Don’t put Sydney Sweeney in a box — and don’t judge her by her cover. The former is a lesson she’s taught casting directors in Hollywood, the latter is what she learned from her latest role as ex-intelligence specialist Reality Winner.
In 2017, Winner was arrested by FBI officers who showed up at her home to investigate her part in the mishandling of classified information. Sweeney portrays the whistleblower in HBO’s new film; the movie’s dialogue is taken directly from the transcript of Winner’s tense conversation with the FBI on the day of her arrest.
“Once I met with Reality and I got to know her, she really truly speaks her mind,” Sweeney says of playing Winner. “So everything she was saying in the transcript, she was feeling and thinking. I was able to just find all the different layers underneath it. I truly enjoyed it.”
At first, writer and director Tina Satter introduced Sweeney to Winner and the pair began texting and, eventually, video chatting. “We Zoomed for a couple hours. She was kind enough to just let me ask a bunch of life questions and get to know her, get to know her relationships and family and her experience with the FBI interrogation,” Sweeney says. “She has quite a sense of humor! Once I got to know her, and I went back and reread the script, I was like, ‘Oh, I see the humor here.’”
Sweeney was excited that the movie “humanized an experience that became so politicized” and didn’t choose sides. “It was an exciting new experience for myself,” she says. “We’re really just showing a moment in a woman’s life. It’s truly just what happens, verbatim.”
Plus, it gave the actor — who is best known for playing the unhinged Cassie Howard in “Euphoria” and spoiled teen Olivia Mossbacher in “The White Lotus” — the chance to do something completely new. At 25, she feels lucky to finally be picky, focusing on projects that challenge her and that are different from anything else she’s done. In turn, she says, “I’ve shocked people by the choices that I make with my characters.”
But it hasn’t always been easy.
“There’s always people who see me as Cassie or see me as Olivia. They send me scripts that are just like that. It’s the ones I have to fight for that usually are the ones that I want that are different, like ‘Reality.’ I had to audition for it. I had to put myself on tape and send in my audition just like everybody else,” she explains. “It was the same for ‘White Lotus.’ They didn’t think that I was right for ‘White Lotus,’ because I did ‘Euphoria.’ So I put myself on tape, I auditioned for ‘White Lotus’ just like everybody else and had a call back like everybody else. I could get offered roles that are similar to the ones that I’ve played, but the ones that are different, the ones that surprise people that I do, are the ones that I usually have to fight for.”
Next, she’ll star opposite Glen Powell in the Will Gluck-directed “Anyone But You,” marking Sweeney’s first time tackling a romantic comedy.
“It was so much fun, honestly. We laughed every single day and the cast and the crew were just a bunch of really great people, and we all got along. It felt like summer camp. It was a great breather from everything else I’ve done,” she says. “That was the first time I’ve done something like that. So I definitely enjoyed it. And I might look for some more.”
She’ll also return for Season 3 of “Euphoria.” Although it’s been more than a year since Season 2 ended, she has yet to see any scripts of what’s to come. While the delay could be extended due to the writers strike, creator Sam Levinson has also been working on his next show, “The Idol.”
“I just hope that I get to continue to challenge myself as an actor and get to go to crazy places through her, because she’s such a crazy, dramatically heightened character and it’s fun to play her,” she says of Cassie. “Whatever Sam decides he wants to do with her, I fully intrust in Sam’s vision. I’m excited.”
“Reality” debuts on HBO May 29 at 7 p.m. PT/ 10 p.m. ET and will be available to stream on Max.