Zendaya and Nika King Improvised an Emotional Fight Between Rue and Leslie on ‘Euphoria’

Euphoria is a teen drama series that debuted in 2019. It quickly became one of the hottest shows around, with fans and critics alike singing the praises of the talented young cast. Zendaya is front and center, with the former child star making waves as the recovering teenage drug addict Rue.

'Euphoria' actors Nika King as Leslie Bennett and Zendaya as Rue Bennett
Nika King as Leslie Bennett and Zendaya as Rue Bennett | Eddy Chen/HBO

While Euphoria is a scripted series, the stars of the show dive deep into the psyches of their characters – and several times over the course of the show’s run, the actors have improvised key scenes, making them even more emotionally intense.

‘Euphoria’ stars Zendaya as Rue Bennett

Zendaya was already a star by the time she landed the lead role of Rue Bennett in Euphoria. However, the character of Rue was a totally new project for Zendaya, who had risen to fame as a Disney Channel star, appearing in shows such as Shake It Up.

At the series start, Rue is a teenage drug addict who is fresh out of rehab and struggling to find her footing in her social circle. Several of the show’s most brutal scenes have to do with Rue and her mother, Leslie, played by Nika King.

The generational trauma and emotional scarring that has driven Rue and Leslie apart make those scenes riveting to watch. Behind the scenes, Zendaya and King work hard to bring those scenes to life, with Zendaya revealing in 2019 that she improvised one of the most intense scenes from the first season.

What scene in Season 1 did Zendaya and Nika King improvise?

In a press junket to promote the first season of Euphoria, Zendaya revealed that she improvised one of the confrontational scenes between Rue and Leslie. The scene involved Rue’s continued drug issues, revealing how the teen fakes a drug test in order to try to fool her mother. As reported by Refinery29, the actor noted,

“There was this specific situation where there was a fight scene between (Rue and Rue’s mom Leslie) that wasn’t scripted. It just said one line (of stage direction): ‘Rue and her mom have a fight.’ So I’m thinking, OK, I’ll slam the door, or whatever, but this isn’t what Sam had in mind. He wanted us to improv the scene.”

Zendaya described creator Sam Levinson’s direction for the scene:

“He said, ‘I want you guys to go at one another’s necks. Just go, as hard as you want to go. If she goes hard, you go harder.’ Now, being a very calm person who doesn’t argue, who doesn’t (scream), I would never say those kinds of things.”

She revealed that putting herself in that place for the sake of the character made her feel “sick” and that she felt like she wanted to vomit after filming the scene. 

Several scenes in ‘Euphoria’ were improvised by the cast

Leslie herself, Nika King, has opened up about improvisation on the set of Euphoria, revealing to The Hollywood Reporter that many of the fight scenes are improvised. King said,

“A lot of the fight scenes are improvised. We’re able to move around. I was able to address Stormy in certain ways. I was able to address Rue in certain ways. So, they kind of just allowed us to play within the scope of the scene. Every take is different because every take, you find something new.”

Series star Sydney Sweeney has also improvised some of her character Cassie’s mannerisms and reactions. In a 2022 interview with The Awardist Podcast, Sweeney revealed that she improvised the scene in the second season of Euphoria where Cassie hangs out the window of Nate’s car as he drives the vehicle recklessly.

As reported by Closer News Weekly, Sweeney said, “The hanging out the window, actually, was just me hanging out the window. It was just random and very in the moment.” Certainly, the cast’s dedication to making even tough scenes work is part of what makes Euphoria a show that is not to be missed.

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