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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Maddy Mussen

Sydney Sweeney — how the all-American girl became the hottest name in Hollywood

“I would always worry that I was only going to play the girl next door or the cute girlfriend,” Sydney Sweeney told a journalist in 2018. And while the actress is every bit as Miss Americana as Taylor Swift, she has succeeded in her quest not to be pigeonholed.

Sweeney initially broke through after landing supporting roles in a handful of revered TV shows, such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Sharp Objects, alongside heavyweights like Elizabeth Moss and Amy Adams. She also portrayed a lead character, Emaline, in Netflix’s 2018 teen comedy series Everything Sucks!, which meant more screentime and an opportunity to flex her acting muscles as a dramatic diva teenager. It clearly struck a chord: Sweeney’s big breaks, in HBO’s Euphoria and The White Lotus, which debuted within two years of each other, both involved her playing a difficult, flawed Gen Z teen.

Sydney Sweeney in the new Rolling Stones video (YouTube)

Crucially, all the characters had some degree of “layers”, a requirement sadly not obligatory in roles for women, even in 2023. Since becoming the darling of HBO, Sweeney has turned her attention to other ventures: film, fashion and, now, rather unexpectedly, a Rolling Stones music video.

The iconic English rock band is back with a brand-new track, Angry, as part of their upcoming album Hackney Diamonds, the group’s first studio album since 2005. In the music video, 25-year-old Sweeney appears as a leather-clad good-girl-gone-bad (the girl next door can’t come to the phone right now, she’s dead), who chants along to the music as she passes nostalgic billboards displaying iconic moments from the Stones’ past. It’s giving Alicia Silverstone and Aerosmith vibes.

So how did this all-American girl go from living in a rural lakehouse in Washington to screaming the Stones down Sunset Boulevard? Here’s a rundown of her wild ride.

A natural grafter in a house with no internet

Sydney Sweeney in 2017 (Vivien Killilea / Getty Images for ELLE)

Born to a criminal defence lawyer mother and afther who is variously described as a hospitality professional and, according to Swenney herself, “in the medical field”, you’d think Sweeney’s childhood would be pretty middle of the road. As it turns out, she had a relatively rural, unplugged upbringing, with no internet in her home, and was encouraged to make her own fun. “It’s a different way of life out there,” Sweeney has said of her time growing up in Spokane, a city in Washington on the border of Idaho. “It’s very simple. Family is everything.”

Sweeney was on her school soccer team, baseball team, snow slalom ski team, robotics team — just about every team available. She also tried her hand at wakeboarding, golf, softball, skiing, and dirt biking, as well as juggling her membership to an academic club called Math Is Cool (yes, seriously). Sweeney was, predictably, class valedictorian (for us English folk, that’s the student with the highest grade-point average) and her extracurricular habits continue to this day. She restores vintage cars, has learned mixed-martial arts, and set up a production company called Fifty-Fifty Films. Oh yeah, and she can sing. Sorry.

Raised in a religious family

Sweeney has also shared that she was brought up in a religious family, though she doesn’t appear to practise a faith herself. “I came from a religious family but I’m open to all religions,” she said in 2018, when discussing her role as a possessed woman in horror film Along Came The Devil. In the same interview, she revealed that her father and great-grandma are huge horror fans, and that she watched lots of horror films with them while she was growing up.

It may be thanks to her religious relatives, then, that Sweeney is so madly obsessed with Christmas. In an interview with GQ, the actress revealed that she desperately wants to make a Christmas movie and browses Christmas decorations online for months ahead of the big day. “[It] is a sickness,” she joked.

Sydney Sweeney attends the premiere of The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 in Hollywood (Emma McIntyre / Getty Images Hulu)

Sweeney’s conservative family background has made headlines a few times since her rise to fame. Firstly, when she revealed that she almost didn’t take part in Euphoria because she thought her family would disapprove of the graphic nature of the show. “What's crazy,” she said in a 2021 interview, “and this is going to sound really bad — is when I first got sent the audition, I was too nervous to go do it,” she continued, “I grew up in a smaller town with my family, who are a little more conservative, and I was like, ‘They're going to kill me if I do something like this.’”

Then, when Sweeney was pictured at a family birthday party with Make America Great Again-style hats in the background, the internet was ready to call time on their once-beloved teen drama queen. “There were so many misinterpretations,” she has since said of the response. “The people in the pictures weren’t even my family. The people who brought the things that people were upset about were actually my mom’s friends from LA who have kids that are walking outside in the Pride parade, and they thought it would be funny to wear because they were coming to Idaho.”

Her five-year plan for becoming an actor

Sydney Sweeney attends the Netflix premiere of Everything Sucks! at AMC Loews 34th Street in New York (Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images)

One day, amid all the wakeboarding and mathematics and softball, Sweeney’s eye was caught by an opportunity to be an extra in an indie film that was filming in Spokane. “I grew up in a town where there wasn’t any sort of entertainment industry, so acting was a fairy-tale,” Sweeney said in 2019. “They were holding auditions, so I begged my parents to let me audition by putting together a five-year business plan presentation. My mom is a lawyer, and my dad is in the medical field, so school has always been really important. I’ve always known how to communicate to them through that way.”

But like all budding actors who live beyond the wingspan of the City of Angels, she faced a major geographical barrier: move to LA, or good luck getting into the industry. So, when Sweeney was 14, her parents agreed to move to Los Angeles (while keeping their home in Spokane) instead of flying back and forth in the hope that Sweeney would make it big. Knowing what we know now, it seems like a safe bet. Back then, it wasn’t.

Sydney Sweeney attends Teen Vogue’s New Hollywood celebrations (Vivien Killilea / Getty Images for Teen Vogue)

“Looking back now, [it] makes no sense, because if they couldn’t afford going back and forth, they were not going to be able to afford living in LA,” Sweeney revealed about her parents. Finances were so tight that her parents lost their house in Spokane, and the family had to temporarily relocate to a Holiday Inn in Burbank, California, which Sweeney likened to “the poor version of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”.

“My mom, my dad, my brother, and I were in a regular one-bedroom hotel room for nine months,” Sweeney told Magazine C. “I was 16 — not the year when you want to be living in a hotel, sharing a bed with your mom.”

First comes Netflix, then HBO

After a succession of bit parts in everything from Grey’s Anatomy to Pretty Little Liars, Sweeney finally landed a recurring role in The Handmaid’s Tale, and then a lead role in Everything Sucks!, a Netflix teen comedy about the exploits of a high school audiovisual club. At the same time, she was noticed by casting agents at HBO, who recruited her for a role in Sharp Objects, the TV adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s debut novel. Sweeney split her time, working seven days a week, filming Everything Sucks! during weekdays and Sharp Objects on weekends. The release of these two projects are what truly got the ball rolling for Sweeney, who landed a part in HBO’s Euphoria shortly afterwards, in 2019, which ultimately became her big break.

Sydney Sweeney as Cassie Howard in Euphoria (Eddy Chen, courtesy of HBO)

When discussing the naive, corruptible (and frequently naked) Cassie Howard, Sweeney told Variety: “She doesn’t know how to communicate without showing her body. That is a form of communication for her, and she was never taught that you did not need [to do] that.”

After her nude scenes drew criticism, Sweeney leapt to the defence of controversial director Sam Levinson (also responsible for HBO’s other divisive, hypersexual show The Idol), saying: “There are moments [in Euphoria] where Cassie was supposed to be shirtless and I would tell Sam, ‘I don’t really think that’s necessary here.’ He was like, ‘OK, we don’t need it’. I’ve never felt like Sam has pushed it on me or was trying to get a nude scene into an HBO show. When I didn’t want to do it, he didn’t make me.” But instead of assuaging fears of oversexualisation, Sweeney’s comments only encouraged criticism of the director. The Idol was cancelled after one season and Euphoria season three is currently on hold amid the writers strike.

Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O’Grady as Olivia and Paula in The White Lotus (HBO)

By 2021, Sweeney had landed a key role in another HBO series, The White Lotus, where she played the sly, sharp-tongued teen Olivia, gaining her further praise, as well as an Emmy nomination.

Movies, men, and Miu Miu

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

Since her breakthrough, Sweeney has pivoted away from television and towards the silver screen, dividing her attention between indie projects and major franchises. The actress received widespread acclaim for her portrayal of whistleblower Reality Winner, the woman who helped expose Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, in 2023 drama Reality. On the more mainstream side of things, Sweeney also landed a role in Madame Web, as part of Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (SSU) franchise, alongside Dakota Johnson, and signed on to the hotly anticipated romcom Anyone But You.

Sweeney’s involvement in the romcom, alongside male love interest Glen Powell, brought with it a renewed interest in the actress’s personal life after fans speculated over a potential off-screen romance.

Sweeney with Jonathan Davino in 2018 (Charley Gallay / Getty Images for InStyle)

Hopeful fans are out of luck, though: Sweeney is engaged and has been since February 2022. She’s also expressed gratitude over the distance between her partner, restaurant owner, and businessman Jonathan Davino, and the entertainment industry. “I don't date actors or musicians or anyone in entertainment because I can just be normal Syd that way and it’s easiest,” she said last year.

“I have a great support system. I have people who will battle for me and allow me to be on the pedestal and shine without making me feel like, ‘Oh no, I'm shining too bright and I need to step back’.”

It’s unknown how she and Davino crossed paths, but Sweeney is said to have been dating the 38-year-old businessman since 2018, and the pair have made numerous public appearances together over the years.

Sydney Sweeney attends Miu Miu Women’s Tales Dinner in Venice (Getty Images for Miu Miu)

Most recently, the two attended a dinner hosted by fashion brand Miu Miu at Venice Film Festival, where Sweeney was turning out looks all weekend. The actress has received a lot of recognition for her sartorial efforts since she entered the public eye — from daring breastplates to stylish peek-a-boo bras. Sweeney became a Savage X Fenty underwear ambassador in 2020 and a Miu Miu ambassador in 2022, then a Tory Burch ambassador shortly afterwards.

On their collaboration, Tory Burch said in 2022: “Sydney is one of the most talented and relevant young actors working today, but I am equally inspired by her curiosity and confidence. She is unapologetic and empowered in her approach to acting and business.”

Between her insane amount of extracurriculars, detailed five-year plan, and overloaded work schedule, we can’t help but agree.

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