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‘Sharp Objects’ Star Sydney Sweeney Thanks Fans Who “Hate” Her

Culture
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images.

The ‘Handmaids Tale’ actress knows it’s part of what comes with playing a villain

Sydney Sweeney has already managed to accomplish more in the first half of 2018 than most other actors accomplish in their entire career. This year alone, Sweeney has already appeared in the Andrew Garfield-led indie Under the Silver Lake and Netflix’s ‘90s teen comedy Everything Sucks and is set to start filming alongside Zendaya for HBO’s forthcoming addiction drama Euphoria. However, what’s really landed her on the radar are her appearances in a couple of critically acclaimed television dramas: The Handmaid’s Tale, in which she plays Nick's pious wife Eden, and Sharp Objects, in which she plays the series villain Alice.

So, ahead of Sharp Objects (which premiered yesterday), we caught up with Sweeney to talk to her about everything from her feelings on being dubbed the “next Shailene Woodley” to what the hardest adjustment to fame has been. 

It’s been a breakout year for you. You’ve had a really diverse array of roles; what would you say was the most challenging one so far? 
I think all of them have been challenging in their own way. Eden, because I had to make sure that you still saw her as a teenager. She's just a teenager who's grown up in a completely different society than what we live in today—even if there are very close parallels [to what's] going on right now. 

[Emaline Addario on Everything Sucks] was a challenge, as well, because she's super-outgoing and -dramatic, and I'm kind of shy in that respect. And then Alice was hard, just because of the depth that she has to go into the darkness. 

Did you find yourself gravitating to all of these very different roles as a way to challenge yourself? 
It is a way to challenge myself, and I also never wanted to be typecast. I was always worried that I would just play the girlfriend or the cute next-door neighbor and not have these characters with depth. But I've been really lucky to be able to find and play different roles that are completely different from myself and completely different from each other. 

Speaking of your role in The Handmaid's Tale, what was it like to take on the role of a character that a lot of people categorize as “evil?”
When I was filming it, I knew people were going to dislike Eden because she took Nick away from June. But I had no idea that they were going to hate her this much. A lot of people call her evil and say that she has some secret plan, and I was just so shocked. Like, poor Eden... But someone came up to me once, and they're like, "I hate your character," and I said, "Thank you." If you hate her, then that means she's doing her job.

What drew you to Sharp Objects and your role in particular? 
[Director] Jean-Marc Vallée, hands down. I was beyond thrilled to be able to work with him, and when I saw that he was doing a project with Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson, I was like, "I have to do this. Someone, please tell me there's a role in this for me. I'll audition for anything." And then Gillian Flynn. I love Gone Girl, so bringing Sharp Objects to life, that was amazing. 

With Alice, [I was drawn to her as] a troubled teenage girl. I did a lot of research on girls that cut themselves and struggle with depression to hopefully bring that to life. I like being able to have that challenge. 

Was it scary to tackle these really heavy, dark, and serious subjects for you?
I don't want to say it's scary because it's real life. I want to say it was more sad than anything. When I build my characters, I build them in a book that I create, and it's from the day they were born until the first page of the script. It's this timeline of memories and important events—diaries, an interactive journal filled with pictures of their world. And toward the end, I actually had envelopes of suicide letters that Alice had written. I went to such a deep place, and that is scary. But because I made the book, I'm able to jump in and out of it. 

Suicide and mental illness are really complicated to portray sensitively because too often they're romanticized.
Alice's whole story... there's nothing romanticized about it. It's completely dark and realistic, and there's nothing to glamorize any of it. So I wasn't worried about any of that. You see the true darkness of what life is. 

This is also a huge tonal shift away from Everything Sucks. What was it like ricocheting between these two polar opposite projects?
What was funny was I was actually filming Everything Sucks and Sharp Objects at the same time. So I would film Everything Sucks in Portland [, Oregon] from Monday to Friday, and then I would get on a red-eye flight and either fly to Atlanta or L.A. to film Sharp Objects on the weekends. Then I'd get on a red-eye flight again, land Monday morning in Portland, and go back to work on Everything Sucks. I did that all summer. So it was definitely a jump from Emaline to Alice, and I thank my plane ride for giving me the break in between the characters. 

How did you go from tackling this super-heavy subject to a lighthearted teen comedy in the span of a week? 
One, I sleep like a baby on planes. I'm passed out before the plane even takes off. And then two, just the different crew and cast members on each show. I mean, everyone from Everything Sucks are like siblings, so that was easy to just jump right back into. It was like a fun summer camp. And then everyone on Sharp Objects—the producers, the director, Amy [Adams]—it was like going to a different family.

What would you say was the most challenging part about Sharp Objects?
I don't know if I can say. It's a particular scene, and I don't know if I can actually talk about it, but there were technical parts during the scene that were a challenge, and I don't... It's such a spoiler alert, so I can't say, but it was definitely a challenge. When you see it, you'll know what I'm talking about. The problem is a lot of the challenges with my character are spoilers.

Speaking of Amy, what was it like working with her on an intense project like this?
Just seeing her be a mother, a working successful actress, and the producer really just inspired me, because I want to be like that one day. I've always looked up to her, ever since I was little and she was in Enchanted, so I was freaking out that I got to work with Amy. And we were able to just fit in our scenes and keep going, even once the [script] page ended. Sometimes Jean-Marc Vallée wouldn't call cut, and we would just keep going, and it's really satisfying and nice when you can continue in a scene and stay in the moment with another actor and just know that you're truly engrossed in the entire thing. You're lost in it together. She and I really bounced off of each other well, and I love being able to work with an actor like that. She's beyond talented. 

As a rising actor, what have you found to be the most challenging aspect of your emerging fame? 
To be honest, knowing who your true friends are. I don't know if that falls along the same lines, but it's definitely also a part of growing up... But it's a little different when you have more eyes on you and you're working. Or if you're living a different life than others. Like, you lose friends, you learn some are fake friends. I think that's been one of my challenges right now. It's kind of lonely because I'm traveling all over. I'm never in the same place for too long, and you make the most amazing friends on one set, and then you go to another, and you start all over again, and it's lonely sometimes.

You’ve been dubbed “the next Shailene Woodley.” Does that feel weird?
I mean, I see a lot of people look at it as a compliment, and I thank them for saying, like, "Oh, she'll have a good career." But definitely, when people say, "Who do you want to be?" I reply, "I want to be the next Sydney Sweeney."

Sharp Objects airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.