LOS ANGELES (AP) — As she pursued her dream to become an actor, Sydney Sweeney’s family lost their home, her parents got divorced and she spent countless nights crying herself to sleep because of the constant rejection.
Hoping to put her family back together again, Sweeney vowed to find success and buy her parents a house when she turned 18. But like so many children of divorce, her wish never came true.
“There were many, many years where I got told ‘No’ endlessly,” Sweeney recently told The Associated Press, which has named her one of its Breakthrough Entertainers of 2021. “I got told I wasn’t good enough, I would never make it, I wasn’t pretty enough — all the time. And my parents were like, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’”
It wasn’t until 2018 that Sweeney finally got her big break, a small but memorable role in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She was 21.
“When I was on set for the first time, I was like, ‘I’m actually here. Like, this is what my mom and I always talked about,’” Sweeney said.
From there, she took off. That same year, she was in the critically acclaimed HBO mini-series “Sharp Objects” starring Amy Adams. In 2019, Sweeney starred alongside Zendaya and Hunter Schafer in HBO’s “Euphoria,” a frighteningly honest portrayal of teenage drug addiction and sex. And a month after “Euphoria” premiered, Sweeney was twirling in a pink gown alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt at the premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” in which she played a member of the Manson family.
Sweeney sealed her stardom in 2021 with major roles in the hit HBO miniseries, “The White Lotus,” and in Amazon’s erotic thriller, “The Voyeurs.” She also filmed the highly anticipated second season of “Euphoria,” which drops in January.
On top of all that, Sweeney also started her own production company, Fifty-Fifty Films.
“I had the time during COVID, and ... I was reading all these books. I was like, ’Well, does anyone have the rights to them?” Sweeney said.
In particular, Sweeney fell in love with Jessica Goodman’s prep-school thriller, “They Wish They Were Us.” So she flew to New York and convinced Goodman she could bring the story to life as a mini-series.
Retitled “The Players Table,” Sweeney and her partners are now producing the series for HBO Max. It will star her and recording artist Halsey as two girls unraveling a classmate’s murder in an affluent Long Island town.
None of Sweeney's success comes as a surprise to “The Voyeurs” director Michael Mohan, one of the first people in Hollywood to believe in her when he cast her in the 2018 Netflix series, “Everything Sucks.”
“We read literally thousands of people for this role, and it really wasn’t until Sydney came in that I was like, ‘Oh, here she is. This is the person,'" Mohan said. “She just knocked our socks off.”
Mohan said Sweeney stood out because she has an “innate ability to go to incredibly vulnerable places at the drop of a hat.”
“She spends a lot of time preparing and she spent a lot of time working out her character and figuring out the history of the character so she has things that she can draw from,” he said. “And that takes time. That takes up a lot of energy. And I think that’s what separates her from so many other performers, is just her insane work ethic.”
He said he was in awe of her again while directing her in “The Voyeurs,” her first leading role and one that required both sexually intimate and wildly emotional scenes.
“There are these scenes where she has this all-out sort of panic attack, sort of a wounded animal kind of response to something tragic that happens to her,” Mohan said. “On four different days, she had to work herself up to the same type of snotty, teary cry. Everyone was like, ‘We have to bring our A game because she is crushing it right now, and she’s making really smart and interesting choices every single day, and this is potentially her breakthrough movie. So let’s let’s all support her, too, because we’re witnessing the birth of a star here," he said.
Despite all the success, it would be inaccurate to say that Sweeney is simply reveling in it.
“My parents lost their selves and my parents got divorced,” she said. “A lot happened in the meantime of being able to get here so it’s kind of like a bittersweet thing of, yes, my dream is coming true. But unfortunately, I lost a lot of family in the meantime.”
Sweeney does appreciate what her career is allowing her to do for her loved ones.
“I was able to bring my grandmother to Paris and sit front row the Balmain fashion show and she’d never traveled that far. She hadn’t been to Europe, nothing,” Sweeney said.
On another trip she took her cousins to Italy’s glamorous Amalfi Coast.
“We grew up bumming on the lake and not taking showers and no TV and no internet,” Sweeney said. “A lot of my family, we did not come from much of anything, and being able to give them a little slice of this world, that’s what means the most to me... Those are the biggest pinch-me moments."
And now, about six years shy of her goal, Sweeney has finally bought that house.
“I always thought that when I turned 18, I’d have all this money and I’d buy back my parents’ house and put them all back together again. And I never was able to, and I never did," she said. "So now being able to be in a house is such an incredible, humbling, amazing accomplishment that I still can’t believe I was able to pull off.”
For more on AP’s 2021 class of Breakthrough Entertainers, please visit: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-breakthrough-entertainers
Amanda Lee Myers, The Associated Press