Exactly How ‘Euphoria’ Pulled Off Maude Apatow and Austin Abrams’ Homoerotic Dance Number

·4-min read
HBO

In Episode 7 of “Euphoria” Season 2, titled “The Theater and its Double” (a canny nod to Antonin Artaud’s theory concerning the relationship between performers and their audience), viewers were finally treated to Lexi’s (Maude Apatow) autobiographical magnum opus. “Our Life,” a stage production seemingly produced with the budget of a Tony-winning musical, was a fanciful retelling of her adolescence, including characters based on her sister, Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), and best friend, Rue (Zendaya). But like any great theatrical impresario, she saved the best for last.

Lexi treated her high school crowd to a full-blown musical number set in an all-male gym, in which Ethan (Austin Abrams) — embodying a full-bro version of East Highland’s resident tortured jock, Nate (Jacob Elordi) — performs a full-out sexual rock ballet to Bonnie Tyler’s iconic “Holding Out for a Hero.” The production came complete with a hunky male ensemble, lots of well-placed squirting water bottles, and a whole lot of gyrating, grunting and genitalia-specific exercise balls. (Watch the NSFW clip below.)

“[Creator] Sam Levinson’s direction was, ‘I want you to make David Bowie look straight,'” said choreographer Ryan Heffington, who returned to work on Season 2 of “Euphoria” after working on the HBO series’ Season 1 finale. He was more than up to this particular challenge.

“We wanted to be big, over the top,” Heffington said. His considerable background creating routines for artists like Sia, Arcade Fire and FKA Twigs was put to good use here; larger-than-life set pieces like a “huge, phallic punching bag” dropping from the ceiling helped bring that mission to life. “That’s the kind of playfulness that really turns the piece into like something special. It’s just the absurdity of it — and the overt homoeroticism appealed to me, as well.”

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The broadly comic scene is a departure from the usual tone of “Euphoria,” which is intensely dramatic. Lexi’s musical number provides an emotional release for the show’s characters and audience alike. (It has become a viral sensation since premiering earlier this year.)

Heffington said that the silliness of the number brought levity to set while filming with his onscreen ensemble of dancers, many of whom he’s known for years. “I wanted to be upfront with how risky this piece was going to be,” the choreographer said. “We just laughed a lot, and I think you could probably see it [in the sequence] that it was super fun.” He added that even though he led the piece, Abrams had “very little dance training, but he was so dedicated and such a hard worker. We’d be on breaks, and he’d want to keep rehearsing, it was a big deal for him, and he wanted to do it justice.”

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Episode 7 happened to air just after another career milestone for Heffington: a featured role opposite Bradley Cooper in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza.” The gig even included a tiny flutter of his dancing feet in a tense sequence set at the estate of the irascible Jon Peters (Cooper).

“Paul’s casting director [Cassandra Kulukundis] knew me from online classes I did during the pandemic and she said, ‘He’d be perfect for this. He’s a dancer and has this ‘70s vibe,’” Heffington recounted. He laughed remembering how “horrifying” the treatment of his assistant character is in the film, but emphasized that he couldn’t have had a better scene partner in Cooper. “Bradley was definitely in ‘all-in’ mode. It was thrilling. It was great to watch him act.”

The award-winning Heffington has a desire to expand his acting roster further, but is happy to continue with with the commercials, videos and media projects that keep him busy at the moment. He couldn’t be happier that his “Euphoria” work has had such an extensive reach.

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“So many people reached out, whether it was acquaintances or fans or friends, and they were just so excited about this piece,” he said. “That doesn’t always happen. There’s a lot of serious dance on TV, so I think it was just really exciting for people to see something sexual and funny and absurd.”

“Euphoria” is now streaming on HBO Max

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