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Alexa Demie: this is the girl

Volume 4 Issue 002: She’s the breakout actress of the year - one that could only have come from the city of dreams.

Arti­cle taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 002. Order your copy here.

Alexa Demie plays roles that embody the shattered youth of Gen Z – young women, wounded and expressing that pain through fury or sex or self-isolation.

In the hit HBO series Euphoria she plays Maddy, a girl as vulnerable as she is manipulative, whose standout line in the premiere episode – Suck my dick!” – is shouted as she embarks on a desperate attempt to make an ex-boyfriend jealous by fucking a stranger in the deep end of a backyard pool. In Trey Edward Shults’ woozy feature Waves, she turns a supporting character into a showcase for her own inner exploration, as a range of emotions – from sorrow to yearning and defiance – play across her face in a matter of moments. 

Waves and Euphoria explore a splintered youth of discontent. Both are set in the numbing sprawl of American suburbia: Waves takes place in Florida, Euphoria in the wastelands of Southern California, a landscape of blasted pavements and faded sunlight,
where pill-popping, sex-addicted adolescents wander wide-eyed, looking for meaning in a world suddenly without one. 

The setting for the show is perhaps only a hairline fracture away from the reality Demie herself experienced as a teen, growing up on the east side of Los Angeles, next door to an apartment full of meth-heads and a stone’s throw away from the concrete and graffiti-covered banks of the LA River. 

I experienced some crazy shit,” the 24-year-old admits. I knew all the kids in the neighbourhood. We would all ride bikes and hang out and go down to the river. It was normal for us to see the drug addicts. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab. I remember one day the cops came and busted the house. They were like: If one thing would’ve lit on fire, this entire block would’ve blown up.’”

Demie tells me this matter-of-factly, from the make-up chair of a swanky white photo studio, while a hairdresser carefully cuts her soft curls into pixie bangs and Raoul Alejandre, Demie’s close friend and confidant, applies brow gel with the focus of a painter mid-masterpiece.

  • I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.”  I experienced some crazy shit. Across the street from our house was a literal meth lab.” 

Demie seems at home in the make-up chair, a safe space made all the more familiar by the fact that her single mother was a make-up artist. Growing up, she was surrounded by not just a meth lab, but her extended family, scattered fashion magazines and the occasional heated in-fighting between her and her mother. But she admits to good times as well. 

It was honestly fun. It was fun growing up there. It really was. I feel like it really shaped who I was, and it also helped me gain perspective and also to trust my intuition. We were in many situations that were not safe,” she remembers. These situations ranged from day-to-day dealing with the meth-heads across the street, to run-ins with the homeless people who populate the river’s edge, often camped out just alongside local teenage party spots. Demie managed to put faith in her instincts and stay out of trouble. My gut always told me: Stay back, don’t go.’ So I feel like it helped me to trust my gut a lot.” 

She smiles. With wet bangs and a freshly scrubbed face, she probably looks a lot like she did 10 years ago when, at just 14, she was flipping through old copies of Vogue or barbecuing with her relatives in the dry grass of their backyard. There was my mum and me,” she remembers, and then next door was my grandma, all my uncles and then my aunt in the back house. And there was the meth house across the street. But also, just at the corner was the Black Eyed Peas’ studio. I would see Fergie in her little camo pants and Timberland heels going in to record.”

This kind of dichotomy is uniquely LA. This is a land of coyotes and freeways, sage fields and skyscrapers, spotlight glitz and immigrant struggle. And it’s exactly this tension that creates talent that finds expression through a variety of creative mediums. Demie, a first-generation Mexican and born-and-bred Angeleno, is the embodiment of her hometown’s inherent multiplicity. 

LA is a special place,” she says. Everyone wants to come here to live their dreams. I think I was definitely meant to be born here. Acting and singing, it’s just something I’ve done since I was little. At school I would stand on this box and perform songs, and whoever wanted to watch me would watch me. I remember I would tell the teacher: Can you get everyone to sit on the carpet because I’m going to do a performance.’ I just wanted to perform for whoever, whenever. I loved acting, singing and fashion too.” Art school beckoned, but Demie turned college life down in a search for experience, following in a long LA legacy of singers, dancers and ingénues. 

I’ve always been very headstrong about what I wanted to do,” she says, playing distractedly with her new bangs in the mirror. Everyone in my life knows that. I knew I was going to do something in art or music or film and I was not going to stop until I made my mark. I left home really young and camped all over LA with friends, whoever would let me. I lived in an acting studio at one point. I loved it. I mean, there were many, many low points. But I just kept going.” 

Demie’s huge doe-eyes go darker suddenly, more defiant. I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry. And then I would get in the car and go back to the city. It’s like you have those moments, but you just keep on going.” 

While waiting for her big break, Demie kept busy. She wasn’t rich. She wasn’t famous. But she was smart. She looked for work that was at least close to the entertainment industry, taking on a variety of production gigs to pay the rent while she sang and wrote music and went out for endless auditions. 

I always had jobs, but they were always really cool, interesting jobs like styling and making costumes and doing all types of things like that. For me, it was never a question of could I make it; it was just a question of when. I just kind of went along with life, just saying to myself: It’s going to happen. I’m sure it is.’ And then it did. A friend put me in his short film [2015’s Miles, by the director Oliver Daly]. People saw that and I got an audition for another film. That got me my agency. The puzzle started to come together.”

Since then, Demie’s star has become a meteor, with a trajectory that just keeps going. She recorded two singles (you can still find the dreamy pop of 2016’s Girl Like Me on YouTube) and is working on a full-length album. Euphoria is one of the most talked about shows on tele­vision, with Maddy becoming an unlikely heroine for teens who feel caught in abusive relationships. And in Waves she plays a fragile, sensual girl, sinking slowly under the weight of a life-changing decision. 

Set to a soundtrack of Frank Ocean and Kanye and a moody score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the film pulses with a dark and humid energy, turning a story of adolescent angst into a new kind of film noir. Demie’s limpid gaze and glistening pout make her the perfect modern femme fatale – both strong, submissive and infinitely complex.

Her uncanny ability to capture vulnerability and defiance, innocence and world-weariness, all at once has made her a favourite in a new era of filmmakers creating the cinema of Gen Z: the actor Jonah Hill cast her in his directorial debut, Mid90s, and Gia Coppola tapped Demie for her second feature film, Mainstream.

  • It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.”  It was never a question of could I make it – it was just a question of when.” 

Every single director I’ve worked with has been collaborative,” says Demie of her experiences on set, and I think that’s how you get the best results every time. On Waves, Trey knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it, but it never felt too controlled. I think with all of them – Jonah, Gia, Trey and Sam Levison, who directs Euphoria – it’s always about collaboration and also about an energy, too. Sometimes Sam doesn’t even have to say anything. He just gives a look and you know exactly what that means. The directors and the other actors I get to work with, these are people who are exploring their own boundaries, too.”

Exploring boundaries seems to be Demie’s forte. She’s not afraid to be naked in a pool, shouting, Suck my dick!” She’s not afraid to be exposed on screen, to break wide open while we watch. And because of this, we can’t stop watching. There is a hotly anticipated second season of Euphoria, and Demie is currently in the early stages o ww f a project that is particularly close to her heart – a biopic about her mother, in which Demie will star. 

It’s about her life,” she explains. She was born in Mexico. She came to LA as a little girl and her early teens were in the 1980s. The story is about that time, and this group of misfit kids who become like a family. My mother wrote it and she’s an amazing writer. She had me very young, so she had to get a career to support us. And so she became a make-up artist because she always loved it. But she’s really talented at writing. When I read it, I was crying and laughing, and I was like: This is really good.’ So we went out and pitched it.”

Demie goes quiet for a moment, then shakes her head in disbelief. It feels really nice to give her that opportunity now,” she says of the project, because she gave me every opportunity I’ve ever had. And the whole process of working on the project has been therapy. We fought a lot when I was younger because she was young too. So she and I got to heal a lot of our issues through this process.” 

  • I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.”  I remember I would drive up to Mulholland Drive late at night, and I would just stand there and cry.” 

Instead of becoming estranged, it seems Demie’s mother has now become an inspiration, a reason to push forward, to seize opportunities as they come. My mother didn’t get a lot of opportunities. She had to make them happen. And that’s something I learned from her. Now that I’m older I realise and respect that. And it’s let us heal a lot of the tensions we had between us.” 

This idea of healing through her work, through her acting roles, through her songwriting and performing, is one that Demie seems to come back to, again and again. All the roles I’ve played so far, they’re all a bit heavy,” she admits, but I’m attracted to heavy material. I think it’s partly because of my past growing up. There’s just a lot within me that wants to come out. I think I’m just attracted to those kind of stories. And there is a reason. I feel like I’ve healed stuff through these roles.”

Alexa Demie’s bangs have dried now and are curling softly around her face. Raoul has added lip gloss, a touch of eye shadow and blusher. Her sweet, slightly round baby face has been totally transformed. She now looks older, sleekly mature, seductive and powerful. She studies herself in the mirror, nods approvingly and rises from the make-up chair.

Look,” she says firmly, I’m so glad to be where I am right now. I feel lucky to have grown up in LA, to have had the experiences I’ve had, and I feel lucky to be able to get to do what I love. But it wasn’t easy. I was doing the work without any proper support, trusting that it was all going to happen when it happened.

It’s nice to actually talk about that, because I feel like every interview I do, they just want to talk about my make-up and the show and my hair. And I’m like: That’s cool, but what’s the foundation?’ It’s really nice to talk about what led to all this, because I’ve always been doing the work. And I’ve always been doing it with trust.” Thinking of underestimating Alexa Demie? You can go suck her dick.

Hair Lauren Palmer-Smith using R+Co, Makeup Raoul Alejandre, Nails Natalie Minerva, Photography assistance Adam Siler, Styling assistance Borys Korban and Jennifer Browne, Line producers Davin Singh and Bianka Basic both at Rosco, Production assistance Garrett Charboneau, Production Rosanna Gouldman, Production manager Katherine Bampton, Retouch IMGN


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