Angus Cloud’s Eyes Said It All

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On Monday morning, the actor Angus Cloud died at his family’s home in Oakland. (The cause of death is not yet known, but TMZ, which broke the news, reported that Cloud’s mother cited a “possible overdose” when she called 911.) Cloud was known for playing the drug dealer Fezco on the exceedingly popular HBO show “Euphoria.” It was his first professional acting role; before getting discovered, he was working at a chicken-and-waffles restaurant in Bushwick. One day, he was walking down the street when a casting scout approached him and asked him to audition for an upcoming television series. “I thought it was a scam,” he told GQ, in 2019. But, after nailing two script readings, he got the job and moved to Los Angeles, staying in Airbnbs because landlords wouldn’t rent to him; he didn’t have any credit, and no one believed that he was truly an actor. And yet, as soon as “Euphoria” ’s pilot aired, it was clear not only that Cloud could act but that he had the strength and distinction of a much more mature star. Fez was meant to be killed off at the end of the first season, but Sam Levinson, the show’s creator, apparently changed his mind after watching Cloud perform.

It wouldn’t be a knock on “Euphoria” to call the show an operatic affair, cycling, as it does, at warp speed between spectacular highs and lows, as if to mimic the minds of the lost and suffering California teen-agers whom it portrays. The story line that Cloud was given aligned with the series’ turbocharged melodrama. Fez, we learned during the course of the show’s two seasons, was raised by his brassy, platinum-dyed drug-dealer grandmother, whose business he took over, partnering with his face-tatted adopted tween brother, Ashtray, after she fell ill. A bearded thug with close-cropped hair who speaks in hip-hop patois, Fez spends his days armed to the nines at his trap house, where he sells pills to his fellow-minors, ready to scrap with terrifying drug kingpins at a moment’s notice.

But, amid these often-nihilistic narrative hysterics, Fez also served as the show’s moral center. This might seem counterintuitive, as he facilitated the drug addiction of the show’s protagonist, Rue (Zendaya), to whom he’s mutely attached. “You did this to me, Fez! You fucking ruined my life!” she screams at one point, and though Fez realizes his complicity in Rue’s condition—his face registers the justice in her words, and, for the moment, he refuses to give her the pills she’s begging for—he is also unable to detach himself from continued wrongdoing. This life is all he knows.

Cloud gave this complicated role a wounded majesty. Fez was a man of few words, and the actor’s performance had a consistent stillness to it; his limpid, gentle gaze often did the talking for him. His stoicism made him an absorbing force on screen, even when acting alongside more seasoned performers, like Zendaya, to whom the script provides more obvious dramatic opportunities. When Rue confronts Fez, she is in the depths of drug withdrawal, yelling at him and attempting to bang down the door of his house; it’s the kind of scene that would eventually lead to Zendaya’s winning two Emmys for her performance. In the second season, Fez was often witness to brutal acts of violence, committed either by his brother or by other drug-dealing characters. Cloud out-acted these performers by doing almost nothing—a demonstration of the actor’s own modesty. Jennifer Venditti, who cast the role, and who is known for prizing grit and realness, wrote on Instagram, after news of the actor’s death, that, as Fez, Cloud “didn’t need to speak, [his] eyes said it all.” As a viewer, this struck me as true. In Cloud’s eyes, you could see the soul of a man trapped by circumstance, chafing against a position that he is unable to escape. By the end of the second season, his brother has been killed by the police, and Fez himself has suffered potentially fatal injuries. Like the path of a character in a naturalist novel, Fez’s trajectory is both tragic and inevitable.

How difficult, then, that Cloud’s own trajectory has also now ended in tragedy. In his past interviews, he had alluded to deeper troubles: “I just feel like, everything going on in the world, like, you’re gonna go click on my page and see me smiling and happy and living my life like everything’s good,” he said, in a clip that has been circulating on social media. “Everything is not good. Everything is pretty bad. My life, personally, I’m maintaining, you know what I’m saying, but, generally, this shit is fucked up.”

A couple of weeks ago, Cloud’s father died, and his family has said that Cloud was struggling with intense grief. Reading this, I found myself thinking about the recent death of Sinéad O’Connor, who also lost a close family member—her son, to suicide­—last year, and had tweeted a few days before her passing of her intense heartache. “Been living as undead night creature since,” she wrote.

The public outpouring of grief after O’Connor’s passing felt like an occasion to grapple not just with the fact of her death but also with how much she meant to so many of us in the course of so many years. Her work and life supplied a deep cultural repository that could at least be savored by her fans. Cloud’s case feels different. He had recently turned twenty-five, which is a stunningly young age by any measure. The mourning, in this instance, includes the loss of enormous untapped potential.

After the second season of “Euphoria” aired, Cloud gave an interview in which he mentioned that he felt misunderstood by some of the show’s fans, who assumed that he and his character were essentially one and the same. (This is perhaps because of videos like this one, in which Cloud, when asked what he says to fans who had emotional reactions to the second-season finale, responds, “Ummm . . . I tell ’em, that’s what’s up.”) His concern seemed to be that people thought his job was easy—that they were diminishing all the work he had put into the role.

One can only imagine how Cloud would have grown as an actor. Many of the young performers in “Euphoria,” which has created a slew of new, recognizable faces—Sydney Sweeney, Alexa Demie, and Maude Apatow, to name just a few—are already trying their hand at different kinds of projects, from theatre productions to bio-pics. Cloud had got started on this process, too, and will reportedly appear in three films posthumously, including a drama starring actors such as Pedro Pascal and a coming-of-age film, “The Line,” which premièred at the Tribeca Festival in June to widespread acclaim. “I can’t wait for everyone to see,” Cloud told an interviewer, last year. “They’re a little different than what I usually do, so it will be cool.” ♦


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