Maude Apatow and Tan France on Ugly Cries, Social Anxiety, and the Real Pete Davidson
For a long time, the word most associated with Maude Apatow was “precocious.” That’s what happens when you grow up in public, reciting the dialogue of your very witty and very famous father. Apatow, daughter of the filmmaker Judd, came to public attention playing children and teenagers of various temperaments in Knocked Up and in This Is 40, opposite her mother Leslie Mann. Apatow later laid claim to her own brand of incisive irreverence with a popular Twitter feed long before everyone had one. More recently, Apatow, now 22, left the nest, at least cinematically speaking, with roles as one of the few well-behaved characters on HBO’s shock-and-awe drama Euphoria, and as an unfulfilled wife in Ryan Murphy’s limited Netflix series Hollywood. But despite her newfound independence, Apatow answered the call when her father needed someone to play Pete Davidson’s younger sister in the new dramedy The King of Staten Island. A kind of thought experiment on what Davidson’s life might have been like if he hadn’t become a star on Saturday Night Live, the movie follows a young Staten Island burnout who can’t quite overcome the trauma of his firefighter father’s tragic death. Here, she tells Davidson’s best friend, Queer Eye’s Tan France, what it was like working with the comedian and why it’s still okay to ask about her parents. (For now.)
TAN FRANCE: It’s so good to hear your voice, my love.
MAUDE APATOW: Thank you so much for doing this.
FRANCE: I met your dad a couple of times but I’ve never met your mom. I want to know, are you sick of people asking about your bloody parents?
APATOW: Not really. I guess it’s bound to happen. My parents taught me everything I know, and obviously people want to know about them, so I’m fine talking about it.
FRANCE: I know a few people who are kids of icons, and I’ve always wondered if they’re sick of having to explain themselves at this point, and if they think, “Yes, you know who my parents are, but can we just talk about what I’m doing for a living?” I wonder if you’re excited about getting to a point where people are just like, “Tell me about your work.” Be honest.
APATOW: It’s definitely going to take a bit longer, especially because I have worked with my parents so much. I’m probably going to have to wait a few more years to fully break away from that.
FRANCE: In my opinion, you’re getting to the point where I do see a major separation. When you were younger, yes, I can see why you and your parents would have gone hand-in-hand, but seeing some of the stuff you’ve done lately, it’s very clear that you’re choosing roles that aren’t the kind of roles that your mom does or that your dad directs. Is it a conscious effort to do more dramatic roles?
APATOW: Comedy does not come easily to me. I have a hard time with improv. I get so shy, and I’m still working on becoming more comfortable being loose. That’s part of the reason I wanted to work with my dad again now that I’m older. When I did all that stuff when I was younger, I just wasn’t old enough to fully understand what was going on.
FRANCE: I love that you really do still want your dad’s approval and his advice. That’s actually super sweet.
APATOW: I would never say that to him, but I’ll tell other people.
FRANCE: Given your upbringing, I would have expected you to walk into a room and be that boppity girl who’s like, “I belong here! My parents own this town!”
APATOW: Oh, no.
FRANCE: But you’re not! I don’t mean it in a negative way, but you really are shy. You’re the person who’s hanging out in the corner, just grateful to be there, and it’s the most lovely thing to see. I want to understand if you’ve always been that way.
APATOW: I have social anxiety. Every time I go out, I’m having a heart attack—especially at the places where I’ve seen you. Those have been very overwhelming circumstances.
FRANCE: I want to talk about The King of Staten Island. I haven’t seen it yet. I don’t know why Pete [Davidson] let me see it. Or your dad. That seems super offensive, but we can talk about that later.
APATOW: Wait, did you not get a screener?
FRANCE: I’ve seen a lot of rough cuts of the movie, to be fair. I want to talk about your experience working with Pete. Did you know him before this? If not, were you intimidated by him? He’s a larger-than-life character.
APATOW: I was trying to recall the first time I met him. I think it was on the set of Trainwreck. That could be totally wrong, but I’ve known him over the years. He would come to our house, or we’d see him around. I loved working with Pete. It’s hard to make a movie that’s so personal, and he was just super supportive of everyone. Before I did it, I was nervous about doing something that wasn’t a part of his vision. But he was so nice and encouraging. How did you guys meet?
FRANCE: He hit me up via DM after Queer Eye came out and asked me if we could be friends, and it was so sweet. I was very surprised, because I’d known him from SNL, and you just don’t expect Pete Davidson to cry at home to Queer Eye and want to be friends with one of the gay cast members. But he reached out and he asked if we could FaceTime the next day, and we’ve been really good friends ever since. Have you ever been to SNL and hung out with him backstage before he’s about to go out? He really is committed to the role that he’s about to play, and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. Sometimes they’ll throw something at him five minutes before he’s about to go on. When I was there, I think he was about to play Timothée Chalamet, and he didn’t know he was about to play him until five minutes before. He was so committed to making sure he got it right and didn’t do Timothée a disservice. I don’t think people ever see that side of him.
APATOW: Oh, he’s so good. Throughout the movie they were changing stuff and throwing stuff at him, and he’s just always on his game.
FRANCE: Did you know his sister beforehand?
APATOW: I knew about her, but I wanted to be respectful and I didn’t want her to think I was doing an impression of her, so I didn’t really spend that much time with her before shooting.
FRANCE: Is it harder or easier being directed by your dad?
APATOW: I was thinking about this the other day. My dad kind of knows what I’m capable of as an actor, I think, more than anyone, and so he definitely pushes me harder. I really want to do a good job for him, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to please him, but I guess that’s my own thing.
FRANCE: Does he give you notes on set in front of others?
APATOW: We definitely switch into a full working relationship on set.
FRANCE: I know if it was my parents, I mean, I don’t swear at my parents ever, but I would want to say, “Fuck, dad!” I’d be super embarrassed.
APATOW: But I get to see my dad at home, and how hard he works, and just how overwhelming and stressful it can be at times. I just want to make it as easy as possible for him.
FRANCE: Did you enjoy the process of filming the movie?
APATOW: The only things I’ve ever done have been indie movies and TV shows where they don’t have a lot of time to shoot, and I think that’s one thing that’s really different about how my dad works. He allots a lot of time for improv in each scene. Maybe we’ll start doing the scene one way, and it completely morphs into something else. That freedom of finding it and letting it turn into something else, I thought that was really cool. With TV, it’s so fast, so sometimes the scene is over before you know it and you’re like, “Was that okay? I don’t know.”
FRANCE: I saw Pete just after you guys wrapped. We were in his apartment and he was having some kind of summer barbecue situation, and your dad turned up. It was really funny to watch. Your dad is older than me, so I was expecting him to just be like a dad. But when he was with Pete and John Mulaney, he was one of the boys, which was really sweet to see. Okay, so this movie was going to premiere at South by Southwest and then come out in theaters. Now it’s going direct to On Demand. How do you feel about that?
APATOW: I’m bummed, because they had some test screenings before everything got shut down that I didn’t go to, because I had seen the movie. Now I wish I had seen it with an audience. But I’m glad that it’s coming out right now. For me, at least, I really need more content. I’ve watched everything that exists.
FRANCE: Let’s talk about Hollywood. I loved it so much. I was done in two days. How did that come about?
APATOW: I’ve auditioned for Ryan Murphy a few times, and obviously, growing up, I was the biggest Glee fan of all time. It was literally my life when I was a kid.
FRANCE: Okay, give me 10 seconds to gush. You were so good in it, but there was one part in particular that actually made me cry. If you ask anyone, I’m not a crier. I’ve cried twice on the show, whereas the other boys cry every five minutes. I don’t cry a lot. But when you’re on the bed with David Corenswet’s character, when you’re crying and saying that you’re in love with your colleague, it was so beautiful. It really, really got to me. I wanted to call you and say, “Bitch, you hit me so hard.”
APATOW: Oh my god, thank you!
FRANCE: When you cry like that, are you thinking of something in particular?
APATOW: Sometimes I’ll listen to music that I know makes me sad, but it always sounds cringey when you talk about your process. I did Meisner training, and it’s all about imaginary circumstances, closing your eyes and just sort of imagining it.
FRANCE: Honestly, I was worried you were going to say, “I just know how to turn it on,” and I was going to be really disappointed. Because that was a guttural cry. It was not a glamorous, one-tear situation.