“I don't like being told what to do,” Alexa Demie tells me, describing why she never liked school. On paper, those words could easily be attributed to the character she’s best known for playing, flippant cheerleader Maddy Perez, but in-person, it’s clear that Demie and her Euphoria counterpart share little common ground.
Stepping into the studio in an oversized Alexander Wang suit and a gold nameplate “Demiegod” necklace, her lips painted a striking shade of rust brown, Demie plays the role of eclectic cool girl with ease. You might not see it on screen, or in the stylized portraits she shares on Instagram, but there’s an unexpected warmth to the actress. Demie breaks out into an unguarded fit of laughter when she tells me the name of her first celebrity crush, the excitement audible in her signature Angeleno accent as we discuss her latest project.
For someone who hated her own high school experience (and the whole “being told what to do” thing), it’s interesting that she’s gravitated toward projects set in the very world she sought to escape. But setting aside, Demie’s filmography is hardly reflective of your average teen fare. This year, the actress stars in two projects from A24: Euphoria and Trey Edward Shults’s music-driven Waves, as Alexis, a high school senior in a relationship that hinges between “Teenage Dream”-style ecstasy and flat-out dysfunction.
Demie’s role in Waves isn’t large, but it’s pivotal — a sentiment that could be applied to the small but mighty indie film itself. But despite the relatively small scale of the projects she’s chosen up to this point, Demie’s plans for the future are big. Next up, she’ll be starring in and producing a film about the life of her mother, makeup artist Rose Mendez.
Fashion and music are part of the plan, too — so is education. She drops into conversation that she hopes to open a school one day, as casually as if she’d told me she was ordering sushi for lunch. “I have a very specific idea for the school that I want to make,” she assures me, explaining that she’d be mindful of the frustrations she faced with her public education. “My empire is being built,” she says with a laugh.
Read on as Demie opens up about her new film, bonding with the cast of Euphoria, her own high school experience, and more.
Minor Waves spoilers ahead.
InStyle: I know that for Euphoria, you brought in a lot of the ideas for your character Maddy's makeup. Did you do anything similar for Alexis’s aesthetic?
Alexa Demie: For Alexis they really wanted no makeup and if there was makeup they even wanted it to be a little messed up sometimes because [my character] was going through these emotions, and so sometimes they would put a little bit darker shadow under my eye or just kind of make me look like I wasn't all together. I wanted to do that. I wanted to have a more natural take on that character. I think I always bring a bit of myself to everything. The makeup artist on that was also really lovely and collaborative and we both agreed that a little less makeup for this, the better.
That totally makes sense. You're almost 25 now, but you've played high school in few different projects in the past couple years. What is it like to sort of go back in time like that? Does it make you nostalgic for your own high school experience at all?
Honestly, no. I love schoolwork. I love research and I love working, but I don't like being told what to do. I think I struggled a lot in school because you're on a schedule and you're being told what to do and when you can go to the bathroom. I was always getting in trouble for talking too much. But no, I don't want to go back to high school. I'm good.
It does bring back memories of the relationship that I was in at that age. But I was never involved in any of the activities. I didn't really have any friends in my school. They all went to other schools and I just met them around L.A.
Does it feel at all like you're experiencing a new version of high school?
It does, yeah. I mean, Euphoria felt like that just because we would all hang out on set, whether it was in our trailers, or we'd walk around the Sony lot or go across the street together. We would always say it feels like a field trip because it'd be six of us going across the street to get coffee and tea. But that felt like high school and that felt fun because I didn't do that in my school. I didn't go to any of my high school dances — I didn't go to my prom or anything. So it was fun in that sense.
I think that Euphoria and Waves have two of the best soundtracks of the year, if not ever.
As a musician yourself, have these projects and the music on them informed your creative choices at all?
[They haven't informed] my creative choices, but they made me really happy. I love people with amazing music taste. I mean, that's something I look for when I'm reading scripts, because both Sam [Levinson] and Trey [Edward Shults] put the titles of their songs [in the scripts]. Trey took it a little further. He embedded the songs into the script so you can play them along with the scenes.
I kind of look for that. If I see a really whack song in the script, I'm immediately kind of like, “I'm not doing this.” I just felt really grateful because music means a lot to me.
You've worked with a ton of major names now, like Jonah Hill, Zendaya, Sterling K. Brown, Drake … Has anyone served as a sort of mentor?
Not yet, no. As far as Zendaya, I think all of the choices that she makes are incredible, and I'm very specific in that way, and I feel like she is, too, and she even, I feel like takes it a step further and she's done such an incredible job with her career, so I really respect her for that.
Without giving too much away about Waves, your character's journey has some noticeable parallels to Maddy's in Euphoria. Are you afraid of getting typecast at all?
I wouldn't say “afraid” because I'm very vocal about the projects that I want to do and the projects that come to me. I’ve probably said no to every script that's come since Euphoria and Waves. I probably wouldn't take on another role like that right away. If I did, it'd have to be really special and there has to be a really good reason because I'm ready to explore other characters.
That's also a really hard role to take on, emotionally, I'm sure. How do you come down from that?
Honestly, I shot the pilot of Euphoria, went to Waves, and then came back to Euphoria. Since Euphoria's ended, I feel like it took me a while to get back, because I'm a pretty silly person — I love comedy and I like to keep it light, I guess because of all the darkness that has followed me with these roles. It took me a while to get back to feeling like me again.
Were you able to relate to Alexis at all?
I did in the sense that I was in a relationship in high school that was mentally kind of volatile. We would just get into really heated fights, so I related in that way. I think at that age, you have a lot of those fights because you don't know how to communicate and you're learning, you're growing — you're kind of going through the motions.
Then, as far as [Alexis’s] pregnancy, my mom had me at a really young age and everyone told her to get an abortion because she was so young and she wasn't going to have any help financially. I remember her telling me that she almost did, and then she said a wave of emotion came over her and she was like, “I can't do this.”
I tried to feel what my mom felt at that time, in the way that after she had that feeling, she was so adamant about keeping her baby despite what everyone around her said. I love that about Alexis. I love that she started to set boundaries and made that choice. [...] I love that she stood her ground.
That sounds a lot like you, what you were just describing, strong in your convictions.
Oh yeah. No, I think I'm extremely strong in my life and not so submissive.
Speaking of your mother, I read that you're producing a film about her life. That's so cool. Has working on this film changed your relationship with her at all?
Yeah, I think just growing up changed my relationship with her. We've always been incredibly close. She's one of my best friends. I think we did have our issues when I was a teenager and just growing up, working on these films and having to play these dark roles, it helps me to kind of relate and have compassion for anyone in those situations.
Despite [my mom] not having any support emotionally or financially, she was always the number one person in my life. She was just always so positive when the rest of my family really wasn't. They didn't really believe that you could do what I'm doing. She was always the one to be like, "You can do anything you want.” I think she instilled that in me.
Working on her film has helped us heal a lot of our traumas.
I'm excited to see it. She must be so proud.
Oh my God. She's so happy. She tells me all the time, "I can't believe we're making a movie." Yeah, it's going to be special.
In addition to all the many things you're doing, you're also a fashion designer. Jennifer Lopez wore a pair of sunglasses you designed?
In high school, kind of as a hobby, because like I said, I was pretty much alone all the time, I would just walk straight home after school, and I would rework vintage frames and somehow they became popular and somehow J. Lo wore them on SNL, which was incredible because I'm not only obsessed with J. Lo, but I'm also obsessed with SNL.
My mom's a makeup artist, she was always into fashion, so I grew up with every fashion magazine flooding my house. I would just sit there as a little girl and flip through pages and sketch things. I thought I was going to go to design school. I got into Otis [College of Art and Design], went to orientation and then realized I hate school so I left. But it's just always been in me. Even with styling. I style myself, I like to custom design stuff for me to wear all the time. It's just something that's a part of me, so that's always been the plan — to incorporate that. Now, I am working on that.
Your characters, too, have such an influence, style-wise. Maddy is like the 2019 style icon. Everyone is dressing like her now. Is there anything that you wore on the show that you would never wear in real life?
Honestly, probably the carnival outfit. It’s just not me. I would never wear it, especially in purple, but I love it and I think it looks incredible on. It was like my fantasy outfit that I would never wear in my real life, but really enjoyed wearing as Maddy.
It was fun with her because I got to really explore a more feminine side and wear a lot of skirts and little matching sets and stuff, which is not really how I dress in my real life.
What inspires your own aesthetic?
I love '90s fashion because I think that's just what my mom loved. I love timeless. I don't like trendy looks. I sometimes prefer to wear no name designers or vintage stuff over a new trendy designer that everyone's wearing. I think something that's timeless that you can also wear 20 years ago or 20 years later, I'm just drawn to those pieces. [...] I've always thrifted my clothes and put things together because I don't want to go out and just get the brand that everyone's wearing, even though today I'm literally wearing all Alexander Wang, but honestly I'm obsessed with this suit.
I went to an opening of a store recently and everyone was wearing the same dress.
You see? It's like we already all look alike. You know what I mean? Let's reel it in.
Your neon nails in Waves, I'm still mesmerized by them.
Isn't that a great choice?
Yes! What is your own go-to nail color or style?
I've been having fun with my nails lately. I've literally had my nails done since sixth grade. I started getting acrylics early. Luckily, I do gel now so my nail won't be damaged. But I think a nude or a classic French tip.
If you could only use three makeup products for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
1) Eyebrow gel. I use five different eyebrow gels. I have a drawer of them and I just pick whatever comes out. I like Benefit's eyebrow gel and I like Milk's eyebrow gel. 2) Eyeliner, liquid eyeliner. I love the Pat McGrath liquid liner, it's very pigmented and very dark. 3) Lip liner. I really love to switch it up. I love MAC, classic MAC lip liners. I love Dior lip liners. I love Huda lip liners.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
What was your last binge-watch?
Oh, recently, The End of the F***king World. I just watched season two. It was amazing. It was so quick and so fast. I literally watched it in two nights.
Astrology — yes or no?
Yes, to a certain extent. I don't do daily horoscope stuff.
You're not on Co-Star?
No, I'm not on Co-Star. I'm not on The Pattern. I refuse to live my life dictated by an app. I get it. I get why people use it. It can be helpful, but I think at times when it's negative, it just puts you in a hole and you don't need to do that. But I love the history of astrology. I love going in depth like [with my] chart. Sometimes I read monthly horoscopes. But I'm telling you, as soon as I read something negative, I exit out. I'm like, “No. No, my month's going to be great.”
Is there a specific Instagram account you've been obsessed with lately?
No. I know I'm boring, but no. I'm obsessed with seeing everybody recreate Maddy's looks and just my looks in general. They're so talented. These little girls and boy. I'm obsessed with seeing that.
Which celebrity have you been the most starstruck to meet so far?
Adam Sandler. [Laughs] I know … I was going to say Meryl Streep, but I didn't meet her. We were just in an elevator together, and it was like, “Oh, it's Meryl Streep.” I don't get starstruck ever, but for some reason, [I did] meeting Adam Sandler. He just has this presence. He was the nicest guy ever. Now, every time he sees me, he's like, "Hey." He remembers you, he’s a genuine human being.
What is your favorite clothing item that you own?
It changes all the time, but I just got these vintage, very low waisted Dolce & Gabbana jeans that lace up in the back and have this front double panel thing. They're really intricate but so classic, like [an] early 2000s moment. And I got these chunky platforms … I'm obsessed with a platform sandal because I'm just so short. It gives me this power. I put those platforms on and I'm here.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about you?
I'm such a private person. I've gotten this since high school — girls would never speak to me and I think that's why I didn't have a lot of friends. Then, when I would finally speak to them, they would be like, "Oh, you're not a bitch." I think just because, in high school especially, I was very introverted, and if I don't know you, I can be really shy. I'm either a complete introvert or a complete extrovert. I'm nice. Say hi.
This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photographs by Meron Menghistab. Art direction and production by Kelly Chiello.