enjoyable to shoot.
You’ve been involved in some of the most powerful scenes this season, including Eric Dane’s monologue in Episode 4. What have you learned from him as an actor?
I’ve learned so much from him. He’s my family. I think one of the biggest things I will continue to try to learn from him is patience, especially in the face of adversity and in terms of being on a film set. He is so patient.
What is your approach to playing Nate, who many view as one of the main antagonists of the series?
It’s funny, I don’t even really call him an antagonist, because I don’t see him as like the villain who comes in to ruin the hero’s day. Everything he does is kind of relative to his own situation. Even when it comes down to Jules — it’s because of his dad. If Rue is the protagonist, I don’t see Nate as the antagonist. I think everyone’s in their own trauma and fighting through something. And yeah, his means are fucking awful and terrible to watch. And sometimes the score makes him sound like a bit of a villain.
How does it feel to play a character who evokes such strong feelings from the audience?
I don’t read an awful lot, but from what I do read, it’s kind of humbling because if people can’t differentiate [me from Nate], and saying, “I hate this guy”… then maybe that means I did my job well.
Do you ever get heckled in public?
People are usually quite funny about it, like, “Oh, you’re a scary fucking guy!” I think in public, people are much more sane than on the internet.
Is Nate misunderstood?
His whole thing is secrets, keeping everything hidden. So he’s deliberately misunderstood because he doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. It’s impossible not to misunderstand him because he’s never being honest.
With his confrontation with Cal in the Season 2 finale, is Nate reaching a turning point?
I don’t look into the future of a character too much. I struggle to say that because there’s so much trauma that is very hard to get away from.
Do you think Jules’ video is on the flash drive?
No, I think he was being honest to Jules when he said it was the only copy. I played that scene as genuine, anyway. I think it was important that he was telling the truth in that moment. But there are hundreds of other videos on there for sure.
Why do you think Nate brought a gun to see his dad?
He’s probably not sure how it’s gonna go. He’s terrified of his dad, and a big part of him wants to kill his dad — to put a bullet in the head of his demons. He’s also at a point of no return, and is being completely unhinged at that point.
What does peace and happiness look like for Nate? Who is he without his father?
I think it’s the whole sequence with Cassie [Sydney Sweeney] at the start of the season. That was the closest to playing him that felt like peace as well — a family and a home. That’s what Nate thinks he wants, anyway.
Do you think it’s interesting that Nate’s peace directly disrupts another peace, between Cassie and Maddy?
That is definitely interesting. I don’t think it plays into Nate’s mentality, though. He can be quite selfish!
When approaching Nate, are you only given what’s on the script, or is there something like a character bible with history the audience isn’t aware of?
I have journals and journals of information and stories that blend pieces of my life and made-up memories of his life, just in my own space and time.
So you’ve invented backstory for Nate?
Yeah, I don’t think I could play a character without doing that. I really try to change myself when I’m playing someone. The only way I can even begin to hope to do that is by creating a world that I can draw from. Even then, you can’t fully get rid of yourself.
Would you classify yourself as a Method actor?
I think that term has been absolutely butchered. I’m a big fan of [doing] whatever you can do to get there. A lot of the joy for me comes from doing the work and building the character beforehand.
Can you share anything about Nate from your journals?
There are a plethora of things, but if I shared them you’d know what goes on behind Nate’s eyes, and I’d ruin it for myself.
One of the major aspects of your character is his struggle with sexuality.
I never really approach it in terms of sexuality. I always approach it in terms of family. I think the sexuality thing is born from his not having a relationship with his father, or not having the relationship he thinks he should have with his father and mother. The birth of everyone’s sexuality, in a way, I think, is based off of one’s relationship with their parents. So I think it’s less about this kind of poppy social thing where everyone wants to be like, “Is Nate gay? Is he this, is he that?” It’s deeper than that. This is just a kid who needs a dad, but everything his dad is being is terrifying, so he wants to be the opposite of that.
What was it like watching Lexi’s play and seeing Austin Abrams do a version of Nate?
Long! It was so long. But so beautifully shot, and Sam and the team built this full theater in the studio with moving set pieces. It was incredible to watch. Watching Austin do his thing was amazing, and he talked to me about Nate and was asking me about him. He was really going into each character and taking bits and pieces from each one. It was just so fucking cool to be a part of.
What is the atmosphere like on set when the cameras aren’t rolling?
It’s awesome and so much fun. We’ve known each other for years. It’s like being with your siblings. We’re like a little family.
It’s well-known that Sam Levinson rewrote and revised Season 2 quite a bit before shooting. Did you see any of those early scripts?
I’ve read all the scripts from years ago. Nate was fairly consistent the whole time.
Are you able to provide input regarding the character?
I really just trust Sam and trust the scripts. His writing is great, and he always keeps it fresh. I trust that process, and I enjoy working in that process.
One of the things that comes with having a wildly popular show is a swarm of rumors circling around the behind-the-scenes. Are there any rumors about this season that you wanted to dispel or clarify?
I can speak to [“Euphoria’s” long days on set]. We’re making movies, you know what I mean? I mean that in the broad sense, like this is filmmaking. And whilst you shouldn’t suffer, to me there’s great value in working hard. And for every hour that I’ve personally put in on that set, I can see it when I watch the show, and I can feel it when I’m walking on the street and people love the show. That’s always been my dream, and if I’m not on a set, I don’t know what I’m doing. So for me, working long hours is like the greatest joy. And they just they take care of us. That’s my family. If I’m working long hours, Sam’s working twice as long, Zendaya’s working three times as long. We’re all in it together.
Is there anything else you want to talk about?
I actually haven’t seen the finale yet. We didn’t get full scripts for the episode, so I genuinely have no idea how it finishes. I’m just about to turn it on.
This interview has been edited and condensed.