Lukita Maxwell always wanted to pursue acting but didn’t know it was possible without industry connections. “I thought that actors were just all nepotism babies,” Maxwell says. “If you were born into acting, you were born into royalty, and I couldn’t act because I wasn’t born into a family of actors.”
Now, she’s starring alongside Jason Segel and Harrison Ford on the Apple TV+ comedy Shrinking, which premieres Jan. 27. Maxwell plays Alice, the strong, independent daughter to Segel’s Jimmy, a grieving therapist who has lost his wife in an accident.
Created and co-written by Bill Lawrence, Brett Goldstein and Segel, Shrinking packs lots of industry power. “It was the most intimidating trifecta of comedy I had ever seen,” the Indonesia-born actress, 21, remembers of her audition process. “I didn’t think I was ever going to get the role. I didn’t think that I had the chops to do that.”
But upon meeting Segel, the actress says that the co-creator “really responded” to how naturally playing the role came to her. “The character of Alice brings this groundedness and humanity to the show a little bit,” she says. “[She] is kind of an anchor in that sense…It was very apparent from Alice’s character off the page that it came naturally to me because, not too long ago, I went through the bulk of my adolescence.”
Following her performance on HBO Max’s coming-of-age dramedy Generation — she had studied Shakespeare as a youngster before making her onscreen debut on ABC’s Speechless in 2016 — Maxwell remembers the “nerve-wracking” feeling of her first week on the set of Shrinking. “Comedy scares the shit out of me,” the actress says with a laugh. “I was in the company of these incredibly seasoned, wonderful comedians. But after seeing them work and witnessing their craft, it just kind of fueled me.”
Maxwell’s character shares several one-on-one scenes with Ford, who plays blunt but down-to-earth therapist Phil Rhodes. “He’s a legend for a reason,” Maxwell says, calling him the “most incredible scene partner.” She says their scenes — where Alice meets Phil for therapy sessions — didn’t require much preparation. “The energy was constantly oscillating between us,” she says. “We would go into this improv that sometimes lasted five minutes after a take.”
As the conversation surrounding mental health continues to become more normalized, Shrinking sees nearly all of its characters in therapy, to one degree or another. After spending her teen years being raised in the town of St. George, Utah, the Los Angeles-based actress says she’s happy to see that times — onscreen and off — are changing.
“As a queer teenager growing up in a super repressive, highly religious town, literally going out and dressing the way that you want, expressing the way that you are, was an everyday fear of being attacked,” Maxwell recalls. “I just went back for Christmas, and I saw a lot of very beautiful signs and beautiful shows of self-expression.”
She adds, “After watching the [Shrinking] episodes, that’s kind of when it really solidified that, ‘Oh, this show is going to mean something to a lot of people’ and hopefully spread the message that help is out there.”
Inspired by Segel, Maxwell says she hopes to continue in comedy. “I want to be a comedian in the way that [Jason] is a comedian,” she explains. “He finds the pain in comedy, but he also finds the light moments in dark times and is able to bounce back and forth.”
Next, she’s set to appear in Tayarisha Poe’s Netflix drama The Young Wife alongside Sheryl Lee Ralph, Judith Light, Kiersey Clemons and Kelly Marie Tran. “I just want to keep sinking my teeth into juicy characters,” Maxwell says. “If the writing is good, and if the character is vibrant, then I’m hungry for it.”
This story first appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.