Eric Dane on How His ‘Euphoria’ Role as a Toxic Dad ‘Terrified’ Him – in a Good Way

TheWrap Emmys Magazine: Dane’s restrained version of Cal Jacobs was completely thrown out the window as the calculated villain unravels in Season 2

This story about Eric Dane and “Euphoria” first appeared in the Comedy & Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Eric Dane is terrified of his “Euphoria” character Cal Jacobs. That’s why he wanted the role in the first place.

“I’m looking for something that scares the s— out of me,” Dane said. “I’m looking for something that I think is a massive mountain to climb. I want to be Sisyphus pushing a rock uphill. And that allows me to stay engaged and inspired.”

In Season 1 of the HBO series, Cal is introduced as a villain of sorts, after he films his sexual encounter with Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer), the transgender classmate of his son Nate (Jacob Elordi), without her consent. Once Nate finds out about his father’s transgressions, the show explores just how much trauma Cal has inflicted on his family. “Terrifying, like a David Fincher movie,” Dane said of the Season 1 character, who was both calculated and unpredictable. 

But while Dane plays a relatively restrained version of Cal in the first season, that composure completely unravels in Season 2 as imagined by series creator and lead director Sam Levinson. The first four episodes follow Cal as he spirals toward a mental breakdown that culminates in a confrontation with his wife and kids in the foyer of their home in a scene that is both perverse and heartbreaking. It required Dane to throw the Season 1 version of Cal out the window.

“It was kind of wild,” Dane said. “It required a lot of preparation. I have a really stellar cast and Sam is a really great director and also super supportive. And with that safety net in place, that allowed me to take certain risks and feel, not necessarily comfortable with the vulnerability, but it allowed me to stay vulnerable throughout that scene.”

By the finale, Cal is almost a different person. He’s come to terms with how he ruined his family, and he wants a relationship with his sons though he knows he might never have one. He becomes someone who other characters and the audience both dislike and feel sorry for. 

Dane said carrying the tortured father through such a complicated two-season arc took a significant amount of nuance. “It’s a delicate dance,” he said. “There are certain times where you have to be OK with being bad [for] the moments you get to engender some kind of empathy for this guy and inject some sincerity into the performance and make him human. I think my aim is for absolute sincerity with the lines I’m delivering and the feelings I’m trying to convey, because that allows the truth of the scene to exist. All I want to do is make him human and relatable on some level.”

Dane, whose best known for his seven seasons as Mark Sloan on “Grey’s Anatomy” a decade ago, said he found himself in a role that’s the polar opposite — a shift that was intentional and, he argued, a dream for any actor.

“I wanted to do something different, and I know it’s obvious, but at the end of the day, I’m an actor, and that’s what we do,” he said. “We inhabit different roles. If you’re lucky enough, you get a role like Cal Jacobs. And in that regard, if you’re lucky enough, you get a role like Mark Sloan. And hopefully the same person gets to have those roles so that you can show some range as an artist. You never want to be stuck in a typecast sort of situation. I felt like that’s where I was heading, and I thought that there was so much more that I could do.” 

Read more from the Comedy & Drama Series issue here.

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