Photographed by Alex Hainer.

Maude Apatow Discusses Her Latest Projects

The 18-year-old actress is paving her own path

by Lisa Butterworth

The following feature appears in the November 2016 issue of NYLON.

The tables are bustling with industry folk at this Brentwood, Los Angeles restaurant—talk of pilots and network meetings creates a cacophony in the air. It’s the kind of environment that actress and comedy superstar progeny Maude Apatow is probably used to: Indeed, sitting in a gray T-shirt, floral-print skirt, black Chuck Taylors, and tiny gold nameplate necklace that reads “Apple” (a nickname of sorts), it’s not the scene that makes the 18-year-old squirm. “Oh man, I’m just, like, the most uncomfortable person in the world,” she says with a laugh, shaking her head in self-deprecation. As we chat over lunch, she fumbles for the right words to finish a sentence. “I’m so awkward, it’s terrible!” she continues. But her awkwardness, which is far less pronounced than her hyperbole would have you believe, is really more endearing than it is “terrible.” Especially for someone who has been in the public eye since elementary school.

Moviemaking is a family affair in Apatow’s home. Her dad, Judd, is the writer, director, and producer whose hilarious and heartfelt fingerprint is all over Hollywood, from the sensitive bro movement he launched with movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin to the female uprising he propelled with projects such as Bridesmaids, Girls, and Trainwreck (essentially handpicking role models like Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer for Maude and her younger sister, Iris). Her mom is actress Leslie Mann, a consummate scene-stealer who’s provided comic relief in many of Judd’s films. Maude was just eight when she nailed her first acting gig, playing her real mom’s daughter in Knocked Up. Since then she’s starred in Funny People, This Is 40, and as one of Hannah Horvath’s students in season four of Girls. In between acting jobs she became a Twitter darling with deadpan musings like, “One day I hope to become the person I said I was in my college essays” (though she now claims to be “tweet dead” thanks to a focus on schoolwork these last couple of years). 

But after only being allowed to work on Apatow-associated projects through most of high school, her first non-family-affiliated movie, Other People (written and directed by Saturday Night Live head writer Chris Kelly), premiered in September. In it she plays a teen watching her mom (Molly Shannon) die of cancer, a role that required more dramatic chops than her previous work, and aptly represents her on- and offscreen evolution. “I feel like as a kid, I probably wasn’t ready to work with other people and have that responsibility. The fact that my parents made me wait was a good thing,” she says, taking a sip of her iced latte. “I was sort of emotional and crazy in a way that was probably too much.”

Performing was always in the cards, though. “I’ve loved acting since I was really little. I’ve done musical theater and theater at school since I was in second grade,” says Apatow, who can also sing and dance and is obsessed with Hamilton. But it wasn’t until high school that it became a true calling, thanks to a community service program she was part of. “We performed at different venues like a center for the blind, and for adults with developmental disabilities, and rehab centers, and it was an amazing experience. When you do movies you don’t always see how people react. But sometimes we performed in tiny little kitchens and you could see everyone,” she says, her big brown eyes growing wide. “And watching people watch theater and love it and really be affected by it, even though we’re, like, weird ninth graders doing a show, was life-changing. After that I was like, ‘Oh, of course, this is what I want to do.’”

Now, Apatow will be studying her passion in a more official capacity. We meet two days before she’ll leave for college (“It doesn’t seem real!” she exclaims), where she’ll major in theater. She’s also hoping to pursue creative writing. “My dad has always said, ‘Write for yourself.’ Because as an actor, you don’t have much control over what happens. But Lena and Amy, they’re involved in writing and acting and directing and editing,” she says, pushing a lock of her ombré hair behind her ear. “I want to learn how to write better so I can write for myself.” When I ask her to recount one of her most memorable moments from growing up on so many different sets, she mentions stealing a golf cart on a studio lot. But her real takeaway is obvious: Hollywood is hard work, and creating your own opportunities is crucial. “Sorry if I’m such a spaz,” she adds suddenly as we wrap up and ask for the check. “Hopefully I have things to say.”