'Euphoria' Creator Opens Up About Addiction at Norman Lear's Sentinel Awards

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Sam Levinson

The ceremony recognized 13 shows for their storylines that educate audiences about health and safety topics from sexual assault to addiction and recovery.

For Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, the story of addiction is one he knows all too well. 

“I’ve been clean for almost 15 years,” he told the audience at Wednesday's Sentinel Awards. “I never thought I’d be able to say something like that, especially on a stage in front of so many people I admire and respect."

Levinson and Euphoria were honored for the show's portrayal of addiction, and he teared up while accepting the prize. Levinson told the audience that, since he's been tasked with writing season two of the HBO hit, he's been struggling.

"I don't think I've ever wanted to relapse as much as I have in the last three months," he said. "A few weeks ago, I turned to my wife and my producer Kevin Turen, and I said, ‘I think I need a little bit of help. I’m not doing too well.’ And ever since, each day has been a little bit better. I think that’s kind of what it’s about. It’s not like this shit goes away, but as you continue to deal with it, you start to know how to ask for help.”

Hollywood, Health & Society’s Sentinel Awards seek to celebrate shows for the accuracy of their content. Levinson said his own struggles with addiction made the accuracy of Euphoria’s portrayal that much more important to him. He said that the most gratifying experience from the series has been when people are able to see themselves or their loved ones in the characters.

“It’s very meaningful, despite the fact that I still have that part of me inside that goes, ‘You’re a drug addict. You don’t deserve this,’” Levinson told The Hollywood Reporter.

At this year's awards ceremony, 13 shows were recognized for their storylines that educate audiences about health and safety topics from sexual assault to addiction and recovery. Among the shows honored were HBO’s Chernobyl, Freeform’s The Bold Type, CBS' Madam Secretary, Netflix’s When They See Us and Grace and Frankie and NBC’s This Is Us.

“We worked so hard to get the science right, and obviously our show is very much about a scientific topic,” Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin told THR. “I did a ton of research over many years. Everybody that worked on the show worked so hard to be accurate about, not just the science, but everything — costumes and props and everything. So, for people to notice it is incredibly gratifying.”

Prospective honorees go through a two-round selection process, said Hollywood, Health & Society director Kate Langrall Folb. First, they’re judged by a panel of experts on the topic that they portray. Those with the highest scores move to a round that judges them on entertainment value and their ability to engage the audience. The result is a range of diverse shows all being honored in the same room. 

“It’s just nice to be reminded that what you do does make a difference,” said Madam Secretary writer and producer Alex Maggio, who accepted the show’s award for its depiction of climate change. “A lot of times, you just sort of feel like you’re working in a tiny vacuum, and it’s nice to feel like the message means something at the end of the day.”

Despite the heavy topics that were being addressed, spirits were high in the ballroom at the Taglyan Cultural Complex in Hollywood. Many of the actors and creators attended with others from their team, whom they credited with keeping them grounded even in the most emotional moments on set.

When They See Us actors Asante Blackk and Ethan Herisse said the closeness of the entire crew on set is what made tackling the show's most upsetting moments possible.

"I think that it was the brotherhood that all of us young actors had on set," Blackk said. "We were very familial. Not even just us, but the entire crew. Everybody just felt like a very, very close-knit family. So even though we were working on very heavy material, there was never a moment that I didn’t feel safe on set."

The two young men, as well as many of the night's other honorees, said they were gratified knowing that the stories they were telling could shed light on and eliminate stigma from topics that are often swept under the rug. Many of the feted shows’ actors and creators said that they can only hope these stories will resonate with viewers.

“As an artist, I am always hoping that I can be part of a larger conversation,” said This Is Us actor Chris Sullivan. “The show makes people feel comfortable to talk about their struggles, and it makes people feel comfortable to talk about the things that they’re holding on to that are too heavy for one person to hold.”