When we see Kelli Berglund for the first time in the premiere of the show Now Apocalypse, she’s recalling an especially uncomfortable sexual experience she’s just had with her boyfriend, complete with graphic flashbacks. A few scenes later, we see her character, Carly, decked out in lingerie while moonlighting as a cam girl who occasionally asks customers to run lines with her (the show is set in L.A., so naturally, Carly is also an aspiring actress). And things only gets wilder from there.
“Have you gotten to the eighth episode?” Berglund says with a smile.
Thus is the nature of Now Apocalypse, Starz’s new comedy series written by Gregg Araki and Karley Sciortino, which follows a group of twentysomethings in L.A. dealing with your normal twentysomething issues: love, sex, career, and a potential impending apocalypse. “Some people will get it, and some people won’t, and that’s okay. We don’t take ourselves too seriously on the show, so I hope other people won’t take it too seriously,” Berglund said. “It’s a weird show.”
It’s a massive career curveball for the 23-year-old actress. A childhood dancer, Berglund was encouraged to give Hollywood a try. After a few years of sporadic roles here and there, she was ready to put that thought on hold to refocus on dancing again, when she was cast as the lead in the Disney series Lab Rats. “It’s funny how things work out,” she recalled. “The casting director who cast me in the show, I had actually auditioned for him years before and he said, ‘I don’t see her on Disney; I think she’s more of a dramatic actor.’” The show aired on Disney XD from 2012 to 2016; for Berglund, that was the majority of her teens.
“That’s a very pivotal moment in your life,” she said. “Being on a Disney show is one of the most rapid, insane ways to be in the public eye. I had the pressures of having a crush and fighting with my friends and doing schoolwork, all while having an adult job and be on it 12 hours ago. I understand why people have these breakdowns. It’s a lot to handle, and everyone handles it differently… You don;t just have to answer to your parents, you have to answer to millions of people. I’ll be honest, it’s stressful as hell.”
After the show came to an end, Berglund, like many child actors before her, was faced with the question: What now? “It was a shock, for sure,” she said. “Anyone, no matter how old you are, if you’re on a show for five years, once that’s done, it’s done. And I’m right back with everyone in Los Angeles auditioning for every job that exists. It’s a big question mark. You’re a point where you think, ‘I have a lot of avenues that I can go down. Where do I go next?’”
The answer came in the form of Now Apocalypse, which is the kind of swerve that, in the vein of Selena Gomez’s role in Spring Breakers, can completely change how people look at a star. “I think it definitely is a shock, given my Disney background,” Berglund said. “It comes up a lot, but it’s like, ‘I don’t know, man. That was my past and we all move on.”
Berglund’s Carly gets to deliver many of the series’ drier, inadvertently hilarious lines. There’s also a lot—like, a lot a lot—of sex. “Definitely, the intimate scenes were a challenge,” she said. “I’d never done anything like that. But once I was on set, it wasn’t scary at all. It really ended up being one of the least scary things, honestly. It ended up being pretty funny. You look at each other after the scene is done, and you just burst out laughing.”
After dropping the titillating trailer in January, the series premiered last Sunday night on STARZ after much anticipation. “When it premiered, we were all at South By Southwest together and immediately Gregg started bawling his eyes out, so we all started bawling our eyes out. It’s like this intimate thing is born into the world. It’s a little freaky.” It also means that Berglund’s greatest fear has come true: her grandparents have seen it. “I haven’t spoken to them about it yet,” she said. “I’m lowkey terrified to have that conversation. But my parents talked to them and they were like, ‘Yep, it’s a lot of nudity.’ They’re not stupid, so they know it’s acting, but that was still terrifying.”
Luckily, her next role is more family-friendly: Berglund will play a young Gwen Verdon in the upcoming series Fosse/Verdon (the older Verdon is played by Michelle Williams). “When I had the audition passed along to me, at first I was like, ‘Oh my god, they’re making a show about Fosse?’” she said. “The role called for someone who was a dancer, so check, and they had to play a young Michelle Williams, and I was like, ‘Okay, we’ll see. I think I can pull that off’. And it ended up happening.” Seems to be happening for her a lot these days.