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Oct 28 2013

Interview with Interesting Jews: Actress & New Mom Shiri Appleby

By at 9:56 am

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Shiri Appleby has been acting in Hollywood since the age of 4, and now she has a baby of her own with chef and husband Jon Shook. The L.A. based pair welcomed little Natalie to the world seven months ago, and since then she’s been balancing the act of doting mama and busy actress. Most recently Shiri guest starred as girlfriend of main character Adam on the hit HBO series GIRLS, and will be appearing on the third season which airs January 12, 2014. Shiri also guest stars on the NBC drama, Chicago Fire.

Recently, I got a chance to chat with the sweet Ms. Appleby about acting, kvelling, being a new mom, and what it was like to work on the set of GIRLS.

Tell me a bit about your daughter Natalie.

Natalie is almost 7 months. She’s not really into toys; we were just talking about it. She’s more engaged in looking around her and seeing what’s going on. She’s really observant and likes to engage with people. She’s not really crawling, yet.

How do you and your husband split up parenting responsibilities?

Jon helps a lot with the night feedings and since he’s a chef, he cooks dinner for us. But I feel like parenting is a bit of a team sport in the sense that you do your portion until the other person is capable of doing their side. But he plays with the baby in the morning, and since I don’t work 9-5 it’s not too stressful. And my parents are really involved and have helped us a ton, too!

Is there any parenting advice that your parents or grandparents have given you that sticks out as the most valuable?

You know my mom thinks that my girlfriends and I are sort of over-analyzing this whole process of parenting. My mother’s take on it is that we should just be having fun and not making a dissertation on how our children are growing up. Basically, just to worry a bit less and take it day-by-day.

What’s your Jewish background and how has Judaism played a role in your life growing up?

Both of my parents are Jewish; my mom is Israeli. I was taught Jewish values and was raised keeping kosher. I went to temple, Hebrew school, and my first kiss was at a United Synagogue Youth (USY) function.

How romantic! Do you plan on maintaining Jewish customs and traditions with Natalie?

Yup! My husband is Jewish as well, and we took Natalie to High Holiday services. She didn’t fast though; we gave her the year off. We got her all dressed up alongside all the other newborn kids at services.

Were you pregnant on GIRLS when you were filming?

Yes, I was first trimester pregnant. Nobody on set knew.

On GIRLS your character Natalia had a very stereotypical Jewish mother who set you up with your T.V. boyfriend Adam, played by Adam Driver, at an A.A. meeting. Do you relate on any level to that stereotype?

My mom has definitely tried to set me up with guys when I was single but I never went on the date. I definitely see a bit of that Jewish mother in my own mother.

How has it been dividing your acting career and being a mother?

I did a movie when Natalie was 2 months old to see how I liked being a working mom and to see if I actually enjoyed the experience or not. I really love it, because I am able to bring her on set with me, and then still work and feel like I have my own identity. And now it’s just a balancing act. We have a really great nanny for Natalie, and with my parents around it makes it easier. We are just doing the best we can. When I’m not at work it’s just her and I all day, so when I’m working I try not to let myself feel too guilty about it. It’s hard though!

I’m only 23 years old, but I can imagine it is difficult!

Oh! I love that you’re only 23. You’re like 15! When women would complain to me about it when I was single or without kids, I’d be like, “This is so annoying, they should get over the guilt.” Then once I had a kid, it’s like a chemical thing, you don’t even have control over those feelings. Well I’ll tell you it’s like your whole life shifted upside down, but it’s wonderful.

On GIRLS you filmed a somewhat “rapey” scene where your character, Natalia, engaged in a highly submissive sex scene with her T.V. boyfriend, Adam. What was it like to film such an intense/controversial scene with him?

Well, GIRLS was incredible. It was definitely one of the most professional sets I’ve ever been on. Everyone there is playing at the highest level. To do a scene like that on that kind of set felt as safe as it possibly could feel. And at the time I didn’t realize it would be so controversial, I just thought it was crazy because I was going to show my breasts–which I had never done before, so I didn’t realize it would be what it became. My concern was just doing a good job.

How much do you relate with GIRLS’ view on the modern young female?

For me I thought it was very relatable, especially during my 20s. I found that I was different versions of those girls at different points in my life. All the questioning, over-analyzing, trying to figure out who exactly you are, where you fit in the world and make most sense to yourself–that was my 20s.

Lena Dunham is an incredible writer. She is able to really convey what she is thinking and feeling, and I really relate to her and admire her. Watching her on set directing is inspiring. She has a really tough job. She writes basically every episode, she directs almost half the season, she stars in every episode, and she keeps her cool the entire time. She’s able to be very collaborative, not walking around like “I’m the boss.” For each actor she wants to make you the best version of yourself, so she’s open to improving and not married to her words. That kind of thing doesn’t happen that often on other sets.

I’ve been doing this my whole life. When you walk on sets like Lena’s, you know it’s special. When you walk into someone’s creative and so unapologetically open environment, you’re just incredibly grateful to be included.

Will we see more of you this season?

Yes. But I can’t really say! I’m sworn to CIA secrecy. I’m not allowed to say a word, but I’ll be back.

Did your character Natalia and your daughter’s name, Natalie, have anything to do with each other? And if not, how did you decide on the name Natalie?

Isn’t that funny! Nope–no relation. We didn’t know the gender before birth so we were coming up with names for both sexes. We really wanted to give the baby a name that would allow him/her to do anything they wanted to in life. Like, maybe she’ll be the president of Yahoo!, maybe she’ll be the first female Jewish president, or a singer. I just wanted to give Natalie a name that felt like we weren’t pigeonholing her. And I’ve always been a big fan of Natalie Wood and Natalie Portman, and Natalie Shook just sounds like a really nice person!

It’s a great name.

Thanks! Jon was pitching crazy names. One he threw out was Bleach. Bleach Shook. Ira was another big one for us. Sounds like a captain. I don’t know that that’s the president of the United States; Ira Shook.

Bleach!? What has been one of the best things about motherhood so far? Or something that has really surprised you?

It’s just not about you anymore. I’m not going to work so I can become more famous; it’s more like I’m going to work so we can make enough money so I can send Natalie to private school if she wants to go, and to college. The way you behave through life everyday is different. Jon and I were a family before but now we’re REALLY a family. We have one goal in mind, and it’s her. The way you relate to your parents is different because you understand them better. Watching them with your child is crazy, too. My mom and I are closer now then we’ve ever been. It’s the best thing–go get pregnant!

Are a lot of your friends having babies now too?

Yes, we are surrounded by babies. We live near the hospital so we’re there once a month visiting friends popping out babies. It’s really awesome. Your friends have kids and they play together and we get to watch them grow up. You just have to make sure you find a good partner!

Are you a Kveller?

Yes, yes! But this is the big debate in child-raising right now, this issue about praise. Some don’t think it’s the best idea to praise your child so much because it gives them an inflated sense of self and makes them more focused on receiving the claim than focused on the actual process of doing.

I’m still feeling it out. We brought it up in Mommy & Me last week for the first time, so I’ve been discussing it a lot with the other women and my mom and I talked about it. I definitely think it’s a happy medium. Children deserve praise like anybody in life does. We all want to be told we’re doing a good job and that we’re special and on the right track, but I also feel like you can go overboard with that.

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