As Jacob Elordi’s gripping turn as Nate in HBO’s Euphoria sent his career into high gear, here, the real Elordi—a thoughtful Aussie with a penchant for fellow good-guy actors—jumps into the driver’s seat.
Brisbane-born actor Jacob Elordi did not so much catapult into the public’s consciousness as he did saunter into it. With his slow-mo entrance in 2018’s The Kissing Booth on Netflix, which emphasized his ripped build and grinning insouciance, Elordi’s overnight-heartthrob status seemed inevitable. The rest might have been history, were it not for the actor’s next big break: playing the closeted, sociopathic Nate on HBO’s Euphoria. Though technically young-adult-driven, the Sam Levinson drama, dubbed the “most shocking teen show ever” by The Guardian, was purpose-built to break taboos and shift paradigms.
In no small part, the show’s shock factor stemmed from Elordi’s Nate, which laid waste to the hunky purity the actor embodied in his rom-com debut. All id and muscle, Nate courses with hardly-contained rage. “You want my advice?” he snarls to his footballer friends in Episode 1. “You fuck her like the whore she is.” His wrath telegraphs a primordial yet still-relevant brand of masculinity: “Keep your head down,” he warns a trans student whom he’s attempting to blackmail. “Keep your mouth shut. Don’t try to ruin my life, and I won’t have to ruin yours.”
Even for an experienced actor, playing a guy like Nate would be intimidating. For a relative unknown, to take on such a role is risky, if not hubristic. But not to Elordi. “Pretty quickly after meeting Sam, I had an idea that it was something I was going to enjoy tremendously,” he says. “Obviously you never know how something is going to be received in the wider world, but I knew that I was going to have a good time making it.”
Still, the character of Nate is daunting by nature. One climactic scene offered particularly good PTSD fodder: the physical fight between Nate and his father (Eric Dane). “The breakdown scene came toward the end of [shooting]. So I guess I had been building up to that, and I knew there was that climax coming for the character,” Elordi says, calling in from a New Orleans-based film set. In said tussle, Nate flip-flops between aggressor and terrified child, eventually using his own head to beat himself half-unconscious. In watching the disturbing sequence, the viewer flip-flops, too: between hating Nate, fearing him, and pitying him, but never wavering in the thrill of watching a young actor do something great.“That scene was definitely a lot,” Elordi continues. “But then, the whole thing was [a lot]; I hadn’t worked that much. I’d thought a lot about being an actor, but I never imagined that I’d be doing a big TV show at this stage in my career.” Elordi was on the verge of audition burnout when he heard about Euphoria—first through an L.A.peer who was up for a role. “I helped a friend [make] a tape for it,” he recalls. “Then a few weeks later, I got the brief myself. It was such a standard-procedure kind of thing: I went in for the casting, then went back in for it, and again, and again…The caliber of writing was spectacular from the get-go.”
Critics agreed, largely extolling the show’s genre-pushing storylines, inclusive cast, and stellar acting. Besides its substantive and aesthetic achievements (“Euphoria threw a glitter bomb at its audience,” The New York Times summarized), Euphoria opened up the current golden age of TV to the YA genre—maneuvering a dizzying tightrope between tenderness and shock. Unlike much prestige TV, it relied on mostly newcomers to play its cadre of high schoolers. (The exception being Zendaya, who stars as Rue.) “It’s very rare to get a script…at HBO where they tell you they don’t need any names, just whoever is best to make this story,” casting director Jessica Kelly pointed out to IndieWire. Thus Elordi is not wrong in calling himself “really, really lucky” to have landed his role. Another stroke of luck: having muscled through one of the most talked-about first seasons of 2019, and leaving fans scrambling for more with its finale, Euphoria will return later this year for another round of can’t-miss histrionics.
He might be objectively a newcomer, but Elordi’s tour de force performance as Nate involved serious-actor methodology: On set, he would stay in character by keeping a journal as Nate. “It was about keeping tabs on my thoughts, as a character,” he explains. (Those entries, along with snapshots Elordi, an avid photographer, took on set, were later extracted and published as a zine by HBO.) Elordi also says he studies his actor role models the way other 22-year-olds might study math or English Lit. “I’m obsessed with actors in general,” he says. “More and more so as I get older, especially as I meet them. Seeing them work just blows my mind.”
Chief among Elordi’s objects of fascination is another Australian leading man, the late Heath Ledger: Before moving to L.A. with camera in-tow, Elordi discovered the photos Ledger took throughout his early years in Hollywood. Before that, Elordi’s actor-worship had guided his movie diet. “I was particularly influenced by Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling,” he says. “As I watched more movies, it was Marlon Brando and James Dean. After that, it was Montgomery Clift…I think all young men who want to act [have] that period of falling in love with [those actors]…I’m also a huge fan of James Franco as an artist. I have such a major interest in almost everyone working in the field, even down to someone like Nicolas Cage…I find that [so many actors] are doing something interesting, most of the time.”
Elordi is poised to make a career of doing something interesting, all of the time. He’s on set in New Orleans doing just that: the project is an adaptation of the 1957 Patricia Highsmith novel Deep Water, about an open marriage between a dysfunctional, possibly murderous couple (Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas). The film, which Elordi describes as “a marriage-drama-cum-thriller kind of thing,” promises a compelling mix of new blood and industry clout: In addition to a screenplay Euphoria’s Levinson, the adaptation is directed by thriller master Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction, Lolita).“It is really cool,” Elordi says. “Every day I wake up incredibly excited. [Lyne] is a legend, and I love Patricia Highsmith; she is such an interesting woman, and had the most unusual life.”
Whether immersing himself in the chilling mind of Highsmith or character-journaling for the second season of Euphoria, soon to be in production, Elordi seems poised to be the handsome face of Neo-noir. Still, the actor doesn’t plan on sticking to any one genre for too long. “I’m not actually someone who makes a lot of plans,” he shrugs. “One thing I’d like to do is to make more movies, because I enjoy the fact that they allow [for] these sin-gular experiences: You can play a character for a period of time. More than anything else, I’d love to do plays. That’s sort of my favorite thing in the whole world. I’m trying to build a space over the next two years where I’m in a position to be able to drop [everything] and do a play.” For somebody who cares so much about the work, making it as an actor has to feel euphoric.