'Euphoria': Zendaya on Humanizing Addicts Without Glorifying Addiction

credit: Eddy Chen/HBO

Euphoria season 2 took us on a wild, often depressing, ride but Zendaya is hoping viewers walked away with a little more compassion for those suffering from addiction.

Zendaya recently spoke with Spider-Man costar Andrew Garfield for Variety and discussed the making of season 2, particularly episode 5, in which Rue’s friends and family discover she’s relapsed and attempt to confront her.

Zendaya recalled,

“I think the approach was to try it as human as possible without ever shying away from the devastation and the ugliness of what that can create.”

zendaya euphoria addiction
credit: Eddy Chen/HBO

The episode in question, “Stand Still Like a Hummingbird”, was particularly devastating and has been hailed as the best episode of the season. Zendaya’s performance of Rue has been particularly lauded for her raw portrayal of an addict hitting rock bottom.

But for Zendaya, the episode was one of the most difficult to film. She described “dreading” the episode and having to shoot all day long until they essentially ran out of film.

On top of that, she was worried about how viewers would react to seeing such a dark side of Rue. She explained,

“I’m very protective over Rue. And also, because of all the people that she represents, I know that sometimes maybe the world won’t be as kind to her as I am. And that’s hard for me, you know?”

Zendaya has been pretty outspoken about her desire to show another side to addiction. She previously told Entertainment Weekly,

“I think if we can still care about [Rue] after [everything she’s done], then I hope that other people can extend that to non-fictional characters, to real people, or just be a little bit more understanding and empathetic over the experience of addiction and what it does to people, what it does to their families.”

euphoria season 2 episode 5
credit: Eddy Chen/HBO

Of course, not everyone is such a fan of the show and it’s portrayal of addiction. D.A.R.E., the substance abuse education program, issued a statement against the series, claiming it glorifies drug use. They said,

“Rather than further each parent’s desire to keep their children safe from the potentially horrific consequences of drug abuse and other high-risk behavior, HBO’s television drama Euphoria chooses to misguidedly glorify and erroneously depict high school student drug use, addiction, anonymous sex, violence, and other destructive behaviors as common and widespread in today’s world.”

But Zendaya and Sam Levinson, aka the mastermind behind Euphoria, feel strongly that they are in no way advocating for teen drug abuse. Rather, they hope to use the series to show viewers they’re not alone in their feelings of depression, loneliness, anger, and pain. Zendaya explained,

“Our show is in no way a moral tale to teach people how to live their life or what they should be doing. If anything, the feeling behind Euphoria, or whatever we have always been trying to do with it, is to hopefully help people feel a little bit less alone in their experience and their pain. And maybe feel like they’re not the only one going through or dealing with what they’re dealing with.”

zendaya euphoria season 2 episode 5
credit: Eddy Chen/HBO

Overall, Zendaya and the Euphoria team just want to show teenage addiction in the most realistic way possible — and that means showing both the human side to addicts without ignoring the devastation and destruction they can leave in their wake.

Euphoria has already been renewed for season 3. Fans are speculating that the season will premiere sometime in 2024.

In the meantime, you can watch Euphoria seasons 1 and 2, as well as the special episodes, on HBO Max.

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Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and The Challenge. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her taking an absurd amount of photos of her tuxedo cat Tom.