Courtesy of HBO
Zendaya sits at the bleeding-heart center of “Euphoria,” and Sydney Sweeney’s performance provides its raging, rollicking id. But the young actor Angus Cloud, who died July 31 at age 25, may have come as close as anyone to giving the show its soul.
“Euphoria,” in its first two seasons, has been defined by its wild shifts in tone — tending always to head in one direction. Episodes grew more and more intense until it wasn’t just the characters at their breaking point but, seemingly, the medium of television itself. Which made Cloud’s style as the character of Fezco so unique, and so welcome. Even a viewer for whom the “Euphoria” emotional palette worked (like this one) could find within Cloud’s directness of approach, his utterly unique delivery and his unflappable sangfroid a safe place to land.
Fezco dealt drugs to Zendaya’s Rue, but, somehow, he read as something other than an enabler — he was, indeed, one of a few people in her life who pushed her toward admitting to herself who she was. That way, even if she couldn’t fix her issues alone, she might at least know what they were. Cloud’s approach to these conversations was through a sort of startling plainspokenness, a process of seeming to seek the most ethical thing to say that made the struggle of figuring that out clear.
Fezco’s shifting his relationship to Rue began with denying Rue drugs, startled by the intensity of her need. Cloud held his own against Zendaya, an astoundingly tactical performer using every bit of charisma in her arsenal to make Rue’s case; the one thing Fezco had on her was the viewer’s sense that Cloud truly knew the character’s mind. But, as written and as played by Cloud, Fezco recognized, too, that the struggles that Rue faced down were not entirely of her own making; a first-season scene in which he confronts Jacob Elordi’s Nate to get him to stop terrorizing Rue and others in her life is notable both for the menace Cloud is able to carry across through slight modulations and recalibrations of a deceptively flat affect, and for the real love underpinning Fezco’s crusade. As a performer, Cloud found variations within California hauteur, and within a character whose bearing was often hazy. One sensed he always understood exactly where Fezco was supposed to be in every scene.
That’s no small feat on a show whose admirers can admit is not always consistent in its approach to character. (The scaling-up of Fezco’s involvement in the drug scene was one way to use Cloud’s talents — Cloud was by the end of Season 2 anchoring a crime drama within “Euphoria’s” weekly soap — but I so preferred him as a consistent foil to Rue.) One thing the show got very right was in its sophisticated approach to what Fezco saw about himself, and what he was blind to. He was right that Rue had issues, and he was right that when he paused selling drugs to her, that might have been the better choice as a friend. But, given that he was the one who was, ultimately, her connection to drugs, there was one final connection he just couldn’t quite make, so eager was he to stumble around, alternately trying to really help and trying to appease a person who seemed to see the world the same way he did. Cloud played the contradiction; we saw the conflict play out across the face and bearing of a young man who’d so much rather have just gone through life with no drama. Cloud’s inherent lovability, the quality that made a viewer want him as a friend, made him an in-demand figure in the fashion world, and made his performance a fan favorite. It’s also just one more reason his loss stings.
The story of “Euphoria,” early on, was that of a young woman who’d shed most of her childhood friends in getting lost in addiction, and found herself forced to make new connections — both drug hookups and sources of real affection and fellow-feeling. How lucky she was as a character to find Fezco, and how lucky we were to have Cloud illuminating their journey together. “Euphoria” is a show about the grandest of human emotions, played out on a high-school stage because it’s only teenagers, perhaps, who allow themselves to decompensate quite so grandly. And Cloud, a remarkably promising talent cut short, was the show’s great stoic. It was his performance, perhaps more than any other on the show, that convinced you that all these kids would be OK. It’s not that what they were going through wasn’t real. But if Rue, at least, had a friend this honest, played by Cloud this honestly, in her corner, she might eventually figure it out.