Allison Williams: “I think we all have a friend who seems to judge us and makes us anxious”
Oh Marnie. Sweet, uptight, severely-lacking-self-awareness Marnie. Admit it – there’s a huge part of all of us that wishes we could say, of the Girls retinue, we were most akin to the tightly-wound, super-hot, A-type (occasional public-bathroom debaucher) Marnie Michaels—instead of being an awkward mash-up of Hannah and Shoshannah.
Allison Williams, the 25-year-old Yale graduate who plays the character described as a younger, ill-at-ease version of Sex and the City’s Charlotte York, has, like her cast mates, enjoyed a swift rise to acclaim since appearing on the Lena Dunham-created, Judd Apatow-produced series. Before becoming the show’s art-gallery working, obligatory responsible personality and occasional moral pillar, Williams made a classic cover of Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” in a turned-viral YouTube clip, appeared as Kate Middleton for Funny or Die and, in the U.S. is largely recognised as the daughter of Brian Willaims – a famous NBC News Anchor. We caught up with her about how she landed this gig, what the appeal of Girls is, and what we can expect from Season Two.
Marnie starts the season as the most sympathetic character in many ways, yet as the season progresses we see a more spiky side emerge…
She’s very comforted by control and organisation and I think viewers find that sympathetic because they wish someone would shepherd these girls around and stop them from making poor decisions. But then as the season progresses she starts to make some pretty poor decisions herself and you find yourself thinking who is this supposed authority?
She’s also pretty judgemental, particularly where Hannah is concerned…
I think we all have a friend who seems to judge us and makes us anxious. That side of Marnie, while jarring, was great for me as an actress because it’s a lot of fun creating a character that’s both sympathetic and unsympathetic.
Then there’s her relationship with Charlie…
[Laughs] I know. I was really drawn to everything about Marnie but I was so excited about this relationship because it was so nuanced and so specific. It’s the sort of relationship that’s almost never portrayed on television yet every single one of my friends has been in a relationship like this where their boyfriend is really nice to them but he drives them crazy. Since I started playing Marnie complete strangers come up and are comfortable telling me about how they’ve had that experience. I think it’s just very relatable to both girls and guys. Actually all Marnie’s relationships with guys are very interesting. She has a complicated dynamic with Jonathan and Adam and then the scenes with Thomas John…
Do you think that under the controlled exterior lurks a much less controlled side and that’s what comes out in her relationships with men?
Definitely – and that’s what makes it interesting, the fact that she’s no longer in control.
Which leads us to her most notorious scene…
[Laughs] Oh the masturbation in the restroom… I watched the whole series with my entire family, parents and grandparents, so when that scene came up it was interesting… Actually they were fine they understood better than I did that I was doing it as an actor.
How did you get the role? Is it true that Judd Apatow cast you on the strength of a YouTube video?
I had met him years previously at a film festival with my parents in Nantucket so when he saw the Mad Men YouTube video [in which Williams croons Nat King
Cole’s Nature Boy over Mad Men’s theme tune] he had a point of reference. So yeah, he got in touch and said that I should audition for the part because he thought
I’d be right for it…when I replay the chain of events in my head it seems as though I was weirdly lucky.
Have you always wanted to go into acting?
Yes, I’ve wanted to act since I was four years old. I used to watch films like Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan where people transform themselves and there’s these big musical numbers and I would tell my parents that that’s what wanted to do. They were supportive but they also know what a difficult industry it is and they pointed out that many of the actors whom I most respect went to college and did something different for four years. I did think at times when I was at college that everything was moving on without me but I had an amazing time. I also learnt a lot about different friendships and relationships during that time and without that experience I wouldn’t have been able to play Marnie.
You’ve also found time to hone your Kate Middleton impression [Williams appears as the Duchess of Cambridge in a series of YouTube sketches]…
Oh man, well what happened was I kept being told by people that I looked like her and then my friend [comedian and actress] Mindy Kaling said I should play her so we put together some sketches for Funny or Die. It’s the first thing I’ve written actually, I hope people find them funny while realising that I have great admiration for her.
You have a great singing voice – did you ever consider choosing that over acting?
I love singing, I grew up watching musical theatre and I still study voice now.
I’m actually releasing an album sometime this year so it’s great that I’m managing to do both…
One of the strongest themes in Girls is the way in which friendships can change, how realistically do you think the show depicts those changes?
Oh my gosh, I think it’s completely realistic. Friendships that start in college go through amazing tests of strength in the real world. You’re leaving the fish bowl of a tightly controlled environment, living in a wider world and meeting more people and it leads to lots of tests for a friendship. I think that what Girls does so well is show that sometimes people need to take a little bit of a walkabout from each other before you come back and remember why you found comfort in that person. You know when you first graduate college quickly seems like such a distant memory – I met the best people I ever known there yet since graduation I have drifted apart from some of them and that happens naturally but it can still be very painful. I think Girls portrays that betrayal and the intimate nature of friendship so honestly and intimately.
What do you feel about the comparisons to Sex and the City?
I grew up watching that show, although when I was younger I had to sneak episodes because I wasn’t allowed to watch it, but I feel that I learnt a lot from those girls. Obviously the characters in Girls don’t live their lives like that but part of the joy is that they are almost in a state of befuddlement as to why that’s the case. I like the scene in episode one where Shoshanna plays homage to the show because it’s a big part of our culture and I think it would be unrealistic not to acknowledge that. This is a show about young girls in New York and statistically one of them is bound to be obsessed with Sex and the City…
Yet Girls is a much more honest show, particularly where the sex scenes are concerned…
The key is, and Lena has probably said this more eloquently than I will, sex is not perfect or perfectly choreographed, which is what boys grow up seeing when they look at pornography. Lena has written about how porn changed the way guys want to have sex and how our show snaps back to reality and her sex scenes really make you feel like you’re there. It can be uncomfortable but it can also be enjoyable. It’s certainly more real.
Girls is also very honest about the problems faced by twentysomethings trying to get a job in today’s climate…
Absolutely. The show has never endeavoured to show every experience but I think a lot of people can identify with the idea that you are passionate about doing something and end up working in an unpaid internship to achieve that. Obviously very few people can afford to do that, but I think there’s an underlying anxiety where my friends, for example, are looking for jobs that make them happy and help them to pay the bills and it’s a struggle.
What do you think is the secret of Girls’ appeal?
For older people it’s almost nostalgic, even for some of my friends watching the show brings back very recent memories and that makes it real and relatable. Everyone on the show is trying to figure out what makes them happy. It asks some big existential questions such as what makes me happy, what do I want from life? I hope that asking those questions encourages other people to try and answer them for themselves.
So what’s going to happen in the second season?
All the girls are soul searching and a little bit all at sea. I think season one sets up the world but season two starts to play with who they are and look at how they handle themselves in different situations. It really tests their mettle and challenges who they are and how they handle and process things. The answer is not always in a good way.
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