Alanna Ubach’s list of acting credits stretches longer than a CVS receipt. You may have seen her in the Legally Blonde movies or in Bombshell, where she played Judge Jeanine Pirro (!!!). You also may have seen her in the indie movie Clockwatchers or in Friday Night Lights, Men of a Certain Age, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, or Snowfall. But these days, people know her best as Euphoria’s Suze Howard, the wine-glugging, no-nonsense mother of Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and Lexi (Maude Apatow). It’s full circle for the actor, who spent the early years of her career in teen roles — Ubach was almost cast as Tai in Clueless but got edged out by Brittany Murphy — to now play the mother of teens in the HBO drama.
On a Zoom call from her home in L.A., Ubach talked about the real-life inspiration for Suze; improv encouragement from Euphoria creator, writer, and director Sam Levinson; and how her key scenes from season two came together. While she was careful not to spoil anything, she did say viewers can expect one thing from Sunday night’s Euphoria finale: mayhem.
Would you say Suze is a good mom?
I think she’s doing the best she can in spite of the fact that she’s competing with social media. We’re the first generation of parents with children who have answers in their pockets for anything, whether they’re right answers or wrong answers. When you’re competing with something like Google or TikTok or Instagram, it’s a breeding ground for narcissism. These children are not emotionally mature enough to handle whatever is being put out there about them online.
There’s that saying, “You’re only as happy as your saddest, neediest child.” To have a daughter who is not only promiscuous but has been recorded in the act that is now out on the internet — I think there’s a lot of guilt. Knowing that had she made better choices, had she worked on her marriage, these kids wouldn’t feel they have to act out the way they’ve been doing. My guess is if you really peel the layers, Suze is probably clinically depressed. I just don’t think she is capable of picking up the phone and going to therapy or rehab. She’s quite limited, and she’s doing the best she can.
In fact, there’s a line in episode five in which she talks about being sent to rehab or AA and deciding it wasn’t for her. Doesn’t she say something like that?
I think so, yeah. A lot of stuff is improvised. Sam will get inspired or I’ll get inspired or the other actors will get inspired. He’d be like, “Keep saying that in the next take. I really liked that.” A lot of times I’ll say it off the cuff or I’ll improvise it because it’s funny. Then after it’s sliced together and actually put out there, you think, I guess that’s now a part of my past, that funny little piece of dialogue I added in.
Do you have a character bio you’re working off?
I was attracted to the character because she reminded me so much of the mother of one of my best friends. Her name was Linda Morales. She was the favorite mom. Everyone loved her. She was the one you went to when you got pregnant. She was the one you went to when you were kicked out of school.
No one was afraid of her. She didn’t act as an authority figure. She acted as a big sister. I thought, Wouldn’t that be fun to live in her for a while? Every role is different, but with this one, because my character was so small in the very beginning, I remember filming at one point and raising my hand and saying, “Sam, what do I do for a living?” He’s like, “I think you’re a manicurist.” I was like, “You know what? I was going to say the same thing. Or maybe I run a salon.” I have to be doing okay to support these two girls. They have a lot of shit in their bedrooms.
When you have the essence of a character like that, and you’re bringing someone you once knew back to life — because this woman did pass away — it’s a very different way of creating a character.
Suze reminds me a little bit of Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls: “I’m a fun mom.”
Exactly. Without the comedy and the pink velour, she is that character. In the comedy, it’s just like, Oh, these girls make her feel young. She gets to live her teenage years all over again. I think for Suze it’s Be my friend so I can know everything that’s going on 24 hours a day with you guys. It’s probably not the best idea, but it’s how she operates.
There’s a sequence in episode four in which Cassie has a breakdown and throws up in the hot tub. What was that like to film? It really looked like you had to haul Sydney out of that jacuzzi.
I told her, “Don’t give me any of your weight. Don’t help me. Just be deadweight when you’re in there.” She was like, “You got it.” She’s such a frickin’ pro, that girl. I mean, we must have done ten takes of me pulling her out of the jacuzzi. She got heavier and heavier for every take. As she was vomiting, it was so funny — all that comes to mind is we couldn’t get the vomit to be visible on camera. She would throw up, and it was very watery. Props had to be like, “Let’s add more oatmeal to it, make it look chunkier.” It took like an hour to get it visibly on her and crusty enough around her face where it looked awful on camera because we were using 35-mm. There’s a graininess to it. It’s not like HD where you can see any little groove and pore on the person’s face.
In episode five, Rue comes to Suze’s house clearly in withdrawal, and Maddy and Cassie start to fight with each other. You mentioned you improvise a fair amount, but I imagine you had to block out a lot of that scene to know where everybody was going, right?
We did block it out. We knew it had to build into total chaos in order for Rue to be able to get out of there without us knowing. Rue was trying to cause a ruckus so everyone could start fighting among each other. She was looking for a way to escape.
When we were blocking the scene, Alexa Demie said, “Maybe I’ve got to chase after her, something that will get us up the stairs and away from Rue.” All the girls rushing up the stairs, that’s what’s going to block Nika King from seeing her daughter leave. We had to figure out how to build into that chaos so it sold it.
In terms of the dialogue, though, was that scripted?
Most of the dialogue is non-scripted, especially when it comes to such a high-stakes scene like that. When it’s a big altercation, you can’t help but want to add more because, naturally, people would say something in that moment. For us to all speak on top of each other is usually what happens.
We basically stay on page, but sometimes Sam will discover something while we’re there on set. He’s like, “You know what? This needs a button.” Or “Say something to Alexa. Say whatever you need to say to shut this girl up or keep her from beating the shit out of your daughter.” Anything to make it so it escalates. He’s like, “I’ll get it from a master shot. You guys say whatever you want.” He’s very loose.
Do you like working that way?
Oh, I do. He and I speak the same language. We’re both Strasberg actors.
How was the episode with Lexi’s play shot? Were you actually watching a performance at any point?
It took about three weeks to shoot that. It was 12 hours a day sitting there, all different angles. A lot of the background actors were just not coming back. The two people sitting in front of me, I think, quit after three days. They couldn’t handle sitting there all day long. Then we had to readjust the camera so they couldn’t be seen in other scenes. It was really complicated. I always get anxiety when I’m watching any kind of sports scene, an arena scene, an action scene in any movie because I’m like, Oh, God, look at them. They all look so tired. [Laughs]
When Suze is reacting to the version of herself that comes onstage, were you actually watching her play?
It’s like, Let’s get Hunter Schafer and Alanna’s reactions to something that isn’t really happening on stage. Just pretend. Sam will shout things out to us: “Now all the boys are getting up and they’re grinding each other. Laugh at that. That’s really funny. Now this is happening. Now that’s happening.”
When the cameras are turned around toward the audience, it’s a really big deal, and it’s very time consuming. They’ll shoot everyone’s reaction shots at the same time, then they’ll turn around and shoot everything on the stage. Then they’ll go on the stage and shoot everyone’s close-ups. It’s a lot of work.
Was it in the script that Suze would be so delighted by the play, or was that something you decided?
Sam is so cool. He was like, “Just do your thing. I’m going to keep the camera rolling and get different reactions to whatever you’re watching.” That was basically it. He lets you go a good five, six, seven minutes.
It was so funny that everybody else is horrified by the notion that they’re being depicted on stage, but Suze thinks it’s the best.
My mom — I remember I did this one-woman show, and I played her in a bar scene. And I heard her say, literally, “That’s me!” She was so excited. It was so funny. I loved that, and I loved that reaction of my mom. I said, I have to do that one day.
I know you don’t want to spoil anything about the finale, but can you tell me whether Suze shows up?
Oh, yeah. It turns into mayhem. A fight breaks out. I hope I didn’t give everything away.
Do you read or pay attention to any of the online discussions about the show?
Oh, God, no. I’m so fucking hypersensitive. If they say something about the color of my hair, I’m depressed for two days. My husband always says, “You are not allowed to read any of these comments ever. We have a 4-year-old, and that festers in the household. It’s toxic.” I don’t even watch the show.
Yeah. I haven’t seen my stuff in 13, 14 years. I know you know this as a writer, but your work gets a little more sacred as you get older. Obviously with your work, you have to proofread; you have to read it over and over and over until you’re fine and you sign off. But do you ever read your first articles or your earliest —
My old stuff?
Yeah. Do you ever read it?
I have a much easier time rereading something I’ve written than I do watching anything of me on video or listening to my own voice.
Well, if I could edit what I was watching, that would be fine. But if I see something I did and I’m like, Ah, shit, I should have done it this way, I drive myself crazy. That’s one of the biggest reasons I can’t watch it: I know I can’t change anything.
I think Suze needs a spinoff.
Suze’s Home. I’m barbecuing and there’s a nice shot up to me and I kinda wink at the camera. [Laughs]
A nice sitcom just about the moms.
That would be fantastic.
Even if it’s just a stand-alone episode — you know what, that’s a really good idea. Pass that on.
It’s so funny. Eric Dane and I did an ABC Afterschool Special when we were little kids together.
Oh, wow. Which one?
I don’t really remember. We’ve done so much crap. But he knocked on my camper, and I answered. I was like, “Dude! Eric?” He’s like, “Alanna?” He was like, “What a cool gig we booked!” “I was like, ‘I know! Who are you?’” He was like, “I’m the crazy gay dad.” I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m the drunk!”
I saw that you’re going to be in the next season of The Flight Attendant, which is a really fun show.
Oh my God. Kaley Cuoco is so sweet. She and I have really good juju. We worked on a children’s cartoon together years ago called Brandy & Mr. Whiskers. I played this boa constrictor and she was a bunny rabbit. It was back when you put both voice actors in the actual booth together; she and I had such a party for a good year. When we ran into each other again, it was for the first season. I was up for Rosie Perez’s role. I thought, Well, of course. They got Rosie Perez. Sure, I’ll step aside. They had remembered me from that so they offered me this role, and it’s very sweet. It’s her nemesis.
Your character’s a flight attendant, right?
Yes. I’m out of my fucking mind. It’s fantastic.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.