‘Girls’ Star Alex Karpovsky Talks About Directing His First Episode, Ray’s Future With Marnie

“In many ways I look at Ray as who I was about 10 years ago, a caricature version of who I was,” HBO actor/director tells TheWrap of his character on Lena Dunham dramedy

Girls Alex Karpovsky Lena Dunham HBO

The penultimate episode of “Girls” Season 5 was directed by longtime cast member Alex Karpovsky, and despite five feature films under his belt, this was his first foray into directing for TV.

Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner came over to me one day when we were shooting a scene upstate,” he told TheWrap of how the gig came about. “They asked me if directing an episode was something that appealed to me, and I said, ‘Yeah, it’s something that could be a lot of fun,’ and they went, ‘Great,’ and a few weeks later came back and assigned a specific episode to me.”

On top of directing the episode, which features a guest turn from Jenny Slate, Karpovsky’s character, Ray, has also emerged this season as a pivotal member of the gang at the center of “Girls.”

Karpovsky discussed his first TV directing gig, Christopher Abbott‘s recent return as Ray’s former best friend Charlie, and whether he sees a future for Ray and newly single Marnie (Allison Williams).

How did directing movies prepare you for directing TV?
In many ways, it’s similar. I’ve made five feature-length films and for the most part, they’re character-driven stories, they’re not twisty, plot-driven stories and they’re not spectacle-driven stories.

I never really had the budget to do those kinds of stories so I never really learned how to tell stories visually in that way specifically. So it was always about characters and relationships and tone, so that’s what I’ve always focused on and that’s what’s been really interesting to me.

Basically, I just tried to make sure the tone of the show is in place and expand and deepen our understanding of these characters, who we’ve known for five or six years, but we still find new sides of them we haven’t seen before.

I think we see a side of Elijah (Andrew Rannells) that we haven’t seen before and I also think we see a side of Hannah (Dunham) that we haven’t seen before.

The show is semi-autobiographical and Lena takes from her own life. Have they taken anything from your life or have you offered up anything?
That’s a good question. No, I don’t think so. My parents are Russian and I speak Russian, so in the last episode when my truck crashed and I had to call the mechanic, I’m speaking in Russian to him I think for the first time, so there was that.

In many ways I look at Ray as who I was about 10 years ago, a caricature version of who I was, in terms of how judgmental and cynical he is and how misguided some of his efforts to prove himself are, how bad some of his decisions with women can be. I’ve known Lena for seven or eight years now and she knows a lot about my life, so it’s possible she’s incorporating stuff without even being fully aware of it.

What did you think of Charlie’s return? Do you wish you got to do scenes with him, given Ray and Charlie’s history?
I definitely wish I got to do scenes with him. He was sort of my portal, that’s how I entered the world of “Girls.” I was Charlie’s bandmate back in the day, and saw this world through the lens of that character initially. They used to be really close friends, so I think it would have been really fun to see how they interact with each other now, how they’ve changed.

Who is Ray now to these girls? He’s older, he dispenses advice, but he judges them and he sleeps with them. How do you see his role within this group?
Yeah, I think you’ve covered quite a few of the answers there! [Laughs] He’s somewhat older than everyone else, so to some degree he feels entitled and even compulsed to levy philosophies and judgments and advice to this younger crowd, no matter how misguided and tortured that advice might be.

He’s also a business owner and he’s had more or less the same stable job over the past five or six seasons, which you can’t really say about anyone else on the show, so there’s some stability there. And a lot of people end up working there… Shosh [Zosia Mamet], Hannah, Elijah… I think Marnie worked there too? I can’t even remember. So he’s employing half the cast at his place, that’s part of his relationship with them.

And now he’s had some kind of sexual relationship with three of the four women, so that’s also woven into the fabric of who he is on the show as well.

Is he really in love with Marnie?
That’s something we really try to explore and keep open-ended as much as we can. I think there’s a part of him that certainly relates very intimately and sincerely to her and in some way, I think he looks at both of them as outsiders, people who have been marginalized, ostracized to some degree by their environment. Maybe for different reasons, but they’re both trying to figure out, how do I get in? Do I want to get in? How do I want to get back in?  To some degree, he feels an affinity towards her, they have that in common.

But in many other ways, he realizes they’re probably not a good match. Maybe her interests and ambitions are too divergent from his own. So that’s something he’s navigating through and if they both make a concerted effort towards the relationship, then they have a real chance of making it work. I just don’t know if both of these people are willing to make that commitment.

The show is winding down, with one more season after this one. Where would you like to see Ray end up?
I haven’t thought too much about that, maybe because I don’t want to think too much about it. I really like working on the show and I don’t like to think about it ending! Where do I see Ray ending up? I hope he finds more healthy and constructive ways to express his anger and his cynicism. Whether that’s in the world of politics or the world of small business ownership, or perhaps there’s another way to express that in terms of his relationship with his community.

Rather than screaming at these pretentious hipsters across the street, maybe he can forge a path with people in his community he does relate with, because they are out there. Maybe he gets a lady too! That would be nice.

That would be nice. Would that lady be Marnie?
I don’t know! I think it would be fun to have a fresh start, perhaps with a lady we haven’t seen before.

“Girls” Season 5 concludes on Sunday, April 17 with a two-part episode, starting at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.