THE LAST MAGAZINE – Maude Apatow knows life in Hollywood. After all, it’s where she grew up and where she still lives and works as an actress. While her entrée into the film industry was an unconventional one that began, essentially, at her birth, the choice she made to continue as an adult was genuinely incisive. After spending the past nine months shooting Sam Levinson’s new HBO series Euphoria alongside Zendaya and with the announcement that she’ll be co-starring in a film with Pete Davidson this summer—plus “Don’t Mind Alice,” the short she co-wrote and -directed that debuted at the Santa Barbara Film Festival last year—it’s clear she’s been in full pursuit for a while now. And if being born into a family of Hollywood stars has affected her—apart from the opportunities it offered her, which she hasn’t taken for granted—it seems only to have made her into someone just like the rest of us: a slightly nervous, Instagram-addicted twenty-year-old with a sense of humor and a love of reality television.
“When I was acting as a kid,” Apatow says, “I didn’t really think about it. It just felt normal to me.” Now she says she has learned a lot from her parents, the director Judd Apatow and the actor Leslie Mann, in more recent years and that they both wholeheartedly support her work in film. Her mom, in particular, helps her practice lines and soundboard ideas and the Apatow clan together is a tight-knit unit, best friends and family all in one. Movies may always be the family business, but it’s clear that early roles playing her mother’s daughter alongside her sister Iris—in films like Knocked Up, Funny People, and This is 40, all of them written and directed by her father—are probably not what will define Apatow’s legacy.
After all, it’s been six years since she was in one of her father’s films and she’s beginning to focus on her own set of goals. (Though she is excited to be working with him again on the untitled Davidson project this summer.) In the time that’s passed since This Is 40, Apatow studied acting and took on a number of roles, including as a high school student of Lena Dunham’s Hannah in season four of Girls. She also began writing screenplays—or, as she emphasizes, “practiced” writing screenplays. It’s this multifaceted nature of being a filmmaker that excites her—the acting, writing, and directing. She loves to see women in particular “create something and star in it,” she explains. “It’s funny and personal,” she says of shows like Girls. “It’s cool to see how someone can do all of those things at one time and have it turn out really well.”
It’s with all this in mind that she has chosen the roles she has taken on as an adult, gradually working her way into more and more varied projects. After working with Sam Levinson on his 2018 film Assasination Nation, a scathing and violent social commentary and satire set from the viewpoint of a group of teenage girls who are blamed for a mass hacking spree in a modern-day take on the Salem witch trials, she is now appearing in his HBO series Euphoria. She plays the role of Lexi Howard, childhood friend to main character Rue Bennet (Zendaya). The show, based on an Israeli series, is reminiscent of Assassination Nation, a similarly acerbic take on teenagehood in a social media-driven world. “We’re the first generation to grow up with social media, so [the show is about] trying to navigate that and not letting it become too much,” Apatow says. “It shows how dark it can really be.” Based around the theme of teenage addiction, the show graphically depicts a high school world of sexual abuse, blood and violence, adolescent drug-dealing, porn, and more in a whirlwind of glittery visuals and synths, leaving viewers wondering whether being a teenager in 2019 is…actually like this. According to Apatow, the answer is yes and no. “Euphoria is cool in that [Sam] writes these very three-dimensional characters who’ve got a lot of layers,” she explains. “They are very grounded in reality, but the situations on the show are very heightened, so it’s important to remember that.”
The show has already garnered some controversy for its graphic nature, and that’s just from the pilot. Even Apatow herself hasn’t yet seen the rest, which she admits is a little anxiety-inducing. “It’s scary doing a show for nine months and not being able to see anything you’ve done and just hoping it’ll turn out OK,” she says, “but we’re lucky to have Sam. I trust him and I think he has all of our backs. That’s making me feel better.” For Apatow, the time she spent on this project felt particularly critical because of the way Euphoria addresses relevant and important issues—including anxiety, the primary factor that leads Zendaya’s character to addiction on the show. “I’ve never seen anxiety portrayed in such an accurate way on TV before,” she adds. To her, this is personal, too: “As someone who deals with anxiety and OCD, it was refreshing to see that [portrayed] in a very thoughtful way.”
Lexi is the quieter, seemingly more innocent foil for Rue, but Apatow says she is a girl who actually has been through a lot. On the whole, the actor feels quite similar to her character, but she struggles to answer what she relates to, in what turns out to be humility—or shyness. “That’s hard. I think she has a good sense of humor, I think she’s a good friend,” she explains. “She’s a caring, compassionate person and I’d like to think I’m like that.” Still, “I think it’s important to find what separates you from your character,” she adds. “They’re going to do different things than you.” For her, remembering this distance is a technique in both skill and self-preservation. “Finding that separation between you and your character makes it easier to play scenes that are really intense or emotional,” she explains. “You can get out of it quicker. You don’t need to take that along.”
As she wraps up Euphoria and before she begins work on her next film, Apatow is spending her days writing, working out ideas for future projects—and, in her downtime, watching a lot of reality TV, namely The Bachelor and every show on TLC. “I know reality TV can be exploitative and not good sometimes”—and it’s certainly not the only thing she watches—“but reality shows give me insight into people who have completely different lives than I do,” she says, laughing. “You feel like you’re getting to know these people you don’t know at all. You weirdly watch them and care about them and get to know so much about them, and you can’t stop because you want to check up on how things are going in their lives.”
While she doesn’t let on whether or not she’s writing anything exciting at the moment—”You’ll see!”—she knows what she wants to be doing in the long run. “It’s about telling stories that haven’t been heard before and creating opportunities for people who don’t feel like they’ve been represented,” she explains. “I want to be able to contribute to that,” a goal she seems to be working towards with all her projects. What she wants people to take away from Euphoria and its depiction of mental illness might serve as a theme for all her work, then, just the hope that people “can relate to one or two or all of the characters and what they’re going through and know they’re not alone navigating life at this weird time.”
Euphoria continues on Sundays on HBO.