“Our adult friendship dynamic is very present throughout the show,” says Maya Erskine about working with Anna Konkle on “PEN15,” the comedy series they created and are the leading ladies. Watch our exclusive video interview above or listen to the audio below where Konkle adds, “If you’re lucky there’s one or two people in middle school that are your everything. I found that with Maya in my junior year of college when I was thinking I’d never find that again.”
In “PEN15” for Hulu, Erskine and Konkle are freshmen middle school students in the year 2000 (the year both actresses really were in the seventh grade) playing opposite present day middle schoolers. Konkle says the age difference between them and the other actors “could just come off as a big joke. We really didn’t want it to. We started by trusting each other to do it naturally.” Erskine reflects, “I remember being terrified thinking ‘how are we going to be 13?’ One of the things that kept us going was knowing we have each other. So we could act off each other as a place to start.”
On whether they think it’s harder being in middle school today or 2000, Erskine adds, “It’s universally hard at all times, but I can’t imagine having social media in seventh grade. It would make things exponentially harder to socially see when you’re left out.”
In the seventh episode of the series both girls join an AOL chat room. Konkle says she misses “the amount of time it took to sign on. I wish our technology had stayed there… the immediacy today. How much you can do at once and what’s expected of you. It all takes you out of the moment. I long for the modem dial up. Erskine jests, “I’m sure during that time they wished people wrote letters more, or still had a horse drawn chariot to Australia.”
They created the series with Sam Zvibleman, who directed the last four episodes of the season. Erskine says, “We didn’t grow up with each other. We are trying to meld our two experiences together with Sam’s experiences.” Konkle adds that “it was pretty low budget for TV and we wanted to do a lot. It was the first show that we’ve written so we packed a lot in naively.”
Thinking about how they tapped into their seventh grade experience, Erskine admits, “We started to strap down our boobs and wear these jeans that start at your pubic bones. You are automatically trying to cover yourself. It brings you back to the physicality of trying to hide yourself and look a certain way that doesn’t really work.”
The show also touches on the emotional heft of the tween years. Konkle says, “My parents in real life divorced at that time. The scene near the end of the season is close to how they told me. Some of the furniture even looked like the furniture in my old house. I was overwhelmed. Weirdly it was kinda intense doing the scenes of us as a family getting along. I didn’t expect for that to feel so raw.” Erskine explains how they explored “real things we experienced. Like divorce and racism and masturbation. These things we thought weren’t still as traumatic were very present in our minds and bodies. Reliving it was really cathartic.”
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