'Euphoria' Star Algee Smith Reflects on McKay's "Uncomfortable" Episode

'Euphoria' star Algee Smith talks his character McKay's featured episode "The Next Episode," the HBO series' Season 2 renewal, and his burgeoning career.

Algee Smith as McKay in 'Euphoria'

Image via HBO/Eddy Chen

Algee Smith as McKay in 'Euphoria'

Without a doubt, the summer of 2019 should be remembered as the summer where HBO's hit series Euphoria dominated your Sunday nights. Starring Zendaya and produced by A24 and Drake, the series tackles everything from drug abuse to having a whole psychopath walking the halls of your high school, with an intriguing cast of characters navigating the insane world of growing up in a post-9/11, smartphone-addicted America. Featured in that cast is Algee Smith, a rising star who was also a part of two of 2018's more talked-about pop culture moments: BET's The Bobby Brown Story (where he reprised his role as Ralph Tresvant from The New Edition Story) and The Hate U Give, where his character's death was the catalyst for all of the events of the film.

During this week's episode of Euphoria ("The Next Episode"), we got to learn more about the college footballer McKay, the character that Smith (a Michigan native who is also a singer) portrays, and the events of the episode had people talking. We not only got to see where McKay's head was at as a small-town football star realizing that his NFL dreams aren't as easy to obtain, but we witnessed his relationship with Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) take a dark turn after he was attacked by a group of guys during an intimate moment between the couple. How that situation played out the next day, in the midst of a spicy AF Halloween party, is one of the reasons why Euphoria has become must-watch summer TV.

After surviving another wild trek through Euphoria, we recently got to speak to Algee Smith about the episode, his thoughts on the Euphoria Season 2 renewal, and how his life's changed since he became a part of one of 2019's most talked-about series.

What was the response like after people saw "The Next Episode"?
It was great; the response has been crazy. It's just been different, man. People are kind of confused—they don't know what happened, but people are really pulled in, they're really shocked.

I thought that was interesting because I know Astro was going to be in that role, and then he left the series, and there was no real explanation or reasoning behind his departure. I'm assuming that scene in "The Next Episode" is the reason. What was your mindset when you read that that was where the story of McKay was going to go?
First of all, everybody is just very, very different [with] what they are comfortable with, so shout out to Astro. I've actually worked with him before and he's really good people. It's just that \different actors are just comfortable with different things. I felt a little more comfortable being in that position.

When I first read that in the script, I [wasn't] comfortable at first because I thought it was just too much but he's not harassed in the way that everybody thinks; it's a hazing thing, [but] people think he's getting raped or whatever. It's like, nah, that's just like messing with him, pinning him down, but the way it really looks on TV, it looks really dark. So I could see how people would think that because the editing made it look so dark. People just don't know how to respond, [which is] really good though—when people don't know, they ask questions. That keeps the conversation going.

It also adds a new dynamic, a new layer to the situation between McKay and Cassie. We didn't really get to see them really have that real conversation about what went down that night. My hope is that we get to see that sit down between Cassie and McKay where just say "Hey, this is how we're feeling, this is where the situation is going"...
They just don't know how to communicate with each other. McKay doesn't know how to tell her his feelings, which is why he aggressive [and] takes it out when they're having sex.

When I first started watching Euphoria, I knew that I loved what I was seeing, but I didn't know who the audience was going to be and how they were going to react; it seems like the people who love the show really love the show. What are your thoughts on how the series is being received so far?
People love the show a lot. People from me, like the fanbase that I already had before Euphoria, is freaking ecstatic, they don't know how to act. The new supporters that [discovered me while] watching it, they're amazing as well. The demographic is so wide, everyone is being targeted. So you got mothers and fathers who are talking, you got teenagers, you got college students, you got older people, you got the LBGTQ [community] that we're talking to. We're talking to everyone. We don't [pull] any punches and I think that's the great thing about it, we can relate to everyone. When people see me, it's kind of weird now I'm getting called McKay a lot now.

In the Euphoria "unfiltered" segment, you said that there were some of your mannerisms that were incorporated into how McKay was portrayed on screen. When first reading for the character, did you see any similarities between yourself and McKay when you first started reading for it?
To be honest, I saw a lot of myself in McKay. And I say that because of the relationship that he has with his father. Any kid just wants to make their father proud. You know what I'm saying? I saw that. What's going on with me and my dad, we have a healthy relationship but I seem to relate to just always wanting to make him proud.

What would you say was the most difficult scene to shoot this season?
The most difficult scene was the scene with me and Cassie at home and the guys bust in. Just because it was a super personal, super vulnerable moment. It was one of the most uncomfortable acting scenes, but at the same time, I'm an actor so you got to just get over and do what you there for, but yeah, that was the probably the most uncomfortable.

What would you say would be some of the most fun or some of the most exciting scenes for you to shoot?
Definitely the carnival. The carnival was crazy! We were out there all night. We had to stay overnight out there. They built the whole carnival from scratch. That was the most fun thing to shoot; we all had like a big family.

That's dope to hear because in watching the early episodes, we were getting into the groove with the first three but it was like with Episode 4, all the pieces seemed to come together. It was really beautiful to see. Would you say that was your favorite episode, overall? Or would you be leaning more to "The Next Episode," where McKay was featured so prominently?
I'm going to say my favorite was ["The Next Episode"], that's where I feel like, just because knowing the work that went into it, and knowing how proud I made our director, I would say my episode is probably my favorite so far, but they've all been crazy. Everyone was getting crazy and there's cliffhangers with everyone.


HBO announced that Euphoria was getting a second season rather quickly. Were you surprised when you heard the Season 2 announcement?
I was actually very surprised. I knew it was going to happen, but just not that quick. I'm just ready to come back there now that I'm seeing the storyline, we can see an audience and watch it as a viewer. I know exactly how I want to come back and sharpen myself next time, so I'm really excited.

The big buzz around the show early on was that it was produced by A24 and Drake; can you talk about Drake's involvement on set and for the show?
He played a big part in the show, actually. We were super grateful for what he brings [to the table] and just the audience he brings to the show. He was definitely on set, definitely helped out.

It's interesting to see where your career's going, while you were in it briefly, your role was a big part in The Hate U Give. And now going from that to Euphoria, what's next for you?
At this point man, music. I'm working on my album right now, I just finished it. I got some videos we're about ready to put out and the music [is] going to be just as great as the acting. After we get back on for Season 2, I'll be working on music and then hopefully another film.

Where do you see yourself five years from now? What are you hoping your career's looking like?
I can see myself very well balancing my acting and my music. I can see myself touring. You're going to consistently hear me on the radio, on the speaker, and on your screen. That's my goals, be consistent just keep doing what I'm doing at a high level, getting better every year.

It sounds like you need to get some more conversations with Drake. That's probably a good mentor to have in your pocket right now.
Everything happens the way it's supposed to.

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