It’s been one hell of a breakout year for Sydney Sweeney, the wide-eyed starlet at the center of Everything Sucks! (Netflix), The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu), and Sharp Objects (HBO) — a veritable “who’s who” of entertainment’s biggest names in streaming. With no foreseeable end to her meteoric rise, she’ll appear next as high schooler Cassie in HBO’s Euphoria. The series from indie powerhouse A24 (Moonlight, A Quiet Place, The Witch) stars Zendaya, will reportedly be produced by Drake, and is described as “Kids-meets-Trainspotting.”
Before the anticipated teen drama arrives next year, Sweeney will show her range as Ashley in the supernatural horror Along Came the Devil (née Tell Me Your Name), which premieres Friday and bills itself as “an exorcism movie for a new generation.” The Gravitas Ventures project from husband-and-wife duo Jason and Heather DeVan sees Sweeney tackle a demonic possession after attempting to contact the ghost of her deceased mother. It’s a bananas, over-the-top terror complete with a seance and an evil spirit who claims to be God (those unwilling to brave the depravity of this possession thriller can catch a glimpse in the film’s trailer). In yet another role that sees Sweeney playing a teen grappling with complicated subject matter, this one shows the 20-year-old actor’s ability to maneuver both a fragile young woman and the manifestation of Satan.
Ahead of the horror flick’s release, Sweeney spoke with Inverse by phone about playing a demon, tackling her role as Alice on Sharp Objects, and preparing for one of the most shocking death scenes in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Your starring role as Ashley in Along Came the Devil is a pretty heavy undertaking. How’d you prepare for a character who becomes possessed by an evil spirit?
I worked with a dialect coach and a movement coach on different movements and voices for the devil. Just diving into that craziness was actually a lot of fun for me.
What was the hardest part about playing a demon?
The contacts! I couldn’t see anything out of them. The scene where I have to walk through the church and it’s the first time you see me completely possessed, I had these pure white contacts in and it definitely made everything else look pure white.
How did your cast members react to you in full makeup toward the end?
Definitely people were freaked out, and then it got fun and people were taking pictures of me. They would get me drinks and Slurpees, and we would just kind of play with it.
Eden on The Handmaid’s Tale suffered one of the most gruesome death scenes in the series’ two seasons. Logistically, how did you pull off shooting that horrific drowning?
Rohan Mead, who plays Isaac, he and I went through about two weeks of training with a dive team and scuba divers. We started off on lower dive boards, and then we got higher and higher. Then they put us in wardrobe and tried us with chains.
On my dress, in the hem, they put weights in so it wouldn’t float up completely and cover me. When they put that in, I sunk too far, so they had to put floaties on me. It was all about finding the perfect buoyancy. It was way more technical than it looked.
On a more emotional level, what was it like shooting that scene?
There’s two sides of it. I, one, had a blast because I love doing stunts. Two, it was also very intense and deep and sad, and everyone watching was crying. My mom was there too and it was really hard for her to watch. I had to scale down my fun factor and really see how serious this was.
Your character Alice in Sharp Objects deals with the complex and very serious issue of self-harm. You’ve said you did a lot of research to prepare for that role. What did that process look like?
I build my characters from the day they’re born to the first page of the script. I watched a lot of videos about girls; I talked to girls who struggle with cutting and depression and life in general. I’ve been a teenage girl too, so I’ve had my own insecurities and my own struggles that I’ve got through. I put as much from real people and real situations in her life [as I could].
As most of your recent roles have seen you playing teen girls, do you see a common thread in those characters?
I see them as very much different. Every single character and every single person in real life can all be 16 or 17 years old and maybe live in the same town and go to the same school, but every single girl is experiencing and living a different life. I think that on the outside it may seem like there’s a lot of similarities, but there’s also a lot of differences as well.
How does that translate to your upcoming role as Cassie on Euphoria?
It’s a very raw and gritty TV show, and it’s going to be the real look at growing up, high school, kids struggling with drugs, relationships, their own insecurities, and coming of age. It’s not going to be glamorized at all. I’m excited for something like that to be on television, because I don’t think we have many chances, at least lately, to have that real teen group on TV.
This interview has been edited for clarity.