"It feels amazing to be back. I love being on set. I love working with these people," says the actor, on the phone with EW. "A year and a half off, or however long it was, was hard on everybody, but it's tough when you've more or less vacated your sense of purpose."
Below, the Grey's Anatomy alum shares what drew him to the tricky role as antagonist Nate Jacobs' father, his thoughts on the character's melancholy backstory, and why he wasn't worried about taking the butt of a shotgun to the face.
HBO Eric Dane plays Cal Jacobs on HBO's 'Euphoria.'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is there anything you were hoping to see for Cal going into season 2?
ERIC DANE: I did want to get into Cal's backstory. I knew that was eventually gonna come. I'm happy it came this season. I've been very happy with the material that I've been given and I love this character. You know, I certainly don't want to offend any of the Grey's fans, but as an actor, you want to be able to experience different characters, and I hope they come on the journey with me. I'm playing with extraordinary young actors and amazing material on a fearless network. That said, I've been tickled with all this great material I've gotten this year.
Speaking to that, do you have any stories from shooting those scenes from last week, in Nate's dream sequence? The actor you worked with for that brief scene that broke the internet tweeted about the experience.
That was my first shot of season two. It was like, "Welcome back to Euphoria, Eric … "
They just threw you right into the deep end.
No! 😂😂 There is an intimacy coach on set. It’s choreographed. There was a piece built to go between his face and my butt. ITS A TV SHOW! It’s acting!! There is a whole union with regulations on filming acted sexual scenes. Incredibly professional and chill experience.
— Christin Byrdsong (@C_Byrdsong) January 17, 2022
Does it feel like in working on the show, you're learning so much about the new ways of capturing intimacy on-screen — just reading the tweets from that actor, it sounded like there was this whole process to make sure that everyone was comfortable.
Yeah. Well, I mean, look, you find yourself in somewhat of a compromising position, but we have an intimacy coordinator and there's an understanding. It's nice to have that buffer. But, as a professional, you know what the deal is, and you make the best of it. We had a good laugh about it, which was nice.
What is making you want to challenge yourself, or be so game to take these risks, shooting the kinds of scenes we haven't seen on TV before?
For me, the golden life is in the ability to stay vulnerable. And as an artist, you want to grow, and you want to experience different things. But [Euphoria] just seemed like such a good fit for me [Laughs]. I don't know, I love this character. I feel like I know this character, even though I may not exist in the same set of circumstances in the real world. I feel like I have a good grip on who this guy is. And I do work with a bunch of risk-takers, and the show is risky, but I trust [creator] Sam Levinson so much. The safety net is so large that I just kind of go with him on this ride, and hope everybody else takes it with me.
Is there anything about Cal that you push back on?
I don't push back on anything. It's not my job to push back on anything. I'm there to protect the character, but at the same time, like I said, I trust Sam so much. Whatever he's wanting to do with this character I'm also along for the ride, and the challenges are actually good. Put as many obstacles as you want in front of me. It's just an opportunity for growth.
When were you clued in on Cal's backstory? Was that at all something you knew about during season 1?
No. I figured we would eventually get to it because that's what we do with all the characters. But I found out that we were getting into Cal's backstory at the table read when [Zendaya]'s VO says "When Cal was young … " And so I was like, oh, I guess we're getting into Cal now.
HBO Elias Kacavas and Henry Eikenberry play a young Cal Jacobs and his friend Derek in 'Euphoria' season 2, episode 3.
Were you expecting it to be so sweet? I feel like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, but even though the end of it is sad, it's still a tender moment.
If we start off with Cal being a bad guy from the jump, there's really nowhere to go. Everybody starts out sweet at some point in their life, right? But I thought that the way they handled it was pretty deft. I love the actor that played young Cal. He was just fantastic. And you knew there had to be some sort of cause or condition that was placed on Cal for him to turn out the way he turned out, which is this horribly complicated, terrifically conflicted, and confused person who's trying to figure out his journey, at however old he is, and start living his truth. He's been living a lie his entire life. The only thing you can say really bad about [young] Cal is his timing was a little bad.
In some ways, you can say, "Well, he did the right thing," but he completely sold himself to do it. And you can look at the father and how rigid and unloving the father was. You can look at his instincts or feelings he had for friend Derek, but the circumstances of his girlfriend getting pregnant totally derailed what his being wanted to do.
Do you think we'll ever see Derek again? Who would you want to see play the grown version of him?
Oh my God. I never thought of that. That would be interesting. The grown version of Derek would have to be like [Pause] Can we get Brad Pitt to do this?
Let's throw an offer out there and see if he bites.
Do you think the episode implies that Cal and Derek went their separate ways after that? Or do you think they still keep in touch?
No, I think they went their separate ways. I think once Cal settled in with Marsha in those circumstances, he completely blocked out everything from that part of his life. He completely ignored it and did so for years, and what happens is that if you don't listen to your body, eventually it's gonna have its way with you.
Do you think Nate (Jacob Elordi) and Cal really hate each other? They do seem to have each other's backs, even if it's like a messed-up situation.
I think they really do love each other. They love the potential of what they could be and not the actuality of what's going on. I'm his father, he's my son. At the end of the day, it's blood, and I'm sure all he yearns for is a father who's paternal. And all I want is for my son to be happy. And I see how conflicted my son is. I'm sure it tears him up.
Why won't Cal leave these kids alone? Is it hubris, thinking he can threaten people like Fezco (Angus Cloud)?
He's trying to protect himself. He's just trying to not go to jail. I think he is really f---ed up, for lack of a better word, over the fact that Jules is a minor, as he should be. But Cal's never looking to get lawless. He's looking to indulge his natural instincts and figure out where his place in the world is.
HBO Eric Dane as Cal Jacobs on HBO's 'Euphoria.'
Were you ever a bit intimidated by Javon 'Wanna' Walton, who plays Ashtray, bashing you with the shotgun?
He's an athlete. This guy's like a young professional athlete. He's a boxer. So I knew he'd have absolute control over the amount of pressure that butt of that shotgun placed on my head. I told him at the beginning, "Dude, I trust you. Go for it. Don't let anything I do deter you from leaning into this one," and he was fantastic. He's a sweet kid.
It's funny watching Cal be so confident entering situations where he's absolutely not the person in power like he thought he was.
Right. And he learns that pretty quick. I mean, right after he says the chief of police is a good friend of his, he gets smashed again with the butt of a shotgun.
Were you able to keep a straight face shooting those moments where Cal accidentally, fully telling on himself to Faye (Chloe Cherry) and Fezco?
It's also interesting in that particular scene, the dialogue happening in a way that's away from me, while I'm slowly figuring out that these guys know nothing about this tape. And they know nothing about my relationship with Jules. They actually know more about what's going on with Nate and Jules than I did. So I'm utterly dumbfounded and confused by the whole thing. And I think the moment when, "F---, I didn't need to even come in here in the first place," washes over his face. And then he finds out that his son is the one that's really in love with Jules. The whole thing was just like, "Oh my God, this is a clusterf---."
It's good that he finally knew the best thing was to just walk away.
Yep! "You guys mind if I just leave? I don't think I'm needed here anymore."
Why do you think Cal doesn't suspect Maddy (Alexa Demie) has the tape? She was over the Jacobs house all the time. Is it an out of sight, out of mind thing?
I think the last thing that Cal would think is that his son is sharing that stuff with his girl. Yeah, I don't know. She's not a part of it, thankfully.
Would you want to see Cal and Maddy interact again? I feel like we only got that one great scene of her telling you all off.
Yeah, whatever fits into the story. I love working with all these people. As far as how that fits into the grander scheme, I don't know. I'll do whatever. I just show up and do what's in front of me. But Alexa's fantastic. That was a fun scene and she's so great.
HBO Eric Dane and Jacob Elordi on HBO's 'Euphoria.'
Do you think there's an element of jealousy at all between Cal and Nate, because it does seem like his ears perk up a little bit when he hears that Nate may have a thing for Jules (Hunter Schafer)?
Plot twist! I don't know, man. I think he's just completely blindsided by that, but jealousy is an interesting take.
Finally, what can you tease about what's next for Cal?
I hope that if Cal gets presented with the opportunity to be a good father, he runs with it. That's really all I can say about that, I guess.
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