The White Lotus Star Sydney Sweeney on confronting trolls and MMA misconceptions

The White Lotus actress recounts her experience dealing with haters and how she’s confronting MMA misconceptions face on

Sydney Sweeney wears top by 16Arlington; shorts by Else; necklace by Shay.
Photo: Carin Backoff/Porter/Net-a-Porter.com

At just 24 years old, Sydney Sweeney has already clocked up almost 50 screen credits, including Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, The Handmaid’s Tale, and, most recently, as treacherous teenager Olivia in The White Lotus – which became one of the most talked-about shows of this year. Currently, she is focused on finishing the second season of Euphoria, which will land early next year.

“There were a good two months where I was so annoyed by [Cassie] and the choices she was making,” says Sweeney about what’s in store for her character in season two. She plays Cassie Howard, the teenage bombshell whose popularity is undercut by a strong sense of melancholy, in the hit HBO show. “She battles herself [this season]. She makes a lot of decisions with her heart and not her brain… She destroys a lot of relationships.”

Sydney Sweeney wears coat by Faz Not Fur; bodysuit by Goldsign; tights by Falke; shoes by Aquazzura; ring by Bottega Veneta.Photo: Carin Backoff/Porter/Net-a-Porter.com

“When you take things seriously, they’re received in a serious manner,” says Sweeney of the show’s transcendence, which tackles tricky and often taboo subject matters. She is convinced that the show’s success boils down to the universal nature of its themes: “It’s not just teenagers that are going through these things. None of us ever really grow up.”

The show’s depiction of sex is undeniably graphic and with intimacy coaching becoming standard practice across the industry in recent years, this is a resource that has helped Sweeney navigate those scenes. She likens the choreography to dance because “it’s so technical”, from time to time even she is taken aback by the final result: “Sometimes, I’ll watch a scene after it airs and go, ‘holy shit, I don’t even remember doing that – this looks way worse than it was!’”

On The White Lotus, in which Sweeney’s character, Olivia Mossbacher, is a privileged, pretentious college student with a mean streak, who she says she bears no resemblance to, she enthuses about how fun it was to inhabit such a deplorable character: “I love the dry, sardonic tone to her – I hadn’t really played [that] before.”

The White Lotus taped during the peak of the pandemic, requiring the cast and crew to isolate together while filming in an abandoned Four Seasons resort in Maui: “It was like a tropical version of The Shining. I’d find Jennifer Coolidge just [lost], wandering the identical hallways of the hotel.”

In May this year Sweeney made a tearful plea on Instagram Live, asking her followers to understand the affect their words can have on people, after she discovered that her name was trending on Twitter as online trolls took swipes at her appearance: “There was nothing brave about it. It was a very low point. [People] see the glitz and the glamour and think that’s what your life is 24/7.”

Sweeney is no stranger to people making lazy assumptions about her, and has sometimes found fun in subverting those misconceptions, such as when she was a teenager and first got serious about mixed martial arts: “I was the only girl at this dojo, and I wanted to fuck with all the guys’ [minds]. So, I got all-pink everything – wraps, gloves, mouthguard, everything – because when you walk into the ring as a girl wearing pink, the guys are like ‘whatever’. But then, when you can kick their ass, it’s the greatest feeling ever.”

Sweeney is frank about the struggles her parents faced and the sacrifices they made: “I don’t come from a boatload of money. When we moved to LA, everything was so expensive that we ended up losing our house back home – and everything else we owned.”

This year marks a milestone for the actor, as it will be the first time she’s hosting the holidays for her extended family, in the Los Angeles home she recently purchased: “I’m just hoping my couch comes in time, so we aren’t all sitting on the floor for a week!”

Sweeney looks to change gears with each project she takes on: “I want people to be constantly taken aback by the characters I play and [the] choices that I make.”  She acknowledges that as an actor at work today, in front of the camera isn’t the only place where you need to play a role. “There are so many different versions of me. There are the characters I play, then the Sydney that walks the red carpets and does interviews, and then there’s the real me. There are all these different separations I maintain [because] I don’t want to lose who I am at my core.”

Sweeney recently enrolled in business school and launched her own production company, Fifty Fifty Films, which has just begun work on its first project – a television adaption of the YA novel They Wish They Were US, by Jessica Goodman: “I just saw it all unfold so clearly in my head. The themes, the dynamics and the social issues that it explores all align so perfectly with the issues we’re struggling with today.” She is set to produce and star in the show alongside her friend, musician Halsey [real name Ashley Nicolette Frangipane], which Sweeney is particularly excited about: “Ashley and I are such great friends – it’s going to be a lot of fun already having a comrade on set.”

Sydney Sweeney wears top by Alaïa; leather trousers by Agolde; boots by By Far; necklace by Loren Stewart.
Photo: Carin Backoff/Porter/Net-a-Porter.com

Sydney Sweeney on playing the vulnerable and self-destructive Cassie in Euphoria: “There were a good two months where I was so annoyed by [Cassie] and the choices she was making. She battles herself [this season]. She makes a lot of decisions with her heart and not her brain… She destroys a lot of relationships.”

Sydney Sweeney on the sensitivity with which Euphoria tackles tricky and often taboo subject matter: “When you take things seriously, they’re received in a serious manner.”

Sydney Sweeney on universal nature of Euphoria’s themes: “It’s not just teenagers that are going through these things. None of us ever really grow up.”

Sydney Sweeney on the intimacy coaching for Euphoria: “It’s so technical. Sometimes, I’ll watch a scene after it airs and go, ‘holy shit, I don’t even remember doing that – this looks way worse than it was!’”

Sydney Sweeney on playing her character, Olivia Mossbacher, in The White Lotus: “I love the dry, sardonic tone to her – I hadn’t really played [that] before.”

Sydney Sweeney on filming The White Lotus in an abandoned Four Seasons resort in the height of the pandemic: “It was like a tropical version of The Shining. I’d find Jennifer Coolidge just [lost], wandering the identical hallways of the hotel.”

Sydney Sweeney on her tearful plea on Instagram Live, asking her followers to understand the affect their words can have on people: “There was nothing brave about it. It was a very low point. [People] see the glitz and the glamour and think that’s what your life is 24/7.”

Sydney Sweeney on finding fun in subverting people’s lazy misconceptions: “I was the only girl at this dojo, and I wanted to fuck with all the guys’ [minds]. So, I got all-pink everything – wraps, gloves, mouthguard, everything – because when you walk into the ring as a girl wearing pink, the guys are like ‘whatever’. But then, when you can kick their ass, it’s the greatest feeling ever.”

Sydney Sweeney on the struggles her parents faced and the sacrifices they made: “I don’t come from a boatload of money. When we moved to LA, everything was so expensive that we ended up losing our house back home – and everything else we owned.”

Sydney Sweeney on hosting her extended family for the holidays: “I’m just hoping my couch comes in time, so we aren’t all sitting on the floor for a week!”

Sydney Sweeney on her first project from her production company, a TV adaptation of They Wish They Were Us: “I just saw it all unfold so clearly in my head. The themes, the dynamics and the social issues that it explores all align so perfectly with the issues we’re struggling with today.”

Sydney Sweeney on the need to play a role in every aspect of life: “There are so many different versions of me. There are the characters I play, then the Sydney that walks the red carpets and does interviews, and then there’s the real me. There are all these different separations I maintain [because] I don’t want to lose who I am at my core.”

Sydney Sweeney on staring alongside her friend Halsey [real name Ashley Nicolette Frangipane]: “Ashley and I are such great friends – it’s going to be a lot of fun already having a comrade on set.”

For PORTER’s shoot, Sydney Sweeney was photographed by Carin Backoff and styled by Sean Knight; she wears 16Arlington, Alaïa, Alex Perry, Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent, and more.

All items can be purchased straight from the shoot via the NET-A-PORTER app, available on Android as well as iPhone and iPad, and through NET-A-PORTER.com.

Also see: Eternals’ Gemma Chan reconnects with her Asian heritage

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