The actor has seen the Nate memes and says he can ‘feel the humor in the hate.’
Warning: This article contains spoilers from the Euphoria season 1 finale, “And Salt the Earth Behind You.”
One of 2019’s most terrifying villains is undoubtedly Euphoria‘s Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi).
The high school bully frightens with both his eerily cool demeanor and then bouts of violent rage.
In Sunday’s season finale, Nate and his father Cal (Eric Dane) had a violent fight that ended with Cal fleeing to his office while Nate banged his head on the floor and screamed.
EW talked to Elordi, who’s Australian, about the shocking scene, Nate’s motivations and mastering his American accent.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about that breakdown/fight scene you have with your father. Did you get hurt during that?
JACOB ELORDI: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, a lot actually. It was physically grueling, but Sam [Levinson, creator] and I kind of have this head nod when there’s an intense scene and the stunt guys would kind of lay it out for us. And then when we give each other the head nod, it kind of means that we’re just going to go for it when the camera rolls. And Eric and I, we’re incredibly close, so I basically said to him, “Let’s rock and roll and make it sort of as real as possible,” because I think it’s super important and he was on-board as well. So Eric f—ing smashed me. I was bleeding. I got a concussion. I ended up throwing up after work. It was gnarly. It was really, really gnarly, but it came at the end of my shooting period. I was just wrapping the show around that time. So it was almost like this massive letting go of everything over the eight months that we filmed. It was incredibly grueling, but it was so worthwhile and I definitely couldn’t have done it without Eric and Sam kind of walking me through it and helping me out. And it was definitely the most fulfilling thing that I’ve sort of ever shot. I have a magazine cover for Wonderland and you can see the cuts on my arm. But it was pretty cool in hindsight.
It still feels like Nate’s motivations and identity are unclear. Do you know what’s going on with him or is it also a mystery to you?
Well, I have ideas and I have sort of my journal, but I think the best part of it is for that kind of mindset, he’s always torn all the time. Between sort of his father’s teachings and then what he sees and what he knows and how he interprets things. So I always approached it scene by scene and I never let myself have a clear idea of what was going on because then when I was sort of delivering the lines to do during a scene, I was sort of just as confused as he was to a degree. You can kind of see it in episode 3. He tests sort of the waters with Jules because he kisses her and then he manipulates her, and that kind of threw me for the longest time because I was like, “No one’s watching. You don’t need to do that.” So I always think that as the audience is sort of trying to figure it out, I think he’s also trying to figure it out. So I never let myself have like a clear, definitive answer. I think that really helps.
He’s an intense, dark teen. How did you prepare to play someone so toxic?
I was an intense, dark, tortured teen [laughs]. I had a lot of time to prepare. I love cinema and I love acting, and it’s sort of been my love for the longest time now, so I kinda just let myself go. There’s really no other way to explain it. I just didn’t compromise, I didn’t let anything hold me back, I didn’t let opinions hold me back or ideas. I just kind of just let myself go and basically immersed myself in the world for the eight months of filming. I didn’t really do anything else. I would go home, I would work in my notebook, and then I would go to work and then do it. And I kinda just tried to live in it as much as possible, you know?
Nate is such a terrifying villain. What’s been the fan reaction?
It’s been hilarious. There are some funny people online. The most wonderful thing, though, is I can feel the humor in the hate. There is so much understanding that it’s acting, and there’s so much recognition for it being acting. I don’t know why that is because I’ve seen other sorts of TV villains get tortured online and get called awful things and I’ve heard that they’ve been spat at in the street. But I haven’t had anything. I’ve really only been embraced. And, I mean, one person pointed a Glock at their TV screen and took a picture of it. But I suppose there’s humor in that, I hope [laughs]. But yeah, it’s been overwhelmingly kind and just appreciative, which has been very new for me and very, very lovely.
Would you want Nate to have redemption in season two? Or keep down this path?
Whatever it is, I want him to have a life and I want it to be honest. I truly don’t have any qualms about which direction it goes. I mean, obviously, it would be a lovely story if he turned out to be a real sunflower and lit up the world. But I definitely want it to be just true and real to his experience and I want it to kind of make sense. And I’m not sure what that looks like.
Has Sam told you anything about season two?
I know nothing about season two. When we were making season one, I knew nothing about season one. We kind of just go for it. I mean, not that he’s holding back information or anything. We just finished season one, so I’m good. I can wait.
So some viewers noticed that there’s a third brother in the Jacobs family photo that’s shown in the pilot. Do you know where that other brother is?
We haven’t seen him. I don’t know where he went. I have no idea. I had the same questions when I got to work. I was like, “You do realize that there’s different child in this picture?” And everyone just didn’t really say anything. I don’t know.
Some people also think Rue (Zendaya) is narrating this from the afterlife and that she’s dead.
That is the first I’m hearing it. My feeling is that that’s pretty morbid. That’s a different show isn’t it? I hope not.
At the winter formal, the girls all say they think Maddie (Alexa Demie) and Nate will still end up together. Do you think that’s true?
I don’t know but I think that’s a pretty interesting commentary on trying to just exist and settling. I think because that’s so many different stories, they have this awful relationship and then they just try to make it work forever and then they die. I really don’t know, the way that I looked at the scene was, it was a really difficult goodbye. Because right after his breakdown, he tried to … had a moment of clarity and she definitely had a moment of clarity after everything they put each other through. And I saw it as a goodbye, but I mean, she has his dad’s tape now, so who knows what that means.
Is there something this season you’re particularly proud of?
I’m quite proud of the entire show. For a long while, I’ve wanted to be able to act and to be able to showcase that has been just an absolute pleasure. But I think for me, definitely the breakdown scene, because, I mean, before I started the show so sort of when I made my first movie, one of my qualms was like, “Oh, man, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do an American accent.” I knew I could do one but my fear was that I would just forget and be stupid. And then in that moment I was like, “Well, if you ever have to actually act, you’re screwed.”
So it was a nice confirmation after the breakdown scene. And in my head, I didn’t know if it was good or bad or whatever, but I felt something that kind of let me know that this is hopefully what I’ll be doing sort of for the rest of my life. And that was a really, really cool moment to see the year of work and all the notes, and obviously, with the support of everyone else, accumulate into something that I’m pretty proud of.
Nate Jacobs (played by Jacob Elordi) inspires a wide range of emotions from Euphoria fans. High among them seems to be anger and disgust at his seemingly sociopathic behavior.
One interesting emotion that I’ve noticed he elicits — particularly in marginalized audiences — is terror. But what exactly makes him so terrifying to these audiences? Is it the ease at which this town allows him to carry out his evil misdeeds? How he moves within it as if he is invisible? Or does it have more to do with his disturbing lack of remorse at ruining the lives of everyone in town with his twisted plans, one person at a time?
Truth be told, all of these things make him relatively terrifying.
Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Nate is that in the world of Euphoria, he represents an honest and unflinching look at the intersections between rich white male privilege, white male rage, and toxic masculinity.
And how these power imbalances start relatively young.
Part of Nate’s ability to be an untouchable antagonist stems not just from plot armor (for now), but from the power he draws from his various privileges. He’s a cishet white male who can fall back on the safety cushion that is his wealthy family. His dad, Cal Jacobs (played by Eric Dane), seems to own like 99.9% of the town. And while he’s busy hiding his true sexual nature from the world in seedy motels, his son flexes that 99.9% “ownership” on its unassuming inhabitants like Tyler (Lukas Gage), who Nate coerces into making a false confession about choking Maddy (Alexa Demie), and town newcomer Jules (Hunter Schafer), who he blackmails into claiming she witnessed Tyler commit the physical assault that was actually Nate’s own act of violence against his girlfriend.
Nate’s a very tall (if you’re into that) dude who is conventionally attractive (nice body, symmetrical features where his face is concerned, etc). He’s not so remarkable looking that he would stand out and inspire suspicion, but he’s just attractive enough that people may assume, based on that, that he couldn’t possibly be up to no good — since “good” is often assumed in those who are “attractive.”
But Nate is far from “good.” Aside from Maddy’s mother and the principal — notably, both characters of color — assuming Nate could be capable of physical assault and his classmates’ reactions to his outburst at McKay’s party in the first episode, no one assumes malice in him because Nate carries himself — when he’s not being ferociously nefarious — like a regular, shy, unassuming, and misguided teenage boy who merely has puppy eyes for Maddy and has made a couple of mistakes. He’s most likely what people have in mind when they say “Boys will be boys” and coddle sociopaths-in-the-making like him by opting to excuse their demented behavior instead of addressing it.
I’ve said this jokingly before, but Nate truly is a mini-Patrick Bateman from American Psycho in the making. Someone who has all the makings of a real monster, but disguises himself as the opposite — and in plain sight — thanks to societal biases.
This is enough to make him incredibly dangerous on his own, but the real danger lies in the fact that his brand of villainy is something that many of us have firsthand experience with. That is someone with extreme privilege and someone who is not afraid to misuse it.
Which is why his clearly-unaddressed rage should be terrifying.
So far the show has hinted that the majority of Nate’s rage stems from him being aware of his father’s repressed sexuality after watching his dad’s ultra-organized porn collection and not being able to talk about it — out of either shame or fear. And from his fixation on his own “perfection” — modeled after his father’s pursuit of perfection and disdain for “weakness” — we know Cal having that big secret about his sexuality is technically an imperfection to his obsessive son. That Cal trying to hold on to his hollow and frankly sad definition of masculinity is inspiring a horrendously toxic version of that in Nate.
This is compounded by the fact that something seems to be up with Nate’s own sexuality. He’s shown an abnormal discomfort around other men’s penises in the gym locker room, but his phone is filled with pictures of them. He’s also confessed to Maddy that he’s going through a lot and is “confused.” But Nate’s also shown a recurring fascination with Jules (and her being trans) both during lengthy text message exchanges using the alias “Tyler” and during some IRL stalking. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he is secretly in love with Jules, mainly because I don’t think Nate loves anything or anyone. Nor is he capable of such. He merely only deals in fixation, preoccupation, and obsession. But if we compare some of his more obsessive ways with Jules with the ways in which he sometimes obsessed over Maddy (like all that stalking), it becomes harder to determine whether he is out to ruin Jules’ life in particular merely because he can (i.e privilege), or because his dad — who he is also obsessed with and possibly fearful of — slept with her, or, because her existence as a trans girl and his seeming attraction to her vexes his cishet sensibilities, “confusing” him, and thus angering him (mirroring real-life and often deadly interactions between cishet men and trans women) enough to want to literally destroy her.
Whatever the specific cause is, it’s pretty clear that Nate doesn’t want to be perceived as weak or imperfect like his father. And Jules and everything stands in the way of what he wants challenges that and inspires this sociopathic rage in him.
Nate’s struggle with his glaring daddy issues serves to be his prime motivation for morphing into Patrick Bateman Jr. and terrorizing his high school. And to be clear, said issues could easily be fixed by a therapist that the Jacobs family could afford 3000 times over. But the thing about white male rage and boys like Nate who carry it with them is that it goes beyond recognition or validation. Normal people get mad and normal people rage, but the difference here is that this particular rage requires everyone around to answer for it and bow to it. Even if you have nothing to do with what has triggered said rage, the combinations of privilege, radioactive masculinity, and anger dictate that since this white boy has gone and got his ego hurt and his privilege undermined by whoever or whatever, everyone else has to suffer for it. Everyone has to pay for it.
If you take their toy away, like Nate sees Tyler doing with Maddy? You gotta suffer. Hold them accountable for something they did, like with the school shunning Nate for choking Maddy? You gotta suffer. Inspire discomfort in them merely because you seem to be exceedingly comfortable with yourself, like this entire dynamic between Jules, Cal, and Nate?
You gotta suffer.
Because this is all essentially about control. Control of themselves, others, and most likely the status quo that finds them at the top. And the moment that boys—and soon men—like Nate lose even a modicum of that control, they opt to burn it all down rather than relinquish it.
And it is this volatility and seeming familiarity that the audience may have with a character like Nate that makes him one of the most terrifying antagonists one television right now. Nate is dastardly and unbothered with how much evil he is capable of, but at the end of the day, he’s not that much of an anomaly and its highly possible that many of us know or have even come across a “Nate” in our lives.
And perhaps that disturbing realization is the point.
On Sunday night’s Euphoria, the second episode of HBO’s boundary-pushing new drama, Jacob Elordi took center stage with a breakout episode on the highs and lows of his character, football star Nate Jacobs.
In the hour, the show explored Nate’s tumultuous relationship with his father (played by Eric Dane), his complicated dynamic with girlfriend Maddy (Alexa Demie) and his willingness to go to the greatest lengths to protect her, stalking and severely beating a young man after Maddy said he had raped her.
Elordi, star of Netflix’s The Kissing Booth, caught up with The Hollywood Reporter to break down that brutal scene and talk dealing with on-set nudity, taking on the portrayal of toxic masculinity and moving on from the hit rom-com.
What was it like to film the scene where Nate beats up Tyler, the man who Maddy says raped her?
It was one of the scenes I was most excited to shoot. It was interesting because Lukas [Gage] —the actor who plays Tyler —and I are actually quite close in real life, so we spent weeks apart from each other. We wouldn’t even go and have a beer together because we wanted to cultivate an environment that was intense and kind of like we didn’t know each other very well. It was quite enjoyable to film because in the beginning, there’s something kind of comical about it and it’s one of the main parts where you get to see his psychopathic nature without him actually being deeply upset, I suppose. He’s relishing in the moment and the success of what he’s done so it was actually, surprisingly, one of the easiest scenes to fall into.
Where is Nate emotionally in that moment?
He’s quite methodical, and I think his emotions get the better of him when he’s dealing with women. His girlfriend, Maddy, makes him get quite unhinged and then every time he sees Jules he isn’t really sure how he feels, so it’s more loaded emotionally. With Tyler, I think it was the kind of thing where he isn’t intimidated or frightened by him, he’s just like a chess piece that has to be moved. While it’s built from anger, I think he’s actually quite calm and that’s why he can talk to him so long in the room, because he knows exactly how it’s going to go. He’s laid out every single option and exactly what he needs, so it’s almost enjoyable. It’s kind of like a lion playing with a mouse or something like that.
He seems to get darkest around Maddy. Why does she have such a hold on him?
Alexa and I spoke early on and we decided they were in love, in love with each other, it was kind of just as simple as that for us. They chose each other. The funny thing about her is she is on the receiving end of a lot of his violence, but she’s quite an interesting character herself and they go together in their own poisonous way. She’s toxic herself in her own relationships, and it’s funny because that gets overshadowed a lot; she’s kind of awful to him as well because he’s awful to her. I think that’s how they compliment each other, in the toxicity, and I think that’s what strays from what his dad has done to him. That’s just him as a teenager and both of them caught in a relationship that they know isn’t good but that they can’t stop. It’s the be-all and end-all when you’re a teenager, it’s like every person you love is high-intensity and the end of the world if you’re not with them.
In this episode, you also have some intense sex scenes and a locker room scene where you’re surrounded by naked men. How was that to shoot? And how did having an intimacy coordinator on set impact the situation?
Yeah, I think she had to review every single penis before putting it on the show. For me, it was interesting because that scene was actually very real and the look on my face and the way that I was feeling was very real. The energy in the room of that many big men jumping and yelling and slapping you — nudity aside — I’m nothing like Nate and it was so intense. I didn’t realize locker rooms could be so intense, but it was actually quite hilarious. I don’t care about that kind of stuff, and it’s funny reading all of the reviews now — everyone’s like, “There’s this many penises,” but when you’re there, it was just hilarious. I think it’s a funny scene and I’ll definitely never forget it.
We learn a lot about Nate’s childhood and upbringing in this episode. What was your reaction to learning his past?
It’s probably the biggest part where I’ve found empathy for him. I think it’s really sad, even aside from finding the sex tapes, just the way his father speaks to him about having to win all of the time and needing to be on top and in control. It made me sad and made me have a lot of empathy for him knowing that everyone on the surface wants to damn him because of his actions, which are awful, and not that it’s an excuse but he has a very, very solid reason as to why he behaves the way he behaves. So kind of finding that out after the pilot when you might think he’s just more of a cliche, you realize that he has a backstory as well and a reason why he does what he does.
We also see more about his relationship with his father. How does that father-son dynamic impact who he has become?
I think it consumes him. I think his relationship with his dad sort of informs all of his behavior, down to the relationship he has with Maddy, it’s kind of dominant and controlling. His dad has such a need for order and it’s been passed down to him and he does the same thing, tries to keep everything in order. I think his dad is the reason for 100% of his problems.
Nate is kind of the stereotypical jock in the first episode, but we see there’s a lot more beneath the surface. Why was that important to you and the show to really dive deeper than most teen shows do?
For me, it was really important because I would never play another jock on screen if it wasn’t more. I’ve read a lot of stuff that’s like “the jock, the jock,” so I’m excited for people to see it. It’s important to me because in the term “stereotypical jock” and “toxic masculinity,” that kind of character can get written off straightaway, the same way as that kid can get written off in real life. If you are that person, and all of a sudden you’re always that guy, and no one has ever really taken a beat to think about where that person comes from. You’re always the bad guy when you’re the jock or have toxic masculinity, but I think it’s important to show that that person comes from somewhere as well. It’s almost like an unspoken thing and they’re usually used as a trope to show a villain or a humorous character, when really there is a real boy there who has fallen victim to ages of toxic masculinity which has been passed down and there’s a reason why he is how he is. And there’s so much more thought that has to go into it when you’re playing it, it’s more of a person than a Hollywood trope.
You had your breakout role in The Kissing Booth, which is also about high school romance. How has it been to tell totally opposite stories about high school?
It’s two completely different experiences. The Kissing Booth was the first film I ever made, it was sort of my ticket to Hollywood so I was really grateful for that. It’s almost like righting my wrongs a little bit too, because the character in The Kissing Booth is awful and it’s never really explained. He’s kind of idolized and made into a hero, so I suppose this show is showing why.
The episode ends with the reveal that Nate is the one texting Jules on the dating app. What’s next for the two of them?
It’s kind of the question that I asked myself and Sam and I talked about all season. I think it’s beautiful. I think that texting sequence is beautiful and as for what’s to come, I don’t know. Truly, I’m not even saying that in the contractual Hollywood way. I truly don’t know.
A lot has been made about the sex and drugs aspect of show but what do you hope Euphoria says about high school today?
At first I just wanted people to watch it and enjoy the show, but after reading everything, I hope it wakes some people up. I’ve read a lot of things, I literally read a tweet that was like, “Why can’t we make a show about a bunch of kids who read the bible, abstain from sex and are good to their parents?” but it wasn’t a joke, they were literally saying that’s what the show should be about. I hope for the kids it lets them know that we know — to the 14, 15, 16 year olds in high school — I know how it is and I’m there with you. I’ve seen a lot of parents’ tweets that are like, “Not my kid, not at my high school,” and I think it’s cool to not to tell them what to do or how to do it, but let them know that we believe them and we know.