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Allison Williams On Being Marnie Michaels In Hbo's Girls

Allison Williams as Marnie Michaels in Girls.

Allison Williams as Marnie Michaels in Girls.

By JASON DONALD

It’s won two Golden Globes, an Emmy, amassed a huge fan base, been at the centre of controversy and is currently the most talked about show on TV. Now HBO’s Girls – the comedy drama about four girls in Brooklyn navigating their twenties “one mistake at a time” is back for a second season.

The Big T caught up with 24-year-old Allison Williams, daughter of NBC news anchor Brian Williams, who plays Marnie Michaels, to find out what viewers can expect.

“As is always the case in television shows, the first season is about getting to know them, to meet these girls and figuring out who they are individually and as a group,” said Williams during a HBO Latin America press junket.

“In the second season, the great pleasure is you now know who they are and you can get to watch them in all these situations.

“So, a lot of the second season is kind of a walkabout, you get to see them off on their own adventures and then they come back together and it’s really beautiful. A lot of it is seeing them in their own lives.”

Marnie’s own life, at the end of season one, was at a crossroads. After a huge row with her best friend Hannah (played by the show’s creator, writer and co-director Lena Dunham), she moved out of the apartment they shared and was struggling to accept her ex’s new romance.

Williams said these factors have left her character in a completely different place.

“In season two, she has no job, she has no boyfriend, she’s not even living anywhere, her dad lost his job. Everything is very different for her and suddenly she feels the full weight of the recession.

“She’s one of those people who thought she could skip all the uncomfortable parts of growing up and go straight to the grown-up part, and I think season two is about her realising that that’s not possible. She has to fall apart entirely in order to put herself back together.”

As with all of the characters in Girls, the viewer isn’t spared Marnie’s flaws. At times she can be selfish or even cruel when dealing with her on-again, off-again boyfriend Charlie, played by Christopher Abbott.

Williams said keeping her character sympathetic can be a challenge.

“A lot of it is in the writing, but the parts of it that I find difficult are the moments when you see her behaving like a mean person. Breaking up with Charlie while they’re having sex is such a mean thing to do. I mean, after you’ve gone to the apartment to win him over!

“Part of my job in that moment is to convey something that every person watching can relate to. That’s part of the challenge and the beauty of playing Marnie. We all have little bits and pieces of her in us.”

And just how much of Marnie does Williams have in her?

“We both like to have it together, we’re a little bit controlled, we like to know what’s going on. People always say when they meet me that I’m nicer than they thought I would be.

“Marnie’s a little bit icier than I am, she takes herself even more seriously than I do. She dresses like she’s about 15 years older than she is. She needs to realise that life is about more than having all your boxes checked.”

Girls quickly gained notoriety for it’s hilariously embarrassing and unusually intimate scenes, with Dunham often leading the way in that department. But Williams said the actors are ready for whatever is thrown at them when they get the script.

“At this point we just trust Lena so much and she would never do anything to alienate the audience. There were scenes they felt were too much and they’ve been cut out and scenes they felt weren’t enough and have been added to.

“There are moments when I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay, I’m going to have to do that’, and I have to wrap my head around it. At the end of the day we’re actors, so it’s not me on a reality show. It’s me as Marnie.”

Once she’s found out what’s in store for Marnie, however, Williams said she does keep an eye on the other characters.

“I was very interested to see what would happen with Jessa’s marriage, because Marnie was there when they met in a very notable way. I love watching Adam Driver on screen, I really do. I keep a close eye on Charlie, because of Marnie’s connection to him. Also, Shosh makes me laugh, and her relationship with Ray is heartbreaking and beautiful, I think it’s lovely, and obviously Hannah is someone I could watch read a telephone book.”

And how does she find acting opposite the show’s creator?

“It’s interesting because I could be looking in someone’s eyes and she could say ‘cut!’

“If we’re doing a scene, I can’t cut the scene or do something else, but she can say, ‘I did that so wrong can we do it again?’

“It’s actually kind of nice, and she’s such a good actor that you forget it’s Lena being Hannah.

“But it is hard to keep a straight face when you’re looking at someone in a mesh top with oil all over her to make her look sweaty, shaking her boobs at you over the table. It’s very hard to focus and to think, ‘that’s my boss, she pays the bills, that’s my boss and she’s basically naked in front of me’. She’s lovely and she’s so humble and that makes it really easy.”

The show is produced by comedy heavyweight Judd Apatow, best known for his work on big screen hits such as The 40-year-old Virgin, Knocked Up and Funny People. And Williams thinks his name has helped introduce a lot of men to the show.

“Any time I’m talking to one of my guy friends, I’d say: ‘I’m on a show, it’s called Girls and they’d be like ‘I don’t know’ and I’d say, ‘Judd Apatow is producing’, and they’re like, ‘all right, I’ll check it out’.

“He’s so great and for him to lend his genius to our show is such an honour. It adds a vote of confidence.”

The show recently picked up another huge vote of confidence, landing the Golden Globes for Best Television Series (Comedy or Musical) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series (Comedy or Musical) for Lena Dunham.

Williams said being on stage that night is a blur.

“A lot of people will be exposed to the show because they saw us on stage in shock. Absolute true shock at the fact we were standing up there. It made us really proud and made me happy for Lena.”

Now, with a third season announced, it looks certain the success story of Girls will continue.

And the key to that success? Williams attributes that to the show’s universal themes.

“They’re themes that everyone in the world can relate to. They’re not big in terms of global crisis or anything like that. They’re small and personal, but everyone experiences them. That moment when you try to decide who you love, what you loved doing, who your friends are, if someone’s a good friend, what you’re going to do to make a living.

“All of those things are questions people ask themselves every day.”

• IN PART II OF OUR GIRLS SPECIAL NEXT WEEK, WE TALK TO CHRISTOPHER ABBOTT (CHARLIE)

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