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Emmys: Alex Karpovsky on ‘Girls’ – ‘Every Character Has Shown Unsavory, Forbidden Aspects’

"It’s pretty clear I play largely autobiographical versions or caricatures of myself," says "Girls'" Ray

A version of this story appears in theComedy/Drama issue of EmmyWrap


Alex Karpovsky had written, directed and edited three movies and starred in several more before he met Lena Dunham at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2009. Dunham was there with her first movie, "Creative Nonfiction," and she recruited Karpovsky to star in her next, "Tiny Furniture."

It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship, as Dunham soon scored a deal with HBO and brought Karpovsky into the fold for one of the most divisive shows on television, "Girls." Karpovksy plays Ray, the manager of a coffee shop who dated Shoshana (Zosia Mamet) until the last episode of Season 2.

Had you ever done TV before "Girls"?
I hadn’t, but I needed very little persuasion. I loved the way "Tiny Furniture" came out and was so proud of the movie. I have total faith in Lena. Wherever she wanted to take us, I was willing to go without any hesitation.

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How would you say the show has evolved over its first two seasons?
In Season 1 we established a lot of characters, but in Season 2 and now midway through Season 3 we’re trying to explore the underpinnings and backstories. That’s a lot of fun to do, going to zany and weird places without disorienting the audience — whether that’s a coke bender or a really dark episode on Staten Island.

Has the progression of any character particularly surprised you?
All of them have. I don’t mean that as a copout, but whether it’s Hannah’s OCD or Adam’s Alcoholics Anonymous past, every character has surprises. There’s Ray’s dark energy and unresolved interpersonal issues. Every character has shown unsavory, forbidden aspects. 

You once said in an interview that you tend to play characters who are “neurotic, guilt-ridden and full of anxiety.” Does that apply to Ray?
He’s definitely anxiety-ridden, because he’s in his 30s and working at a coffee shop, and that’s not what he wants to do with his life. Neurotic would seem to apply more to other characters like Hannah and Shoshana. Guilt-ridden certainly, not for taking Shoshana’s virginity but for being his own worst enemy. 

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Why do you play those types of characters?
I have a lot of those properties myself and play those characters in my own films. It’s pretty clear I play largely autobiographical versions or caricatures of myself. When you do something some people feel works, you just keep doing it for a long time. 

How similar are other people on "Girls" to the people who play them?
I don’t know, just because I don’t know these people very well. I never knew anyone on the show except Lena before we started working on it. Lena is very different from Hannah. Hannah is still trying to figure things out, struggling and unsure of herself. Lena is almost the polar opposite. 

Would you say that people who struggle to get out of their own way is one of the primary themes of the show?
One of the primary themes is the obstacles people in their early 20s are negotiating with, fumbling around in modern-day New York City. It centers on four girls, and the boys are satellites hovering around the four central planets that are at the front door of womanhood.

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