The Fight to Save ‘Euphoria’: Inside Rewrites, Reimagining Zendaya’s Rue and a Time Jump for Season 3 (EXCLUSIVE)

During its two-season run on HBO, “Euphoria” has launched its young cast into superstardom and won multiple Emmys, while also being a magnet for controversy — but whatever lies ahead for the Sam Levinson-created show is going to have to wait.

Earlier this week, HBO officially delayed the drama, which was set to begin production later this spring. “HBO and Sam Levinson remain committed to making an exceptional third season,” an HBO spokesperson told Variety. “In the interim, we are allowing our in-demand cast to pursue other opportunities.”

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What the network isn’t saying is that no one at HBO is at all sure a third season of “Euphoria” will ever come to fruition given the disparate visions for the show’s next chapter. But “Euphoria” has been invaluable to the network — attracting the often-elusive millennial and Gen Z viewers, as well as massive ratings — and executives from Casey Bloys on down feel they need to try to complete the story.

Sources tell Variety that Levinson, who exerts full creative control over the show, writing and directing every episode, proposed his vision for the season in winter 2023, featuring a time jump five years into the future for the former students of East Highland High School. HBO thought his pitch and early drafts for the season — which included meaty arcs for Sydney Sweeney and Jacob Elordi that a source described as “very compelling” — were a strong start. But after the WGA strike ended, and as the full scripts began coming in, they didn’t pass muster with Zendaya, “Euphoria’s” two-time Emmy-winning star who is now 27 years old. (HBO declined to comment, while Levinson’s team referred to HBO’s previous statement and declined further comment.)

Zendaya — who is in high demand in the film world thanks to the box-office performance of “Dune: Part Two” ($580 million worldwide and counting) — and Levinson have enjoyed a creatively symbiotic relationship from the start of “Euphoria,” one that carried over to the Netflix film “Malcolm & Marie” during the pandemic. Though she doesn’t have veto power over the scripts, as the star and an executive producer of “Euphoria,” Zendaya offered Levinson significant input for where she’d like Season 3 to go. (A representative for Zendaya did not respond to a request for comment.) Sources say Levinson already was in overhaul mode, because actor Angus Cloud, who died of an overdose last July at age 25, figured heavily into the initial concept for the season. In November, “Euphoria” producer Kevin Turen died suddenly of heart failure at the age of 45, which was another traumatic blow for Levinson and the cast, and further slowed down the creative process.

When Levinson turned in his revised scripts in late 2023 and early 2024, HBO execs were now the ones feeling unsatisfied. There was a new arc for Zendaya’s Rue, whose character in Levinson’s first pass had been relegated to the background in a somewhat surprising storyline about her working as a private detective, which HBO had immediately vetoed. Among many other ideas for the rewrites, Zendaya had pitched an idea in which Rue, who is now sober as a twentysomething young woman, would be a pregnancy surrogate. But insiders say the new scripts simply didn’t feel like the show tonally.

Given all the creative disagreements, HBO explored other options, including the idea of Levinson himself stepping away from “Euphoria.” Other scenarios have been proposed but discarded, such as a movie or specials, like the two one-offs that HBO aired during the pandemic, one in December 2020, the other the following month. But sources tell Variety that not only are the show’s cast contracted for a third season, but they’re all truly committed to seeing “Euphoria” — with Levinson — through to the end with a third season, particularly Zendaya, Sweeney and Elordi.

The same can’t necessarily be said for their respective representatives, given the required time commitment. After the second season, HBO renegotiated the cast’s deals, and gave them significant salary bumps. But for Zendaya, Sweeney and Elordi, all three earn on “Euphoria” far less than what they could command doing films instead. Like Zendaya, Sweeney, 26, is coming off a hot big-screen hit with the romantic comedy “Anyone but You” ($217 million, despite being a title with no underlying pre-branded intellectual property). Elordi, 26, also has seen his stock rise significantly following the critical success of the psychological thriller “Saltburn” and is currently shooting Guillermo del Toro’s big-budget Netflix film “Frankenstein.”

Although Zendaya has yet to read Levinson’s new scripts, sources say the third season isn’t dead and could very well come together. HBO has freed up the cast for the rest of 2024, promising to come back to them on Oct. 1 with a solid plan to begin filming in 2025. The shoot, if were it to happen, would tie up the cast for 25 weeks, and the season will likely be reduced from eight episodes to six — though if Levinson were to need more, HBO is open to it.

Levinson is now taking another swing at the material, while creative conversations continue between him and HBO. (He has an overall deal with the network.) The network is intent on trying to get one final season of “Euphoria” out of Levinson and his all-star cast. Some believe that the success or lack thereof of Zendaya’s upcoming film “Challengers,” which opens April 26, could influence “Euphoria’s” fate — and looming in the background, of course, is the upcoming “Spider-Man 4,” though the script for that film is still being worked on, and there’s no director or start date.

What’s not on the table for “Euphoria” is going into production without completed scripts that everyone is happy with. Levinson did that during the unprecedented situation that was “The Idol,” his troubled project with the Weeknd, which was deemed a creative disaster and a costly vanity project for HBO.

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