In the hit HBO series “Girls,” actress Allison Williams plays Marnie Michaels, the high strung and often judgmental best friend of Hanna, played by Lena Dunham.
She’s had her ups and downs over the course of the show, but on the March 27 episode we got to see a different side of her often-polarizing character. The episode — titled “The Panic in Central Park” — was entirely devoted to Marnie, her troubled marriage, and her reunion with former boyfriend, Charlie, who she hasn’t seen in years. The last time they met, Charlie told Marnie that he never loved her.
“Girls” is Allison Williams’ first substantial role as an actress. Her parents — her father is MSNBC news anchor Brian Williams — insisted she put off her acting career until after graduating college.
It was a rule she initially fought, but she told The Frame’s Oscar Garza that, as she got older, she began to see it as an advantage.
Your parents insisted that you wait to pursue acting until after college. What did you think of that rule?
[My parents] thought it was a good idea if I graduated from college before pursuing [acting] professionally because it gave me more time to become who I am. Some actors during summer jobs confirmed what [my parents] said.
So after finishing school, how long was it before the “Girls” opportunity came along, and how did you come to the attention of the producers?
I slowly moved my things back into my childhood bedroom and was watching “Mad Men.” The theme song to “Mad Men” was getting so stuck in my head and … I talked to a friend of mine about putting lyrics to that song. I teamed up with a composer friend and we found out that “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole fit snugly and, oddly, perfectly.
That video came out and it found its way onto many different websites, including Huffington Post, which I think is what Judd Apatow saw. He reached out to my agents and asked me to audition for the untitled Lena Dunham project at HBO. The audition was so different, and so fantastic. The room was filled with four women, which almost never happens. Lena was in there and we read scenes together.
So this was your first big job? Was there a learning curve for you?
It was a big learning curve. But I had spent a few summers in high school and college on sets … The first scene that we filmed was of Marnie and Hannah waking up together in Hannah’s bedroom in their apartment. The bed was on cinderblocks because the cameras needed it to be raised. And it fell off one of the cinderblocks and that completely defused any tension.
This week’s episode was entirely dedicated to your character. When did you learn that was going to happen this season and what was your reaction?
Almost a year ago, I heard that [Lena had] written a Marnie episode … She sent me this script before it was official. I couldn’t put it down. I was sweating and emotional by the end of it. I couldn’t wait to do it. I just feel so lucky — Lena is such a brilliant writer. To have the full force of her writing prowess focused on 30 minutes of television for you is one of the great pleasures in this life. It was a reaction of trying to temper my excitement, but I also started thinking about a lot of it technically and emotionally, and preparing it.
In real life, you’re not much older than your character. Could you relate to the character in the sense that when you are in your 20s, things seem to change dramatically and quickly?
Oh yeah. When I look back on myself at 22, which was how old I was when we started “Girls,” I see a much more gradual and not so dramatic difference between us. I see kind of a logical progression of an idea as opposed to the kind of tidal changes that have happened within Marnie over the last couple of years. I also think that, personally, I love giving myself constructive criticism. I love working on things. And I think Marnie comes from a place of a little more defensiveness.
The other advantage I have that she doesn’t is my parents. She is completely unmoored, ungrounded, unsupported. Her dad didn’t even come to her wedding. Her mom is completely inept. And if I ever feel unmoored, I just go home, or call home. And I feel instantly grounded. Of course now I’m married, and I have a dog. Either one … fill me with a sense of peace and solidity. But I think that her change has been a lot more chaotic than mine. And a lot of that I would attribute to her lack of being grounded.
How do you respond to people’s reactions to Marnie?
People say, Why do you play Marnie? She’s the worst. I wish people were a little more sensitive. When you play someone for this many years, you cannot help but feel really close to them. I’ve been hoping for something like [“The Panic in Central Park”], where people could get to know the version of her that I’ve always seen.
A lot of people are introduced to you through this character. They don’t have a lot of reference points for the actress Allison Williams.
Yeah. It is so important that I play people who are different from Marnie. The problem is that that’s the vast majority of roles I’m sent. [NBC’s] “Peter Pan” came along and I leapt at that opportunity. I thought, He’s a boy, he’s British, he’s ageless, he can fly, he can dance and sing and sword-fight. What’s not to love? Also, can you find me one similarity with Marnie? I also finished filming my first movie. Again, I was waiting for the right thing to come along.
That’s Jordan Peele’s horror film, “Get Out”? What is your role?
I play a character named Rose who’s bringing her boyfriend home to meet her parents. Her boyfriend is black and she’s never had a black boyfriend before. She doesn’t think it’ll be an issue. She brings him home and the rest is stuff I’m not allowed to tell you. [Laughter]
Hilarity and horror ensue.
Well, it’s not hilarity. When I opened the script, given that it was written by Jordan Peele, I assumed it would be funny. From the first page you realize you’re in for a very different kind of adventure. He loves horror and thrillers so much — it’s his favorite genre. And he has so many issues with the way the genre operates. First he wanted to fix the things where you always yell at the screen. He wanted everyone to be operating to the top of their intelligence. Secondly, he wanted to convey a larger message. I’m very excited for it to come out.
Season six is supposed to be the last season of “Girls.” When does that start shooting and what do you hope for Marnie?
It starts shooting at the end of April, which I’ve told everyone I can think of to delay, because I don’t want it to end! What I hope most for her is to get some reassurance on her own. To not need someone to buttress her at all times, to allow herself to experience joy and love and compassion and kindness. I wish for her that she could feel her feet planted firmly in the ground. I think we could see a much more compassionate person.
My guess is that each of [the characters] will resolve sweetly and quietly. That would feel right to me.