Maura From “PEN15” Is The Scariest TV Villain Of 2020
The seemingly sweet yet secretly scheming character of Maura is haunting viewers. “For this to bring back memories for people just let me know I did it right,” actor Ashlee Grubbs told BuzzFeed News.
is her biggest and most complex role to date.The 10th-grade student has just resumed online classes at her school in Las Vegas, where most recently she’s been studying Shakespeare’sJulius Caesar. She said she sees parallels between Maura and Cassius, the manipulative instigator of that play’s assassination plot.
“I love villains so much, especially complex antagonists,” Grubbs said. “My favorite antagonist is the one that does things that are scary and terrifying, but you understand them and you understand why they’re doing it. I think that’s chilling. To play a complex villain like that is so fun.”
Courtesy of Ashlee GrubbsThe young actor said she had firsthand experience with “toxic friends” like Maura, which she drew upon to bring the character to the screen: “You get all attached to this person and you think they’re super, super cool, and then you start to realize something isn’t right, but you don’t quite know because you’re not experienced enough to get that, but things start to feel weird, and they start playing with your emotions and all of a sudden it’s not fun anymore.”
Despite being just 15, Grubbs is able to break down her character’s motivations and psychological profile with all the expertise of a veteran actor. To her, Maura is just a desperately lonely only child who’s never been able to build real connections and instead puts on a facade and buys people over — skills she learned from her quesadilla-peddling mom.
“She’s trying to win people over and often the way she does that is she guilt-trips people, she makes them feel like they owe her something or they want to apologize because it makes her feel validated,” Grubbs said.Maura’s manipulation is on full display at a sleepover her character hosts for the girls and two others as little by little she ratchets up the drama until she eventually wakes them all up at 4 a.m. to blame (correctly) a clogged toilet on Maya’s attempts at hiding her period. When Maya’s secret bloody wad of toilet paper lands like a grenade on the carpet and she is forced to own up to it, Maura comforts not her but Anna, having recognized a chance to make her believe she’s been the victim of Maya’s deception.
“She likes upsetting people indirectly through manipulating others,” Grubbs explained, “and making it look like it’s the others’ fault and then she’ll comfort the person who’s upset because she knows that’ll make them feel closer. It’s just another tactic to win them over.”
“She frankly doesn’t know how to keep a healthy friendship,” Grubbs said. “It’s really quite sad.”Courtesy of HuluWhile Maya and her mother start to see through Maura, it takes longer for Anna to discover the deception — perhaps, Grubbs believes, because she’s looking for easy connections with others as she tries to fill an emotional void created by her parents’ ongoing divorce. When Anna finally discovers the truth in a truly tense scene involving a magazine cutout, Maura lets out a bloodcurdling scream as she is restrained by her mom and swelling horror music plays.
“She’s had a lot of friendships and not one has worked out,” Grubbs said. “She’s always known it’s because of her, and every time she gets more and more desperate and her attempts get more and more frantic and she gets more clingy and codependent. She’s very desperate for a connection, and she can never figure out if she’s just herself then she’ll find someone who loves her.”
On set in Los Angeles in November, Grubbs said it was easy to form chemistry with Erskine and Konkle due to their uncanny ability to play 13-year-olds despite being in their early thirties. Often, she said, she forgot they were adults.She’s glad the show and her character are resonating with people much older than her, but she hopes that other kids her age also sneak viewings of the adult comedy so they realize they’re not alone in navigating middle school drama — and manipulative characters like Maura.
“Even though it’s R-rated — and I can definitely see why it’s R-rated — I really wish 13-year-olds would watch it,” she said. “It’s kinda like a hug. Watching the show when you’re actually going through that makes you feel less alone.” Read more: BuzzFeed »
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FOOL! That's for SURE! 😖 The horrors she is capable of will haunt the rest of my days.
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