'Euphoria' Stars Zendaya, Hunter Schafer and More Preview a Complex and Chaotic Season 2 (Exclusive)

The Emmy-winning teen drama avoids the sophomore slump with an edgy, eight-episode season 2.

Euphoria, the Emmy-winning HBO drama about a group of high school teens dealing with drugs, love and violence, finally returns with an eight-episode second season. Written and directed by creator Sam Levinson and starring Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Jacob Elordi and more, the series avoids the sophomore slump by pushing its ensemble of characters to the brink as they all face consequences of choices made in season 1 and how they decide to handle them in season 2. 

While speaking to ET’s Denny Directo ahead of Euphoria’s season 2 premiere on Sunday, Jan. 9, the cast, including Sydney Sweeney, Storm Reid, Maude Apatow, Alexa Demie and newcomer Dominic Fike, tease what’s in store for the students of East Highland High School after such a long break between seasons.

Of course, that extended hiatus was the result of a lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing the start of production to be pushed back from March of 2020 to March of 2021. Admittedly, at the time, the return to set was kind of scary for some. “Because we had been away for so long, for me, it was frightening,” says Elordi, who plays resident bad boy and high school jock, Nate. 

However, those fears quickly faded “and it was the same old story, which is the best,” the 24-year-old Aussie actor adds.

Jacob Elordi in 'Euphoria' season 2. - HBO

"At that point, after all the delays and everything, we were really craving to get back to work and be around [each other] again,” says Schafer, who plays Jules, the East Highland newcomer who instantly captured Rue’s attention in season 1. “It is like a family in a lot of ways and I think we missed it. And we were excited to make the thing that we loved to make again.” 

From the stars onscreen to the crew behind the scenes, everyone was committed to making the best season possible. “It’s not like a movie where you kind of live with the character for a portion of their life and then you let go of them. We’re with these characters for a long-ass time. We feel very emotionally invested in them and in the project in general,” Zendaya explains, adding that “we have an entire crew of people who dedicate every single day to hopefully making a beautiful piece of art that resonates with people.”

While there were two special, standalone Euphoria episodes released in the winter of 2020, fans had to wait until filming on season 2 finished in November before anyone got a glimpse of what’s to come. And because of that, it’s an emotional moment for the fans and stars alike. “We waited two years to be able to give you guys the show. So, we were anxious as well,” says Sweeney, who broke out as Cassie, a girl who bounces from one longterm relationship to the next to cover up her need to be loved, and also starred in last summer’s breakout hit, The White Lotus

Hunter Schafer in 'Euphoria' season 2. - HBO

“It means a lot to a lot of people. So, when it’s so close to you, you’re like, ‘OK, here’s this really emotional and vulnerable thing I just made,’” says Zendaya, who won an Emmy for her performance as Rue, who relapses and struggles with her drug addiction shortly after getting out of rehab in season 1.

The 25-year-old actress adds, “It’s very difficult in that way to let go of it. You’re never done with it… And then you share it with the world and then it’s kind of scary sometimes. But I’m definitely proud of the work we’ve all done. I’m proud of how far all these characters have come.”  

Despite the wait for new episodes, the series picks up only weeks after the season 1 finale, which took place during the winter formal in December. Season 2 opens with the group all convening at the same party to ring in the New Year as the characters pick up where things left. 

Not only are things definitely “darker,” as Sweeney teased last year to increasing anticipation, but they get increasingly more chaotic and complex with no easy way to solve the many predicaments they all find themselves in. 

Alexa Demie in 'Euphoria' season 2. - HBO

“It’s quite an experience and a roller coaster,” Sweeney says now. For Cassie, she’s still reeling from the abortion she got in season 1 and figuring out what it means to be out of a relationship for once. She’s also navigating a tense friendship with Maddy (Demie), who is dealing with the fallout from her breakup with Nate. 

Sweeney adds, “There is some wreckage. There’s definitely wreckage.” And when it comes to any showdowns between Cassie and Maddy, Demie teases that while they’re “extremely intense,” they’re also “going to be fun to watch.” 

In addition to Maddy, Cassie is also forced to watch as her younger sister Lexi (Apatow) explores her newfound confidence and starts standing up for herself in ways she never has before. As a result, the two actresses got to spend more time together this year – something they hoped for after completing season 1. 

“It was so fun. We’re best friends so we had so much fun shooting together,” Apatow says, adding that when it comes to the relationship between the two sisters, “there’s so many things that are explored this season that weren’t the first season. I think their dynamic is a lot more complicated than you would expect.”

Sharing that same sentiment, Sweeney says, “I was actually sad to see how complicated it became as the season went on. Seeing what the sisters did to each other started to break me.” 

Maude Apatow in 'Euphoria' season 2. - HBO

Their family isn’t the only one whose limits are tested this season. With Rue off the wagon, her mother, Leslie (Nika King), and sister, Gia (Reid), find themselves back where they first started, when they had to send her to rehab after her overdose. And not even her sponsor, Ali (Colman Domingo), can seem to get through to her. 

“It’s very obvious that Rue and Gia’s relationship changes,” Reid says, explaining that there’s still love there between them. “But Gia’s grown up and she understands that she can’t help Rue like she thought she could in season 1 and she realizes that she’s becoming a young woman herself. So, she has to stop neglecting how she feels in light or in the hopes of trying to make her sister be a better sister and a better human.” 

Adding to that, King says that despite her undying hope, Leslie watches “Rue go down a different path.” As a result, she starts paying more attention to Gia, someone she realizes she may have neglected too much in the first season. 

“Her energy was on Rue and I think with season 2, she’s kind of taking a step back and saying, ‘I have another daughter here who’s obviously affected by Rue’s behavior and her decisions,’” King says. “So, I think we’ll see Leslie make some hard choices.” 

Dominic Fike in 'Euphoria' season 2. - HBO

Also facing a hard choice is Ali, who must decide whether he wants to continue to help Rue despite everything they’ve gone through. “With that bridge episode, they went deeper -- two addicts understanding one another and being honest with each other and just holding each other accountable for just who they are in the world -- and then Rue breaks that faith, breaks that bond,” Domingo says, suggesting that the journey to sobriety and stability is not only Rue’s. “Ali [has to decide whether] to continue to invest in his redemption because that’s what he’s been asking for from the world.” 

If there’s one happy relationship in Rue’s life, it’s the budding friendship she has with a fellow East Highland student Elliot, played by Fike. After a chance encounter in the premiere, Elliot finds himself an increasing presence in Rue’s and Jules’ world. “There are some lighthearted moments and they do have a lot of fun together,” Finke says, before teasing, “But it’s also concerning and he’s messy.” 

When it comes to being the newest cast member among the ensemble, the 26-year-old singer-turned-actor says he had a “great” experience on set. “I was surprised to be there. I was standing there, like, ‘Why am I here? Why would anybody invite me to hang out with these people?’” he recalls. “But it became really clear that there was a spot for me. They’re just wonderful people.” 

Euphoria season 2 premieres Sunday, Jan. 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and HBO Max.