• HBO’s new series Euphoria made its debut on Sunday night and brought just as much sex, drugs, and drama as promised.
• Fans knew Zendaya was the show’s star, but Hunter Schafer’s Jules was a revelation in the first episode.
• Euphoria airs Sunday on HBO, following Big Little Lies.
Coming into the debut of HBO’s buzzy new teen drama Euphoria, there were two main draws: the uncut, provocative, graphic content that the series promised in its trailers and coverage; and star Zendaya, who after years of establishing herself as a Disney star, then an influencer, and even a Marvel actress (she plays MJ alongside Tom Holland in the MCU’s latest version of Spider-Man), was taking a stab at a grittier, darker role on HBO.
But after the first episode’s premiere on Sunday night, another star and secret weapon emerged in the form of actress Hunter Schafer, who played the series’ second lead, Jules, alongside Zendaya’s Rue.
Rue was our entry point to the series. We open with her birth, eventually entering her childhood, and subsequent diagnoses with numerous mental illnesses, including but not limited to severe anxiety and bipolar disorder. This contributes to her overdose and stay in rehab that opens the series.
While Rue narrates, we continue to see and hear about a character named Jules, a lanky blonde who’s new to town, getting from place to place on her bicycle. Jules has just moved to the suburbs from the city with her father, and we don’t hear exactly what happened with her mother, but the insinuation is not good.
Referred to in the episode by passers-by as rides her bike as “Sailor Moon,” Jules is a transgender girl, who, like everyone else in the episode, seems to live on the edge. In one scene that takes place at a raucous house party, a jock attempts to take his anger out on her; she turns the table and slashes her own arm with a knife, freaking everyone out, but letting the whole party know what she’s all about. “…by the way, I’m Jules,” she says with a smile to all the onlookers at the conclusion of the scene.
Jules is seen as one of Euphoria‘s most sex positive characters, which, given just what happened in the first episode alone, is saying a lot. As she told one classmate who revealed she was still a virgin, “Bitch, this isn’t the ’80s—you need to catch a dick!” She also appeared in a scene depicting an Ashley Madison-style online rendezvous sex scene with a much older man, telling the significantly older partner, played by Eric Dane, that she was 22 instead of the presumed 17. In a twist, Dane’s character turns out to be the father of the aforementioned Jock classmate, who threatened Jules earlier in the episode. Obviously, we’re excited to see where that goes.
The Euphoria role is the screen debut for Schafer, who is only 20 years old. She’s been busy in her career, though, as she’s already made a mark as a model, and LGBTQ activist; she served as a plaintiff in the lawsuit against North Carolina’s disciminatory Bathroom Bill in 2017, and interviewed Hillary Clinton about LGBTQ issues for Teen Vogue (as a member of that magazine’s ’21 under 21′) in 2017.
Additionally, Schafer has worked as an illustrator, writer, and artist, with her work featuring on Tavi Gevinson’s now-defunct site Rookie. Schafer has said in an interview that she had planned to study design in London, but then nabbed the Euphoria role, which changed her plans.
Schafer certainly made a strong impression in Euphoria‘s first episode, and held her own and showed a great chemistry with Zendaya. The format of the show focuses each episode on a different character, so we’re certainly excited to learn more about Jules from her own perspective—and that of others—as the show progresses.
Evan is an associate editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE.