Sydney Sweeney has had almost too many breakout roles to name — Cassie Howard in Euphoria and Olivia Mossbacher in HBO’s The White Lotus come immediately to mind, but her face is dotted across so many highly-lauded titles of the last few years it’s almost hard to keep track (The Handmaid’s Tale, Sharp Objects, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are all at the top of my particular list).
With the release of new Amazon erotic thriller The Voyeurs, in which Sweeney plays a woman newly living with her boyfriend who gets a little too involved in the lives — and sex lives — of their neighbors across the way, the star is taking an already very adult career and making it even more so. Chatting with SheKnows, Sweeney had an answer for everything (Who does she want to play in a biopic? Madonna. Why did she name her company Fifty-Fifty? “Because I like to be fifty-fifty with the people I’m working with.”), including how Voyeurs pushed her to the next level and which character of hers she could see herself spending time with.
But first, the question every young actor (and especially every young actress) must bear: Do you feel the pressure of being a role model? Between a show as laced in sex and drugs as Euphoria and the ice-cold demeanor of privileged Olivia, you might not think modeling a certain kind of behavior is at the top of Sweeney’s mind, and you’d be right. She does feel the pressure of being a role model — but for herself.
“Even before I was anyone, I always felt the pressure of being a role model,” she tells me. “It’s more of just — what would my younger self think of [this]? Would little sib be proud of me today? Would she wish that I would do more? It’s more a constant battle of making sure that my 20-year-old self is proud of my 30-year-old self and my 30-year-old self is proud of my 40-year-old self. And I just continue working more and more.”
Sweeney was 12 years old when she auditioned for her first movie role, convincing her parents to let her try out after writing up a five-year plan of where her life might be if she pursued her acting dream. Sweeney is now 23 — from an outside perspective, it’s hard to imagine her 12-year-old self not being proud of where she is today, and Sweeney herself tends to agree it’s gone according to plan, even if she underestimated just how tough this industry could be (more on that below). She’s not bothered by going viral (“I don’t go out too much so I don’t experience it as often as one would think,” she says), she’s happy that her hard work is recognized. In her words, she just keeps working more and more — read on for more on what it’s been like for Sweeney to transition to this next stage of her career.
SheKnows: Tell me about The Voyeurs. How did this feel different from anything you’ve done before?
Sydney Sweeney: I’ve definitely never done an erotic thriller before. It was just a giant twist-and-turn roller coaster that had me second guessing so many things in life. So it was a lot of fun.
SK: Fans became so obsessed with your character Olivia Mossbacher in The White Lotus. Was there a moment when you could tell how popular the show had become?
SS: When my family members who usually don’t watch my stuff started texting me that they’re obsessed with it and their bosses are obsessed with it, their coworkers. I was like, oh my God, this is everywhere!
SK: This is at least the second time something you’re in has gone viral. Is it ever frightening to feel so much attention coming your way?
SS: I don’t go out too much so I don’t experience it as often as one would probably think, because it’s usually just me and my dog. But it’s great. I work really hard and it’s awesome to be able to have my projects be seen and recognized.
SK: Do you ever feel the pressure to be a role model for other young women who are working hard and trying to make it?
SS: Even before I was anyone I always felt the pressure of being a role model. It’s more of just what would my younger self think of [this]? Would little sib be proud of me today? Would she wish that I would do more? It’s more a constant battle of making sure that my 20-year-old self is proud of my 30-year-old self and my 30-year-old self is proud of my 40-year-old self. And I just continue working more and more.
SK: You’ve said in the past you made a five-year plan to convince your parents to let you audition for your first movie role. What was the last step in that plan?
SS: It was definitely like when I turned 18, I was going to be able to do X, Y, and Z, and this industry is a lot tougher than one thinks. There’s thousands and thousands of girls that want the exact same thing that are probably better and better looking and everything, and you just have to keep going. So the five-year plan definitely was a little shorter than I should have made it. But, you know, we got there.
SK: Tell me more about that — what’s been harder than you expected? What’s surprised you?
SS: I mean, at such a young age, being told no on a daily basis is probably a little mentally challenging because as a girl and a guy in their teenage adolescence, they’re trying to figure out who they are and going through puberty, acne, I’m fluctuating my weight, I don’t know who I am yet, I’m insecure. And then I have people telling me, no, you’re not good enough, you don’t look right. Just so many different aspects. It’s like getting torn down on a whole other level. So it’s really difficult. And you have to somehow be OK with it and grow in a way that it’s hard to grow. And you learn from it and makes you who you are. And either you’ll have thick skin at the end or you don’t.
SK: What helps you shut out that noise and focus on doing the work?
SS: I have a really great team and support system and family around me that keep me level-headed and on the right track. So I think just having the right people around you and surrounding yourself with good, humble people is key.
SK: There’s a scene in The White Lotus where your character and Paula are talking to Rachel for the first time, you’re kind of making fun of her. And then she takes her clothes off and gets in the pool and you guys fall totally silent. What did you think when you were filming that scene?
SS: I think it’s hilarious. It’s a great scene, once again, creator Mike [White] has killed it. I mean, Alex is so sweet and so funny and so being able to play off of her with this was just — everyone was laughing. It was great.
SK: Who did you bond with the most on the set of The White Lotus? Who did you get to hang out with the most?
SS: You know, all of us truly hit it off. We all got to hang out every day since we were all locked together in the resort. I fell in love with Molly Shannon. I always loved Jennifer Coolidge, Connie Britton. So being able to just be in this place living together was amazing.
SK: If you had to choose between spending a day with Cassie Howard or Olivia Mossbacher, who would you choose?
SS: Oh, I think I would be terrified of hanging out with Olivia, so I’d have to choose Cassie.
SK: What do you think you guys would do together?
SS: [laughs] We would probably — I could totally just see us laying in bed. Watching some random show on the BBC and listening to really sad, depressing music and crying about random stuff.
SK: That sounds really nice.
SS: Right? I feel like Cassie’s really moody.
SK: What can you tell us about The Voyeurs and why it stood out to you?
SS: There were so many different aspects to why I was excited, what stood out to me, why I wanted to do it — I’ve worked with [Michael Mohan] before, and I would be beyond happy to work with again, so being able to do that in such a short amount of time was incredible. His writing is so elevated and smart and like this puzzle you have to put together and a roller coaster of a ride. It was fun to read as my first time as the audience, and then also to dive into a character that he created and bring that to life as an actor, that is a thrill to be able to do so. I loved the script, love Pippa, love this genre that hasn’t really been around.
SK: When you’re choosing a new project, what are your considerations right now?
SS: I always look at something that I think would be a challenge to me as an actor or something I haven’t done before, like if someone said, you’re going to go play this. Like crazy demon villain, I’m like, yeah, let’s go do this, I want to do something that’s different from one character to the next and anything that excites me really.
SK: Is there any famous person living or dead who you would love to play in a movie one day?
SS: Oh, I’m obsessed with Madonna. I would love to play Madonna.
SK: With your new production company, what’s the biggest difference in your role as a producer?
SS: Everything, like absolutely everything. You’re building a world on a whole other level; the amount of moving parts that have to come together and take place and fall out and be put back, it’s a lot.
SK: How did you decide to make that move?
SS: I’ve always wanted to do it. I just never knew when I’d be able to. And then I decided there’s never a right time for anything, and you’ve just got to take the leap and go full force.
SK: Why did you name your company Fifty-Fifty?
SS: Because I like to be fifty-fifty with the people I’m working with. I think that everything is a creative collaboration, with other producers I partner with or with a filmmaker or studio. I think that putting two heads together is better than just one, so I love being collaborative with whoever I’m working with.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
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