Dior vintage shirt; Follow Suit bikini; Bondeye Jewelry earrings.
Photography: Amy Harrity
Styling: Molly Dickson
Hair: Bobby Eliot
Makeup: Melissa Hernandez
Location: Kempa Villa
Despite wearing nothing but a tied-up vintage Dior blouse and a skimpy Follow Suit bikini, Sydney Sweeney doesn’t pause when asked to pose in a shaky rowboat in the middle of a man-made lake on the grounds of the palatial Kempa Villa estate in Palm Desert.
Without hesitating, the petite breakout star of the HBO coming-of-age drama Euphoria hops in, steadies herself, and starts paddling around as if she grew up on a lake, which, actually, she did.
• VIDEO: Watch Behind-the-Scenes of This Fashion Shoot With Sydney.
“I think I knew how to water ski before I knew how to properly walk,” the Spokane, Washington-born actress reveals a few days later on the phone during a break from filming the second season of Euphoria back in L.A. “My mom basically had me living on the water. Watersports are second nature to me, so when I saw that row boat, all I wanted to do was get in it.”
Miu Miu romper.
For the past three years, it’s been smooth sailing for the unstoppable 23-year-old actress, who’s celebrated a string of substantial roles in critically acclaimed hits: a tortured mental health patient in Sharp Objects, a defiant young bride in The Handmaid’s Tale, a Manson girl in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, and a daring high-schooler in Euphoria.
Don’t be fooled by Sweeney’s willingness to show some skin on a boat ... or at the pool … or on a balcony. It would be easy and/or unfair to write her off as another doe-eyed, blonde ingénue with social media prowess. (She has more than 3.2 million followers on Instagram.) The actress, who convinced her parents to relocate from Spokane to L.A. after she booked her first local acting gig in an indie film as a teenager, is forging a path in Hollywood undeterred by preconceived sexiest, ageist, or whateverist notions. Luck, she attests, has little to do with her success.
“I definitely worked my ass off to get here, and I still work my ass off every single day,” she says. “There’s always going to be someone who is more talented, who works harder, or who is prettier than you. I can’t stop working hard.”
Sweeney’s latest project, the HBO limited series The White Lotus from writer-director Mike White, finds her walking on water again. The dark comedy about the interconnected lives of the guests and staff during a tumultuous week at a posh Hawaiian resort was filmed on Maui during the pandemic last fall.
“She has this feral cat quality,” explains White, the veteran filmmaker who penned the screenplays for movies like The Good Girl, Beatriz at Dinner, and School of Rock. “There’s a magnetism about her that’s hard to — having done this awhile — put into words. We actually auditioned a bunch of actresses, many of whom were maybe more right for the part, but there was something about Sydney that stuck in my mind. I just want to watch her. She’s so surprising.”
Dolce & Gabbana bikini.
Sweeney plays sassy college sophomore Olivia Mossbacher, who’s on vacation with her control freak mother (played by Connie Britton), dopey father (Steve Zahn), screen-obsessed brother (Fred Hechinger) and equally brazen bestie (Brittany O’Grady). The family’s trip involves much more than pool time and luau dinners, namely, the uneasy exploration of their white-and-wealthy privilege.
“Olivia is so spunky,” Sweeney says. “There were parts of me I saw in her [from] when I was a teenager. You try so hard to fight against becoming your mother, but then you end up becoming her, anyway. Diving into that was really cool.”
It’s another stellar not-just-a-pretty-face performance for Sweeney, an indication that someone who looks like her isn’t relegated to merely playing dumb cheerleaders, ditzy sorority sisters, or inept camp counselors chased by masked serial killers. Sweeney is appreciative that she’s been afforded several roles with depth.
Dior vintage shirt; Follow Suit bikini; Bondeye Jewelry earrings.
“I think young females are tortured and have many levels,” she says matter-of-factly of her body of work. “Now, we have writers and the wokeness of the world to bring that to life. We haven’t actually been portraying females in a way that’s totally true.”
While she’s landed prime parts opposite the likes of Amy Adams and Elizabeth Moss before even being legally permitted to rent a car, Sweeney isn’t convinced she’s conquered Hollywood. Not yet. When asked to recall a time she realized that chasing her acting dreams to L.A. had paid off, she’s stumped.
“I don’t know if I’ve actually felt that,” she admits. “I’m one of those people who feel like they need to achieve more. There have definitely been moments where 13-year-old me would be so proud, like if I’m standing on stage at the Emmys or if I see a poster for a project I’m in. I don’t know if I’ve had that moment where I feel like, ‘I’ve made it. Yay, me!’ I’m always striving for more.”
Gucci vintage top; Matte Collection bikini; Melinda Maria earrings.
Aexae bikini; Paris Georgia robe; Bondeye Jewelry earrings.
The latest indication of her relentlessness? During the pandemic, Sweeney started her own production company, Fifty-Fifty Films, and secured the rights to Jessica Goodman’s novel They Wish They Were Us about a pair of prep school classmates unraveling the mystery of their friend’s murder. It’s being adapted as an HBO Max series titled The Players Table starring Sweeney and her pop star pal Halsey. She was so determined to bring the book to life that she flew to New York to convince Goodman, who happened to be a big fan of Euphoria.
“I told her, ‘I know I have not done this before, but please believe in me and I will pull this off for you. I will work harder than I’ve ever worked.’ I bought the rights and went to different people I’ve worked with before to make it happen.”
In her personal life, Sweeney is also making some waves. A few months ago, a visibly distressed Sweeney went live on Instagram with her hands quivering and her eyes filled with tears after a social media storm raged over unflattering comments about her appearance. (The word Muppet was used.) While such anonymous nastiness seems commonplace for celebrities nowadays, Sweeney felt it was important for her fans to bear witness to the emotional toll.
“We live in a world where people can hide behind screens and not see that it affects others,” she notes. “It truly does. Depression and the suicidal rates of teenagers are a huge problem. There are poor souls out there, and words do affect them. There’s no one there to save them. The fact that people enjoy tearing others down is fucked up. I think it’s important to show that all people have feelings.”
Rowen Rose romper; Bondeye Jewelry earrings.
There are, however, limits to Sweeney’s open-door policies. She instantly clams up when asked about her boyfriend, Chicago restaurateur Jonathan Davino, who joined her at Kempa Villa after he played a round of golf in the desert. (“That’s my private life,” she responds sheepishly about him.) While the pair have been publicly photographed together in the past, there’s not a trace of Davino on her Instagram.
Instead, Sweeney is much more comfortable talking about Tank, her 40-pound rescue dog who stays exclusively by her side. She’s owned Tank since she was 17 when Sweeney found her — yes, Tank is female — at an Arizona shelter while visiting her great-grandmother. Sweeney didn’t ask her parents for permission. “I got in so much trouble,” she says, “more trouble than I have in my entire life. Fortunately, everyone ended up falling in love with her, and she became my best friend.”
REDValentino romper; Melinda Maria earrings.
When she’s not working, Sweeney frequently escapes with Tank to the desert, whether it’s to attend the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (“I was there the year Beyoncé was there, so no one can rise above Beyoncé to me.”) or spend a weekend hanging out at the Arrive. She appreciates, in particular, that the boutique hotel property offers s’mores service at the fire pits. Palm Springs is always the diversion she needs.
“I like that it’s close enough to drive to from L.A. but it feels like you’ve been transported to this other world,” she says. “I love going into all the little shops on Palm Canyon Drive. I always end up buying knick-knacks for my parents and grandma, and I stop at every candy store on the street for myself.”
Simon Miller blouse and pants; Louis Vuitton vintage scarf; Melinda Maria earrings.
There’s something else Sweeney wants to buy for her parents — something fast and expensive. When she does, it might be that moment she realizes she’s made it. “My parents got this old Four Winns [speedboat] when I was born, and we still have that same boat today,” she says. “My dream is to one day buy my parents a new MasterCraft boat.”
For the unassailable Sweeney, nothing — especially a fancy new speedboat — seems beyond the horizon.
Simon Miller blouse and pants; Frankies Bikinis hat; Kat Maconie shoes; Louis Vuitton vintage scarf; Melinda Maria earrings.
Purchase our July Issue featuring Sydney Sweeney HERE. Or pick up your issue at one of our newsstand locations starting July 2nd. Locations include:
• Gelson’s Markets
• Hillcrest News
• City News
• Chef Tanya’s Kitchen
• Destination PSP
• Mojave Flea Trading Post
Desert Hot Springs
• Hyatt Regency
• Winco Foods
• Encore Design Consignment
• Sprouts Farmers Market
• Barnes & Noble
• Cook Street Market Shop
• Jensen’s Fine Foods
• Whole Foods
• Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage
• California Styles at The Ritz’s Carlton, Rancho Mirage
• Elephant Car Wash
• Gelson’s Markets
• Jensen’s Minute Shoppe