Sam Levinson has opened up for the first time about the accidental overdose death of Euphoria star Angus Cloud, revealing the lengths that were taken to help Cloud find recovery including an intervention, a rehab stay that was paid for by HBO and series rewrites to keep his character alive as a way to get Cloud excited about the future.
Levinson granted his first interview since Cloud’s death on July 31 as part of an emotional People exclusive published on Monday. The report follows Thursday’s news when the Alameda County Coroner confirmed his official cause of death as an accidental overdose as the result of intoxication due to the combined effects of methamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl and benzodiazepines.
The Danielle Bacher-penned story paints a rich, layered and, at times, devastating portrait of Cloud’s life and features interviews with his mother, Lisa, uncle Kevin Cloud, friend Daniel Aguilera, who was with him in the hours before he died, and Euphoria collaborators Levinson and Emmy winning star Zendaya. Cloud, who had been struggling with grief in the wake of his father’s death in May, is best known for playing drug dealer Fezco on two seasons of HBO’s gritty series that revolves around a group of high school students as they navigate relationships, trauma, abuse, friendship and substance use.
Levinson explained that he had originally planned to kill Fezco’s character off at two points during the show but kept changing his mind. “Angus was supposed to die at the end of the first season, but I loved him so fucking much,” Levinson revealed. “The first thing I noticed about him was he had those Paul Newman eyes … and his audition tape where he said that his name was Angus Cloud and he’s ‘five foot 12.’ It killed me. He was perfect. I think part of the problem is I would sometimes put actors ahead of the show at times. So I was like, ‘OK, I can’t kill him because then what is he to look forward to?’”
It’s impossible to ignore the similarities to the series’ storylines and the experiences of its creative team. Euphoria is inspired by Levinson’s own struggles as a teenage drug addict. Zendaya’s character, Rue, battles her addictions through the first two seasons and among her issues are dealing with the loss of her father. Another actor on the show, Dominic Fike, recently revealed that he’s a drug addict and was almost fired for being so “fucked up” during a lot of filming. Cloud’s best friend Lilita claimed that she and Cloud smoked weed on set after his first scene with Zendaya. “I’m like, ‘Bro, we can’t,’” she told People. “But he’s like, ‘It’s good. The castmembers are cool as long as the little fucking asshole errand runners don’t see us.”‘ Levinson responded to the claim by saying he was unaware of such drug use. “I would have kicked him off the set if he was smoking weed,” he said.
But his using grew obvious. His mother Lisa said that her son sustained an injury during the pandemic when he was running from the police after nearly being caught tagging in Los Angeles. He cracked his calcaneus, the large bone in the heel, and it required further treatment including surgery. Cloud refused, his mother said. “That’s really what started his drug-seeking behavior, I think. It was hugely painful. I was pushing him. I’m like, ‘You’re not going to start season two for at least four months. Do that heel surgery. It is a four-month recovery. Do it now,’” she said.
Sometime around the start of the second season, Levinson could see that his actor was in trouble so he suggested rehab. “I looked him in the eye and I knew that he wasn’t doing well. At the same time I’ve been in these situations before where you’re trying to get someone clean. And I just said to him, ‘I love working with you and we’ve got this amazing season planned and stuff, but I need you to be sober because I got to be able to rely on you.’”
Per the magazine, HBO paid for Cloud to enter a 30-day in-patient rehab program. Once completed, Cloud returned to set while continuing treatment in an outpatient program for three months. “I could always feel that he didn’t want [sobriety] as much as we all wanted it for him,” Levinson explained. “That’s where it gets tricky because the whole world can want it for you. But he didn’t want it. It’s just the self-destructive side of addiction and it outweighs everything. But you can’t give up on people. I wasn’t going to let anyone give up on him.”
Cloud relapsed at some point midway through the season at which point Levinson staged an intervention. After wrapping the fifth episode, Cloud, wearing Rue’s red hoodie, got in a car with Levinson and his pregnant wife, Ashley, an executive producer on the series, and they took him to rehab. Though the timing is unclear, Levinson informed Cloud of plans to have Fezco die in a later episode in a hail of gunfire. But, again, Levinson had a change of heart once he saw Cloud’s reaction.
“I could just see the blood kind of run out of his face. I think the hardest thing is when you have addiction issues — it’s about finding your purpose and finding your meaning in life. The one thing that I knew is he loved making this show. He loved the crew. He loved the actors. He loved everything about it. And I just thought, if this goes away, I don’t know what’s going to happen in his life,” Levinson said. “We got to keep him around. He’s too special. It doesn’t matter what the fucking story is.”
Instead of Fezco falling victim to gun shots, his younger brother Ashtray, played on the series by Javon Walton, dies in the season finale. After they wrapped production, Levinson said that he and Cloud went on a four-hour walk at Levinson’s home during which they discussed sobriety and the need for Cloud to be clean for season three. He recalled the actor telling him, “‘No, no, I’m good. I’m good.’ I could tell, at that time, it was like he wasn’t interested. He wasn’t going to do anything, and yeah, he didn’t want it,” said Levinson, who, at some point, also refused to let Cloud come to the set unless he was clean.
Over email, Zendaya described Cloud to People by saying that “he was one of the most unique and pure hearted people” that she’s ever met. “He felt like a little brother instantly; ironic because we played characters with the exact opposite dynamic,” wrote the actress. “I’m lucky because I got to experience the most beautiful parts of him. I got to watch him create and I got to watch him discover the fact that he was an actor. A damn good one at that, and as many times as I would tell him or compliment his performance, I don’t think he ever truly believed it.”