Euphoria’s melancholy first season has come to a close, but that doesn’t mean everyone is entitled to a happy ending. While many of the central characters are slithering through high school blues, Christopher McKay (played by Algee Smith) is experiencing more than red cup shindigs in college.
Viewers caught another glimpse of the machismo McKay in “The Next Episode” while experiencing the parallels of male masculinity, especially when it comes to young black men. Enticed by the thought of ruling an all-white fraternity, McKay’s hazing period is more traumatic than comical as he finds himself in his most vulnerable state yet. While getting in between the sheets with Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), his future fraternity brothers invade his room, leaving him naked, frightened and defenseless to himself and Cassie.
The gang of five or six pins McKay face down on the ground as they force themselves on top of him, dry humping him profusely. A phone shines down on his body as they record the incident. Cassie finds herself screaming “Stop! Get off of him!” as the group chants “McGay! McGay! McGay!” The Sig Pi Nu brothers finish the act and exit the room. As tears run down the face of McKay and his trembling body lays face down on the ground, viewers go through the trauma and humiliation he received from his frat brothers. McKay is rattled and embarrassed, as Cassie sits on the bed in silence attempting to piece together what occurred. He has a moment to himself in the bathroom where he is faced with his emotions although he momentarily avoids staring at himself in the mirror.
Euphoria’s knack to push the envelope has raised eyebrows but for Smith, the goal is to tell a story many others have glossed over.
“I feel like that [incident] challenged everything in him,” he tells VIBE. “You’re in a personal moment with your girl and out of nowhere, this happened. You know getting hazed is a part of the process, but he didn’t expect it at this time. This challenged him as a man since he couldn’t protect Cassie or himself.”
Throughout his budding acting career, Algee Smith has played up the dichotomy of black males who struggle to find their identity. A reoccurring theme in past scripts (The New Edition Story, Detriot, The Hate U Give) has revealed an authentic raw truth.
“Within McKay and Euphoria, there is a struggle in him to really to find his identity to see who he is with everything going on with his father,” he explained. “In The Hate U Give there’s a struggle with Khalil since he’s trying to provide for his mom, grandmother and his little brother because there’s no father in the house. In Detroit, it’s a struggle with Larry trying to make it through racial times.”
Smith’s ability to morph into relatable characters was nearly overlooked by Hollywood. Between finding the money for Uber rides, staying on a friend’s couch, and trying to keep his stomach fueled, the award-winning actor almost returned to Atlanta.
“It was a really humbling time,” he recalled. “I thought I was about to head back home to Atlanta and that’s when I ended up booking New Edition and while I was filming that, I booked Detroit, and while I was filming that, I booked The Hate U Give.”
VIBE talked with Algee Smith about Euphoria, his music career and why he refuses to be boxed in.
VIBE: Congrats on the success of Euphoria. How do you think your fans, family, and friends are responding to the season?
I think people are excited. I think people are shocked as well. At the same time, people are just hooked on it. It’s just real s**t. As far as my family and friends, everyone was confused about what happened in my episode. Everybody just had a million questions.
VIBE: You have some inspirational quotes that you crafted on your website, can you dive into what they mean to you?
The first being, “I’m more interested in a relationship with the creator of the world. Than in a religion created by man.”
I grew up in a Christian church and it taught me really good morals. At the same time, I feel like religion is created. The root of my religion is love and you see that in all living things. You see that in trees, plants, oxygen and animals. I’m more interested in knowing who created me than knowing something that a man created to keep us systematic.
The next is, “The hunger to win starts with aggression against failure.”
I look at it like this, if you get tired of losing so much you’re going to want to win. But it also depends on the type of person you are. For me, I just got so tired of feeling like I wasn’t doing life right. So then I thought, “Okay, I’m going to sit here until I get it right.” My hunger to win arrived with the aggression about failing.
Backing up, was there anything that stood out to you about the Euphoria script that made it a winner to you?
When I went in for my initial audition, I auditioned for Ethan (played by Austin Abrams) and it was cool, but it just didn’t stick right away. A couple of months went by and I get a call back from the writer, Sam Levison and he was like, “Yo man I love your work and I loved your tape, I want to sit down and have lunch with you.”
My insides are going to create my reality outside. As long as I got that then I know I’m in the right spot.
We started discussing McKay and just where we could take the character. From that moment on I just knew that I wanted to be a part of the show and at that point, I hadn’t even seen the script. I got sent every script after that meeting and I was like ‘Okay yeah, I’m on board.’ It was just so raw, so real, and I knew the impact that it could have.
McKay and his father deal with their own struggles as father and son, how does that compare to the relationship that you have with your dad?
I can definitely compare to just having a father that wants you to do well. I grew up in music before I started acting. My dad is a professional musician all around the board: touring, playing music, doing sound, he is all about music. I learned that from him. I just want to make him proud, every time I go into the studio, hit the stage or I’m acting.
I just want to make him proud because we started this together. However, with [McKay and his father] it’s different with me and my dad because we grew to learn how to communicate. That’s something McKay and his father haven’t found yet but thankfully me and my father, have that even though I did grow up in that hard work ethic type of environment.
I get a Degrassi vibe from Euphoria. How do you think the shows compare to each other?
It does have some similarities to Degrassi but I would explain it as this is a show of teenagers coming into their adulthood trying to navigate life dealing with drugs, sex and communication. We see all these different people go through these different things and there’s like no sugar coating. When you’re watching it, I feel like I have been in some of these situations before because that’s how real it is.
Let’s transition into music. Your YouTube Channel consisted of Music Mondays where you freestyled over beats, one of your most popular was your “Bedrock Freestyle” in 2011. You’ve been teasing your new single “All Girls Matter.” Can you share what the song is about?
The album is called ATL. It describes the journey of faith from Atlanta to Los Angeles, it’s just really fun songs. “All Girls Matter” is the first single off of the album. When I hear “All Girls Matter,” I think something that women can personalize themselves so they can feel good about it when they say it. When they hear it, they just feel good about themselves.
Lastly, how do you reach your goals? Have you done a vision board?
I do vision boards actively, the last time I did one was right before I came out here from Atlanta. Right now, I write my goals down on my phone and I wake up every day and give myself affirmations. I write down what I want to happen in my life and I just go throughout the day speaking it. If I just think about it randomly then I’ll speak it. As long as I can get my mind thinking about it then my mind creates what’s outside. My insides are going to create my reality outside. As long as I got that then I know I’m in the right spot.