Maude Apatow, the eldest daughter of writer-director-producer Judd Apatow and actress Leslie Mann, got an early taste of the indignities of showbiz. As a grade-schooler, she shot small roles for Kicking and Screaming, Talladega Nights, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, only to see herself sliced out of all three. By the time she disappeared from the last of those films, she was fed up. “I’m sick and tired,” she told her dad at age eight, “of just being in the DVD extras!”
Maude more than earned her screen time at age 14, on 2012’s This Is 40, throwing hilariously authentic adolescent tantrums, fighting convincingly with her real-life younger sister, Iris, and nailing her first tearful monologue. (“What I think was so great about Maude is she really could get in the head of what a teenage meltdown looks like, do it on film, kick ass — and then go home and have a real one, two hours later,” says her dad.) After that, she had a fairly normal high school experience, if you don’t count burgeoning social media stardom thanks to her precociously witty feed. When her parents allowed her to start auditioning, she began winning role after role outside the Apatow-sphere, including her part as Lexi, the least messed-up teen on HBO’s Euphoria, memorably introduced as a supplier of drug-free urine to Zendaya’s Rue.
Among other talents, Maude has inherited her mom’s entertaining ability to vibrate with palpable anxiety onscreen, a skill she puts to use as the put-upon, overachieving younger sister of Pete Davidson’s aimless man-child character in her dad’s excellent new movie, The King of Staten Island (based loosely on Davidson’s own life). Originally set for a theatrical run, the film ended up going straight to a June 12th home release after the pandemic shut movie theaters. For their first-ever joint interview, Judd and Maude talked to Rolling Stone via Zoom from their L.A. home, where they were sheltering in place. (If not for the pandemic, Judd would’ve been off producing a Nick Stoller-directed Billy Eichner romantic comedy, while Maude was supposed to be shooting Season Two of Euphoria — “We had all our table reads and camera tests and were ready to go right before quarantine started,” she says.) After extensive familial negotiations, they opted to speak from separate rooms, in part, Maude half-jokes, “because my nightmare is having to compliment my dad to his face.”
So who’s handling lockdown worse?
Maude: You’re definitely handling it worse!
Judd: I’m handling it worse? How so? How would you describe how I’m handling it?
Maude: Oh, my gosh, the first three weeks of lockdown you were losing it. But now you’re doing a lot better. I think we’ve all settled in.
Judd: I decided to take a two-hour walk every morning around the house. I just circle the neighborhood, and that seems to level me out. It took me a while to figure out what to do to get positive chemicals in my body.
Maude, you’re working on a movie script right now. Your dad has given countless young actors advice on becoming screenwriters; how does that work for you?
Maude: My dad gives me a lot of advice that I pretend that I don’t listen to, but I actually listened to most of his advice about writing. And he’s probably taught me most things I know. And he’s really helpful to me, even though sometimes it causes fights.
Judd: We battle about it. We go to war when we talk about story structure and script, because there’s nothing anyone wants less in the world than to be taught something by their father. So I always have to try to figure out how to sneak any information in — but as a father, you’re always irritating. And I’m always shocked by how irritating I am. Other people don’t have to spend the entire day with me. So if I’m sitting with Pete Holmes or Amy Schumer, they just have to spend that 45 minutes with me, not the next 22 hours. I think the other 22 hours is what makes it so hard to listen to the 45 minutes.
Maude, you already co-wrote and co-directed a short film when you were a teenager. Is that a clue to your ultimate ambitions?
Maude: I mean, I love acting, and I’m really lucky right now that I’m getting work and can do that. But my dad’s always told me my whole life that it’s really important to learn how to produce and how to direct and write. If you can write for yourself, that’s a gift, and when you can’t get acting work, you’ll have that, and it’s just a big advantage. I met Lena Dunham when I was 12, so I saw that she could do that. And I always looked up to her and thought she was very inspirational — seeing that someone can do that and write and direct themselves and act in that project is really cool to me. So hopefully I can do more of that. But I think I’m just gonna see how it all plays out. . . . I’m really into dark comedy, and I’m a big thriller-horror fan. I’d like to try to mix them if I can.
Judd, did you have any compunctions about letting your kids into show business?
Judd: For me, as a kid, I always wanted to work in movies and television. I couldn’t think of why anyone else wouldn’t want to [laughs]. And so there have been times when I thought, “Maybe if I talked about other professions all the time, my kids would have more interest in those professions.” Like, if I always talked about international law, they’d want to be lawyers. There’s something demented about how we’re so focused on storytelling and drama and comedy in our house. But also, I felt like Maude and Iris are the two most amusing people I’ve ever met — and why would I ever put anyone else in these projects? And then we did things together, and I was proven correct, at least in my mind… I think what Maude has done without me is very different than most of the work that I do. She has her own vision about the kinds of movies she wants to see and write and perform. It’s great seeing her take a different path.
Maude: When I was growing up, my parents never let me act in anything that wasn’t with them. And I remember, as a kid, wanting to be on Broadway. And I’d look on message boards and websites and casting calls. I really wanted to start working. And it was important to my parents that I finished high school and [was] mature enough to be able to handle myself in those situations without them. I’m really glad that I ended up staying in high school. I feel like when they let me start acting on my own, I was actually ready.
Judd: Both Iris and Maude have gotten really mad at us for wanting them to take their time and try to have a normal life for as long as possible. So our idea was always, “You can work with us or with our friends, people who can protect you,” because sets are a weird place. And anytime you have young people on the set, you there’s always these moments where you think, “This is a conversation they should not be hearing.” Also, as a young actress, most of your life is going out on auditions and being rejected. Being a teenager is hard enough as it is without that kind of rejection. That didn’t seem like it would be that healthy.
Are you both kind of relieved that Lexi on Euphoria is the best-behaved character on one of the most decadent teen shows ever made?
Judd: [Laughs] For now! I always say to her, “Usually the good girl does not remain so over the course of a long series.”
Maude: There definitely is some evolution in the coming season. Obviously, I’m sworn to secrecy, but . . .
Maude, how did Sam Levinson end up writing Lexi for you?
Maude: Sam and I met in my freshman year of college; we FaceTimed from my dorm because he was casting [his 2018 film] Assassination Nation and we were trying to decide if it was worth flying to New York to go read for him in person, and we really hit it off. And then I ended up auditioning for him in New York, and not getting the role that I auditioned for. But he wrote in a different role for me. I just feel like he really gets me. He’s really good at meeting someone and then writing for them specifically and paying attention to the way that they talk and their mannerisms. And even though he wrote Lexi with me in mind, I still read for the part four times. He’s very collaborative and very open to listening and making it feel as authentic as possible.
Sam is Barry Levinson’s son — did you ever discuss coming from showbiz families?
Maude: We’ve never talked about it!
Judd: What’s funny about it is Barry Levinson’s my hero. One of the reasons I started writing was because of Diner and how he wrote male friendship and about his gang. That was one of the earliest inspirations for me in writing the guys in Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I was obsessed with the idea that he improvised on set. It was the first time I ever heard about that as kid: Paul Reiser made up some of those bits in the movie? It seemed so exciting to me. So it’s funny that she’s working with Sam, because Barry’s always been a North Star for me.
The part Maude plays in The King of Staten Island wasn’t written for her, and you actually did audition other actors for that role, right?
Judd: We were wide open about who would play that part. It was so important that there was chemistry with Pete and it would feel like a family. I wanted to make sure that he felt that every part we cast was exactly right for him, because the story is so personal, and I hesitated about pulling the trigger on Maude. Pete was getting irritated with me! Because he’s like, “That was my first idea! Why did we even do auditions?” But I wanted to make sure it felt right, and once it did, it got very fun and exciting, you know, watching her be the one person in the movie who could challenge him. A lot of what Maude brought to her character was love and concern for Pete, and also anger over how much air he had taken out of the house the whole time she was growing up. There’s a complexity to that, because she’s definitely torn between worrying about him, caring about him, and being really angry with him.
This is the first time the two of you have worked extensively together since Maude was a little kid. Now, she’s an experienced actor. How was it different?
Maude: I really trust my dad’s judgment of how I’m doing, and I think he knows — I don’t know how to say this without sounding so cringe! — my potential, and so I really felt comfortable. On sets, I get really nervous. I’m nervous in general. I felt comfortable knowing that he had my back, and he wasn’t gonna let me fall or do anything stupid, and then I could kind of go for it. . . . I’ve been in TV and indie movies where there’s not a lot of time or freedom to improvise and take your time with it. This felt like the ideal way to work, having that time and letting the scenes sort of grow into something.
What did it take to get the wonderful scene the night before Maude’s character goes to college, where she and Pete argue?
Judd: We took pretty much an entire day, because we knew it was so important. And we wanted to have enough time to really let it fly. So we had a script. We had done a lot of rehearsal of it. It was the audition scene. But I think most of what what wound up in the movie came from some great improvised moments. We were trying to decide the level of anger, and how it would explode.
Maude: Yeah, we did a lot of levels of anger [laughs].
Judd: Because her character basically is trying to come in, give him a present, and say “please go easy on mom,” and leave, so she can not feel guilty about leaving her brother alone with her mom, which she knows is going to result in nothing good. Everything is clearly gonna collapse the second she walks out the door. But she does want to make one effort to say, “Please, can you make it OK with mom.” And then she immediately realizes that is not possible. He’s not going to do it. And she gets angry and frustrated.
Maude, did it ever spill out into a method-acting thing where you and Pete started getting annoyed with each other in real life?
Maude: I don’t think so. But, obviously, with long fight scenes when you’re screaming at each other all day, afterwards you’re like, “Hold on. I forgot that we’re fine in real life!” But we were pretty good at leaving that on set.
Judd: The fun part is that Pete seems way more interested in the success of the other actors and actresses than he is in himself. He loves when other people score and he gets giddy about it on set. It’s almost like doesn’t want to think about how he’s doing. He just wants to celebrate how other people are doing. That’s that’s his insecurity: “How am I doing? Am I doing OK? That was OK, right? Oh my God, Maude was so amazing!”
Was Pete’s real-life sister part of the preparation process for the role at all?
Maude: I wanted to be sensitive about her and not make her feel like I was in doing an impression of her. She was on set a lot, and we had met, but I wanted to try and do my own version of it. And then after we stopped shooting, we actually hung out a few times. And we text, and she’s great. I love her.
There are scenes in this movie that have a different feel for you, Judd, a sort of loose, John Cassavetes thing. How conscious was that?
Judd: I’m always thinking a lot about John Cassavetes. There are some amazing interviews with him that have been very inspirational. In one interview, he talks about how he doesn’t care if people like an entire movie. He just needs a few scenes to stick with them for the rest of their lives [laughs]. For him, everything was about it being memorable. You might not even think you liked the movie. But if it stuck in your craw, and nine years later there was that one moment that you think about every once in a while, then then that was of great value.
And it’s hard for me to not want things to be crazy-funny wall-to-wall. It takes a lot of discipline for me to say, Let’s make the scene authentic and strong, and it’s going to be as funny as it winds up being. All these actors and actresses are so interesting and funny, but it doesn’t have to be a riot all along the path. So that is a challenge, because I take some security in the comedic success of the scene. And, you know, one of the things I did is I allowed our cinematographer, Robert Elswit, to move the camera to follow the action and use his eye. Usually, virtually everyone’s locked down so we never miss the joke, right? The camera is always on someone’s face, and it never budges. But the entire shooting style is different with with Bob, and it’s much more alive. And when I got in post, I wondered, “What jokes did I miss because Bob was on the wrong person?” And I swear to God, he didn’t miss once the entire movie. And that changed things a great deal also. So I just tried to value the drama and the story more than the comedy. I hope there’s enough comedy in there, but that’s not really why we’re here.
Judd, you’ve had a lot to say about Donald Trump on Twitter. Do those moments of political outrage spill over into the house at all?
Judd: I don’t bother everybody in the house too much about it. . . .
Maude: If we bring it up, you’ll definitely start talking about it! [Laughs.] Every day is horrible, but on an especially bad Trump day, it’ll definitely affect the mood in the house. I mean, it hurts, these days.
Judd: [Trump’s behavior] is too shocking on a daily basis and on an hourly basis. It’s worse than my worst nightmares I’ve had, and I feel like I’ve been ranting about it for years. I think it’s everything that I had a sense might happen, just a combination of corruption and ineptitude. And heartlessness. But I think we’re all just looking for ways to be positive and put something good out into the world in spite of it.
And what’s the latest on Iris’ acting career?
She’s finishing up eleventh grade now, and studying film and acting. We worked together on the TV show Love [she played Aria, the sulky young star of a fictional TV show about witches in Kansas called Witchita], and she was phenomenal in that, so funny. And really enjoyed doing it. So she’s literally right at the moment where she’s going to start berating me for not being allowed to pursue it. So I’m sure we’ll be hearing from her very, very soon.