"Wait!” Maude Apatow interrupts herself in a moment of panic. "I need to make sure that I give you an exact statement of how I’m supposed to describe it because I don’t know if I’ve spoiled anything.” The 22-year-old actress has the arduous task of promoting a new project shrouded in secrecy, and she understandably doesn’t want to blow it. Apatow and I are just a few minutes into our phone conversation when I ask her about the project in question, Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series Hollywood. She hints at a post-war Tinseltown narrative turned on its head, and that’s pretty much all she can say at the time of our call. Hollywood is Murphy’s second project for the giant streamer, and luckily, I don’t need to be privy to key plotlines to know that one, the series will be a hit, and two, the cast, a mix of industry vets and exciting new talent, is not to be overlooked. These are Murphy staples, after all.
Apatow came to the Netflix project hot off a big summer starring in the HBO teen drama Euphoria. A second season was in the works before production was halted in response to COVID-19, and despite my few attempts to get any details, the young actress is again staying tight-lipped. Next month, she has The King of Staten Island, a semi-autobiographical comedy starring Pete Davidson. The film marks the third time working with her father, Judd Apatow, an experience she describes as "a really good mentor-mentee relationship.” Having parents in the industry is definitely a perk, but when I ask about paving her own path, Apatow assures me that she is putting in the hard work needed to make it far in this business.
Having watched Apatow as a child actress in films like Knocked Up and This Is 40 and then later as a young adult in projects like Assassination Nation and Euphoria, it’s easy to feel as if I’ve grown up alongside her, despite our 10-year age gap. Spending time with her in person on the set of our May fashion editorial and on the phone, I can confirm she is every bit as effervescent and charming as you might imagine. There is a certain giddiness that comes across when she talks about her work, especially her aspirations to write and direct more—two credits I’m impressed to see already exist on her résumé. For someone who has been in this business or adjacent to it her entire life, you would think she has it figured out, but that’s the exciting thing about Apatow. Whether she’s stealing scenes in summer’s hottest TV series or finding her fashion point of a view on the red carpet, we’re just seeing the beginnings of her true potential. All the more reason to keep watching.
Keep scrolling for my exclusive interview with the actress.
First of all, how are you doing?
I don’t know, it’s really freaking me out, but I just hope everything calms down. I don’t leave my house anyway, so staying at home is okay. It’s more just scary reading what’s happening in the world. The first three days, I was reading the news constantly. Now I try to designate three times a day I can look at it because otherwise I would constantly read it.
Well, the reason we are chatting is you have some really exciting projects coming out, including Hollywood on Netflix. What can you tell me about the series and your character, Henrietta?
It’s about a group of actors and filmmakers in post-war Hollywood, and it talks about old power dynamics and what the entertainment landscape might look like if it had been dismantled. It’s really interesting!
But my character, Henrietta, is the wife of Jack, who is played by David Corenswet. He’s a struggling actor, and I’m a waitress, and we are sort of having issues with money, and something big happens. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say anything else.
As a young actress yourself, do you see any similarities with the Hollywood landscape then versus now?
I think the show is very timely and relevant. It shows how everything has changed, but at the same time, nothing has changed. I mean, representation of people of color and women and the LGBTQ+ community, it’s a struggle then and now. Things have gotten better, but we still have a long way to go.
The series is set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, so I’m guessing the costumes are pretty special. Any particular look(s) stand out to you?
They are amazing! When I entered the costume fitting room, it was incredible. They have hundreds of beautiful vintage dresses and shoes and purses and hats. It’s amazing. I know what costume is my favorite, but if I say anything, it will spoil it. I’ve never worked on anything that is set in this era, so it was really cool to see all the costumes and the hair and makeup too.
After Hollywood, you have The King of Staten Island, which is written and directed by your father. This isn’t the first time you’ve worked with him. How would you say the director-actor dynamic is different now that you are older?
So obviously, it’s really different because the last time I worked with my dad, I was 12, and the first time I worked with him, I was 6 or 7. Both times, I don’t think I took acting as seriously. Whereas now, I did theater all through high school and went to a minor acting program, and I really care about acting. I think my dad really knows what I’m capable of and pushes me to do an amazing job. And I think we have a really good mentor-mentee relationship. I feel really lucky to work with him because he really knows how to talk to me and push me. I don’t want to say this because it’s really cringy, but he pushes me to my full potential. I didn’t know what to expect [going into this film], but it was great, and I love working with my dad. He really has taught me everything I know about acting, so I feel very lucky to be able to work with him.
The King of Staten Island stars Pete Davidson and is loosely based on his life. Having worked together in this film, what do you think it is about him that is so interesting to audiences?
Let me think about this. I mean, first, he is super funny, and I think he is very honest, and you feel that when you talk to him. He is just right there with you when you are talking to him and raw, and he’s a very kind, authentic person. He is obviously going through some stuff, and everyone wants to know what’s going on, but he’s very honest and open about it.
I want to talk about Euphoria, which was such a big hit. When did you first realize we have something unique and big here?
I don’t know if I ever realized that. I worked with Sam [Levinson] on Assassination Nation, and so I knew he was incredible at what he does. But then when you are reading scripts and working on it, it’s hard to visualize what it’s going to look like. It felt pretty good, but we were just hoping for the best. We didn’t see any of the rest of the show until the premiere, and we had just finished shooting a week before that, so it all happened really quickly. I’m just really glad people like it because when you are working on something that is sort of controversial like that, you are just praying that people like it and it does well. I’m so relieved and happy. We are just about to start season two, but I don’t know what’s happening now.
What do you think it is about Sam Levinson’s storytelling that really resonates with audiences? There is definitely a lot of shock value to his work.
He really researches. He’s super involved in every aspect of it, but I think he just does a lot of research in writing thoughtful teenage characters. It’s tricky when older people are writing from the perspective of a teenager, and sometimes it sounds false or doesn’t sound authentic, and I think Sam really cares about whether we sound authentic. He will ask us questions, and he is very collaborative. I’ve never seen anything that feels that true to how teenagers are growing up right now with social media, the pressure we’re all put under at this time right now, and I think he really captured it. While sometimes the show is over the top, there is a lot of truth to it. He’s not taking any teenage experiences lightly or making them into a joke. I know for me as a teenager, I always felt like people would say to me, Oh, you’re just emotional and crazy because you are a teenager. This is just hormones. And I’d be like, well, I’m still going through it. Take me seriously. I think Sam does a really good job of taking teenagers seriously.
You have to tell us about the Bob Ross costume. Whose idea was it?
That was Sam’s idea. The costume designer [Heidi Bivens] is so good.
What, if anything, can you tell us about season two? Can we expect to see more of Lexi’s story?
Yes. I really can’t say anything, but I think they are really good. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but we got to read the scripts last week, and they are really, really good. I think people are going to like them.
For our shoot, the fashion vibe was garden party–chic with a pastel color palette, flowy dresses, and prim accessories. Do you like the pomp and circumstance of getting dressed up for a shoot or a red carpet?
I totally do. I find it really hard to find situations in my normal life to get dressed up. Just going out of the house and going to work, I always wear jeans and a T-shirt or even sweatpants, so when I get to dress up for events, I really get excited. I’m still trying to discover what my style is. I have my stylist, Leith Clark, who is amazing, and with her I’m discovering what I like.
Who do you think is killing it right now in terms of great style?
Obviously Zendaya is like the queen of fashion right now. She is coming with insane looks.
Your sister, Iris, seems to play around a lot with makeup and fashion. What are the kinds of things you learn from her?
I mean, she thinks she can share my closet, but I get so mad. Yeah, my sister is a little more into makeup. She taught me how to put on highlighter the right way, and she has given me a few makeovers, but we don’t share closets at all. That’s a point of contention.
Both of your parents have worked in the business for a long time. How are you paving your own way?
Just trying to keep working. I know that people definitely see me as my parents’ kid, so it’s important to me to work twice as hard to prove myself. My parents have always taught me growing up that I need to work really hard, and I’ve seen that with them and their friends and everyone I know who works in this industry. I just know how hard it is and how much work it takes. I guess I just gotta keep working.
You have a directing credit on your résumé for the short film Don’t Mind Alice. Is directing something you would like to explore more of in the future?
Yeah definitely. My whole life, I’ve wanted to do that. I love acting, too. I love them equally, but I really love directing, and I want to do that.
Of the three (writing, directing, acting), which is the most challenging?
I think writing for me. Just because I think I’m a really neurotic person, and I get in my head, and it’s challenging to just sit down with yourself and not judge everything that you are writing down. But when I can get in a good flow and get rid of the negative voices in my head, I love doing it. That’s definitely a struggle that I have yet learned how to fully manage. It’s really hard to be assured of yourself. Acting is a little easier because you have to step outside of your head in order to do it correctly, but when writing, you are all in your head, so it’s tricky.
Okay, final question: Whose career in Hollywood do you admire?
I like Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She is the funniest, coolest person on the planet. I grew up around Lena Dunham, who is able to write and direct and act, and same with Phoebe Waller-Bridge. And Olivia Wilde, who has gone from being a movie star to now directing. I think that’s really cool.
Hollywood is now streaming on Netflix. The King of Staten Island is available on demand June 12.
Photographer: Carissa Gallo
Stylist: Martina Nilsson
Hairstylist: Laura Polko
Makeup Artist: Nikki DeRoest
Manicurist: Mimi D
Jessica Baker is Who What Wear’s Executive Director, Entertainment, where she ideates, books, writes, and edits celebrity and entertainment features.