Euphoria’s Hunter Schafer pays homage to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Photograph by Zoé Lawrence and Matt Cowen for W magazine’s 2020 TV Portfolio.
For W’s 2020 TV Portfolio, we asked 21 of the most sought-after names in television to embody their favorite characters from their favorite shows of the past few months—and to explain why we should all be (re-)watching The Sopranos, Ozark, Schitt’s Creek, and, yes, Floor Is Lava. To see all the images and discover their picks, click here.
Hunter Schafer might have experienced one of the most productive quarantines you’ll hear about. In the beginning, she spent nearly two months locked in her apartment in Los Angeles writing, painting, and creating storyboards nonstop. We’re talking day and night. Then she purchased a truck and drove it from California to North Carolina, where her sister lives. It’s also possible that, somewhere in there, she worked on Euphoria, the HBO show in which she plays Jules, the charming best friend and love interest of Zendaya, whose character is named Rue. Euphoria can be described as nothing short of a sensation: When it debuted, in June 2019, HBO’s audience numbers increased by 130 percent within four days of the premiere of the first episode due to replays and streaming. Although Zendaya-as-Rue was certainly central to the show’s appeal, Schafer’s Jules emerged as an equally intriguing person in creator Sam Levinson’s universe: a transgender teenage girl searching for friendship and recognition while engaging in a series of trysts with older men.
But if Schafer did any work on Euphoria in the past six months, the world won’t find out just yet—the start date for production on season 2 is still unknown, and when the 21-year-old actress calls from a hotel in L.A. (she’s allowing a friend who doesn’t have air conditioning to stay in her home during a particularly inhumane heat wave), she won’t spill any information.
Instead, she shares the details of her artistic process: how she played the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion in the background on her projector with the sound off while she painted; her father’s obsession with comic books, which led to her own interest in Hawkwoman and the Green Lantern. Mostly, quarantine was a time of exploration for Schafer—whether physically, when driving in a car, or artistically, while sliding a fat marker across a piece of paper. “I don’t know if my style of drawing or artwork would be considered anime,” she said. “I don’t really know what to call it. It’s kind of become its own thing.”
You’ve said in the past that your default is to be internal and to stay home, and I’m wondering whether quarantining changed that.
It’s really complicated. I will always and forever be an introvert. But I absolutely 100 percent miss all the social things that we can’t do right now, like dancing with my friends, just being dumbasses in the city. But at the same time, before quarantine, my relationship to alone time had been changing—I was going out a lot. I was doing an every-weekend thing, plus maybe a weekday or two. It was pretty frequent; I was kind of surprising myself with that. I knew that was going to change because of work starting, but I didn’t know it was going to change because of a pandemic. Alas, here we are. But I do feel as though I have learned how to refall in love with my alone time after seeing it in a new light and going through all of the phases of isolation in quarantine.
Why is Neon Genesis Evangelion the show that got you through quarantine?
Anyone who’s into anime should watch this show; it’s a masterpiece. I just had it on a lot. I had already seen it before quarantine. But at the beginning of quarantine, when I was holed up in my apartment writing, I always had it playing on my projector—just the visuals, no sound. I would have music on. I like having a projector because you can just play things that are aesthetically pleasing, and it’s almost like a moving picture frame in your apartment. And I just loved the visuals of that show. So I had it on a lot during my big creative outburst phase in quarantine. I was doing a hundred different things during those two months: painting, drawing, writing, storyboarding—anything that I could get my hands on.
Was it a creative outlet for stress, or were you just feeling the inspiration?
I think it was a lot of things. I had free time to do artwork, and it was like, Oh, I’m actually terrified of the state of the world and the state of my brain right now. So it was also a coping mechanism. Also, it’s just like, I didn’t want to get bored. I don’t like being bored.
Can you describe some of the work you created while the show was playing in the background?
There’s two months worth of shit that I was making. I was oil-painting this mouth that was falling apart. I had a few nights where I spread out this giant roll of paper on the floor, and I filled it up with this really thick black marker that I really like, with doodles.
I know you wanted to illustrate comic books before you got into modeling and acting. So is it safe to say that you’re a big manga and anime fan?
Absolutely. I grew up reading comic books, ever since I could remember, because my dad was really into them. He was an Aquaman fanatic, so I grew up largely on the DC comic books. My favorite characters were Hawkwoman—yeah, she was definitely my favorite character—and then Green Lantern, too. I just loved those worlds. And then that evolved into an interest in anime, then manga, when I was in middle school. And then I started finding these sites that played the anime for free.
Do you have a favorite anime?
I do, this one [Neon Genesis Evangelion]. It’s a classic—if I had to say one, this would be it. But anime is a vast world, there are so many different genres. There are, like, a million other masterpieces.
I feel like anime is kind of having a moment right now. So many people are talking openly about nerding out on cartoons. Megan Thee Stallion loves anime.
I got Megan Thee Stallion’s anime merch. She had this shirt of her and two other girls in anime form, with swords and shit. It was sickening. It’s one of my favorite shirts right now. I saw the release on Instagram, and I was like, I can’t not have that.
Did you make any connections between your character on Euphoria, Jules, and Neon Genesis?
I definitely think Jules would love the show. I’m just going to be a nerd for a second: There are so many cool parallels between this show and transness, fluidity, and sexuality. It goes so hard into all of those realms. My favorite character is Rei Ayanami, which I also feel would be Jules’s favorite character, if we’re not far off from who the other person is.
Without getting into spoilers, the concept of the show is that this city, and the world, is under attack by these angels, which are these alien forms that appear in the sky or in the city. The government has developed this top-secret agency that has created the only weapons that would suffice in order to fight these angels—which are really humanoids slash cyborgs. There are also psychological, almost spiritual links between the pilots of the robots and the robots themselves. I love that relationship between this massive body armor and the pilot, and that there can be tension in between them and they’re not always fitting together. The pilot feels what the robot feels when they’re fighting. They’re really synced in that sense. I think that’s a really cool analogy for transness, and how trans people navigate having bodies and presentation, and what being perceived and just existing in the world can feel like. And then there’s a lot of homoerotic shit on the down low of the show that I live for.
Have you seen the #EuphoriaChallenge on TikTok?
No. What is that? There’s a challenge?
People are re-creating beauty looks from the show. One woman did a take on the FaceLace spiky, iridescent turquoise eye adornments you wore.
Oh, that’s sick! I’ve seen TikToks like that before, but I didn’t realize it was a challenge.
What are you most excited about regarding TV right now?
I will say two things, ’cause I’m still on a high after having just finished them last month: I May Destroy You, best television show I’ve probably seen, ever. It’s astounding, just absolutely a masterpiece. I’ve seen the new Luca Guadagnino show We Are Who We Are. I watched the whole season, and it blew me fucking away. It was absolutely just perfection as well. Both of those shows kind of left me speechless.
Related: Hunter Schafer Loves All the Euphoria Makeup at Fashion Week