Although she’s been acting professionally since she was 12, Sydney Sweeney had her breakthrough in 2018 when she appeared as Emaline Addario on the Netflix series “Everything Sucks!” and as Alice, alongside Amy Adams, on HBO’s “Sharp Objects.” Since then, the 22-year-old’s résumé has included roles on critically acclaimed series “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Euphoria,” in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and, most recently, the indie drama “Clementine.”
Tell us about your first day on a professional set.
My first thing I ever did, I believe was an indie movie called “ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction.” The first day on set, I was beyond happy. I was so much younger, so everything felt so surreal to me. The first real project was “Criminal Minds” and I had my mom with me and I think she was more excited than I was because she was such a big fan of all the actors. And I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m on a TV show,” and she goes, “And look who we’re with!” It’s just your dreams coming to life, and you get so giddy and you get to share that excitement with your family.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be more confident in who you are. Confidence is something I wish I’d had when I was younger with my self-image and my body. I wasn’t that 13-year-old skinny little girl. I had some meat on my bones, and I felt very self-conscious next to other girls.
How did you first get your SAG-AFTRA card?
I think “Criminal Minds” made me SAG-eligible, and I want to say “Heroes” made me SAG. When I was younger, it was a cool ID card. I didn’t have any credit cards or ID cards for school, so that was my ID card, and I thought it was so cool.
How did you get your first big break? Who was the casting director who cast you?
I did “Everything Sucks!” and “Sharp Objects” at the same time. Booking both of those helped me to be able to have the trajectory to have “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Euphoria” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” David Rubin cast “Sharp Objects,” and I think he’s an amazing casting director—he gets into the audition with you. He doesn’t just sit there and read the lines; he works the scene with you, and that’s something I’ve never really experienced before. I appreciate that as an actor in an audition room when it can feel so strange to be doing an audition that’s high emotion or high action. For “Everything Sucks!” it was Amey René. She was such a kind lady and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
How do you typically prepare for an audition?
When I was younger, I would do more work on my audition, building more in my book and putting that kind of work into it, and then I found myself becoming very attached to my auditions and being let down. As a teenager, when you’re told no so many times and you take that very personally, it starts becoming a little more difficult and unhealthy. So I stopped building the books for the auditions. I imagined the world in my head and I would prepare my lines and research everybody I auditioned with and watch their work and see what they like, and then go in there and feel it out. Sometimes you think the way the character is is completely different from what they want, and you can’t put that on yourself.
What is your worst audition horror story?
This one scarred me: I was 14 years old. I think it was for ABC Family; I want to say “Make It or Break It.” It was for a recurring character. I was so excited; I was so prepared. I ran my lines so many times with my mom; I was doing pushups. I was testing for it, so I get into this audition room—and it was a different audition room than I’ve ever been in before. It was a mini theater room. I had to walk down these really intimidating steps to a stage. There was this big table with six people, and they were all just staring at me. It was a very dark room. My first page was this giant monologue, and I forgot everything. Literally nothing came out of my mouth. They kept saying, “You can do it again. Do you want a second? You can go back out and try it again.” It was horrifying.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done to get a role?
I had a small role in John Carpenter’s “The Ward” with Amber Heard. My character is locked in the basement and terrified for a really long time, so the audition scene was to be freaked out and crying. I had my parents lock me in the crawl space of our house and leave me in there for as long as I could stand it just to see what it felt like. [Laughs] I think [my parents] were probably like, “You’re a strange child, but also, at the same time, this is kind of cool.” And then for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” I learned how to braid my hair like they did and I dressed in all gray. I usually try to dress like the character.
What performance should every actor see and why?
“Boys Don’t Cry” is an amazing movie to watch, just emotion-wise. [And] I love my favorites like “Titanic” and “Gone With the Wind,” just films [worth] watching as a whole. But “Boys Don’t Cry”—that performance by Hilary Swank made me want to be an actor.
This story originally appeared in the June 11 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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