LOS ANGELES — From across the lawn at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Barbie Ferreira, the 22-year-old actor who plays Kat in “Euphoria,” spotted her co-star and “bestie,” Hunter Schafer. The two, who have become inseparable through working on the HBO series about teens navigating drugs and debauchery at a Southern California high school, ran up to each other and embraced.
“Hunty, baby, you look so cute!” Ms. Ferreira said.
Ms. Ferreira and Ms. Schafer were meeting friends to see “Jawbreaker,” the ’90s cult film — and Ms. Ferreira’s “all-time favorite” — in an outdoor theater at the cemetery, part of the Cinespia film series there. Clad in a lime green bathing suit under a tangerine long-sleeve John Paul Gaultier top, electric blue bike shorts, complete with a yellow bathrobe tie fashioned as a choker, Ms. Ferreira had dressed for the occasion. Her look was “so ‘Jawbreaker,’” she said.
Ms. Ferreira has gotten a lot of attention for her personal style, and said she has learned to use clothing as a way to embrace her body. It’s something she has in common with her “Euphoria” character. “I also hated myself for so long, as a lot of young girls do, and then I just had to not fall into that trap and make a very conscious decision not to do it,” Ms. Ferreira said, sitting on a couch before the film started. After spending a lot of time in her teen years reading “thinspo blogs” — blogs that encourage and fetishize thin appearances, often to the point of praising anorexia — Ms. Ferreira said she needed to adjust the way she thought about food. “Every micro-problem with my body was enhanced in my head,” she said. “My dysmorphia was crazy.”
Ms. Ferreira found that, among other things, wearing latex and leather made her feel powerful and comfortable in her skin. “I was like O.K., ‘The cat’s out of the bag. I’m fat,’” she said.
Born in New York City, Ms. Ferreira relocated to East L.A. nearly a year ago after being cast in “Euphoria.” The city seems to suit her. “I get to have plants and an outdoor area, more sun, more farmer’s market and less running to the subway,” she said.
Raised by her Brazilian mother, as well as an aunt and grandmother, in Queens and New Jersey, Ms. Ferreira began doing theater at age 7 at the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens, and by 10, she knew she wanted to be an actress. “I started modeling to be an actress,” she said. She sent photos to American Apparel’s casting department at 16 and then became one of the brand’s more well-known curvy models, later earning internet fame for an unretouched campaign for American Eagle’s Aerie brand. In 2017, Ms. Ferreira began starring in Vice’s etiquette show “How To Behave” before taking a small guest-starring role on HBO’s “Divorce.”
In June, she got her biggest break yet: Her character, Kat Hernandez, is a high school junior who writes One Direction fan fiction and seeks to transform her reputation — and explore her sexuality — after losing her virginity. Spoiler alert: Part of her evolution entails becoming a secret “cam girl.”
Acting has been refreshing for Ms. Ferreira because, she said, “modeling felt like my physical body was a prop.” And Ms. Ferreira saw herself in the character of Kat “in every way.” While the actress worried that they would cast someone more established in Hollywood, she knew she had to persist through what was a lengthy casting process. Ms. Ferreira said she auditioned six times before she got the part. “I read the sides, and I was like, ‘This is too close to home, I need to do it.’ I felt such a need to do it. Like, I know I could fill this role out so well because I understand the character so much.” Though her anxiety festered, HBO “picked really authentic people” for the show. “It was down to me and someone else and that’s when I was the most anxious, I was just like please give me a chance,” she said.
Over the course of season one, Kat finds power in becoming a “dominant,” a sexual role that Ms. Ferreira almost took on when she was 18, and broke and living in Brooklyn. While staying at a friend’s house for an extended period, Ms. Ferreira needed an income, and one of her temporary roommates happened to work as a professional dominant. “I was like, ‘I need money. That sounds fun. I’d like to humiliate men for money,’” she said. She didn’t take that job though, she said. “That girl would come back home and be like, ‘I got $500. Some guy wanted me to pull out his teeth.’”
Ms. Ferreira did find one scene in particular emotionally challenging to shoot; in it, Kat confronts her crush about being romantically interested in him. “I couldn’t bring myself to cry,” she said, between coughs. “Sometimes I get in my head, everyone does.”
“Sorry,” she added. “I’m choking on my Juul.”
Ms. Ferreira is already thinking about Kat’s future story lines in season two. The actress recently came out as queer in an “Out Magazine” interview. “I feel like in my personal life I’ve been gay as hell,” she said, and she would love to see her character in “Euphoria” explore her sexuality more. “I think Kat’s a little queer, but that might be my perspective,” she said. She also wants her character to make “bad decisions.”
Why? “How else do you learn?” she asked. “You don’t. Until one day you make a good decision.”
As for Ms. Ferreira, she’s content with her own decisions and where her career is headed. Her mother feels the same, Ms. Ferreira said: “She’s just happy I’m not selling weed out of a basement in the Bronx right now.”