'White Lotus' Star Sydney Sweeney's Long Journey (20-Hour Drives for Auditions!) to Success

"This is finally my dream coming true," the actress tells PEOPLE in this week's issue

Sydney Sweeney is living out her dream as a working actress.

The 24-year-old, who is featured in PEOPLE's 2021 Ones to Watch package in this week's issue, remembers wanting to act "even before I knew exactly what acting was."

"I grew up with imaginary friends and imaginary worlds," she says. "And I think when I realized that TV shows and movies were basically these imaginary worlds brought to life, and that [that was] a job I could do, I begged my parents nonstop [to help me make it happen]."

But the path to Hollywood was "difficult," admits Sweeney, who grew up in Spokane, Washington.

"[My parents] looked at it as just a dream, a fairytale. ... It wasn't something that was tangible," she recalls. "We didn't have the connections. We didn't have the money, any of it, to be able to pull something like this off. My parents literally sacrificed so much to be able to support me [and my] dreams."

sydney sweeney

Determined to achieve her goals, Sweeney pitched an official proposal to her parents around age 13.

"I created a five-year business plan presentation of what could happen if they let me start auditioning for movies," she says. "I was like, 'How can I communicate to them on a level that they'll take me seriously and they'll understand?'"

"I think they were like, 'Oh man, she's very serious and she's not going to shut up about this.' And so they let me [do it]," she continues. "We started doing road trips to Seattle, and doing short films and little indies. And it snowballed [from there]."

They couldn't afford plane tickets to L.A., so they would drive to the city for auditions and back home the next day.

"We didn't have to spend money on a hotel — just gas," she says. "And we did that sometimes twice a month. It was crazy. It's like, a good 19, 20-hour drive."

For more from Sydney Sweeney, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Eventually her parents agreed to move to L.A., where they initially struggled, which makes sharing her current success even sweeter. Though it took a little longer than the five-year plan proposed, Sweeney ended up booking two TV gigs — Everything Sucks! and Sharp Objects — that propelled her to stardom.

She went on to score roles in The Handmaid's Tale, Euphoria and The White Lotus. Next, she'll be producing and starring in The Players Table for HBO Max alongside Halsey.


Sweeney credits her success to her family and calls mom Lisa her "biggest role model."

"This is finally my dream coming true," the Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood star says. "It's amazing. Being able to bring them on set, or being able to bring them to red carpets — I flew my grandmother to Paris Fashion Week, and she got to go to a fashion show and sit front row."

"Just being able to share those experiences with my family who saw me struggle and struggled themselves, getting to share the success with them has been really heartwarming. Sometimes I get so teary thinking about it, but it's really good."

the white lotus

So what does Sweeney's five-year plan look like today?

"I hope to have produced a couple of different projects. I have two that I've sold already and I'm producing," she says. "I would love to direct something in the next five years."

Also, "I hope to do a character that challenges me to a whole other level, where I have to physically and mentally change myself," she adds. "And I hope to continue having a healthy and happy relationship with my family."

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