Sydney Sweeney is one to watch: At just 21 years old, she’s landing some of the most memorable gigs on TV. After scene-stealing roles in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Sharp Objects” (in the latter she played a psych ward patient), Sweeney is about to break out yet again in the highly anticipated HBO series “Euphoria,” premiering June 16.
Yet you might just see Sweeney in real life in Chicago; she splits her time between here and L.A. With a packed work schedule (filming of “Euphoria” runs through October) Sweeney doesn’t have much time to play. But she flies here every moment she can. No wonder: Her boyfriend and good friends live here, and the Gold Coast and West Loop are her regular haunts.
“[Chicago] is such a beautiful city with the nicest people. I made more friends in the months I’ve been visiting than the five years I’ve been in Los Angeles,” says the Spokane, Washington, native. “I really appreciate the normalcy I can have here.”
It’s easy to understand the desire for normalcy when you’re working on such explosive dramas — starting with “Euphoria,” which is buzzed to be a big reason to keep that HBO subscription going when “Game of Thrones” is done. Produced by Drake and starring Zendaya, “Euphoria” takes a raw and real look at the teenage years. Although Sweeney is hush-hush about her character’s story arc, she reveals that the show dives deep into drugs, sex, and the consequences of different decisions.
“It’ll be hard for many people to watch,” she says, adding that it’s important to expose the truth of people finding their places in the world. “[But] there is going to be a character for everyone to relate to, which is a really beautiful thing.”
After growing up in the Pacific Northwest in a relatively quiet household with her parents and younger brother, Trent, Sweeney can relate to some of the trials of teenage life but comes across wise beyond her years. It’s evident in the characters she plays. They can be dark and complicated like Alice, Amy Adams’s roommate in the mental health facility in HBO’s “Sharp Objects,” and they’re often nuanced like young Eden in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a character who was killed for her infidelity.
Sweeney always knew she wanted to be an actress and even presented a business plan to her parents when she was younger about why they should let her start auditioning. They took a leap of faith and moved out to Los Angeles so she could pursue her career.
What separates Sweeney from other young actors is how she approaches characters. She creates a whole storyline around them that extends beyond the script, imagining where they started from before they landed in that moment in time.
“I believe everyone never knows truly what’s inside a person,” Sweeney says. “I try to really understand my characters from their frames of reference.”
Introspection has proved good for her track record so far. And it’s no surprise she was cast in the upcoming Quentin Tarantino movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” amid a star cast: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino, Lena Dunham, Margot Robbie, and Dakota Fanning.
Working with Pitt and DiCaprio was always in Sweeney’s wildest dreams (it’s true — she used to dream about them). And seeing them on set for the first time was a bit surreal. “All of my mom’s friends were calling to ask, ‘Soooo what are they like?’ ” she says.
Sweeney tempers her awe with genuine gratefulness. “Every project I’ve been on, especially with Amy, Elizabeth, Quentin … watching these masterminds at work is better than any acting class I could ever take,” she says. “I soak up every single second of it.”
Later this year we’ll see Sweeney take on a more comedic role in “Big Time Adolescence,” in which she costars with Pete Davidson and Machine Gun Kelly (a.k.a. Colson Baker). The film debuted at Sundance, with Sweeney playing Davidson’s pink-haired girlfriend who tries to act older than she is. “It was the craziest set I’ve ever been on. It was just such a fun experience,” she reminisces, giggling about arriving on set to see Davidson and Baker dancing shirtless on top of the trailers.
Juggling all of these projects takes focus. To have that razor-sharp vision, Sweeney, who has trained as an MMA fighter since high school, credits the work with her sensei who challenges her both physically and mentally. “They make you push yourself harder than you think you can and train your mind not to stop.”
Another of Sweeney’s passions is remodeling and construction, which was influenced by her parents, who used to renovate and design houses when she was a kid. “I always joke that I’ll end up on HGTV with the Property Brothers,” she says, adding that she remodeled a rental property in Wrigleyville this past summer.
Summer in Chicago is one of Sweeney’s favorite things. And so is that good ol’ Midwestern sensibility. “People will just say hi and wave to you here. I love it.” As the actress imagines making Chicago an even bigger part of her future, she’s ready to embrace winter, too. Chalk it up to the fact that she grew up slalom skiing (yet another of her no-fear athletic pastimes).
It’s clear that, just like the mind-bending sets she’s on, Sweeney is always up for extremes. And is ready to seize life’s every turn.
“Part of me wants it. Give me the snow, wind, and rain,” she says.
Cruising around on her Vespa
“It’s one of those Italian dreams riding around, but instead I am in Chicago. It’s a lot of fun and so easy to park.”
“I love La Scarola (721 W. Grand) and Soho House (113 W. Green). The rooftop is beautiful, and I’m often at the Chicken Shop inside it. There’s also Gibson’s Italia (233 N. Canal) for the view of the river and city. And Big Star (1531 N. Damen) for tacos, Greek Islands (200 S. Halsted) for Greek, and Amorino (838 N. State) for gelato.
Riding her bike
“We usually go along the lake from Montrose to Roosevelt. There are these fresh cut fruit cups at Montrose I usually stop to get and eat on the water for a break. My boyfriend and I do 14-mile-long rides. It’s the best!”
Hanging out with friends
It’s great to [just go to their houses]. I’m not used to doing that in LA. … I’m generally in the house with my dog or on set. When we hang, we’re usually in the city or at a Cubs game.
AT THE SHOOT
The setting was lush. The vibe was sizzling. And the mood was summer’s here. We photographed Sydney Sweeney, star of the upcoming HBO drama “Euphoria,” at Aba restaurant in the Fulton Market District. The Mediterranean spot with a buzzing rooftop scene and gorgeous botanicals throughout was the perfect place to get in that vacation state of mind.
Photographer Maria Ponce
Hair and makeup Lynee Ruiz
Wardrobe styling Kimmi Ade
On the cover Jumpsuit Dolce & Gabbana at By:Fashionaholic; Earrings and ring Meredith Marks