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Maya Erskine Shares Tom Cruise Trick She Used In ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’

May 28, 20243 Mins Read

Since Maya Erskine burst onto our televisions in 2019 as a 31-year-old actress playing the socially inept 13-year-old Maya Ishii-Peters on Hulu’s “Pen15” (she also co-created the raucous show), her comedic path seemed a clear one. But then earlier this year, she switched it up with the very adult role of intrepid spy Jane Smith, whose cover is to be married for better or  for worse to fellow spy John Smith (Donald Glover) in Amazon Prime Video’s action-drama “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Some may call the genre swap a 180-turn, but Erskine doesn’t see the leap as gargantuan.

“Shows like ‘The Sopranos,’ to me, have some of the funniest shit I’ve ever seen but are also really dark and dramatic,” she says. “To me, that’s life. I feel like you can’t have one without the other. There has to be a balance.” 

She also had to strike a balance in playing Jane, who begins with a clean slate since the character must completely walk away from her past life for this job. In fact, Jane doesn’t even reveal her real name until the season finale when she’s on truth serum. 

Erskine says series co-creators Francesca Sloane and Glover helped her figure out how to inhabit someone who is hiding so much of who she is during deadly assignments and falling in love with her faux husband. “They gave me an extensive backstory, or at least the facts that they knew when we first started since I think more developed as we kept filming,” she says. “But there were certain things about Jane’s past that I knew wasn’t going to get revealed until the final episode. They had the idea of all the goalposts of the whole season in their head. That did help me.”

Given that most of her scenes were with Glover, she also had to develop a trust with someone she didn’t know very well, even though they both attended L.A.’s elite Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences. “He was older than me, but he was in this sketch comedy group that was kind of famous around the school,” Erskine recalls. “When we met, we might have had a few friends in common, but we didn’t even do a chemistry read, so it was really a blind faith of ‘Alright, this could work, or it could not. Let’s try it.’” 

The physical demands of the show were on par with the emotional ones, and filming came shortly after Erskine gave birth to her first child, Leon Frederick, with actor Michael Angarano in 2021. “I did get a lot of warning from Donald early, like, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ He knew I had just had a baby and it’s going to be eight months. I kept being like, ‘Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don’t know. Let’s see,’” Erskine says, laughing. 

Part of that physical work included running in busy New York City areas such as Chinatown and the High Line. “I’m not a runner. I had smoked for many years, so my lung capacity was not great,” she admits. In fact, Glover was faster but would slow down when they had to be in the same shot. 

However, Erskine learned one trick to not appear slow: “They taught me the Tom Cruise hand running,” she said, mimicking pumping wide hands. “And it actually makes it seem like you’re running incredibly fast.”

We’ll call this a mission not impossible.

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