Cal is 'becoming undone,' the 49-year-old actor tells ET as he opens up about episodes 3 and 4 of season 2.
In Euphoria season 2, Cal Jacobs (Eric Dane) goes on quite the journey, as audiences learn more about his past and watch him completely unravel in the present. Essentially, Cal is “becoming undone,” the 49-year-old actor tells ET as he opens up about the character’s alcohol-fueled meltdown, his toxic relationship with his son, Nate (Jacob Eldori), and wearing another prosthetic penis for the series.
While Cal has been slowly unraveling this entire time, it wasn’t until episodes 3 and 4 (both written and directed by creator Sam Levinson) that he completely loses it – with things ending “in epic, dumpster fire of a way,” Dane says of his epic meltdown. He adds, “I didn’t know where it was going, but it certainly made sense to me.”
Before things take an incredibly dark turn, episode 3 (“Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys”) opens with a surprisingly heartfelt, if not heartbreaking flashback to Cal’s high school days as a teenage wrestler (played by Elias Kacavas) and the son of an overbearing father who loves nothing more than spending time with his best friend, Derek (Henry Eikenberry).
Over the course of the episode’s opening scenes, audiences learn that the two friends harbored deeper feelings for each other, even if they channeled their sexual energy into girlfriends at the time. But it’s not until graduation night that the two celebrate alone at an out-of-the-way gay bar where they finally embrace while dancing to INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart.”
“I liked that at that age, they had the courage to follow through with their instincts,” Dane says of the sweet moment between Cal and Derek.
(Although fans were quick to make the connection between Cal’s friend with Dane’s past work as Dr. Sloan, whose was best friends with Dr. Derek Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy, even suggesting that Patrick Dempsey should be cast as his adult counterpart, the actor is doubtful Levinson had any idea about the Easter Egg. But fans can still dream!)
Cal and Derek’s momentary bliss, however, is shattered when Cal learns that his girlfriend, Marsha, is pregnant. And after “getting backed into doing the right thing,” Dane says, Cal is set down a path, leading him to where he is today, a hardened father living a double life. “I don’t know if it's gonna make people empathetic towards Cal. I think it should. But it certainly exposes a side to Cal that you just probably didn’t expect but you knew was possibly, maybe one of the factors in ultimately who he ended up being.”
In the present, that is a closeted man, who tapes his sexual encounters, including one with Jules (Hunter Schafer), and uptight person who “had to man up and marry Marsha, have a family and become a pillar of this community,” Dane says.
And somewhere along the way, that resulted in an increasingly intense relationship with his son, Nate, who is struggling with his own sexual maturity and anger issues. Yet, in episode 3, Cal is so fiercely loyal to his own family that he’s willing to threaten (or kill) Fezco (Angus Cloud), who he learns was responsible for putting his son in the hospital on New Year’s Eve.
“I think Cal sees a lot of himself and his son and that scares him. I think he resents Nate a bit because Nate has a shot to do what Cal could never do, which is live the life that he always imagined he would live,” Dane says, while acknowledging the two “have a funny way of showing each other how much they truly love each other and how much they have in common.”
While Dane doesn’t think Cal is capable of killing, “I do think he’s wildly protective of his son,” he says. “It’s his family. It’s the least he can do. It’s someplace he can take action and become a good parent without having to go through the trials and tribulations of owning that parenthood and being that paternal father figure.”
Before the end of episode 3, Cal is dragged into Fez’s house and beaten over the head with the end of a shotgun by Ashtray (Javon Walton), a scene that took multiple takes to film. It’s there that Cal learns that Fez doesn’t have the disc of his encounter with Jules and it’s Nate who is in love with her.
In episode 4, “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can,” a bruised and battered and embarrassed Cal spirals out of control as he decides to go back to the same gay bar for the first time in over two decades. “He’s retracing his footsteps,” Dane says, explaining that “there’s a yearning for that nostalgia. He missed out on his real life by inches and the start of potentially his real life where he really got to be Cal.”
The actor adds, “I think a lot of it is just going back to the origins to retrace and figure out, ‘Where did I mess this thing up?’”
Sadly, going back to the past does not result in the answers he’s looking for as a drunken Cal gets kicked out for trying to wrestle other patrons at the bar. And before long, he’s back at home and peeing in the foyer much to the shock of his family who watch him from the stairs above.
What unfolds next is a four-page monologue that took an entire day to shoot as Dane, donning another prosthetic penis that’s dangling out of the front of his pants, melts down in horrifying and darkly humorous fashion.
When it comes to the prosthetic, which was fashioned with rigs and clamps, Dane says it just added to the absurdity of the moment. “You have got to really be careful with that thing and make sure you clamp it down before you tuck it away,” he quips, before adding that “Sam and the cast were super supportive” during the filming of the scene.
“From the start, whipping out his penis and peeing all over the vestibule of the house, the symbolism there is pretty strong. And then being confronted by his wife and telling her how lonely he is. That’s a funny way of conveying those feelings to somebody,” Dane continues.
In the end, Cal lets loose on Marsha (Paula Marshall) and his two sons, Nate and Aaron (Zak Steiner), before revealing that he’s a gay man who has been affairs for most of his marriage. “It was only natural that Cal decided to drop the facade and start living his truth,” Dane says, noting that the scene wouldn’t make sense if he didn’t come out. “Otherwise it just looks like he’s browbeating his family.” Especially Nate, who he says is his biggest regret. That moment, Dane points out, is Cal’s way of saying, “I really fucked up.”
But what this means for the two of them moving forward remains to be seen. “I would like to say there’s resolution between him and Nate. I think that his biggest regret is that he failed miserably with his son,” Dane says, hopeful that Cal can still one day become a good father to Nate. “I do think Cal’s going to get the opportunity to become a better parent. And I think that’s what Nate wants. He wants a father.”
No matter what, the meltdown is a moment that’s going to resonate with audiences, who’ve endured a lot with Euphoria. It will also remain a standout moment in Dane’s career, whose memorable roles include the long-running ABC medical drama. For the actor, this is what he loves about getting to play Cal.
“The freedom I get with this character is unparalleled with any other job I’ve had,” Dane says. “It’s been fun to create an entirely new character. You know, Cal was very contained, very controlled last season. And this year, he gets to cut loose a little bit. And that’s fun to play.”
Euphoria season 2 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and HBO Max.
--Additional reporting by Denny Directo