Celeste Sloman
June 29, 2020
In The Mix

Free to Be

Hunter Schafer enjoys the freedom to explore her character in HBO's Euphoria.

Whitney Friedlander

So much of the attention paid to HBO's Euphoria has been of the hand-wringing, pearl-clutching variety, thanks to the drama's graphic depictions of sex, drugs and other things that make parents worry where their children are after 10 pm.

It's a testament to the show that not much of this is directed at Hunter Schafer's character, Jules Vaughn. A new girl in town who could make a killing doing YouTube fashion and beauty tutorials, Jules has a history of depression and a complicated relationship with her generation's hookup culture.

She, like Schafer, also happens to be transgender, something the writers and Schafer make a point of presenting as just another fact about her.

"One of my favorite things about the role is that Jules never states her identity," says Schafer, who before Euphoria was best known as a model. She's walked runways for the likes of Maison Margiela and Miu Miu and appeared in campaigns for Calvin Klein and others.

"It's so much more realistic as far as how trans people experience their trans-ness," she continues. "It is a part of their life, and it does affect how they move about the world, but it isn't everything."

Schafer doesn't consider herself an activist, but she did appear as a plaintiff in the ACLU's case against a law restricting use of public restrooms by transgender individuals in her home state of North Carolina.

"When I think of an activist," she says, "I think of a community leader doing actual political work" every day.

The actress admires the show's much-talked-about fantasy sequences — which involve lighting a classmate on fire and a classroom tutorial on the hazards of online dating — calling them "yummy" and "hyper-realistic."

And watching scenes from a midseason flashback episode — Clark Furlong plays a younger Jules undergoing psychiatric treatment — Schafer cried, she says, because "Jules had been hanging out inside me for a minute."

Fans, meanwhile, worship Jules's makeup, which ranges from goth-girl black eyeliner to angry red smears to so much neon and glitter that she's like a human glow stick. Schafer spent hours with makeup department head Doniella Davy to come up with the designs.

"A lot of the time it was just drawing on my face and not adhering to any beauty standards," she says. "It felt very free.

"Jules has this transition toward the end of the season toward something a little bit darker and slightly more unhinged," Schafer adds, explaining that the makeup helped her "build to this sense of anger and wanting to escape."

Like all teenagers, Jules occasionally wants to hide from her life.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2020.

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