The drug and violence struggles of Sam Levinson, creator of “Euphoria”
The son of a well-known filmmaker, he used his life as an inspiration for the hit HBO series.
At 16, Sam Levinson hit a dead end. “It was around that age that I reconciled myself to the idea that drugs could kill me and that there was no reason to counter it. I let myself be consumed and accepted what could happen,” he explained. “I was in rehab when I was 19. I went to a center and tried to get rid of opiates and turned to a more productive drug like methamphetamine.” All for you to write your arguments for.
Levinson, the lone creator of one of the current series, is the mentor, director and writer of “Euphoria” — inspired by an Israeli series of the same name — the HBO hit, which premiered its second season on Jan. 9. It’s also – and inevitably – a mirror of the 37-year-old filmmaker’s own life.
It’s his “deeply personal story” cast in the pages of “Euphoria,” the teen drama chock-full of shocking imagery — so much so that American organizations have warned against excessive nudity, sex and the glorification of drugs. The teenage protagonist, who debuted with Zendaya in 2019 as Rue, fell into mental health issues and drug addiction. The performance would make her win an Emmy.
By her side is Hunter Schafer, Jules on the show, a young trans actress who was cast in the role of Rue’s partner but would also help Levinson bridge his blind spots. I wanted to faithfully represent these young people’s experiences outside the norm.
“I had written the script and our casting directors were traveling across the country to find the right person to play Jules,” Levinson recalls. “Once we found Hunter, we sat around and talked for about six hours. About life, about our experiences, there’s a lot of my personal story on not just Rue but Jules as well.”
“Euphoria” is the underlined highlight on Levinson’s resume, but before he came, his name already carried considerable weight in Hollywood. Sam is the son of Barry Levinson, a famous filmmaker who won the Oscar for Best Director for Rain Man. He was also behind films like “Bugsy”, “Wag the Dog” or “Good Morning, Vietnam”.
Levinson, the son, also attempted a career as a young actor, interestingly in three films directed by his father, but began to hone his writing talent by writing and directing his first film, Another Happy Day, at the age of 25 ‘, starring Ellen Barkin, Ezra Miller and Demi Moore. His personal style could not have been more different from his father’s.
The road to success was not easy. “I spent most of my teenage years in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation centers,” he recalled at the premiere of Euphoria. “It was a hit. I took everything I could find until I couldn’t hear, breathe or feel anymore.”
At this stage he remembers a quote from a book that helped him change his life. “In the end, we are nothing more than an amalgamation of our actions – and they will define us in the end,” he recalls. “It touched me so much that I thought: if I died today, who would I be?”
It was the burden of life and her father that ran through her mind at this stage. “I’m a liar. I’m a thief. I’m a catch. I’ve been shit to almost every person I love in my life. And I got to a point where I was like, ‘I don’t want me to be like that feel i think i’m a better person than that.
The success of “Euphoria” was stymied by the pandemic, but Levinson had a trick up his sleeve. He took his muse Zendaya, hooked up with John David Washington, created a risky project and recorded it in a few days. “Malcolm & Marie,” a black-and-white film with just two protagonists, drew attention for good and bad reasons.
The film tells the story of a young filmmaker who returns home after the premiere of his latest film. The first points of criticism appear between the marital disputes and cause the protagonist to explode. In the real world, criticism poured in, too, pointing fingers at Levinson.
Levinson has been accused of using the film’s script – and a black actor – to indirectly attack his own critics. He just shrugged.
Now he’s back with the second season of the show that made him escape his father’s shadow. And while it drew criticism from many Euphoria fans, this time around, critics seem to have forgotten Malcolm & Marie’s little revenge. The ratings are promising and there will definitely be a third season.