‘Euphoria’ Casting Directors on Finding Their Cast and What They Look for in the Audition Room


“A perfect performance in the room is not what we are looking for. We are looking for moments of brilliance, those flashes that show where it can go.” – Casting Director, Mary Vernieu

The HBO series Euphoria has a number of fresh faces among its high school-aged cast as well as famous ones, such as Zendaya. Two of the casting directors for the series, Mary Vernieu and Jessica Kelly, spoke to IndieWire about casting the series and how it offered them the rare opportunity to cast unknown talent on a premium cable series.

Kelly explains that she and Vernieu received the project under unique circumstances. She explains, “It’s very rare to get a script or an entire series at HBO where they tell you they don’t need any names, just whoever is best to make this story.”

That was an exciting opportunity because of how the role casting plays in the industry has changed. Vernieu points out, “In this day and age the opportunity to discover people doesn’t happen that much anymore. You want someone who has some value. It’s a wonderful artistic process for us, to be allowed to dive in and find these characters.”

Because of that opportunity, Kelly says that they were able to cast the series with virtually a blank slate. She explains, “We have a great combination of some cast who have never acted before and someone like Jacob Elordi who came from Australia. It’s watching tons of tapes from all over the country, knowing what Sam likes, and bringing in different people and trying different things.”

Nonetheless, it was important to have a few familiar faces that could connect with the audience and Zendaya was cast in the main role precisely because of her fame and how that would play with the audience’s expectations. Vernieu remembers, “At first I thought she wouldn’t do it, it’s such a departure. It was something so far from her persona. She’s got a lot of fans. Getting her people to take a minute to read it and pass it on: ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do?’ It’s a complex character. At the last minute she read it and wanted to do it. But she knew from beginning what to do with it, how important it was. She’s a smart girl.”

With that said, Vernieu reveals that she isn’t expecting actors to nail the audition perfectly. She explains, “A perfect performance in the room is not what we are looking for. We are looking for moments of brilliance, those flashes that show where it can go. Auditions are artificial, it’s really hard for the actors, hard for everybody—in a room, two chairs, not in the scene. What it’s really about when someone comes in? Is it an essence, is it organic? Do they feel like the character? You see the flashes, that one moment, ‘Oh my God!’ Once you send them off to do the movie or TV show, then they can go deep, access deep feelings, have layers, it can resonate. You’re looking for a person who has more to offer than what they’re showing.”

On the other hand, sometimes an audition is so impressive that it’s apparent from an audition (even a taped one) that the actor is right for the part. Regarding Angus Cloud, who portrays Fezco, Vernieu says, “He did not have to come in. We saw the search tape — no question — he was the character, 100 percent, and even though he’s a drug dealer, he has so much heart. You can see who he is, he’s a natural. These kids, they’re young. They don’t have to be doing anything. They’re trying to figure out what they are doing.”

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