‘Euphoria’ Season 2 Crew and Background Actors Speak Out Against Sam Levinson’s ‘Toxic’ Production
Sources reveal that Season 2’s shoot was hellish, resulting in background actors “dropping like flies,” a number of alleged SAG-AFTRA violations, and a union rep being sent to set.
Euphoria’s much anticipated and hotly debated second season ended with a literal bang Sunday night.
For the past eight weeks, the buzz surrounding the series has been unmatched, managing to accomplish what few shows only hope to achieve: creating a cult-like fandom who meticulously dissect each episode, dream up conspiracy-level storylines, and dominate Twitter feeds from Sunday until Wednesday, only for the chatter to pick back up again heading into the weekend.
Twitter crowned the HBO series about horny, hard-partying high schoolers the most-tweeted-about show of the decade, racking up more than 30 million tweets since its January premiere from nearly 19 million viewers—making it HBO’s second-most-watched show ever behind Game of Thrones.
With killer ratings, it’s no surprise that the cable network decided to pick up Sam Levinson’s series for another installment, but it’s clear that some shake-ups and structural guidelines should be instituted to ensure that the third season is less of a clusterfuck, on-screen and off.
Several sources told The Daily Beast that aspects of Season 2’s production were hellish, with some describing the work environment—particularly in certain departments—as toxic. Workdays would sometimes stretch to 18 hours and there were several complaints made to SAG-AFTRA. At one point, after multiple complaints from background actors over working conditions, sources allege that a union representative was sent to the set to ensure that union guidelines were being followed.
And despite the show’s ability to create stars out of its leading cast, plucking some actors off the street and plopping them on the screen, and crew members landing other high-profile gigs, several said they would decline an opportunity to return to Euphoria next season unless major changes were implemented.
“Creatively, it must be a dream, but logistically? Come on,” one source said, referring to creator Levinson’s habit of rarely coming to set with a shot list, but deciding what to shoot off the cuff. “It felt very privileged on that set.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, HBO said, “The well-being of cast and crew on our productions is always a top priority. The production was in full compliance with all safety guidelines and guild protocols. It’s not uncommon for drama series to have complex shoots, and COVID protocols add an additional layer. We maintain an open line of communication with all the guilds, including SAG-AFTRA. There were never any formal inquiries raised.”
Half the fun of Euphoria’s second season came in analyzing and discussing the show’s on-screen antics off-screen, with its fierce fandom attempting to gauge whether Levinson was sneaking in clues of the chaos to come. Was Laurie injecting Rue with morphine an attempt at sex-trafficking? Is Ashtray somehow the Jacobs family’s mysterious third son? Did Samantha have an ulterior motive for secretly recording Maddy, who’d been rifling through her expensive gowns while babysitting?
They also had very strong feelings about characters’ identities and where the season should be headed, with many kicking up a fuss when an insider leaked a play-by-play of nearly every episode following the season premiere—plot points that largely panned out. (Screenshots of the leaks posted to Reddit and Twitter were taken down, with the sites noting a third party flagged the material for copyright infringement.)
Unhappy with the leaker’s analysis that Levinson seemed to be nonsensically putting certain characters on the back burner in favor of prioritizing others—which ultimately seemed to be the case by season’s end—the fanbase began to turn on the show’s creator, criticizing his screenwriting capabilities and creative decisions.
Things only intensified when gossip began spreading about the show’s shambolic production, with rumored tensions between Levinson and principal members of his leading cast, particularly Barbie Ferreira, who plays Season 1 fan-favorite Kat Hernandez.
The talks are said to have gone south, culminating in Ferreira allegedly walking off set and Levinson cutting back her screen time. These strains were also referenced by the Euphoria leaker, who claimed that HBO hadn’t been all that keen about the direction of the season.
Ferreira did next to nothing to dispel rumors of a rift, only offering diplomatic, seemingly PR-approved answers when pointedly questioned about what exactly went down in a few interviews. (Sources previously confirmed to The Daily Beast that Ferreira had walked off set, sprained her ankle after slipping during the filming of a hot tub scene, and had at least one of her big scenes cut from an episode.)
As the season came to a close, more crew members felt comfortable speaking out about their experiences. Several told The Daily Beast one of the chief issues were the needlessly long workdays, with crew members and background actors pointing to the first episode’s New Year’s Eve party scene as an example.
Even principal cast members Jacob Elordi and Maude Apatow acknowledged it was especially rough, as the filming lasted for a week and only took place at night, with call time around 4 p.m. and shooting wrapping at the crack of dawn—only to do it all over again.
For the dozens of background actors called to set to round out the packed party, it was hellish. They maintain that multiple complaints were made to SAG-AFTRA over production failing to provide them meals on time and refusing to let people use the bathroom.
Sources also claimed that the set didn’t have a proper holding area for the extras, instead they were told to hang out in pull-out chairs near a set of bushes. As temperatures would dip into chilly conditions at night and extras dressed in skimpy party attire, and two space heaters were set out.
Another issue was with the provided meals, as sources alleged, they were often fed far past the six-hour mark that SAG-AFTRA mandates, which results in a union penalty fine up to $50 per half-hour for each union actor that isn’t fed on time. Eventually, sources claimed, there were so many complaints called into SAG-AFTRA that a union rep turned up to set.
In a statement to The Daily Beast regarding the complaints made about Euphoria, a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson said, “Advocating for professional performer work categories like background actors and enforcing contractual provisions is one of SAG-AFTRA’s core functions. This includes the routine enforcement of contracts at the worksite through our National Field Services Department which is charged with resolving any on-set violations by working with the company’s production staff members to immediately correct the issue(s) in connection with performers’ employment.”
“All actors should benefit from the protections our members enjoy, and production companies signed to our agreements need to follow our safety protocols, wage and hour rules, and other protections—regardless of an actor’s union status,” they added.
The union would not provide clarification when asked just how many complaints it had received regarding production on Euphoria Season 2, nor how long a union representative was allegedly on set.
Eventually, sources say people began “dropping like flies,” with the casting agency having to continually recruit more extras.
“I understand that I’m doing background work,” one background actor told The Daily Beast. “I’m not the most important person there, I know where I am on the totem pole. But it got to a point where I was like, I’m still a person, I’m still human. Please let me go to the restroom, don’t tell me I can’t go for 30 minutes or tell me I can’t get a snack when you’re not going to feed me and it’s 4 a.m. It just very much felt like we didn’t exist as people.”
“It was the most disorganized set that I’ve ever been a part of because I don’t think anybody knew what was going on,” another added. “There were times after 14 hours we were told, ‘This is the last scene, we’re done after lunch,’ we took lunch, waited around two and a half hours, and then we went back to set. It felt toxic to me because I don’t think anybody was really happy to be there.”
Many attributed the long days to Levinson not having a shot list, which is a detailed account of every camera shot the director wants during scenes and helps keep the production running smoothly. Instead, sources said Levinson and cinematographer Marcell Rév would determine how things were shot on the fly, with Rev recently confirming to IndieWire that the two made “a lot of instinctive decisions on set” and purposely stopped using storyboards this season.
While Euphoria has received heaps of praise for its stunning visuals—from clever mirror maneuvers and a captivating shot of a stoic, yet sobbing Cassie framed by dozens of flowers—the process was grueling for just about everyone else involved, and made their days even longer.
“The shot list was a big part of it,” one production source said. “Him and Marcell would be talking, and it would be literally like, ‘How do you like that corner over there? Do you think she should just walk by it?’ ‘Yeah, why not, let’s film it.’ Then it takes 30 minutes for them to reset the camera, the tracks, and they’re using real film in these cameras. The conversations between the two were kind of like if it was a hobby that was fun. You know, ‘What do you think it would look like? Let’s just try this.’ These are details that should really be gone over in the beginning. We should know what the next move is.”
“[Background actors] were hiding in the bushes so that way they didn’t have to go on set,” they added. “There were literally people hiding so they didn’t get chosen to go into these background scenes, because there was no direction. You don’t know how long you’re going to be on set—it might take 30 minutes, but it might be three hours. Because again, there’s no sense of what we are doing.”
Another background actor said that during shooting of the audience reaction for Lexi’s play in the season’s final two episodes, Levinson was essentially “freestyling” the shots, as they questioned why the cast and crew were kept waiting for eight hours while they figured it out.
Looking ahead, there’s bound to be some shake-ups when Season 3 of Euphoria makes its way back to screens in 2024. One of the biggest questions is if Levinson will open up the writer’s room, since this season lacked focus and ended up with far too many loose ends. (Hunter Schafer is the only other person that Levinson has allowed to co-write an episode, helping pen her character’s special episode on transgender identity during the show’s COVID-19 hiatus.)
It also should be noted that at least four actress—Sweeney, Minka Kelly, Chloe Cherry, and Martha Kelly—expressed discomfort with certain nude scenes or general themes of sexual tension between certain characters, which Levinson then readily agreed to scale back.
Levinson has a penchant for spur-of-the-moment decisions; Sweeney recalled last month how he wrote a five-page scene on the spot for her character Cassie and Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi) after the actors felt there was more to be added to their blowout fight.
And the finale’s biggest moment was supposed to be even more gut-wrenching, as actor Javon Walton, who plays Ashtray, told Variety that sweetheart drug dealer Fezco (Angus Cloud) was originally going to be fatally shot, but Levinson ended up rewriting the scene a day before filming.
These impulsive moments tend to result in certain characters and their storylines taking a hit, as it has with Jules, Kat, and even Season 1’s Chris McKay (Algee Smith), who only appeared in one episode this season.
With ample time before production on Season 3 gets underway, it’s clear that HBO and Levinson need to devise a way to hammer out these growing pains, otherwise Euphoria will continue to be known as a show that’s just as messy off-screen as it is on-screen.
For more, listen to Euphoria’s Martha Kelly on The Last Laugh podcast.