From filmmaker Gregg Araki and sex columnist Karley Sciortino, as well as executive producers Steven Soderbergh and Greg Jacobs, the 10-episode, half-hour Starz comedy series Now Apocalypse is a surreal and wild coming-of-age story that follows Ulysses (Avan Jogia) and his friends – Ford (Beau Mirchoff), Carly (Kelli Berglund) and Severine (Roxane Mesquida) – as they explore identity, sexuality and love in the often strange city of Los Angeles. As his premonitory dreams become more troubling and seemingly apocalyptic, Ulysses begins to wonder if something dark and dangerous is going on, or if the weed he’s been smoking is just making him hallucinate.
While at the Starz portion of the TCA Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with executive producer/co-writer/director Gregg Araki and co-writer/consulting producer Karley Sciortino to talk about how creative the development process for Now Apocalypse was, making what is Araki’s all-time dream TV show, creating characters that don’t exist on television, incorporating the supernatural/sci-fi element into the story, the process of casting, assembling a cast that’s willing to be vulnerable, and how they feel like they could keep this story going indefinitely.
Collider: This show is a lot of crazy fun. What was it like to actually pull all of this insanity off?
GREGG ARAKI: It was a little bit insane, but at the same time, it was a super draining experience. Karley is a good friend of mine, Greg Jacobs, the EP, is a great friend. The cast is amazing. We all genuinely love each other. It was really hard work because we literally shot all 10 episodes at once. We wrote all 10 episodes, and then shot all 10 episodes in 40 days. And I directed all 10, so it was an intense shooting schedule. But everybody was just really super creative, and they were only there because they loved it, absolutely believed in it, and wanted to do it. It was just a blast. It was hard work, but so rewarding.
It seems like you would have to be all in on a show like this because there’s no half-way.
ARAKI: Totally! The actors are so great because they weren’t like, “Oh, I don’t wanna do this or that.” They were like, “Sign me up! I’m in!” We just blasted through it, and it was really fun. It was just a great experience.
How did this specific show come about? Why this story?
ARAKI: I’ve been making independent films for 25 or 30 years, and I’ve worked in this universe for a long time. So, I have my own thing, but I’ve also always wanted to do a show like this. Literally, since the ‘90s, I’ve wanted to do a show like this. In the past couple of years, I’ve been directing some episodic TV on other people’s shows and really learning about how to run a show, what a showrunner does, and how TV works, as a medium. Having done that and looked at these showrunners, I was like, “God, that’s so much fucking work! I literally could not do that unless it was something that I loved so much.” I wanted to write a show that’s literally my all-time dream show, and maybe someone will be crazy enough to do it, but maybe not. And so, I just sat down and started coming up with the idea for the show. In the meantime, Karley and I had met on a movie that we were doing together. She had written her first script, and I was attached to direct and produce it. Karley and I immediately hit it off ‘cause we’re very much kindred spirits, in terms of feminism, and sex and sexuality. I also met Avan Jogia on a short film that we did together. I started thinking in my head, “Okay, there’s a character that’s a queer version of Avan.” Avan is this cool, artistic, 25-year-old dude, who paints and writes books. And there’s a character who, like Karley, is just free spirit, unashamed about her sexuality. Those characters are best friends, they’re 25, and they live in LA. And then, there’s a roommate.
From there, I called Karley up and said, “I’m working on a show that’s in your wheelhouse. I’ve got a character that’s not you, but is loosely based on you. Would you be interested in doing it with me?” And she was all, “Yeah, sure!” So, we collaborated on this pilot. We wrote the first episode and just said, “Let’s see what happens.” We didn’t know what was gonna happen with it. It’s Hollywood. I’ve written a lot of scripts that I’m still trying to make, 20 years later, but this is my dream TV project. If I was to ever have a show, this was gonna be it. And then, I showed it to Greg Jacobs, who I worked with on the Amazon show Red Oaks, and he just flipped over it. He was like, “Oh, my god, I love this so much! I couldn’t read it fast enough.” He took it to Steven Soderbergh, who took it to Starz, and then they were on the show. They have been so fantastic. We went in and said, “We’re gonna make the craziest, wildest show out there, that’s like no other show on TV.” And they were like, “Sign us up! That’s what we want.” Creatively, they just let us do whatever we wanted. There was never any, “Can you water this down?,” or “This is too crazy,” or “This is too weird.” It was just a dream experience.
Karley, were you also surprised at how quickly and easily this seems to have all happened?
KARLEY SCIORTINO: Yeah. I’d never really worked in scripted television before, and I heard that networks give you notes, but we didn’t really have that experience, weirdly. It really felt like you could let your imagination run wild. What I’m really proud of about the show is that I feel like we’ve created characters who I don’t feel like exist in television and who I wish I could have seen on TV, when I was younger. A handful of years ago, I don’t think there could have been a show on television that’s about a bi-racial, sexually fluid man. You very rarely see bi-sexual men on television, at all, and if you do, often bi-sexual characters are portrayed as evil murderers because they’re so tortured by their sexuality that they’re self-destructive. These characters are really sexually adventurous and sexually resilient. They’re adventure seeking, but they’re not victims. This show is really celebratory of sex. It’s not like these characters have the perfect sex lives and they have it all figured out. They absolutely don’t.
ARAKI: But part of the fun is watching them figure it out, or try to figure it out.
SCIORTINO: I feel like, if I saw characters like this, who were so sexually adventurous, resilient and curious on television, when I was younger, especially the women, it would have been amazing. I think that’s why people still, to this day, look at Samantha from Sex and the City as a slutty icon ‘cause we’ve never had another one, which is sad.
ARAKI: That was the ‘90s, and it’s a little bit of a step backwards from that. That show was so groundbreaking, in terms of women, sexuality, their friendship, and all of that. We want to take the next step forward with that. I feel like, especially now, given the horrible political situation that we’re in, it’s a really important time for the show. I’m so proud of the show, and I’m so proud to put it out there, because I do think the world really needs a show like this now. When Karley and I first wrote the spec script, it was the twilight of the Obama years. And then, 2016 happened and it was like, “Oh, the world’s a different place now.” I actually did a pass (of the script) that was the Trump pass. There’s always been that dark David Lynch-ian element in the show, but that dark cloud of foreboding, ominous doom became a little bit darker after 2016. But the show, on a whole, is still a very pop, fun show.
How much did you want to incorporate the supernatural/sci-fi element to the story?
ARAKI: My thing with the supernatural element is that I don’t want it to take the show over. My primary interest in the show is really about sex, relationships, confusion, and growing up and figuring your shit out. It’s really very much like Girls, Sex and the City, and Insecure. That genre of show is what the show aspires to. I feel like with that genre, in itself, if you just make that show in 2019, there’s just nowhere to go with it. It’s really almost a dead genre. I don’t know if I should say this because I’m a big Insecure fan, but I feel like they really hit a block in Season 3 and there’s nothing to tell anymore. What was so fresh about the show is now the same fucking thing, over and over. You run out of stories so quickly. For our show, I call it the wild card. It’s the wild card of the deck that makes the universe and show big. We’re actually starting to write Season 2 right now, and the story is giant. There’s so far to go with it. What I wanted to do is create this universe where almost anything can happen. There are no leprechauns or anything. But he’s also very much a stoner, so you’re like, “Is he dreaming this, or is he hallucinating?” It’s that level of surrealism, where you’re wondering what’s real and what’s not real. When you see all 10 episodes, it spans into this other thing. And I’m so excited about the finale. It’s a great finale.
How far ahead have you thought about the story that you want to tell? Do you know how many seasons you’d want to go for?
ARAKI: It’s all in the stars. I do feel like the show is a really wide open book. I feel like we’re not gonna run out of story, anytime soon. As long as people watch and as long as Starz keeps renewing us, we can keep building the mythology of the show.
What was this show like to cast? How did you pitch what this would be to actors?