When Sydney Sweeney learned she’d been nominated for two Emmys in early July, she called her mom crying on the phone. For a brief moment between elated tears, as she listened to her mom speak on the other line, her lip quivered and she almost broke into a full-on sob. But she brought herself back from the brink and wrapped up the call, because, she said, “Everyone’s calling.”
The video of this moment on her Instagram has 3.2 million likes—and deservedly so! It’s joyful, it’s celebratory, and it’s an indicator of how much this woman has worked her ass off to earn those two nominations: one for Cassie in Euphoria, the other for Olivia in The White Lotus.
If I were on Sweeney’s PR team, I would simply post that same video over and over again until she rightly wins for either of those roles. Instead, they’ve chosen a bizarre pity routine that really just hasn’t stuck the landing. Her talent warrants more than that.
Last week, The Hollywood Reporter published a lengthy conversion with Sweeney about “what she went through—and what she says she’s still going through—to make it in this business.” She discusses panic attacks that caused her to take a break from working, the lacking financial realities of modern day streaming contracts, and having to take brand deals to supplement her income. From THR:
“If I wanted to take a six-month break, I don’t have income to cover that,” she says. “I don’t have someone supporting me, I don’t have anyone I can turn to, to pay my bills or call for help.” Surely HBO paychecks afford a lifestyle immune from rising gas prices? “They don’t pay actors like they used to, and with streamers, you no longer get residuals,” Sweeney notes. “The established stars still get paid, but I have to give 5 percent to my lawyer, 10 percent to my agents, 3 percent or something like that to my business manager. I have to pay my publicist every month, and that’s more than my mortgage.” It’s not that she wants people to feel badly for her, but she is adamant that the luxuries of the job not gloss over the realities of the business. To stay relevant as a young actress, particularly one so deeply entrenched in and reliant on the internet generation, requires investment. There’s a lot of press to do, and the associated costs — styling, tailoring, hair and makeup, travel — aren’t always covered by a network. She says this is what motivated her pivot into brand deals, taking gigs as a Miu Miu ambassador and starring in an Armani beauty campaign: “If I just acted, I wouldn’t be able to afford my life in L.A. I take deals because I have to.”
Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that Sweeney is a hard worker; it shows in her acting that she’s mastered the craft. Nor do I doubt any of the stories she’s telling, like uprooting her family for her career, or being initially told to not audition for the role of Cassie. But I do wonder if the payoff of leaning too heavily on this narrative of hardship is worth it? Especially because anyone can look up and see that the 24-year-old just bought a $3 million house. The notion of working incredibly hard for 10 years isn’t particularly exceptional in show business; overnight success is rarely the norm, despite the never-ending cultural fixation on nepotism babies.
The Hollywood Reporter’s insistence on Sweeney’s childhood being “idyllic and wholesome, bordering on chaste” reads as a variant of “she’s not like other girls!” But I’m not convinced we need to commiserate with her for “only” having had “$800 to [her] name” and divorced parents when she was 18. While that might separate her from her peers who come from acting dynasties and well-connected families, it’s still pretty distant from the majority of folks reading these stories. And while people of any phenotype suffer for countless reasons, it can be a little obnoxious to stomach industry gripes from a stereotypically gorgeous, thin, blonde, white woman. A number of outlets have found headlines just from that backlash.
We don’t need this condolence campaign to prove her worth or separate her from the masses. Her talent is able to handle that for her. That’s also not to say she can’t talk about her mental health or origin story. As an Instagram infographic would say, “Your story is valid.” No one needs to put on a fake smile or be positive all the time, and it’s great to open up about your life and be real! But the more this woman harps on the fact that she can’t afford a gate around her $3 million house, or that she has to take Miu Miu campaigns, the more people will build up a resentment. I’d be much more interested in hearing what sort of roles she wants to play, or how she got into character as Cassie and Olivia. I’d even, as I may have mentioned, love to just watch that wonderful video of her freaking out with excitement over and over again.