Last Summer, HBO’s Euphoria premiere sparked some- thing of a cultural reset, obliterating the mould of previ- ous teen-centred television shows and instantly claiming its space within a gap in the market that desperately needed to be filled. Executive produced by Drake, led by former Disney star Zendaya and soundtracked mostly by Labrinth’s haunting score, Euphoria brought with it a tidal wave of industry buzz and a borderline-obsessive fandom. For some members of the young cast, such as Angus Cloud (Fez) and Hunter Schafer (Jules), their breakout turns in the series also served as their first ever acting roles. But for 21-year-old Californian Maude Apatow, who met Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson on the set of his stylised, satirical 2018 film Assassination Nation, the character of Lexi Howard was written specif- ically with her in mind.
The Euphoria star is a acting powerhouse who’s just getting started on her Hollywood domination.
Far from glamorising drugs or toxic behaviours, Euphoria uses trippy cinematography, a contemporary soundtrack and oft-mumbled dialogue to carve a succinct, specific portrayal of the messiness of teenagehood, which struck a chord in the Gen-Z viewers who saw ourselves reflected on our screens. Based partly on his own experiences as a recovering addict like Zendaya’s protagonist Rue, Levinson also brought a wealth of research to the job, while encouraging the cast to share their own suggestions about which directions they could see their characters going. “He’s very collaborative”, Apatow confirms. “I think that’s why we all love working with so much. He really does listen and is open to hearing your thoughts”. In comparison to her older sister Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), who revels in the attention she gains from men, or her self-destructive childhood best friend Rue, Apatow’s Lexi is less sure of her place in the world; shy but fiercely loyal, fun but sensible. While her friends’ Halloween costumes consist of Claire Danes’ angelic Juliet and Patricia Arquette as True Romance’s Alabama Worley, Lexi dresses up as iconic PBS painter Bob Ross, before being told by her mum that “The whole point of Halloween is to look attractive”
In a cast full of characters who, while relatable, consistently do questionable things, Lexi is the friend everyone wishes they had. It’s easy to see how the role was written for Apatow, who, when we speak on the phone, is just as likeable; she self-deprecatingly squeals “don’t write that” whenever she feels she hasn’t expressed herself properly, and laughs often in between her distinctive Californian inflexion. While Euphoria has been criticised by some for its graphic depictions of sex and nudity – including one scene that features no less than 30 penises – Lexi doesn’t have a romantic interest, expressing confusion and awe over the ease with which Cassie attracts male attention. “I think it’s important to show a character who’s a little more shy in that way, because I think a lot of people are really shy”, Apatow explains. “But I think you can find parts of yourself in all the characters… you feel seen and heard when you watch the show”.
Indeed, part of the monumental success of Euphoria is surely due to the multitudes that lie within the diverse cast of teenagers. In the archetypal characters, we think we know so well by now, there are endless complexities. The seemingly perfect relationship between the jock and the head cheerleader is toxic and abusive. The fan-fic writing nerd begins capitalising on her sexuality and discovers a newfound confidence in her body. And the town’s drug dealer is arguably the most morally sound of them all. While relationships between the characters are often fraught, Instagram posts would suggest that the cast IRL are genuinely the best of friends – another appeal to the series. “I think you just have a vibe right away”, Apatow recalls of the first time she met with the co-stars that include Jacob Elordi, Algee Smith and Alexa Demie. “Everyone was really excited to be there and really open to becoming friends. And obviously shooting the show at times, you feel stressed or overwhelmed, and we had a really good support system. It just felt like a very safe, supportive set”.
“Stressed or overwhelmed” seems like an understatement for the range of emotions involved in portraying such raw, honest depictions of the most taboo subjects young people deal with today. Often hailed as having one of the most realistic on-screen depictions of anxiety, Euphoria features scenes of heartbreaking tangibility. “What drew me to the show, specifically, is the way that Sam writes about anxiety”, Apatow reflects. “And it is so personal to him, but I’ve never seen that… that anxiety be portrayed in such an honest way. I just thought it was amazing”. While it’s Rue who suffers the most with her mental illnesses – putting it perfectly when she narrates “Until every second of every day, you find yourself trying to outrun your anxiety, and quite frankly, I’m just fucking exhausted” – each character struggles with the mounting pressures of adolescence, made undeniably worse by generation-specific issues like revenge porn, catfishing and unsolicited dick pics. “I feel like [social media] hasn’t been portrayed in this way, how it affects young people because it’s so new”, Apatow tells me. “[Sam] did a real comparison] to be an issue”, she assures me. “I understand why people would compare it, but also they’re very different”. Though she’s keen to keep storylines under wraps for the second season of the show, Apatow promises that she has “a good season coming up”. “I definitely came into this knowing that season two was where the bulk of my material was gonna be”, the actress excitedly confirms. While it would be easy for her to ride the wave of similarly viral-worthy roles that are sure to come flooding to the Euphoria cast now, the 21-year-old is eager to explore all aspects of production in her future projects, from writing to directing. Hard work, creative control and unlimited enthusiasm for her work are clearly traits passed down from her parents, who ensured she was a part of their own creative process from an extremely young age. And yes, if you haven’t worked it out by now, Apatow’s parents are undoubtedly two of the most hilarious industry figures of the past 20 years.
Her father, Judd, helms the production company responsible for comedies such as Freaks and Geeks, Superbad and Knocked Up, while her mother, Leslie Mann, often stars in her husband’s films, alongside other comedic turns in films like The Bling Ring and Blockers. A pre-teen Maude and her younger sister, Iris, can be seen in a few of her dad’s films, such as Knocked Up and later This Is 40, though she tells me she “wasn’t allowed to watch them when [they] came out”. Far from dissuading their children from pursuing the industry, Apatow’s parents allowed her to witness first-hand the dedication it takes to carve out a career in the arts. “I honestly think there was never a question that I would do anything else”, she asserts. “I’ve seen both sides of it growing up, positive and negative, but if anything, that’s just helped me have a better perspective. Growing up around my parents’ friends, and seeing how hard you have to work, I mean, it’s been inspiring… “I don’t know how to say that in a less corny way”, she laughs. “Getting to watch my parents and their work ethic was really important and vital for me, to be able to come into my own. I feel very lucky”.
Aside from the obvious inspirations within her own family, Apatow cites Lena Dunham – whose era-defining Girls, executive produced by Judd Apatow, she had a recurring role in throughout its fourth season and Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge as “two really inspiring people”. While it’s clear that she has her sights set on joining the host of female actors-turned-directors who have been making waves in the industry of late, from Greta Gerwig to Olivia Wilde, Apatow has a few upcoming roles that are likely to propel her towards household name status; including another collaboration with her father in his upcoming The King of Staten Island, where she’ll play SNL regular Pete Davidson’s little sister. In a meta, Honey Boy-esque retelling of Davidson’s mid-20s, also starring Marisa Tomei and Bel Powley, Apatow explains that while she’s playing a real-life character, she wanted to be sure she was “doing my own thing”. And in May, the actress will join the Ryan Murphy universe – as a “musical theatre kid” once obsessed with Glee, she’s auditioned for a few of the legendary director’s shows in the past – in Netflix’s Hollywood, a love letter to cinema’s Golden Age that explores what might have happened if the unjust power dynamics of the time were shattered. Despite growing up in a house where hanging out with comedy legends such as Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen was the norm, Apatow can barely suppress her excitement and awe when she gushes about the “amazing group of people” that make up the cast, including Samara Weaving, Laura Harrier, Jim Parsons and Murphy regular Darren Criss. Apatow’s upcoming projects make it abundantly clear that despite her glittering family roots, she’s worked as hard as anyone to get to this exciting point in her career – and as of right now, she’s just getting started.