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Sydney Sweeney on ‘Immaculate,’ a Rom-Com Reunion With Glen Powell and the ‘Weird’ Way People Talk About Her Body: ‘They Believe I’ve Signed My Life Away’

Sydney Sweeney’s had a huge 2024 so far — and her most startling act of the year is still ahead.

In the early weeks of the year, her Sony Pictures romantic comedy with Glen Powell, “Anyone But You,” showed remarkable staying power at the box office, eventually building from a tepid early result amid holiday competition to over $200 million at the global box office on the strength of word-of-mouth. Sweeney’s Fifty-Fifty Films shingle produced the film, as well as the upcoming “Immaculate,” which is to be released by Neon on March 22.

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In “Immaculate,” Sweeney plays Cecilia, an American nun who arrives at an Italian convent, hoping to find safety and solace. The seeming miracle of her shortly thereafter becoming pregnant — a 21st-century answer to the Virgin Mary — quickly turns sinister, as Cecilia’s body and her faith both rapidly turn against her.

Sweeney, who auditioned a decade ago for an earlier version of “Immaculate” that never came together, polished the script and hired previous collaborator Michael Mohan (of the series “Everything Sucks!” and the film “The Voyeurs”). Pushing herself to physical and emotional limits, Sweeney delivers a performance that suggests that, should she want it, modern-day scream queen is a lane available to her.

But she’s resisted being pinned down so far. After Emmy nominations for two dark and frank TV series, “Euphoria” and Season 1 of “The White Lotus,” Sweeney’s next move was “Anyone But You,” a raunchy but sincere romantic comedy; she proved a happily adept “Saturday Night Live” host this month; and, in conversation with Variety, Sweeney addressed what she learned about herself as a producer from her lack of creative input on the recent superhero disappointment “Madame Web.”

Sweeney spoke with Variety via Zoom last week about producing and starring in “Immaculate,” the potential return of “Euphoria,” and the ongoing quest for what she calls “recognition” by the industry and her peers.

Can we start with the ending of “Immaculate”? I won’t spoil it for readers except to say that it goes really hard. I want to talk about the riskiness of it and how far you go in your performance — it seems like you almost shred your vocal chords screaming.

I love finding places that I didn’t know I could unlock — pushing the boundaries and the limits of what people expect to see from me. I wish that I had a formulaic answer for how I did it. But whenever a director calls “action,” it’s just like a switch. And I allow all of Sydney’s thoughts and feelings and emotions to disappear. And I am now whatever character I’m playing — I’m Cecilia at the moment. I don’t like to rehearse; I don’t plan what is going to happen. What you saw [in the film’s final moments] was the first take.

Really? Did you try anything else after that one take? 

We did two more takes because we wanted to play around — we shot it three different ways, so that we had an option in editing, and to cover all bases for testing reasons or financiers. But we were just like, we’re going to hold strong to our gut reaction.

It’s funny to hear you describe clicking into and out of character, because it’s not like you’re just texting while cameras are down; you’re an executive producer, and by all accounts an involved one. How do you switch back and forth?

There’s videos and pictures of me standing in video village, helping set up other shots, holding the script and switching some things around, all drenched in blood. I felt like a kid at a playground — endless imagination, and I felt so in control. Mike [Mohan], I’ve worked with him three times, and it’s just a dream, because he values my opinion and lets me take such charge.

I know that you had auditioned for “Immaculate” long ago, and found the script to produce years after that initial version fell apart. Given that it deals with female body autonomy at a time when abortion is effectively illegal in wide swaths of this country — did that make the story more interesting to you?

So the script has been around for 10 years — I auditioned for it when I was 16. And it was a very different draft. I called the writer, Andrew Lobel, and got the clean, original draft, then reworked it to fit who I am today, keeping a lot of the same themes and storylines. And one of the biggest ones that carried over was something innately in the project that, sadly, is still a topic of discussion today.

What’s so cool is that there are so many different themes and points of conversation for people to draw their own conclusions or assumptions. That’s what I love — when a film doesn’t try to drive one message into an audience’s mind and tell them, This is what you need to believe. I love when a film has a variation of ideas and concepts and allows people to conclude their own opinion.

Why were you interested in a horror movie — generally speaking — let alone one that pushes this far? 

I always want to do something new. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. It’s a lot of the draw, character discovery — I love Cecilia’s journey, and I loved the emotional trauma that she goes through.

And being in the horror genre is fun, because in that genre, there’s no limitations or boundaries. I always find it so funny when people pick apart a horror film’s rules, or its storytelling. I’m like, It’s a horror film. You’re just having fun. It’s not a movie for the Oscars; you know that going into it. We want to create something good, but it’s fun having characters that can go to such extreme, absurd places, and people don’t question it.

I think “Immaculate” will benefit by being seen in crowded theaters, and I know the same was true for “Anyone But You.” Both movies were picked up by traditional distributors in a streaming age. Is the theatrical experience important to you as a star and a producer?

I love the entire experience of going to a theater. I love getting your popcorn and your candy, having your group of friends. And I also like that you have to put away your phone. You have to actually live in the moment and live in that world. We are all subjected to watching stuff on our computers or our TV, and we can do multiple things at the same time without really immersing ourselves into this world, letting the outside world shut off.

That’s what I love about storytelling is being able to create a new world. Being able to bring people into a theater is to let them shut off the outside world for 90 minutes. It’s fun. It’s exciting. Get off the couch.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney attend Columbia Pictures' "Anyone But You" New York Premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on December 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Powell and Sweeney at the New York premiere of “Anyone But You.” (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Speaking of the success of “Anyone But You” — its box-office legs over the holidays and into 2024 were really impressive. Did you find that vindicating?

I get chills just talking about it. We are all so beyond grateful and ecstatic that it has been loved to the degree that it has been loved. Seeing people shut off the outside world and feel all the emotions we wanted them to feel while we were making it, then leave the theater singing and dancing and wanting to fall in love — that is what the movie theatergoing experience is supposed to ignite inside you.

I feel like there’s a newfound eagerness to bring back big-screen romantic comedies in full force, centered around this movie.

There are so many romantic comedy scripts that are getting sent to me now! And I would love to do another one. It just has to be the right script.

Glen Powell told Variety that you’re looking for material to work on together. I just wanted to know if you’re as excited about the idea of teaming up on something.

We’re fielding multiple scripts a week. It’s very exciting.

I saw you comment that “Euphoria” may be shooting its third season soon. What about that set are you looking forward to the most?

It’s like a family to me. I’m always excited to go back and be with Maude and Hunter and Alexa and everybody, and just be in a world for such an extended amount of time. But we’ll see what happens.

Sydney Sweeney
Sweeney in “Euphoria,” season 2.

I assume I’m not going to elicit when it’s shooting.

Honestly, no one has any idea.

This is pretty personal, but I wanted to give you the opportunity to talk about the loss of your co-star Angus Cloud, if you had something you wanted to share.

I honestly don’t know what to say, just because it’s so personal and close. And we all have relationships with it. And whenever we’re talking “Euphoria,” it’s just a really hard thing to think that we’re going to go into the show without him. Because I always said that he was the heart of the show.

If we could switch gears, I wanted to address the extent of your producing efforts. I feel like the extent of your producing, and that of some of your peers, is pretty novel. Do you think you get more opportunities than stars of past eras? Or are they opportunities you’re willing into being?

As a female, I feel like I have to create the opportunities for myself. I find that we have to prove ourselves over and over again — and still not get recognition. I have to build and create the projects that I want to be a part of.

Do you feel like you’re still pushing up that hill for recognition even now?

Always.

Do you think that a man with something like your résumé would get more recognition?

There’s way more actresses in the pool in this industry than there are actors, so you have a higher rate of competition. But as a male, it’s much easier to do one movie that does really well, and then you can get offered any film that you want. And me, I’m still getting “Can she act?” accusations. Go watch “Reality,” “White Lotus,” “Euphoria,” “Sharp Objects,” “Handmaid’s Tale” — but, OK, I’ll keep trying to prove myself, and hope that one day I can get cast with an amazing director and have a film that people recognize.

My last two films that haven’t come out yet, “Echo Valley” with Julianne Moore, directed by Michael Pearce, and “Eden,” directed by Ron Howard — those were just dream projects to be a part of, and I really am excited for them, and hope they push the needle.

Sydney Sweeney at the premiere of "Immaculate" as part of SXSW 2024 Conference and Festivals held at the Paramount Theatre on March 12, 2024 in Austin, Texas.
Sweeney at the South by Southwest premiere of “Immaculate” earlier this month.

You’ve spoken in this interview about reshaping the scripts you produce. Did the experience of being an actor-for-hire on “Madame Web” increase your interest in producing?

I want to be as involved in the process for any project moving forward that I possibly can. I love being in the room to be able to problem-solve, and come up with ideas. It’s so important to have multiple people at the table instead of just one — everybody who can be collaborative and truly help build a project. It takes everybody.

On “Madame Web,” it was so hard not being able to be as involved as I love being. And I felt very free with “Anyone But You” and “Immaculate” being able to have that.

After your “Saturday Night Live” episode, I was struck once again by the way people talk and write about your body, including at times in a politicized way. Does that conversation reach you? And what’s your reaction to it? 

I see it, and I just can’t allow myself to have a reaction. I don’t know how to explain it — I’m still trying to figure it out myself. People feel connected and free to be able to speak about me in whatever way they want, because they believe that I’ve signed my life away. That I’m not on a human level anymore, because I’m an actor. That these characters are for everybody else, but then me as Sydney is not for me anymore. It’s this weird relationship that people have with me that I have no control or say over.

It feels like every young star now has a book club, and we’ve spoken in the past about your love of reading. Are you going to start one next?

I had a book club during COVID! It was so silly. I would just go on Instagram Live and read books to people. And I still love reading, but I haven’t had time to be able to sit down and do the things I love, talk about books with people. It’s more: I have an hour here to do this, an hour to do that, and then I jump on a plane.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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