Nika King is the living embodiment of the impact of the HBO series about which everyone is talking, the intense and powerful Euphoria. In the series, Nika King plays the single mother of characters played by Storm Reid and Zendaya, the series lead. It is a formidable role, as the pair have quite a presence, though King draws from her own experience to play Leslie Bennett and really seems to understand the spirit as well as the impact of the Sam Levinson created series. Her scenes add such emotional heft to a power packed series, which also features Sydney Sweeney, Hunter Schafer, Algee Smith and Eric Dane. From viewing the series it is obvious that King is a force with whom to be reckoned.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our powerful talk with the wondrous Nika King.
Brief Take: You were primarily known as a comic actor. Do you find the humour in dramatic scenes?
Nika King: Oh yeah! It’s sometimes that when I see myself that I am looking outside of myself to the character and I’ll do something or maybe I’ll say something, because Sam (Levinson) had us do a lot of improv and my background is comedy and improv, so I love that. So I was able to add some moments in there in which it was very serious and then totally comedic in another scene, so I was able to use both of my skill sets.
BT: Onscreen it feels like a real family unit with Storm Reid and Zendaya. Had you worked together before?
NK: This was my first time with both actresses and they were both ready to go. They have so much talent between the two of them. There were scenes in which Zendaya and I were fighting and she’s like “Oh, I don’t wanna fight”, and I’m like “Well, you don’t have to fight, but Rue does”. And those scenes that made her uncomfortable or made her physically nauseous, because there was a lot of screaming and yelling and a lot of combative moments between the characters, she didn’t like that, as her family probably doesn’t respond to things like that, whereas the Bennett family in Euphoria, we go through all of the emotions- the crying, the screaming, the yelling, the laughing, the playing- it’s a real family. And Storm is the same, she was giving me some sass and I had to turn around and be the single mom who understands that she is a young girl, looking at her older sister going through this horrible stage of addiction and acting out. But I think that we represent the American family – a single mom raising two kids trying to survive.
BT: Do you think that a narrative series can reveal a lot about real life and human truths?
NK: Sam (Levinson) does a wonderful job portraying these characters as real people. You may look and be like “Oh, it’s a teen drama. You have the football player, the cheerleader, the abusive dad, and these may come off initially as tropes. But when you get deeper into the season, you’ll see that each character has their own demons that they are fighting and each character is able to go through the ups and downs of being able to find themselves. I think that people will see that and it will resonate with young and old viewers.
BT: What did it feel like to be on the set of the show?
NK: It was special because the house that we shot at on location was actually built on the Sony lot. So coming into work every day you’re surrounded by the stages on the Sony lot, but once you walk into that house, you know that this house has a lot of history and a lot of pain and a lot of trauma and I immediately felt that. I didn’t say: “Oh I didn’t know that this was a stage. I know that this house is not real, these walls are separating the sound guy and…” No, when I walked into that house, I felt like a family that will go through so much pain and so much uncertainty as to what’s going to happen with Zendaya’s Rue.
BT: What was something that you picked up while watching the show that you didn’t get to experience when you were filming?
NK: When I see the show, and I’ve seen the pilot and episode 2, I’ve seen the first two episodes, and when I look into the eyes of the actors, I see so much life. A lot of our cast are talented and super intelligent and are experienced in the business and we had others who were street cast and had never acted a day in their lives. You see these two sets of actors having this dynamic experience, and Sam’s writing is an experience, you know? [laughs] We’re all having our own personal utopias, in which here it is: I’m 16, 17 years in the game, as opposed to Angus (Cloud) who has never acted a day in his life, but when I see him on screen, he’s magnetic and I’m like: “I don’t want to stop watching him”, and to me, in these roles, they are so believable and they’re so in it.
BT: What do you hope that an audience will get out of Euphoria?
NK: Our show is intense, but I hope that it will spark a dialogue. When you have a parent that may not understand their kid, then your kid may start looking outside for validation, and then you go down this road of drugs and body shaming and bullying and all that. So I’m hoping to see this series give people the opportunity to have uncomfortable conversations and get better understanding. Any time you try to change, there is going to be some opposition and some uncomfortableness, but we have to do it because we owe it to our kid’s kids and every generation after us.
BT: Do you see your character as a role model? Would you like to do that?
NK: I would love to. I think that Leslie is the prototype for a parent who’s struggling to keep her family together and at the same time, have her own life, and at the same time give stability within a structure that is not conventional. So yeah, I would love that and I think that Leslie is multifaceted, because she is showing her girls that “you have fight. You have to continue to always reach inside of yourself and find out who you want to be, because one mistake, and you know as a teenager, one mistake, can lead you down the wrong path.”
BT: How do you hope being a part of Euphoria will impact your own career arc?
NK: Well I’m hoping that people see me as a legit actress, like this is my hopes and dreams for Hollywood to see me not only as a comedic threat but also a dramatic force and to give me opportunities that go outside the box of what they’re used to seeing. I think that Hollywood is becoming more diverse and inclusive, which is awesome, but I think that we still have more steps to take, and I’m glad that I am in that pocket right now. It’s popular right now to be diverse and inclusive, and I’m glad that I’m hitting my stride right along with the industry expanding and becoming more like a community. I’m glad to see that.
BT: Do you think this project could have existed a few years ago? Would you have been ready?
NK: No. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I read books for this project to look at addiction for teenagers, my uncle passed away from a heroin overdose a month before we started shooting, I had some personal obstacles that I was facing and I think that this project came at the right time. Not to say that I wasn’t as talented as I was a couple of years ago, but I think that I am personally more comfortable with who I am, and that shows in my performance.
New episodes of Euphoria air on Sundays at 10pm on HBO and HBO Canada