“They’ll Still Call You a Bitch:” Maya Erskine Meets Zoë Kravitz

Maya Erskine

Maya Erskine wears Jacket, Dress, Sweater, Top, Bag, and Shoes Miu Miu. Socks (worn throughout) Comme Si.

Maya Erskine is not the obvious choice to play a glammed-up superspy made famous by Angelina Jolie, but when Donald Glover needed a Mrs. to his Mr. Smith, she was the answer. Famous for the cringey humor she perfected on the beloved puberty comedy PEN15, the 36-year-old actor and writer fit Glover and co-creator Francesca Sloane’s updated vision for the 2005 Brangelina classic Mr. & Mrs. Smith. The new series is more preoccupied with mundane relationship stuff than body counts, which, as Erskine tells PEN15 fanatic Zoë Kravitz, is something she knows all about.


MONDAY 10 AM DEC. 11, 2023 LA


MAYA ERSKINE: Hi! It’s so sweet of you to do this. 

KRAVITZ: I was very flattered that you asked.

ERSKINE: Of course. How are you?

KRAVITZ: I’m good, home in New York for a couple of days which is so nice. I’ve been in L.A. for way too long.

ERSKINE: Oh, really? Just for work?

KRAVITZ: No, just family. Chan’s there and his daughter’s there, so we’re there a lot. Well, I wrote down questions for you. I love the show. 

ERSKINE: You watched it?

KRAVITZ: Yeah, I watched the first three episodes. 


KRAVITZ: I was texting Donald [Glover] about it as I was watching, like a nerd. I was like, “That’s so good! That’s so good!” It’s such a great take on the film. I’m really excited to talk to you about it. 

ERSKINE: Please bear with me because you’re one of the first people I’ve talked to about all of this. 

KRAVITZ: I prefer that, because after you do press for a while, you start to just have the same answer. 

ERSKINE: Say the bites over and over.

KRAVITZ: Yeah. Well, I’m a very big fan of yours. PEN15, in my opinion, is one of the best and most original pieces of work to be made in the last 10 years. So, my first question is, what are your thoughts on reboots?

ERSKINE: If someone tries to remake The Godfather, that’s going to be tough, because it’s a masterpiece. But when it’s a reimagining, that’s interesting. If Donald and Fran [Sloane] were remaking Mr. & Mrs. Smith with the same concept as the original, it would be boring. They found a wholly original take that wouldn’t even need to be called Mr. & Mrs. Smith. It’s definitely risky and hard to pull off, but I haven’t even seen any of the episodes.

KRAVITZ: Oh, you haven’t?

ERSKINE: Just through ADR. I’m excited but also terrified. But yeah, they had such a smart take on what it means to watch a relationship unfold against the spy genre and subverting spy and romantic comedy tropes.

KRAVITZ: I don’t want to ask what excites you about breaking those barriers down, but what excites you about breaking those barriers down? [Laughs]

ERSKINE: What’s exciting about this show is that it feels as big as a Bond movie, and yet it’s also so incredibly intimate. It’s a nuanced relationship story. In the Bond movies, you don’t really spend time on the in-between moments of a relationship. You don’t see someone brushing their teeth or the first time they fart in front of each other.

KRAVITZ: I love that moment.

ERSKINE: It’s about the big explosion, the big mission and the task at hand, and that’s just the backdrop for this. So for people who do love that genre, I hope they’ll still enjoy it, but also get something more out of it. That is what’s going to break the barrier and maybe open it up for that genre. You can spend more time seeing not just the female being saved by Bond, but it’s like, “Yeah, she’s going to also save his ass and it’s going to affect their relationship. How is it when they both have the same career? What does that do to them?”

KRAVITZ: That’s a question I have for you, because this is a spy story, but it’s also very much about relationships. Your partner [the actor Michael Angarano] is also in the same industry as you, and working with a partner or in the same field as them, that’s really interesting. Did you draw from that at all in your own life?


Maya Erskine

Shirt Valentino.

ERSKINE: That’s a good question. I’ve been in other relationships where it was an issue and there was a sense of competition. It drew from each person’s insecurity. With Michael, there’s support for each other. It’s been a really nice balance, but since having a kid, what I drew from was just, it’s all about balance. I hate saying, “Mom, life, work, balance,” but it’s such a delicate thing to balance: how much time you spend on your career and letting the other person take a job if you want to stay home with the kid. How does that work if we’re both working? All those questions have been coming up. In this show, she takes so much pride in her career, and in being able to get to a place of self-sufficiency, that she has blinders on. She doesn’t see that there’s other things in life worth experiencing.

KRAVITZ: The show feels more dangerous when you guys start to fall in love.


KRAVITZ: It’s arguing about your own shit when you should be following a target.

ERSKINE: Right! You just directed a movie, which to me is the most intense job in the industry. How was working with your partner? [Kravitz directed Blink Twice starring her fiancé Channing Tatum]

KRAVITZ: It was amazing. If you can make something with your partner, that is the real test. We came out stronger and more connected. It’s hard, we take things so much more personally when it’s coming from a partner.

ERSKINE: And you’re going home together.

KRAVITZ: Yeah. You said something that I wrote down, which was the word “intimate.” The show is so intimate. It was also surprisingly sexy. If I was doing an elevator pitch of the show, it would be like, “It’s these two comics, and they’re relatable.” There’s an expectation to stay in your lane and make it funny and relatable, and get rid of the sexy. But you guys did this incredible thing where you added to it, versus taking away. Did you feel pressure to make it funny?

ERSKINE: The pressure started with the physical stuff because I just had a baby. I had to break through a mental and physical barrier of needing to strength train, which I had never done before. I definitely broke down the first two times when the trainer was like, “This is who you’re going to become and this is who you are.” I was like, “I’m not that person!” But it helped lay the foundation for this character, because it was someone who would be strong in her body and strong in her opinions and not apologize for herself. I am someone that apologizes for myself a lot.

KRAVITZ: As women, we’re often pressured to be likable.


KRAVITZ: I’ve experienced this. When I was shooting High Fidelity, there was a lot of, “Oh, you have to be less angry.” In this, your character is kind of a hardass. Did anyone ever talk to you about that or did you feel pressure that people weren’t going to like her?

ERSKINE: I’m so glad you brought that up because I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t want to call anyone out, but at some point there was a note. There was a scene in a bathtub and Donald says something. I don’t even know how much to speak because I don’t want to give away anything.

KRAVITZ: I know what you’re talking about.

ERSKINE: I get upset at him, and a big note was, like, “She should think that’s charming and funny and should laugh at it,” because they were worried that I was going to come across as harsh or unlikeable. From what I remember when I was filming that scene, I could relate so much more to acting upset at what he just gave me, because it felt so natural that I didn’t care if it came across as unlikable. I was so surprised that that was the takeaway from that.


ERSKINE: As a woman in this business and also as a person of color, I’ve been conditioned to not take up space and to apologize for myself. Even in my emails, I’m constantly saying, “I just want to ask you if it’s okay. I’m so sorry!”

KRAVITZ: “No worries if not!”

ERSKINE: “It’s all good!” Because of the fear of coming across as a bitch or unlikable.


ERSKINE: When I see my husband send an email that’s so basic, like, “I’d like 10 copies of that. Thanks,” it’s so clear. I’m really working on myself to get to that place, but Jane was already there. She doesn’t apologize for herself. How was the experience of not just directing, but leading a whole crew?

Maya Erskine

Vest and Dress Prada.

KRAVITZ: As women, we try to do things in the nicest way possible. It got to the point sometimes where I was, like, “No, it needs to be like this and we need it right now.” And people will call you a bitch. It’s just the truth. If you send the email that Michael is sending, they’ll be like, “Whoa, what’s her problem?” People just take in information differently. I also found myself—the way that women lead is, I was making sure my DP had enough food that day. Like, “Has anyone eaten? Do you have sunscreen on? Can we get water?” I was doing that, as well as directing the movie. 

ERSKINE: [Laughs] Oh my god.

KRAVITZ: Yeah. As women, we have this need to mother people as well as be creative and do our jobs. I like that that part of my brain turns on when I’m working. It doesn’t take away space. It just adds to it, I think.

ERSKINE: It does.

KRAVITZ: And yet they will still call you a bitch.

ERSKINE: [Laughs] They’ll still call you a bitch.

KRAVITZ: How was it going from a show that you created and wrote to just being an actor?

ERSKINE: It was a nice respite at first, because with PEN15, while I was so grateful for it, I was burnt out. I think we had done two-and-a-half years straight from writing through editing to the next season. Mr. & Mrs. Smith was my first big project after PEN15, so I really enjoyed not having to be heard on everything, just because the people who were, I could rely on so much. But at the same time, they let me have a voice as an actor because they know that I’m a writer.

KRAVITZ: It’s hard to turn that part of your brain off, because you’re like, “I think it should be like this.” Are you writing anything now?

ERSKINE: I’m working on an adaptation of a book about a nanny who kills two young children.


ERSKINE: Yeah. It’s called The Perfect Nanny. I was approached by my friend who works at Legendary, and I was pregnant at the time. She was like, “Please, look at this book because it’s actually about more than that. It’s about these really interesting dynamics between two women.” I eventually read it and decided to take it on.


ERSKINE: Yeah. But it starts with the murder so it’s not really a mystery. It’s about what conditions led to it. The nanny is going to be played by Nicole Kidman, and I would be the mother. So the roles are reversed.

KRAVITZ: That’s epic.


KRAVITZ: I have one more question. I’m very excited for you and Donald. You’re both showing the world different sides of yourself. I told Donald, “This is very leading man of you.” I think it takes a lot of courage to step into that, and I think the same with you, where you’re not being just the funny chick. You’re strong and sexy and badass in the show. Does that feel vulnerable?

ERSKINE: It’s extremely vulnerable. This happened even with PEN15, where I didn’t put a thought behind people seeing it until the night before it came out. I was like, “What the fuck have we done?” It’s the same with this, where even when I knew the trailer would drop, I was so terrified, and I’m going to be terrified until it comes out.

KRAVITZ: You have nothing to be terrified about, I promise.

ERSKINE: Also, I don’t usually read comments but I did read one YouTube comment where—because I’m also doing voice work in this show Blue Eye Samurai, where I’m playing a samurai—it was like, “What happened to her? She was in Blue Eye Samurai and there was nuance. She has one expression this whole trailer. What is this? Bad acting or a bad trailer?”

KRAVITZ: Oh, fuck off.

ERSKINE: And that’s always my fear, that I’m a one-expression person. So when someone puts words to your—

KRAVITZ: To your actual fear, I know. Trust me, that’s happened to me, dude.

ERSKINE: But these are just people on their computers typing into YouTube comments and you can’t pay attention to it. But it is that fear of, “Wow, you’re just exposing yourself to a world of potential hate.”

KRAVITZ: I would do the same thing but I wouldn’t even wait until the thing came out. When I was doing The Batman, I’d come home, like, “I did it, man. I did that scene.” And then I’d be, like, “But oh my god, people are going to see it.”

ERSKINE: You have no control over what people are going to say or think. I do need to get my ass kicked. I care too much what people think. I need to have a crowd of people throw tomatoes at me and be like, “You suck”; just go through it and then be like, “Oh, it’s okay.”

KRAVITZ: It’s true. Once you experience large amounts of hate, you stop caring. But the show is great. If you guys delivered the version that maybe some people expect, which is quirky, funny, two comedians doing the thing, it would’ve been obvious and not as interesting. I’m so stoked for you guys and can’t wait to see the rest of it.

ERSKINE: I’m very excited for your movie. When does it come out?

KRAVITZ: I think the end of summer. I’ll definitely show some friends and family before it’s out.

ERSKINE: I’d love to see it. No pressure, but I’m very excited.

KRAVITZ: Thank you. Those are all my questions. Is that okay?

ERSKINE: They’re amazing questions. Thank you for making this so enjoyable and easy because I was nervous to talk about it.

KRAVITZ: Well, you’re talking about it beautifully, and enjoy this phase where you’re nervous with what to say before they become robot answers.

ERSKINE: That’s true.

KRAVITZ: But yeah, you should be proud. I was blown away. 

Cardigan and Necklaces Chanel. Tights Falke. Underwear Cuup.


Hair: Ashley Lynn Hall using Oribe at Atelier Management.

Makeup: Loftjet using Dr. Sturm and YSL Beauty at Forward Artists.

Nails: Rachel Joseph using PLA at Nailing Hollywood.

Photography Assistant: Khalilah Pianta.

Fashion Assistant: Catie Lane.

Production Management: Gustavo Hernandez.

Production Assistant: Danica Morrison.

Location: Short Stories Hotel.