On ‘Euphoria,’ even the extras act ‘absolutely belligerent’

Three women and a man look intently toward the camera.
Kat Engel, left, Steven Benn, Mahrael Boutros and Nathia Rodriguez are extras in the HBO series “Euphoria.”
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

During one of her final days on the set of “Euphoria” Season 2, background actor Nathia Rodriguez accidentally wore a skintight black dress nearly identical to main cast member Alexa Demie’s.

Instead of making her change or benching her for unintentionally dressing too similarly to a central character, the production team called Rodriguez to a higher purpose: sitting atop the toilet where Demie’s Maddy would later pee while her best friend Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) hid in the bathtub.

“Euphoria” fans know the suspenseful scene from the Season 2 premiere of the hit HBO series: Suffering from a full bladder, an impatient Maddy all but forces her way into the bathroom where — unbeknownst to her — Cassie just hooked up with her ex-boyfriend, Nate (Jacob Elordi), at a New Year’s Eve party.

Because Rodriguez matched Maddy’s New Year’s Eve ensemble, the crew deemed her a suitable and convenient stand-in for Demie.


So there she was, sitting patiently on the toilet, while the camera crew framed the shot that would eventually become the first watercooler moment of Season 2. Sweeney walked in and exchanged pleasantries with her before curling up in a ball behind the blue shower curtain. Rodriguez was on Cloud Nine.

“It just so happened that that day ... [Demie’s typical stand-in] wasn’t on-set,” recalled Rodriguez, a 27-year-old actor and jewelry business owner based in North Hollywood.

“They asked me if I would be her stand-in, and I was so hyped.”

Rodriguez was one of hundreds of extras tapped by the Central Casting talent agency to populate party and school scenes for the sophomore season of “Euphoria.” Earlier this month, The Times spoke with four local background actors about what it was like to be a fly on the wall behind the scenes of some of Season 2’s buzziest moments — from Fezco (Angus Cloud) and Nate’s New Year’s Eve brawl to Cassie’s bathroom meltdown.

Here’s what they had to say.

Three women and their reflections in the over-sink mirror of a public bathroom with pink tile.
Barbie Ferreira, from left, Alexa Demie and Sydney Sweeney during the bathroom breakdown in Season 2 of “Euphoria.”
(Eddy Chen / HBO)

Looking the part

At first, Steven Benn was confused when the casting department for “Euphoria” called to confirm he was 6 feet, 4 inches tall. It wasn’t until he arrived to film the New Year’s Eve party scene that the 29-year-old actor and model from North Hollywood discovered why his height was so crucial to the episode.


Before the cameras started rolling, Benn quickly realized he was the tallest performer on set — except for Elordi, the 6-foot-5 Australian actor who plays sociopathic bully Nate Jacobs. Between takes, Benn and Elordi bonded over their towering frames.

“They needed somebody — at least a person or two — to match Jacob,” Benn said, otherwise “you see Jacob, and you just see all these other background [actors’] heads ... on the bottom [of the frame].”

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Leading up to each “Euphoria” shoot, the background cast receives a “treatment” with photographic examples of outfits that illustrate the tone of the scene. For the New Year’s Eve sequence — which was initially shot last summer over nine long nights at a Woodland Hills mansion — the extras were instructed to wear flashy materials, such as sequins, golds and metallics. During the first round of production, Rodriguez clothed herself in a short silver dress and transparent heels.

“I was looking for something ... a little bit out there, a little bit risqué — not too much,” Rodriguez said. “I found my outfit, did the craziest makeup I could — something smoked out ... like I had a bit of a long New Year’s night. Something glittery and full of diamonds, obviously.”

On-set, the wardrobe department assesses each background performer’s style and adjusts it to fit the show’s bold and edgy aesthetic.

Three female and one male background actor in a grid of four photos.
Leading up to each “Euphoria” shoot, the background cast receives a “treatment” with photographic examples of outfits that illustrate the tone of the scene. Clockwise from top left: Nathia Rodriguez, Mahrael Boutros, Kat Engel and Steven Benn.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

“If they don’t approve of your outfit, then they will dress you,” Rodriguez said. “But I prefer wearing my clothes. I love it when they like what I’m wearing because I know that I’m doing things right.”

Mahrael Boutros, on the other hand, secretly hoped the hair and makeup artists would veto her peachy, barefaced appearance in favor of a full “Euphoria” makeover. No such luck.

“I really wanted to get that ‘Euphoria’ makeup look,” said Boutros, a 23-year-old actor, photographer and writer based in North Hollywood. “But unfortunately they loved how I did my makeup.”

Kathryn “Zemira” Engel’s New Year’s Eve makeup also got the stamp of approval — from none other than Hunter Schafer, a runway model who plays effervescent new girl Jules Vaughn. On her way to grab a snack, the 22-year-old actor and singer from Culver City walked by Schafer, who complimented her pink eyeliner and sparkly cheeks.

“I was like, ‘Ah, thank you!’” Engel recalled with a squeal.

This post contains spoilers for Episode 3 of “Euphoria.”

June 30, 2019

Getting into character

Before arriving on the set of the New Year’s Eve bash, Boutros prepared herself to transform into someone she’s not. “Euphoria” is known for its depiction of heavy drinking, hard drugs, steamy hookups and shocking violence — which isn’t really Boutros’ scene.

“I have to know that I’m not going to be Mahrael as soon as the cameras are rolling,” she said. “I’m going to be this partygoer, or I’m going to be this other person that they want me to be.”


Certain moments required less mental gymnastics to produce the desired crowd effect. For example, multiple background actors vividly remembered looking on in shock as Cloud repeatedly shattered a bottle over Elordi’s head for a climactic fight scene between Nate and tender-hearted drug dealer Fezco. The bottle prop was made of harmless candy material, but the punches looked real enough; Elordi was covered in fake blood, and the extras’ stunned reactions were genuine.

It helped that the background actors were provided with little or no context for the brawl — later revealed to be a vengeful culmination of all the harm Nate has inflicted on Fezco, Jules, Maddy and others.

Two young men look at each other suspiciously in "Euphoria."
Fezco (Angus Cloud), left, is about to give Nate (Jacob Elordi) his comeuppance during the New Year’s Eve party in Season 2 of “Euphoria.”
(Eddy Chen / HBO)

“I had no idea what the beef was,” Engel said. “That was a crazy scene.”

“Every time, as soon as he barely hit [the bottle] on his head, it would break,” Benn added. “But they made it look so good and so intense.”

Though Nate is easily the most detestable teen character on the series, the background actors said Elordi is kind on-set (like, bring-your-dogs-to-work-and-let-everyone-meet-them kind), which made the violent encounter that much harder to watch.

“At one point, it’s hard to tell whether he’s really hitting him or not. You kind of get concerned,” Rodriguez said. “They’re just that good.”


Another performance that elicited a natural response from bystanders was Sweeney’s school-bathroom breakdown in the season’s third episode. As a bathroom extra, Engel’s job was to wash her hands at the sink, gasp and freeze each time Sweeney launched into Cassie’s unhinged monologue, crescendoing with the heavily memed line, “I have never, ever been happier!”

Engel estimated that Sweeney had to deliver Cassie’s tearful meltdown more than 15 times.

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“It was shocking to me because I was kind of hearing and seeing these extremes for the first time,” said Engel, who hadn’t seen the show before she stepped on-set.

“I was like, ‘Did I hear that? Is that in the script? Is that in the scene?’ The [production assistants] and crew would describe the scene that we were supposed to be reacting to, and I was like, ‘What? Really? That’s happening? OK!’”

While Cassie’s unraveling demanded the background actors’ attention, a different school scene necessitated the opposite.

When a suspicious Jules meets her girlfriend Rue’s (Zendaya) new pal Elliot (Dominic Fike) for the first time, the hallway extras had to pretend they couldn’t be less interested in whatever was going down with the Rue-Jules-Elliot love triangle. Just a gaggle of unfazed students passing through.

“It’s really intimate, but at the same time, it’s just a school hallway,” Engel said. “So when people are having conversations, you just kind of shove by and brush it off.”

Depending on the setting, background actors are assigned pantomiming responsibilities that can shift based on the production’s evolving needs. During the New Year’s Eve party shoot, for instance, Boutros and Benn — who are dating in real life — were booked as a couple, while Engel was categorized as a “pool person” and Rodriguez was a designated “grinder.”

A short woman stands next to a tall man.
Mahrael Boutros and Steven Benn, who play a couple in “Euphoria,” are dating in real life.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

For her part, Engel either floated around the pool, sat by the edge or swam through the heated water. Inside, Rodriguez danced with a fellow extra she was comfortable with into the wee hours of the morning.

“They’re like, ‘It’s New Year’s. ... Some of you guys are on drugs — most of you guys are on drugs. You guys are super drunk, so just party like that,’” Rodriguez said.

“Everyone there is really into acting, so we get really into it. Because if you’re doing a great job, that camera won’t miss you. ... They’ll let you know, ‘Hey, you have to really act it out because the camera’s gonna be on you.’”

One background actor in particularly high demand — and not just because of his considerable height — was Benn. In addition to getting pulled frequently to balance Elordi’s shots, Benn also was wanted for the dance floor, where he grooved and Dougied his way into a dance triangle with Schafer and Barbie Ferreira, who plays Kat.

“I made everybody feel it, and we were all just having a good time,” Benn said. “They were playing [‘N— in Paris’ by Kanye West] and then everybody just starts getting hyped up. ... It literally felt like back when I was in high school.”


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Learning from the pros

What “Euphoria” background actors lack in dialogue and screen time, they gain by having front-row seats to performances from some of the most in-demand young actors in the entertainment industry.

Boutros, Benn and Rodriguez all compared the “Euphoria” experience to an unofficial master class conducted by writer-director Sam Levinson, executive producer Zendaya and other key players in the production.

“I have the opportunity to watch [Zendaya],” said Boutros, who admires the Emmy winner partly because she can relate to Rue’s experiences with bipolar disorder and addiction. “Nobody else has this opportunity, unless you’re on the set with her. ... You won’t learn that anywhere else — besides an acting class. But you’re watching an expert right in front of you.”

“What you’re seeing on TV, it’s really what you’re seeing in person,” Rodriguez added. “It’s kind of an empty, torn-up look that — because of that specific episode — I’ve been trying to master. I feel like I’m too much of a goofball to get in that element.”

Benn spent a lot of time acting behind Elordi and often was privy to conversations between him and Levinson about timing, line delivery and other tricks of the trade. While the fight between Nate and Fezco was still in the blocking stage, Benn watched the cast and crew feel their way through the physically complex scene in real time.

Four young background actors, three women and a man.
What “Euphoria” background actors lack in dialogue and screen time, they gain by having front-row seats to performances from some of the most in-demand young actors in the entertainment industry.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

“They were talking about how to punch and the exact angle of the throw that they were doing, how to bring it down and where to lay him down,” Benn said.

“They were kind of learning as they went. ... That was great to watch because I was like, ‘Oh, man, it might be one day where I might be getting hit with a bottle or I might be hitting somebody or doing a fighting scene.’”

Nearly every background performer was in awe of Schafer, who hadn’t acted professionally before portraying Jules. At one point during the New Year’s Eve shoot, Schafer was struggling to cry on cue after Jules has a devastating encounter with Rue. To solve the problem, she approached Levinson and whispered something in his ear. According to multiple extras who witnessed the exchange, Levinson appeared to accept whatever she told him and in turn whisper something to her.

“I don’t know what he said in her ear, but whatever he said, she went back to the center of the room behind the wall, and she started crying,” Boutros recalled.

“It was as if [she lost somebody]. ... Everybody just felt her vibe in the room, and it was probably the best performance I’ve ever seen from an actor before. It felt so real and raw. To this day, I wonder, ‘What did he say to her to make her cry?’”

After calling “cut,” Levinson praised Schafer’s performance, gave her a hug and told her he loved her, Benn recalled. Schafer thanked him for his help.


“We were all just like, ‘Wow, what did he say?’” Benn said. “I know it’s tough, maybe, for her to hear that. But at the same time, I know that she felt better because it [empowered] her to deliver.”

When they’re not absorbing lessons from the main cast and crew, chilling by the pool, busting a move on the dance floor or bustling through the soundstage halls of “Euphoria” High, the background actors spend their down time keeping each other entertained. Many of the gig workers had already connected on other series and came prepared with picnic blankets. Some made TikToks. Others shared meals while gazing at the Los Angeles skyline.

“We’ve been in the same crowd for so long,” Rodriguez said. “We’re all very comfortable with each other. So we’re all fine with looking silly and drunk in front of each other and just being absolutely belligerent. Just without sound.”