chat room

Euphoria’s Eric Dane Is Building ‘Cal 2.0’

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

Spoilers for “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys,” the third episode of the second season of Euphoria, below.

Euphoria, HBO’s drug-fueled daydream of a show about high-school students exploring their sexuality, sexual limits, and party drugs, returned for its second season earlier this month. In the premiere, Nate (Jacob Elordi) was beaten within an inch of his life by Fezco (Angus Cloud) at the New Year’s rager, and his strict dad, Cal (Eric Dane), sought revenge in episode two — first by intimidating Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) into naming the perpetrator, then by stalking Fezco and his brother, Ashtray, at the mini-mart where they work. In Sunday’s episode, “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys,” we finally get a glimpse into Cal’s backstory and see that, like the other kids at East Highland High School, he was once a kid just trying to find himself. These flashbacks offer new insight into Cal’s present-day actions, including why his first instinct when protecting Nate comes in the form of intimidation. Vulture spoke with Dane about his approach to Cal, the episode’s revelations, and his hopes for Grey’s Anatomy superfans to jump into the deep end of Euphoria.

Cal comes off as this antagonistic force in the community. Do you think what we saw of his childhood — falling in love with his best friend, exploring his sexuality, impregnating his girlfriend — hardened him against the world, or is he just an asshole?
I don’t think there’s a part of him that’s an asshole. He’s resentful at his reality. He did the right thing by his girlfriend, which is not always easy. But he’s got his father’s voice in his ear. He resents the world he’s created. He’s the architect of his own demise.

Cal and Nate don’t have the best relationship, and we see glimpses of Cal’s challenging dynamic with his own father growing up. Do you think Cal realizes he’s perpetuating the cycle?
I think he does. Cal resents his son as a reflection of how he’s been parenting him. We see in others what we hate most about ourselves, and Cal sees a lot of himself in Nate. He couldn’t be the parent who provided an environment that would make it okay for Nate to be who he is. As much as Cal wants to change the story, he finds himself pigeonholed into a scenario where that’s impossible. He can’t live his truth, so how is he going to impress upon his son that it’s okay to?

When we leave Cal at the end of episode three, he’s being held at gunpoint and smacked around by Ashtray and Fez after stalking them for beating up Nate. Do you think his intentions are pure in standing up for his son, knowing what we know about their relationship?
Well, he hasn’t had too many opportunities to be a good dad, so he tries to take them where he can get them. There’s the disc of Cal hooking up with Jules, but there’s also this punk drug dealer who beat his son into a coma. If Cal can pick a spot to be a good parent and ease his guilt for not being such a great father, he’s gonna take it.

He comes off as a violent figure in present day, but in his backstory, he seems more mild-mannered.
I don’t know that he is such a violent figure. I see him as a blowhard in that regard. I know he brings a gun into the mini-mart in episode two, but was he ever going to use it? Cal is a lot of bluster. In season one, episode four, when he confronts Jules, everybody thought he was going to kill her, but he’s not gonna do that. He’s just gonna tell her he doesn’t want his life ruined.

What conversations have you had with creator Sam Levinson about Cal’s backstory? Were you given an opportunity to shape him at all?
Most of it is Sam’s brainchild. My job is to interpret what goes on in his brain and convey it to an audience. Last year, Cal was very contained, very protected, very cautious. This season, he gets cut loose a bit, so the conversations Sam and I had at the beginning of the year was that we get to create a whole new character. We’ve never seen Cal with the walls down. We said, “Let’s dive in and come up with Cal 2.0.”

The character is quite different from one you’re most recognizable for, McSteamy on Grey’s Anatomy. What’s the most fun part of getting into Cal’s head?
I hope Grey’s fans can come along for the ride because this is a really meaningful role for me. I think some of them are a little bit shy to jump into the water with this one. It’s been a lot of fun to explore this character because you don’t have to deal with real-world consequences. Ripping through the streets at night in a car, getting pistol-whipped with a shotgun — I get to do that. It’s a fun ride, and a lot of this stuff is really heavy at times, but the mood and the vibe on set couldn’t be more contrary. We keep it light and have a good time with it. I love working with these people.

What’s most challenging about the role?
I don’t know too much about the specifics of the circumstances Cal finds himself in, but I do know what it’s like to look a certain way on the outside and feel entirely different on the inside. That was my way into this character. But some of that stuff is hard to deal with. Cal is not the comic relief in this.

How do you prepare for filming?
I don’t take my work home with me, but I feel like I’ve done the necessary preparation to understand the circumstances and behaviors of Cal. The one thing I can do is stay present because it’s a heady role and I don’t want to get stuck in my head playing this guy.

What do you think Cal’s story says about masculinity?
That’s a good question. I don’t know if I’m prepared to answer that. There’s a lot of toxic masculinity going on in the Jacobs household. But Cal doesn’t come off as masculine as you think he would based on who he is. His actions would say differently.

I’m also thinking about him standing up for Nate. He doesn’t really know what to do, and his instinct is to intimidate these kids because it feels like the most macho thing to do. Do you think that’s his interpretation of masculinity? 
I think you’re right. Cal is like, This is what I’m supposed to do in this moment. This is what my dad would do.

What do you hope that viewers take from his story line?
In this episode specifically, I hope they take away a kernel of understanding of where he came from. At a certain age, we can no longer use the excuse “My parents fucked me up.” At a certain age, it’s on us to fix the insides. But if people can walk away and say, “Okay, now I see why Cal is the way he is,” we’ll have achieved our goal.

One of my favorite parts of Euphoria’s online discourse is the commentary on the explicit content that doesn’t necessarily resemble most peoples’ experiences. How much of the story resonates with yours?
I didn’t have a high-school experience like this. I was an outsider; I didn’t want to peak too early. I was gawky and awkward and didn’t know which way was up, and I think that’s probably most people. I didn’t have nearly the breadth of experiences these young adults are having.

Euphoria’s makeup and wardrobe are extremely distinct. Do you ever wish Cal had some fun with that?
He might! You never know. Cal is a big risk-taker. That could be in the future.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Euphoria’s Eric Dane Is Building ‘Cal 2.0’