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Whether she is the “voice of her generation,” as both her greatest champions claim and her own character jokes, Lena Dunham has been been front and center of the massive media campaign behind HBO’s new comedy, Girls. And as the creator-writer-director-star of what is being hailed as one of the best new shows of the year, it’s well deserved. But the heart of the show is the meshing of different archetypes of modern young women, and for that, she requires some co-stars.
Enter Jemima Kirke, Allison Williams and Zoisa Mamet.
Kirke, who featured in Dunham’s 2010 breakout film Tiny Furniture, plays Jessa, the free-spirited British transplant; Williams, the gorgeous, sometimes uptight roommate Marnie; and Mamet, the Sex and the City-obsessed virgin named Shoshanna. The three spoke with The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere of the show in New York City to discuss their roles, their excitement and their feelings on the series.
THR: You’re in Tiny Furniture, but you didn’t necessarily see yourself as an actress going forward, so how did you get involved in this?
Kirke: Lena is an old friend of mine and she asked me to do it. I mean, she has visions for a character and sometimes they’re not necessarily actors, per se.
THR: So did you have to be convinced?
Kirke: Yeah, I did. I had to be convinced at first, not because it was something I was against, but because it’s so different from what I had in mind from my career path. And I had to re-think career and think, okay, this isn’t my career, it’s a project I’m embarking on.
THR: James Franco, for example, gets a lot of exposure for his art because he’s an actor. Do you think doing this will help your career as an artist?
Kirke: I don’t want to use it that way. I hope not. I would hope to keep them separate and if so, if it means I have to stop acting, then I’ll do that.
THR: Your storyline has to do with abortion, and obviously it wasn’t intended, but this country has a huge debate right now over reproductive rights. Do you anticipate people talking about this more than you had thought?
Kirke: I don’t know; I didn’t think it was such a big deal. I mean, people do that. I mean, I’m not going to express my opinion because then I’ll get in trouble. I think it’s portrayed quite accurately in our demographic.
THR: Your character is pretty wild, the biggest free spirit of the main characters. That must be pretty fun to play.
Kirke: That is fun to play, because I can’t afford to be wild anymore. I have kids and I’m married and so it’s fun to be able to do that.
THR: So one day, your kids are going to see this character and be like… “Mom?”
Kirke: Yeah, they’re going to be like, ‘My mom’s awesome.” I hope. Or maybe they’ll be really embarrassed.
THR: What was your audition like?
Williams: It was really fun. It was like, me and five women in a room and everyone was on rolly chairs, I remember that. There’s something very casual about people sitting in rolling chairs in an audition. Super casual, it was really fun, we did a full improv scene, and that’s my only training so it felt like home to me. They added a scene, they sent me out to go learn more lines and come back. It was so enjoyable, I thought that, “Hey listen, if it doesn’t work out, it was a great first L.A. audition experience.”
THR: Do you feel like the show really identifies with New York life?
Williams: Year, there are a lot of New York idioms and stuff like that. But the crazy thing about this show is there are those little specific things about New York, things like Brooklyn, the geography, the language, the vibe, and then there are the things that are more general, that apply to all women and all humans. And I think that’s the sign of a really well-crafted show, that’s accessible to people who know nothing about the area.
THR: How was it going from improv comedy to playing the most uptight member of the group?
Williams: That is actually one of the pleasures in life, playing people that are different from me. That’s really what I love doing, character acting and stuff like that. I actually love playing Marnie. We have a lot in common. our Venn Diagrams are very close.
THR: What about your Venn Diagram with Kate Middleton?
Williams: It’s the same. We’re the same. No, I’m kidding. I just admitted she was my girl crush. I really wish she’d seen the video [her Funny or Die videos in which she plays Kate Middleton], maybe contacted me or something.. but that’s okay. She’s a little bit busy.
THR: Maybe she did see it?
Williams: I would know. If I got a text from Kate Middleton, I think everyone would know.
THR: What would you do if you two came face-to-face and she said, “I saw your video…”
Williams: Well I would wait to see what she thought of it.
THR: What if she deadpanned without telling you?
Williams: I’d say thank you for watching it, Your Highness! I wouldn’t know how to talk to her.
THR: So what else are you working on?
Williams: I’m working very slowly on an album of cover songs, and other than that, I’m hoping, knock on wood, that we get to go back and do this again.
THR: Who are you covering?
Williams: It’s all old music. It’s 60s or 70s, all re-imagined, but I’m not going to say specifics.
THR: All along, everyone involved with Girls has been asked about Sex and the City and they’ve always said, “We’re not that.” But your character is the Sex and the City-obsessed one, so do you feel like you’re playing the butt of a joke in a way?
Mamet: Oh, interesting. I feel like we wanted to make sure we kind of gave it in a nod and showed that we weren’t afraid of the comparison. So I don’t know, I was actually kind of excited to be the one to bring it in and be like, “Hey, we’re different, but we’re going to bring this up and not shy away from it!”
THR: You’re the most eccentric character on the show — is that fun to play?
Mamet: Oh my god, yeah.
THR: Because some of these characters hit close to home, but I imagine it’s less so for you.
Mamet: Very much — she’s the exact opposite of who I am… I’m a huge dork. I mean, she’s a dork in many ways, because she tries so hard not to be, and I think she wants to be at the epicenter of what is cool, and I’m the one who is running away, with my Tolstoy book and going to bed at nine.
THR: Well your character does give voice to a segment of the population that maybe doesn’t have any other representation in the universe of the show.
Mamet: Yeah, I think Lena did an exceptional job of creating character-driven characters, who are almost like archetypes, but then making them very, very human and relatable, so it’s not like, “This person is playing the pretty girl,” but we really did have shadings of all different walks of life and all different humans.
THR: It’s very different from your Mad Men role.
Mamet: It is very different, yes. Which is so much fun, I feel like as an actor, it’s fun to play people who aren’t like you.
THR: Do people recognize you from that arc?
Mamet: Yeah, a lot of people come up to me and ask, “Are you actually a lesbian?” A lot of people in line at the grocery store think that they know me, but they don’t.
THR: You’ve done TV shows before, so how is this one a different experience?
Mamet: I think every TV show is different, just given how they’re run and the people you work with. Obviously Mad Men is run very different than this; cable shows are definitely more similar to each other than something like Parenthood, which is run much, much different. But this one, I was involved from the beginning, which innately is a different experience of one of coming into one that was already created, and coming in from beginning to end. It was very familial, we created a family, it was very insulated so that felt very different from all the shows that I was a visitor.
THR: Lena does a lot of the writing, so how much say do you get as to what your character’s plot lines are or what she says?
Mamet: We improv a lot. And while Lena has an exceptionally clear vision of what she wants, she’s also one of the most humble people I’ve ever met, so she’s so open to us saying, “Hey, what about this?” And if we try something a certain way, they’ll riff off that. So it’s a very, very open environment.
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