By
Lily Sullivan
Photography by
Daria Kobayashi Ritch
Styling by
Annina Mislin

Hair by Lauren Palmer-Smith at Lowe & Co. Makeup by Kristin Hilton at The Wall Group. Photographer’s assistant: Derec Patrick. Stylist’s assistant: Becky Barnes.

Sydney Sweeney Is Making a Change


It’s only the beginning for Sydney Sweeney, the bright-eyed talent who has been gaining attention for her recent roles in buzzy projects like The Handmaid’s Tale and Sharp Objects. While her characters are often girls on the brink of transition, it is clear the 21-year-old already knows exactly the type of hard work it takes to get where she wants. In the fall of 2017, she was simultaneously filming Netflix’s high school comedy Everything Sucks! and HBO’s psychological thriller Sharp Objects (opposite Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, and Eliza Scanlen), taking the red-eye back and forth between the summer camp atmosphere of the teen-focused series and the set of a psych ward. “It was a crazy mood swing that went on for a couple of months and it was a lot,” she recalls, “but working with [Sharp Objects director] Jean-Marc Vallée and Amy was a crazy dream that I didn’t think would happen at nineteen years old.”

To prepare for Sharp Objects, based on a novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn and one of last summer’s most talked-about shows, Sweeney studied the real-life stories of patients and young girls suffering from mental illness like her character Alice, a teenager who has taken to self-harm as she battles depression. Alice finds solace in her roommate at the psychiatric facility, Camille, played by Adams, who is more than a decade older. The two connect over music and shared pain, which over the years they have both eased by cutting. Alice ultimately sees no escape and takes her own life. While her role on the show was brief, the depth of Sweeney’s research into her part added power and strength to her performance. “I build my characters quite intensely. I have very extensive and interactive [character] books that I build,” she describes of the pages and pages of backstory she writes for each of her roles. “I do this for every character and they are all completely different. I build them from the day they were born to the first page of the script.”

Sweeney continued this practice in preparation for her role in the second season of Hulu’s feminist saga The Handmaid’s Tale, portraying Eden, the blissfully doe-eyed wife of Max Minghella’s Nick, just months after her time as Alice: “I had built her entire world, her memories, her parents, so it was easier to dive into it.” She gave a soaring performance as the timid-yet-unrelenting Eden, who finds herself in a marriage to a man who is in love with someone else—in this case, Elisabeth Moss’s Offred. Eden’s search for comfort leads her to act against her pious upbringing and she runs off with Isaac, a Guardian for the dystopian government. She is quickly caught and is sentenced to death by forced drowning, pushed off a diving board into a swimming pool with weights tied to her ankles.

All clothing by Chanel.

Sweeney’s limited run on The Handmaid’s Tale was impactful over the course of the season as her character transitioned from meek to resilient. Besides the detailed history she crafted for Eden, she further concealed herself in her character with the help of the show’s costume designer Ane Crabtree, the mastermind who brought Margaret Atwood’s iconic red-draped women to life. “From my underwear to my socks, everything was the character,” Sweeney recalls. “When I would go in in the morning, they had a corset for me. Someone would come in and dress me, down to her shoes—that was my transformation. I had no piece of Sydney on me. I jumped into Eden.”

Prior to her audition, Sweeney had not seen any of the series, but her connection to the storyline was immediate—she watched the entire first season in one night. For her first round of readings, she made sure to dress the part, wearing a floor-length gray button-down with her hair pulled back in a braid and no makeup. Before her second audition, with creator and executive producer Bruce Miller, Sweeney picked up Atwood’s novel, further falling for the dystopian world. Her third and final challenge was a screen test opposite Minghella. “I was so crazy nervous,” she recalls excitedly. “It’s Max, he’s cute, and I was freaking out that I was going to mess up. I have horrible stage fright.” Weeks later, she was on a plane to Toronto for six months of filming.

Never one to do things by halves, the Washington State native has had rich ambition from the start. She launched her career in acting by auditioning for a small part in a film that happened to come to her hometown of Spokane and, shortly after, a serendipitous family move to Los Angeles allowed her to begin securing small television and film roles as she built her résumé. Over the last two years, Sweeney has been going nonstop, with her breakout roles opposite some of the top names in Hollywood further proving her talent and lasting power.

All clothing by Miu Miu.

Most of Sweeney’s recent projects have been dark and raw, which doesn’t bother an actor who finds hope in the uncomfortable authenticity of her roles. “I remember growing up and seeing what I thought high school would be like—and what you think happens doesn’t happen,” she explains. “It messes up your view of what reality is and I’m glad that there are shows now that are going to represent what life looks like and hopefully, it can help people.”

Not content to rest, Sweeney’s 2019 is already looking bright. In January, she was at the Sundance Film Festival with Big Time Adolescence, a coming-of-age film from first-time writer and director Jason Orley starring Griffin Gluck (from Netflix’s American Vandal), Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly and in which she plays Holly, the love interest of Davidson’s Zeke. “It was probably the craziest fun set I’ve been on,” she explains, adding that her co-stars were characters in their own right, which made the experience even more memorable. Holly—in love with the man-child Zeke, who takes Gluck’s teenage Mo under his wing and turns him into a drug dealer—is trying to find herself, pink hair and all. “Guilty of acting older than she is, she’s really just a child in the end,” Sweeney says. “Jason wrote an amazing story from the point of view of kids and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like that in a while.”

Earlier this month, the independent film Clementine premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Sweeney shot the low-budget production in Oregon between Sharp Objects and The Handmaid’s Tale. “It was a passion project for me,” she explains. “It’s a raw look at love between two women and it was shot beautifully. We had an amazing first-time female director [Lara Jean Gallagher] who wrote and edited it. I’m excited for people to see her work and what comes next.” In the film, Sweeney plays Lana, a rebellious young girl with her heart set on moving away from her family in the Pacific Northwest to Los Angeles. She begins a relationship with Karen, a woman who shows up in Lana’s small town broken and in search of herself, and the movie showcases the complex sexual dynamic between them.

All clothing by Victoria Beckham.

Set to premiere in this summer is the hotly awaited HBO series Euphoria, starring a number of Young Hollywood’s up-and-comers, Zendaya, Maude Apatow, and Storm Reid among them. Sweeney plays Cassie in the star-studded show, which focuses on high school drama from a totally unglamorized lens. “Euphoria is a very raw and real look at teenagers growing up,” she notes. “It doesn’t shy away from anything at all and gives an honest look about what people struggle with and have to deal with.” The powerhouse A24 leads the production with Drake on the list of executive producers.

As Sweeney ponders her years ahead, she notes some of the women who have impacted her career thus far, “like Amy Adams and Elizabeth Moss, who are advocates for change,” she says. “I hope that I can be a voice—if I’m not yet—but I am still trying to see what I believe.” She looks up to the 25-year-old director, producer, and actor Hannah Marks, who is making a name for herself as one of the youngest women ever to helm a major studio film with the coming adaptation of John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. “That is a dream for me,” she continues, “to see that there are people like that who are paving pathways for younger artists.”

With her own work, Sweeney is establishing herself as someone leading the way for those coming after her as well. As a young actor who finds strength in playing the heroine—or sometimes the victim—in modern-day coming-of-age stories time and time again, she often embodies a girl on the cusp of drastic change, offering her own myriad transformations as examples to those undergoing similar experiences. She is, in this way as well as many others, one to watch, asserting her own growing voice as an important vehicle for those who are looking.

Euphoria premieres on HBO on June 16.

All clothing by Victoria Beckham. Socks and shoes by Miu Miu.





By
Lily Sullivan
Photography by
Daria Kobayashi Ritch
Styling by
Annina Mislin

Hair by Lauren Palmer-Smith at Lowe & Co. Makeup by Kristin Hilton at The Wall Group. Photographer’s assistant: Derec Patrick. Stylist’s assistant: Becky Barnes.

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