When I get the opportunity to interview a celebrity who’s about to star in one of TV's most buzzed-about new shows one-on-one, it’s usually actually a two-on-one interview — me, the celebrity, and their PR rep (who usually looms in a corner somewhere to derail any meatier lines of questioning when necessary). Not Euphoria's Storm Reid, though. After wrapping a photo shoot for Elite Daily, Reid follows me into the studio's green room, wardrobe bag in hand and her waist-length braid swinging. I’m a little surprised to see the door close right behind us — no PR in sight. This interview is going to be a real one-on-one. I get the feeling that at just 15 years old, Reid isn’t someone who needs or wants anyone green-lighting her answers.
"I'm a really strong-willed person," Reid tells me. "Even if peer pressure comes my way, I know how to say no. And I won't feel ashamed of people not liking me or thinking I'm not cool enough because I'm not doing what they're doing. I know one decision can change the rest of your life, so I'm just not here for it."
Reid's new show, Euphoria, premiered on June 16. “It’s like a higher-level Degrassi,” Reid explains about the show. "Degrassi on steroids.”
The description is fitting, considering the new drama — one of HBO's first forays into telling stories revolving around teenagers — is executive-produced by Drake, who will forever be remembered for his role as Jimmy Brooks on the iconic Canadian high school soap. Just like Degrassi, Euphoria is diving head-first into tackling real issues high schoolers face today — from what it's like growing up in a post-9/11 world and dealing with school shootings, to teens self-medicating with drugs.
“The first thing that really intrigued me was the idea of getting to play Zendaya's sister,” Reid explains about what attracted her to Euphoria. “She's been my idol for the longest time. She's just the coolest person.”
Judging from her expression and tone, Reid and Zendaya already have the dream sisterly relationship. “We made a music video in her trailer,” Reid recounts of one of her favorite on-set moments with the Spider-Man star. “I know the world is waiting on that ... It's coming soon.”
Based on Reid and Zendaya’s fun-loving, sisterly relationship on set, you could almost forget there’s nothing fun or light about the subject matter their new show unflinchingly explores.
Even though I couldn’t relate to some of the situations, maybe I will down the line. It's something to look back on where I feel like I would be proud that it's impacting people the way it is.
Zendaya’s Rue is a teenage drug addict who’s just trying to keep her head down at school after returning from a stint in rehab following an overdose everyone knows about. Reid’s character, Gia, is the one who found her in her room overdosing, one of the most harrowing scenes from the series premiere.
“I haven’t had an experience like that and, God willing, I will never go through that,” she tells me earnestly about filming the scene. “It’s about putting myself in my character's shoes and stepping outside of myself — becoming the character, but also not forgetting me and how I would deal with it, which evokes a lot of emotion ... Hopefully, it was authentic enough for people who have gone through that situation.”
At the start of Euphoria, Reid's storyline mainly revolves around Gia wrestling with conflicting feelings involved with realizing the older sister she idolizes is not as perfect as she thought — and whether she'll follow in her footsteps or break away.
"She's becoming a little fed up with her sister's actions, but she loves her sister so much," Reid explains. "I think as soon as you start watching, you know it's either going to be an uphill battle for Gia or a downhill one, and I feel like it could go both ways. Right now, I really feel like it's up in the air, but she will have struggles with peer pressure ... and maybe even follow in the footsteps of Rue."
A lot of the situations the characters go through are because they're losing themselves and they don't have enough self-love there. They're surrounded by love, but they don't give themselves that same love.
Euphoria's focus on teenage drug abuse and sex may seem somewhat extreme to some viewers who aren't in high school today, but Reid explains that it is an honest portrayal of high school life in 2019 — no matter how unpleasant that reality may be to accept (in 2015, 276,000 teenagers between the ages of 12 to 17 used pain relievers — including opioids — for non-medical reasons, and 122,000 were addicted to prescription drugs, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health). The impact of portraying that reality on-screen is exactly what drew Reid to the show.
"It's a very purpose-driven show," she says. "Even though we are talking about things that happen to teenagers, we're very raw and uncut about it and it is a conversation that needs to be had even though it can be a hard one. Even though I couldn’t relate to some of the situations, maybe I will down the line. It's something to look back on where I feel like I would be proud that it's impacting people the way it is."
At the core of Euphoria's story is a theme that's immensely relatable to anyone, no matter what they're going through. "I think that a lot of the situations the characters go through are because they're losing themselves and they don't have enough self-love there," Reid explains about the characters in Euphoria. "They're surrounded by love, but they don't give themselves that same love."
That's why self-love is a priority for Reid. Her mental health days, which she takes every once in a while, consist of staying in bed all day, watching movies, and eating "a whole bunch of snacks." But it goes deeper than that for her. "It's about surrounding myself with people that I really love and adore and who really love and adore me," she shares. "We really don't have to be doing anything, we can just be in the same room — like your presence just makes me happy."
Something tells me Zendaya's trailer dance parties definitely check off that box. "To have someone that's closer to my age, but has gone through it before and who I really have watched what's she's done and how she's done it so graciously — to have that blessing is super important to me, so I'm thankful for that."
It's an understatement to say Reid is following in Zendaya's footsteps. After acting in smaller roles since 2013, she had her big break in Disney's 2018 adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time, starring alongside iconic stars Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon. And now she's staying busy.
"I'm producing a project that I can't give to much away about," she tells me, "but the character that I would be playing struggles with mental illness. I feel like it's another conversation that needs to be had and something that ... can be impactful."
It's always important to take a moment for yourself, breathe, and know that you are worthy of doing something great. If you don't feel seen or heard, I see you.
It occurs to me it might be hard to nail down a future dream collaboration when you've already worked with the likes of Ava DuVernay and Oprah, but I ask anyway. "I'd love to work with Meryl Streep. I think she's amazing," Reid says. Considering Reid now shares a network with the new Big Little Lies star (who she respectfully refers to as Ms. Meryl), this dream doesn't seem too far off. In the meantime, she's off to Australia to shoot a new adaptation of the classic novel The Invisible Man alongside Elizabeth Moss. No biggie.
As a 15-year-old growing up in Hollywood and starring in projects with heavy themes like Euphoria, Reid undoubtedly has a lot on her plate. But as we wrapped up our interview, hugged it out, and headed for the door ("Can't forget this," Reid said, turning back for her wardrobe bag), the message she has for any Euphoria viewer that might be dealing with the same struggles depicted on the show gives me the distinct feeling that she's more than capable of dealing with whatever comes her way.
"It's always important to take a moment for yourself, breathe, and know that you are worthy of doing something great," she says. "If you don't feel seen or heard, I see you. And I want to hear your stories in any way you put them out ... I'm sending my love to you and giving you a big ol' bear hug."
Photography: Lauren Perlstein
Makeup: Joanna Simkin at The Wall Group