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[This story contains spoilers for the Euphoria season two finale, “All My Life, My Heart Has Yearned for a Thing I Cannot Name.”]
The second season of HBO’s Euphoria went out with a bang — literally and figuratively.
In the Feb. 27 finale, viewers saw the long-brewing showdown between Maddy (Alexa Demie) and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) come to life on a stage; a clean Rue (Zendaya) want to commit to being sober; a raid on Ashtray (Javon Walton) and Fezco’s (Angus Cloud) home, resulting in a tragic loss for the latter; and Nate (Jacob Elordi) seeking revenge on his father, Cal (Eric Dane).
After Elordi’s Nate stormed off and broke up with Cassie because of her sister’s play, he’s seen loading the same gun he had held to Maddy’s head in a previous episode, and then drinking and driving away in his car. When Nate arrives at one of Cal’s construction sites where he’s been living since he left his family, his father is surrounded by drinks, drugs and a gaggle of sex workers. Nate asks Cal if he’s happier now, and his dad says that, in some ways, he is.
“That’s not fair,” Nate tells him. “You don’t get to ruin our lives, and then just move on and get to be happier.”
He goes on to tell his father how, at age 11, he found videos of his dad having sex with prostitutes in a motel room, which sparked the recurring nightmare that has been shown to viewers of his father “fucking me the way that he was fucking them.” When Cal says his biggest regret in life is not protecting his son and keeping him safe, Nate rejects the apology. Instead, he removes the gun from his pocket and says he just wants revenge. He then takes out a flashdrive, which he claims has “everything” on it, as the authorities pull up, sirens blazing, to presumably arrest Cal for child pornography. Cal begs his son not to do what he’s doing, to which Nate explains, “You are who you are, and I don’t think you’re ever gonna change.”
Below, in a post-finale chat with The Hollywood Reporter, Elordi opens up about what might be next for Nate and Cal in the already ordered third season, how he prepared for some of the past season’s most intense scenes (yes, that Maddy one), his thoughts on the response (both critical and praiseworthy) to the graphic nature of the Sam Levinson series, and how he gets into the headspace to play one of the HBO drama’s most disturbed characters: “I don’t think you can get rid of that kind of trauma.”
In the finale, we see Nate turn Cal in to the police for child pornography, and he tells his father that he’s choosing revenge. How do you view this moment for Nate?
I wish I could say it was like a freeing moment, a moment of catharsis, but I think it’s just his only option other than literally dying, sort of killing his oppressor, and the last thing he can do to put an end to all of it. But I don’t necessarily think it is the end of it all. I don’t think you can get rid of that kind of trauma.
We also see Nate storm out of the school play, abruptly break up with Cassie over it, and load a handgun. At this point, Nate’s pretty unpredictable, and yet what happens was something that he planned. He talked to the police; he came armed with evidence. What does this level of premeditation tell you about Nate and his intentions?
I think everything he’s always done in the sort of space in the show that we’ve known him in is premeditated. He’s super organized; it’s like the quarterback in him. I think it’s the only way that he knows to not let things — even though they always do — spiral out of control, but sort of not spiral out of control.
In that scene, he shares with his father his recurring nightmare. What do these dreams tell you about Nate, about his trauma, his sexuality, his relationship with his father?
This person is supposed to be a role model and a leader and a lover and your protector, and you’ve seen them doing these things and you see the wear and tear inside of a family. So, I think it’s a logical delusion or a logical fear that his father turned his lifestyle on to him, which I think is his greatest fear about his sexuality. I’ve been playing him so long that the scripts almost feel like logical conclusions to everything in my brain. I just felt like, “Oh, yeah, of course — as a kid, you would think that he was doing that to you because you don’t understand sexuality and what we’re raised on, and what we’re taught.”
In an earlier interview with THR, Eric Dane said he hopes Cal gets a chance to be a father to Nate and to finally have a relationship with his son. Do you share that sentiment? What comes next for Nate and Cal in your mind?
I had a friend once that had a strained relationship with their dad, and they said that they kept him around and told him that they loved him and engaged him in their lives because they didn’t want to regret it when he died. But I think that would probably be the only sort of relationship they could ever really have; a selfish one of, “Well, I have to, he’s my blood.” There’s a lot of damage.
What are your hopes for Nate in season three?
Just like in anything with any character anywhere, I’d like to grow. I’m getting older, you know? I’m not 18. I’d like to grow up. I’d like the complexities to grow. I’d like the story to grow, and it will because that’s Sam [Levinson]’s writing. He doesn’t like to do the same thing, as you can see with this season. He switches it up and keeps it fresh. So, all I can do is wait to read the scripts with anticipation.
In the penultimate episode, Nate pulled a gun on Maddy. Even though it wasn’t loaded, it was difficult to watch. What was it like to film that scene?
You don’t actually know if it was loaded or not loaded. That’s the biggest part of that scene to me. That’s how I wanted to play it: Was it? Wasn’t it? Because there’s sort of a switch at the end when he’s like, “It’s not loaded.” He’s like a kid again, but he has a gun in his hand. It’s insane.
What was the preparation like for that scene?
It was so scary. One of the producers had called me and was like, “Christopher Walken did this right in a movie,” and we haven’t gotten the script yet, and he says, “Christopher Walken was the only person to do this convincingly.” Just immediately, I went and saw [The Deer Hunter], and I was like, “Fuck.” It’s that scene where it’s him and [Robert] De Niro. So then, I got the scene and saw what it was, and we went in to film it. I had music popping, took the time to get into the headspace. But you can’t control the set, and [creator] Sam had a really technical way of wanting to shoot it. So, it kept getting broken up and cut into pieces, and then we didn’t get it finished in the day. So we had to come back the following week and get into the headspace again and do it again. The scene is super creative. We did so much prep getting into this headspace, and then you have to throw it all away and just kind of roll with the punches.
Were there any scenes where you thought Nate was taking things too far? Did you ever raise any concerns to any of the writers?
Jacob thinks, surely, there are things that he does that are too far, but they’re in the realm of human possibility. I think in cinema, we have so many sugar-coated characters and storylines. There are people abusing their partners. There are people killing people. There are people abusing drugs. There’s people drugging people. There’s just so much shit going on in the world. Being an actor, if I was like, “Oh, we can’t talk about this, or we shouldn’t do this” — to me, everything and anything is in the realm of possibilities, even things that couldn’t happen on this earth. That’s why I find it funny when people are like, “Oh, I’m not really comfortable doing this kind of thing.” And it’s like, “Well, that’s the job.” It’s to tell a story, to hopefully convey a feeling.
Nate, like Cal, isn’t a character to root for. As the person who plays him, how do you reconcile that?
I think sometimes I get a little quiet from playing him, like a little bit inside my head. He’s just thinking all the time. I’m always looking at stuff in that show. He’s a bit of an outsider, so I think I create and cultivate that when I’m on set. I was actually with Dominic [Fike] last night, and I think he was surprised that I was speaking and laughing. He was like, “I’ve never seen you like this before.” I think maybe just that perpetual … I’m sort of going to my trailer and hiding and coming out and yelling at people in a scene and going into the trailer. I think maybe that has a wear and tear, but not the character so much. The character’s just interesting to me.
You’ve talked about some of the difficult shoots this season, like the New Year’s Eve party that opened the season. There was also recently a report about grueling and long filming days. What has been your experience with filming some of Nate’s most difficult scenes?
That’s filmmaking, right? It’s funny, I think about what I said in an interview about the party being hell, that’s just me being tired and lazy. That’s the human part of me, not the acting part. But we do shoot really long days, sometimes 16-hour days. It’s kind of like the labor and the love of the work. You can’t do that stuff in a short amount of time. At the end of it all, it’s quite cathartic to work so hard and long on something and have a product that you’re proud of come out.
Given the heavy material that Nate has to go through over the season, what support is offered to you on set?
The whole cast, the producers are super caring. Sam is super caring; he really cares about what’s going on. We have our intimacy coordinator, Mam [Smith], who’s just like a little mom on set. We’ve had the same crew for the last two years. Everyone’s friends. Everyone has each other’s backs. And we all know how to read when someone’s maybe not feeling so well. We’ve just been together for so long now.
There have been a lot of discussions around Euphoria and who it’s really meant for: Is the audience high-school students or adults; is it too graphic for high schoolers or just enough? Who do you think the show is for?
I think it’s for everyone. This is the best way to explain it. I was in Byron Bay three weeks ago, surfing. A 13-year-old girl named Molly paddled up next to me on her surfboard. And she was like, “Holy smokes, you’re Nate,” and then she goes, “Do you think he loves Cassie or Maddy?” She really watched it. Then, just this morning, I was getting a croissant in Paris, and a 60-something-year-old French lady, which I never ever would even think she’d watch, she bought my coffee, and she goes, “Ah, congratulations I love Euphoria.” So, I think that explains it the best. It’s human, you know? Everyone can see a little bit of themselves in every single character.
D.A.R.E. recently accused the show of glorifying and misrepresenting teen drug use; Zendaya responded by saying the show is meant to help people feel less lonely in their pain. Do you think Nate has the power to reach viewers who are in pain?
They obviously didn’t watch it properly. I think he can serve as a cautionary tale. It’s very easy to kind of write off kids like Nate, and I grew up with a lot of them. I went to private boys’ Catholic school, played rugby, and it’s easy to not understand because they come off like assholes. But it’s like everything — that shitty person comes from somewhere. And I bet you if you see inside their homes, in its own way, it’s traumatic. It’s the same kind of affliction, I think. It’s a little more nuanced than objective trauma. It’s not really like, “We need to look after these kids,” because we would just call them bullies. So, it’s tricky, but I think the biggest thing is just with all the characters, and with anyone in the world, you just never know anyone’s story ever. You never know. You can’t tell what people have gone through, and maybe that’s why they’re acting the way they are — not that it justifies it — but yeah, so maybe the show helps. I think all forms of art help with that.
The Euphoria fandom is loud, intense and even has Reddit theories, including that Ashtray could be Nate’s brother. There was a third child in the portrait Cal took down. What’s the deal with that?
I’m just as confused as everyone else. (Laughs.) No one ever explained that to me. I’m dead serious, I’m not even trying to be cryptic. I’m still confused. Maybe it’s just a TV show thing where they keep their options open, just in case they need materials.
What has the experience been like for you this season with fan reactions to Nate and Cassie, Nate and Maddy, and Nate in general?
I can only attest to what I’ve experienced in person because I don’t really go on the internet. But from what my mom calls me and tells me, she’ll call me like after every Sunday, and she’s like, “Oh, Jacob, everyone hates you again.” “Oh, Jacob. That’s terrible,” and I’m just like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But I think the strangest thing, it was the same last season, when people start doing their like, “Oh, they’re so cute together. Nate and Cassie are so cute together.” I’m like, “On what planet? Where?”
The second season of Euphoria is now streaming on HBO Max.
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