And in This Corner, the Boys of ‘Girls’
FOR a show that is, down to its title, about women, “Girls” pays a lot of attention to its boys. The male characters — boyfriends, exes, bosses, frenemies — are fleshed out in a way that’s unusual for an ensemble comedy, especially one aimed at the other gender. (How long did audiences have to wait for Mr. Big’s mere name on “Sex and the City”?)
The actors who play the paramours and foils to Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna were largely unknown, and have already become so identifiable as personalities that it’s possible to tell someone meaningfully that he’s being a total Ray. Whether being a Ray is desirable is changing too; a hallmark of these leads is that they shift from hard-to-get bros to lovelorn mates rather quickly. (Wish fulfillment on the part of the show’s creator, Lena Dunham, perhaps, or just an accurate depiction of the morphing sensibilities of 21st-century dudes.)
In exploring the lives of 20-something women coming of age in Brooklyn, this HBO series — led by Ms. Dunham, the writer, director, executive producer and star, and the executive producers Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner, along with a writing-producing staff of three women and three men — has created new careers for its male stars: Alex Karpovsky, as the motormouthed Ray, who at the end of Season 1 deflowered Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet); Adam Driver, as Adam, the intense slacker who romances, in his own way, Hannah (Ms. Dunham); and Christopher Abbott, as Charlie, the long-suffering beau of Marnie (Allison Williams). Off screen these guys really do live in Brooklyn (and have never watched “Sex and the City”).
All also have thriving projects outside the show. Mr. Driver, 29, a Juilliard graduate and a veteran of the Marines, runs a nonprofit, Arts in the Armed Forces, that stages theatrical performances for the military. Mr. Karpovsky, who gave his age only as 30-something, is a multi-hyphenate filmmaker in his own right; “Rubberneck” and “Red Flag,” the last two indies he wrote, directed and starred in, will be released by Tribeca Film in February. Both actors have been cast in the next Coen brothers feature, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and Mr. Driver is currently on screen in a small but pivotal part in “Lincoln.”
Mr. Abbott, 26, is working on a feature with Brady Corbet, his co-star from the well-regarded 2011 drama “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” Unprompted they all mentioned the director and actor John Cassavetes as a model for the kind of creative life they’d like to lead; Mr. Abbott jokingly took credit for making the reference first.
In interviews at cafes near their homes — Williamsburg for Mr. Karpovsky, Greenpoint for Mr. Abbott and Brooklyn Heights for Mr. Driver — they spoke about their lives, which mostly haven’t changed, how their characters were first described and what to expect in the second season, which begins Sunday. Here are excerpts from their conversations:
Q. How do your characters evolve this season?
ADAM DRIVER I feel like Adam is surprised how intense his feelings are for Hannah. I don’t think he really took it seriously until there was the threat of it not being there anymore. For the first half of the season he’s trying to adjust to not having that part of him, then losing all power in that relationship. Then meeting someone new who brings out different parts of his personality that I don’t think he’s expecting.
ALEX KARPOVSKY Some time has elapsed, maybe a month, in these characters’ lives. And in that month Shoshanna and Ray get close. Maybe not initially. Maybe there’s a hiccup, but ultimately they do spend a considerable amount of time together. And it was really fun to explore kind of a softer, more sensitive, caring side of Ray, because we haven’t seen too much of that, especially in a romantic context.
CHRISTOPHER ABBOTT [Charlie’s] smart, but because of the long relationship that he was in, you know, someone’s view can get kind of tunnel vision, when you like this one person so much, you don’t see much else. I feel like in the first season his view of the world is quite small. So his world opens up a little bit more in Season 2.
Q. When you auditioned, how was the character described?
KARPOVSKY There was never an audition. [Ms. Dunham] just asked me if I wanted to do the pilot. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but the character’s name was originally Karpovsky, and I think because of that she maybe didn’t need to describe him at all. I just tried to do what she wrote. The only note that I had is: Could we change his name?
ABBOTT The way Lena writes is, it all comes from real-life situations. So she gave me a bit of back story on who the character is. She told me some stories about what this guy did in this situation, and that would feed so much of who that person is.
DRIVER Like, “handsome carpenter.” I remember thinking that’s why I wouldn’t get the part. Let me e-mail someone and see. [He sends e-mail to his agent and reads it.] “A carpenter, incredibly handsome, but slightly off, with whom Hannah has been sleeping with for several months. ‘He is way higher than me on the attractiveness scale,’ says Hannah. ‘Seriously, lying next to him, I feel like a kewpie doll with pubic hair.’ An avid reader, which is one of his main selling points, since he’s radically insensitive. A sexual deviant; a mysterious weirdo.”
I came up with my own ideas, my own back story. I’m not going to say [what it is], no way. I’m trying to hold on to that.
Even in our first conversations about that character, I’ll just try things, and I’ll just trust that Lena and Jenni will edit. They’ve kind of given me a lot of liberty to get it wrong for a long time.
Q. How often are you recognized or mistaken for your character?
KARPOVSKY Sometimes at a party there’ll be a semi-angry drunk, and they’ll want to have, like, a tête-à-tête with Ray, have a witty face-off with him, which is annoying. And they’re frustrated when I don’t want to play the game. But that doesn’t happen very often.
DRIVER Well, a lot. Actually, since it’s been the winter, I wear a stocking cap, I feel like I cover my ears more, so people don’t say anything. As soon as the ears come out, people are like, “Oh, that guy.” Usually a lot of guys want to talk about when I [urinated] on Lena in the shower. They’re like, “I totally empathize with that.” They’re with their girlfriend, and she’s like, “Mijo, shut up.” Most guys want to talk more than I feel like women do about the show.
Q. How has life changed since the show?
DRIVER I could actually probably talk for hours on that in a really boring way. I originally passed on “Girls” because I thought TV was evil. I was doing a play. But [his agent persevered], and then I read it and met with Lena.
I know so many good actors who haven’t had the opportunity that I’m getting now. So I’ve been finding it tricky to not lose perspective on what it is I’m doing in the first place. How do you take what you do as seriously as possible but not so seriously that it ends up inhibiting what you do? It’s all very new to me.
KARPOVSKY People come up to you or you can just tell that they notice you on the subway, they give you a double take. That’s the change. Oh, and I did have roommates before the show, and now I have the luxury of not having roommates, which is really nice.
Q. Were you struggling before the show?
KARPOVSKY All of Season 1 I was living in my parents’ house. I would come here on the Amtrak, crash with some friends and then go back.
ABBOTT I’ve never had a full-time job in the city. I did odd jobs. I had a friend who was a carpenter, so I would help him sometimes.
DRIVER When I first moved to the city, I was a busboy. I graduated to waiter at a restaurant that’s not there anymore. One of the people that came in, who I served asparagus to, was Tony Kushner [the screenwriter of “Lincoln”].
Q. What do you get from your side projects?
DRIVER Just the service aspect of running a nonprofit is so gratifying because it takes the attention off yourself. I’m not an acting monk or anything. I’m not, like, the most well-adjusted actor. But it’s really designed to focus on yourself, or it can be. So it’s good to have something else to focus on that reminds you that it’s not always about you. Something I learned in the Marine Corps that I’ve applied to acting is, one, taking direction, and then working with a group of people to accomplish a mission and knowing your role within that team.
Q. Do you watch the show?
DRIVER I haven’t seen it. Because I can’t help but see mistakes and play them over and over in my head for months until I exhaust all the people around me with my neurosis. Plus, I think I would also have the impulse to try to make it better looking. I mean, I know what it feels like on the inside. I’m not so interested in seeing what it looks like on the outside.
Q. Do your loved ones watch the show?
ABBOTT My mom has gone to her friend’s house to watch it. My sister has seen it. They think it’s cool. The world of television and entertainment was not too relevant in my household.
KARPOVSKY My parents are immigrants. My mom doesn’t speak a word of English. I just don’t think they understand anything that I do. So, when they watch the show, it’s just sort of like a fuzzy bright object swimming across the plasma screen. “When are you going to meet a nice Jewish girl?” That’s what they talk about.
DRIVER My girlfriend watches it. My parents just found out about it. About a month ago they were like, “We hear you’re on a show called ‘Girls.’ ” In one way it was comforting because I’m like, “Oh, they know how to use the Internet.” But in the other way I’m like, “Just skip this one.” So they’re very excited to see “Lincoln.”
The New York Times | Melena Ryzik | January 10, 2013