‘Euphoria’s Nika King on Working with Zendaya, Season Two Intervention – The Hollywood Reporter

[This story contains spoilers for episode five of season two of HBO’s Euphoria.]

In the newest episode of Euphoria, Rue’s friends and family stage an intervention for Zendaya’s character, who has descended even further into her drug addiction during the second season of the Sam Levinson series.

“I want you to know, I’m not angry with you,” Nika King’s Leslie Bennett opens the episode. “Angry?” Zendaya’s Rue asks her. “Yes, I’m not angry with you. I love you,” her mother tells her. When Rue asks, “What are you talking about?” Leslie then replies, “I know you’re doing drugs again.”

This confrontation between the mother and daughter leads to 15 minutes of Rue verbally and emotionally abusing her mother (King), her sister, Gia (Storm Reid), and, eventually, her friends, romantic interest Jules (Hunter Schafer) and fellow addict Elliot (Dominic Fike), a new character in season two.

When Rue finds out her mother and sister have disposed of the $10,000 worth of drugs she got from local drug dealer Laurie (Marsha Kelly), she begins to have a panic attack and comes close to hitting her mom, who threatens to call the police. “You will not attack me in my own home,” Leslie tells Rue, between tears. “I raised you. I did, OK? And you do not fucking scare me. You’re not a good person, Rue,” she tells her daughter, verbally addressing a question that has been hanging over the sophomore season of the HBO series.

As Rue gets more aggressive toward Leslie and Gia, her mother steps in and refuses to let Rue hurt her little sister. Eventually, Rue agrees to go to the hospital.

“In [the intervention] scene, she’s definitely protecting Gia,” King tells The Hollywood Reporter when discussing the pivotal hour, which arrives at the midpoint of the season. “She’s hovering over her and she’s like, ‘Hey, you’re not gonna hurt her.’ But you’re still grappling between two necessities. They’re both her daughters, and so I think Leslie is, once again, just doing the best she can. And sometimes the best you do is you get the result that you get, and sometimes that result is not always a good result.”

Indeed, Rue quickly changes her mind, hops out of her mother’s car while en route to the hospital, when she finds out her mom was actually taking her to rehab, and spends the remainder of the high-speed episode on the run while looking to score, before ending up back at Laurie’s as her last hope. After a treacherous night, Rue escapes the drug dealer’s home and the episode ends with Leslie hearing the door to her home opening and questioning if her daughter is about to walk through it.

To get into the space that Leslie finds herself this season, King says she had to dig up some of her own childhood trauma, and says she saw a young version of herself in Rue on several occasions. “This whole process really has been a healing journey for myself. That’s the power of acting — you guys are seeing amazing TV, but I know for myself, as an actor, I’m forever changed,” she says.

Below, in the chat with THR, King delves into playing the mother of an addict, how she and Zendaya worked through the intervention scenes — and what they improvised — and she also shares her hopes for Rue and Leslie as the season continues.

How did you get into the head of a mother whose daughter is an addict, to find the desperation and guilt Leslie is faced with this season?

I went to my mom, even though my mom has never experienced this — she has six kids, none of us are addicted to drugs. But, she had her own battles. So I was able to communicate with her about different behaviors, like how addicts think, how they act, how they talk, how they behave when they want to get that hit. I think with the combination of my mom, some of the literature that I found and my own personal experiences, I was able to kind of form Leslie.

When you found out about the intervention scenes in episode five, how did you prepare for them?

The great thing about Euphoria’s fight scenes is that you don’t know — and there’s no preparing. You just go in with an understanding that you love one another; this is not personal, this is acting and that, hopefully, whatever needs to be done in that scene to convey the emotions that these characters are feeling, we release that to the characters. We always want to put the characters first in telling their story. You can mentally prepare, but, ultimately, it plays out authentically because you just don’t know what the other character is going to do.

How did you and Zendaya work together to make this scene so powerful?

We’re both silly. We’re both goofy. But, ultimately, the relationship that I have with Z is basically that we trust each other, and we both have a heart for these characters. We both understand that it’s not about what we want to do, it’s about what these characters are wanting and their objective in the scenes. So, we have to put our ideas of what we want aside and let the characters breathe on their own.

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Courtesy of Eddy Chen/HBO

What is your process of getting into the headspace of Leslie?

I coached a lot with my private coach, and we did a lot of digging up past trauma to get to where I needed to be. We found that a lot of the processes that I use were healing my inner child and, in return, using that to want to heal Rue. As an actor, you have to replace the characters you’re in a scene with with someone in your life. So, for me, a lot of the times Rue was little Nika. And so throughout this whole process, it really has been a healing journey for myself, as well. That’s the power of acting — yes, you guys are seeing amazing TV, but I know for myself as an actor, I’m forever changed.

How was that experience of digging up that childhood trauma for your role?

You gotta sit with it for days and days and days after, and be like, “Oh my gosh,” and then you can find yourself going down a rabbit hole where you’re like, “OK, that wasn’t the point. Don’t try to relive the trauma; move past it and understanding it and knowing what your triggers are, and knowing what moves you.” That’s all great for a performance. You know, it’s beautiful. But I think as humans, we still have to grapple with things that we can’t change and we just have to push forward.

How did you move forward?

I do believe in prayer and meditation, and falling on my knees and just thanking God for being able to be in this position; being able to tell these stories and being able to, in a way, have this juicy history and juicy past that I can use to bring this character to life. Because, nothing is wasted, right? Everything for the sake of telling the story, because people are truly hurting right now and dealing with a lot of anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts. And so, if I can be just a small sliver of light in someone’s life onscreen, representing a character, then I think I’ve done my part.

Behind the scenes when filming episode five, were there any key notes given to you or was anything improvised?

It was a lot of improvisation. We were allowed to kind of go there. Every take intensified. Stormy was involved in the scene. So, that was this kind of three-way battle of, who’s going to win? Who’s going to cower? Who’s going to stand on their truth? Some realizations were made by Rue, and we’ll see how that unfolds in the rest of the episodes. But I think, ultimately, we were just allowed to go there. Don’t hold back.

What scenes were improvised?

A lot of the fight scenes are improvised. We’re able to move around. I was able to address Stormy in certain ways. I was able to address Rue in certain ways. So, they kind of just allowed us to play within the scope of the scene. Every take is different because every take, you find something new.

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Zendaya and Storm Reid
Courtesy of Eddy Chen/HBO

Behind Rue’s tough façade is a scared, embarrassed, hurting, teenager. How big of a part does that play in how Leslie sees her daughter?

We’ve all been teenagers, right? And that’s the thing when you’re talking about a young person who is ultimately out of control and doesn’t understand the gravity of what she’s going through. So, I think Leslie does have a heart for her. You have to understand that there are different parents, and they deal with things different ways, and I think Leslie is dealing with it the best way she can with the tools that she has. But there is a level of compassion. There has to be. You have a 16 to 17-year-old doing hardcore drugs, out of control. So, as an adult, I have to have that bird’s eye view to say, “Okay, there are some things that she’s saying is hurtful, but she really doesn’t understand what it is that she’s saying.” And sometimes she does, but I think there are moments to distinguish when the drugs are talking and when Rue is talking.

How does Leslie distinguish between the two?

You have to see the baby in Rue, and yeah, it hurts. My eyes are welling up with tears. I feel like I need to retaliate, you know, just as a human reaction. But I think, ultimately, you have to take a step back and say “This is not who you are,” At the same time, she’s also addressing the realness and saying, “You’re not a good person — you need to come to terms that what you’re doing is not a good thing.”

How would you say that Leslie has played a part in Rue’s descent into addiction?

Addiction is an interesting concept. Ultimately, people say it’s a disease, right? And so if there’s a disease that Rue is experiencing in her body in her mind, then you’re kind of dealing with something that may or may not have a cure. And so I think Leslie is just at a point where it’s like, “What more can I do?” I mean, she’s overdosed once. Maybe [Leslie’s] functioning at a high level of depression. You can function at a high level and still be depressed, and I think maybe, maybe that’s where she is.

How would you say this episode shows the generational pain and trauma happening in this family?

We see the two kind of parallels of one daughter, let’s say the bad daughter and the good daughter, and then you have the mother, who’s pretty much a constant factor in this equation, trying to figure out, How do I get my daughter from point A, which is where she is now, to point B which is being clean, staying clean, and how do I get my other daughter to not follow the path? And so I think, in [the intervention] scene, she’s definitely protecting Gia. She’s hovering over her and she’s like, “Hey, you’re not gonna hurt her.” But you’re still grappling between two necessities. They’re both her daughters, and so I think she’s, once again, just doing the best she can. And sometimes the best you do is you get the result that you get, and sometimes that result is not always a good result.

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Storm Reid
Courtesy of Eddy Chen/HBO

As the actress who plays Rue’s mom, what are your hopes for her?

My hope for Rue is that she finds purpose. I think a lot of our kids are drifting, and they have no anchor. They’re being swayed by the world, by social media, by celebrities, by things that don’t really matter at the end of the day. You can go on social media and compare yourself to every person who you think is living a better life than you, and guess what? It’s not true. It’s all a façade.

Rue has to find her purpose to want to live and to want to live a good life. There’s no perfect life, nothing is perfect. Nothing is ever going to be smooth sailing. This is life. There are gonna be ups and downs as a teenager. I can look back and look at when I was 16 or 17. I knew I didn’t wanna grow up where I was living, and I knew I wanted to get out. And so that was always in the forefront of my mind. That was my purpose, to make it out of the hood, and so Rue has to make it out of her hood — which is her mind, her addiction, her manipulative ways, her lying, her stealing. That’s a lot to overcome, but guess what? People overcome things every day. And so I pray and I hope for Rue that that happens and if not, she get a true, rude awakening. That’s the only way change is gonna come for her. I’ve seen some people come back from it and some people don’t, but I think she has the ability to get on the other side of this thing. And that’s my prayer that she does.

What about your hope for Rue and Leslie?

The relationship between a mother and daughter is very special in that Leslie probably sees herself in Rue a little bit, you know, that is your child at the end of the day. That personality comes from somewhere. That rebellion comes from somewhere. They’re still close. They’re still connected. And I think we just want to see them win. We want to see them happy — all of us, Leslie, Gia, Rue, maybe a little boo thang thrown in there, a little stepdaddy. We want to see that blended family and to show families that you just gotta keep fighting and keep fighting, but ultimately you can overcome whatever it is that you’re experiencing.

Personally, what has the experience been like playing an adult on this hit YA series? How do the fans treat you?

I’m taking it one day at a time. It’s all new to me. It’s fun playing somebody’s mama on TV. I really didn’t think that that would be my breakout role. I don’t know what I thought my breakout role would be, but to be somebody’s mom and to kind of get into this category of a Claire Huxtable or Loretta Devine, now you’re Hollywood’s mom. You’re kind of put into the Black mamas, you know, where are you on that spectrum? Right now Leslie’s looking like Booboo the Fool. We’ll see if she can redeem herself. People think she’s a bad mother. A lot of fans think she’s not attentive, and she’s not paying attention to her daughter, and so, they’re classifying her as a negligent mom. I hate that people see her that way, but I think that’s a part of the evolution of her character, and so we’ll see how Leslie kind of comes to her full moment of being a mom that really cares.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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