Sydney Sweeney, the 21-year-old actress, is sitting in Café Select in downtown New York making sexual moans. The waitress looks over while tapping orders into her computer. Sweeney has just explained how, in one episode of HBO’s teen junkie drama Euphoria, her character Cassie rides a carousel while high on molly and gets sexually aroused by the motion of the horse. “At first I was like, ‘OK just go soft,’” she says. “And the producers were like, ‘Can you add some sounds?’ Then later I had to go back for ADR [dubbing] and they’re like, ‘Could you add some more?’ And I’m literally standing in this booth going, ‘HhhhnnNNNNgGGGggg.’”
These are just some of the strange things actors get paid to do. Sweeney has also banked going chaste in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, playing Amy Adams’ rehab roomie in HBO’s Sharp Objects, and sexing up to a cult leader as Snake, the youngest of Charles Manson’s coterie of girls in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. She’s been hailed the “Queen of Streaming” by the hyperbolic press, having appeared in shows across numerous services. Her rise has been dubbed “meteoric”.
But the Spokane, Washington export has been putting in the work since the age of 11, when a zombie movie was shot in her home town and she came up with a five-year business plan to convince her parents to let her audition. She got the part and ended up escaping to Los Angeles just as her voicemail was filling up with hate messages from small-minded rubes warning her she was moving to Hell City. “The kids would come to school and say it, and call me and leave me voicemails or Facebook messages,” she says. “It got to the point where my parents and the police were called to the school.”
Sweeney shrugs off the derision and taps her milky acrylic nails on her glass of water. Today she’s dressed down in a cropped white tee, jeans and her gifted Miu Miu bag. “I never got into fashion until recently,” she admits when I ask if the bag is what she spent all that Hollywood money on. Instead of playing dress-up, the majority of her youth was spent on a soccer field (“I was actually put on an all-boys team”), dirt biking (“I tore my ACL”), or on her wakeboard (“the moment I got my stitches out, my mom threw me back in the water and said I’m not allowed to get out until I get back on the wakeboard”). At 13, she discovered MMA fighting, trained with professional wrestler Ronda Rousey’s senseis and was one anaconda choke away from going semi-pro, “but my parents and my agents did not let me”. Needless to say, Sweeney has got plenty of fight in her.
Perhaps that’s why she was snatched up by Tarantino for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, supposedly his penultimate film before retirement. Playing a Manson girl, she shares most of her screen time with Margaret Qualley and Dakota Fanning, but the upshot of no phones being allowed on set (Tarantino law) was a lot of free time spent chatting with co-stars Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in the dusty Vasquez Rocks just north of LA. “Half of us were barefoot the entire time. It was just like running around in this really fun camp with Quentin running it. Brad would hang out with the crew, just sit down and talk to anyone and everyone. It taught me so much respect.”
Next, she plays the pink-haired, level-headed girlfriend Holly to Pete Davidson’s drug-hustling Zeke in the comedy Big Time Adolescence.
Working with Davidson, she gushes, was “amazing and hilarious”. She’d turn up to set and he and Machine Gun Kelly – her other co-star – would be “dancing on top of the trailers filming some music video”. At one point, the hellraising duo purchased a beat-up Camaro off Craigslist and, for kicks, would burn rubber around the neighbourhood. “All you would see were the producers cringing, going, ‘Oh my God, if they crash right now…’
I did once get in the car with them after dinner. I was like, ‘Yeah… I’m good after that.’”
Sweeney’s summer includes heading to Paris Fashion Week for the Miu Miu show, jetting to the Amalfi Coast for pizza and then taking a well-deserved break at Spirit Lake, her true home, where she’ll probably rewatch her VHS tape set of Gone With the Wind. She should enjoy the rest while it lasts, because in the meantime, the scripts are sure to be stacking up.
Hair Rena Clahoun, Make-up Melissa Hernandez, Production Rosanna Gouldman, Photography assistance Julien Kelly and Parker Woods. Thanks to The Rose Hotel Venice