This summer Gregg Araki returns with his debut TV series. Now Apocalypse is the surreal, coming-of-age drama that follows a group of LA-based friends on their collective pursuit of love, sex, and fame. Co-written by author, sexpert and good friend of Araki’s Karley Sciortino (host of Slutever), the pair’s dynamic is reflected by the on-screen friendship of the show’s gay lead Uly, and his best friend Carly, who Araki loosely based on Sciortino (Carly, Karley – get it?).
Played by California-born actor Kelli Berglund, we follow Carly as she sets her sights on an acting career, while making extra cash on the side as a cam-girl. “She’s very real and that’s the case with a lot of the characters – they all have their own journeys that they’re on and they’re all outrageous in their own ways but in the end they’re just humans trying to figure out their lives,” shares Berglund of her role. As is Araki’s trademark, Carly’s search for identity comes with a heavy dose of assertive self-belief, feminine strength and no small amount of S&M. Below, Berglund talks to us about her experience working under Araki’s creative direction on a project that is so unashamedly his, the empowering potential of sex work and how the role taught her to let go a little.
J.L. Sirisuk: I just finished watching the show and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time.
Kelli Berglund: Most people say that [laughs].
JLS: You started acting when you were quite young – did you come from a family of actors?
KB: Funnily enough, a lot of people think that because I’m from Southern California either my family was in the business or they’re the ones that got me into it, but I’m actually the first person to ever get into the entertainment business. My mom grew up as a dancer for many years, so I took that from her when I was very young, and my younger sister is a dancer as well; that’s sort of where my creative mind started. When I was nine years old that turned into acting, the opportunity presented itself to meet with an agent and I learned to love it. I’ve always had a very creative mind, so it made sense that I ended up in the entertainment business.
JLS: What attracted you to the role of Carly, she’s got that interesting balance between being humorous, uncensored, yet also very vulnerable.
KB: That’s what I love about Carly. On the surface especially, she puts on this façade that she’s very in your face, outrageous – she’s really sarcastic and blunt. But when you dig a little bit deeper, she’s complex and has insecurities that she hides from the rest of the world. When I first read this script and auditioned for the show, I called my best friend who is an actor as well and said, “This is my part. She is me but better, she’s just an amplified version of me.” Which is exciting but also a challenge because a lot of the subject matter is something that I’ve never done before on screen; lots of sexual situations that can be very intimidating, but I was totally up for it. It’s a very well-run set, it’s all done in a tasteful way so I was really excited to just get into this character.
JLS: Modern sexuality is definitely approached in a very candid, authentic way in the series.
KB: First and foremost, it makes me really happy that – I’m sure you noticed – the female characters in this show are the powerful ones, they get a lot of their power from their sexuality. Normally in television, the girl who is “the slut” is the one killed off first in a horror movie, or she’s shamed, or it’s the sex workers that end up in the dumpster somewhere. My character, she’s a sex worker, she’s a cam-girl. That’s actually where she finds her confidence and then applies that to the rest of her life. I don’t see that portrayed often, and not just with the female characters’ sexuality. Sexuality is a part of everyone’s life and that’s what we show on the screen.
JLS: We have a group of characters navigating this sometimes surreal landscape. Do you think those aspects reflect certain realities of LA?
KB: I definitely think so. I kind of like the fact that we play up the stereotype in LA, like the struggling actress, the writer at Starbucks every day who’s gullible enough to take a producer’s business card and think it will change his life. It’s funny because that stuff really does happen and all these clichés you hear about LA are kind of true, so we poke fun at that a little. I always say that this show is like a dreamy fantasy version of LA. It’s like a candy – you see that with the colours and the atmosphere. It’s bigger than life but also stays very real to people who come out to LA and want to figure out what they want to do, figure out their lives and who they are. You don’t see us ever down in Beverly Hills or the Hollywood Hills. A lot of this takes place in North Hollywood, in the valley, that’s where a lot of people come out when they first move to LA.
JLS: How was it working with Gregg Araki?
KB: He is incredible and anyone that you talk to who’s worked with Gregg will say the same thing. He’s probably the best director I’ve ever worked with, so easy-going, so calm in what he does. He has such a cult following, people love it. He tends to work with the same crew which means he’s easy to communicate with, and as an actor, he allows you space to do your own thing. I’m the type of person where I’m like, “What do you want me to do? Give me a critique,” and he will gladly do it. Especially with sexual scenes, he said, “I don’t care if I’m talking to the most important person on set. If you have a question about a scene that you’re nervous about, pull me aside and let’s talk about it.” Because a lot of his films are highly sexual, he’s dealt with this plenty of times. He knows the protocol, he knows what he needs to do to make the actors feel comfortable. I couldn’t have asked for a better director. He’s so great and in real life he’s the most chill guy, like you just want to give him a hug all the time [laughs].
“…the female characters in this show are the powerful ones, they get a lot of their power from their sexuality.”
JLS: Through your experience making this series, is there anything surprising you learned about yourself?
KB: I think that this role has done nothing but positive things for me. Who my character Carly is and what she represents, I very much apply to my own personal life. This show has a great message for people of my generation especially, and I hope this message is spread and that they feel a connection with it. I’m so guilty of caring what people think, I get caught up in my head quite a bit and Carly does as well, but she has this journey through all ten episodes where she discovers what truly makes her happy and doesn’t get hung up on things. She makes a shift in her life and makes the decision to change it. It makes you think, “Maybe I need to start doing that. Maybe I need to stop caring so hard and do what makes me happy.” I’ve been trying to apply that to my own life lately. I’m very thankful for this series and that fact that it’s changed my mindset.
Now Apocalypse premieres 10th March via the Starz Network.
Read our interview with Gregg Araki here.