Allison Williams on her Girls alter ego

The actress explains why Marnie is ‘basically a straight guy’ who needs to masturbate more

Arts+Culture Q+A
Marnie picture

A lot of people would rather not admit to being like Marnie, the highly-strung, ambitious and occasionally wild character that Allison Wiliams plays in Girls. When the show started, Marnie seemed like the conservative counterpart to the floundering, creative Hannah (Dunham), the hyper Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and the hippieish Jessa (Jemima Kirke). She was in a comfortable, if unfulfilling relationship and a sleek professional life where she would get too drunk on a weeknight at gallery openings. But Marnie morphed, tripped along the way, and our first sight of her in the third season is red-faced, distraught from being dumped, and late for her new job as a barista. She wants all the world has to offer her, but, unlike Hannah, has until now lacked the nerve to plunge herself into it.

Dazed Digital: At the end of Season Two, Marnie and Charlie get back together, but then Christopher Abbott left the show before filming for Season Three began. How much of a shock was his departure to you?

Allison Williams: I was so surprised, and the first thing when I heard it from Jenny (executive producer Jennifer Konner), I was like, ‘Are you guys cool, are you okay?', and she said, ‘Yeah yeah yeah, we’ll figure it out.' And sure enough the writers came up with something so awesome in the new season.

DD: Is it right that Lena had been working on a different plotline for Marnie in Season Three?

Allison Williams: Yeah! I think they’d actually come up with the entire season for her. I think at the end of that season they would have broken up anyway, so it’s almost like this season for Marnie was going to be her Season Four, of post-Charlie, so it was just fast-forwarded.

DD: Do you hope Marnie stops looking to men for fulfilment?

Allison Williams: I do hope so, but given her daddy issues I don’t know if that’s gonna happen anytime soon. I hope Marnie can find a way to somehow fulfil herself, I hope that she starts masturbating more, doing whatever she has to do to be her own person. There’s nothing quite like knowing that you can make it on your own. It’s very empowering.

DD: How many people come up to you and say ‘I’m a Marnie’?

Allison Williams: A lot!

DD: Do you get that more than the other girls?

Allison Williams: Oh, I have no idea, although I feel like Marnies are by nature pretty reserved and a little bit stoic and too-cool-for-school so we may be the least likely to approach someone, whereas Shoshannas are very outgoing, and so (Zosia Mamet) may actually ended up getting (puts on squeaky voice) “Oh my God, I’m such a Shosh!!”

DD: Do you feel that Marnie is the most relatable character?

Allison Williams:  Actually, I meet also a ton of people who hate her, and they tell me that right off the bat! She’s not easy for everyone to deal with. When the series started she was the moral centre of the show, trying to keep Hannah on the straight and narrow. And then season three starts, and Marnie is sleeping on her Mum’s couch and really being miserable, and working at a coffee shop which in her mind is like rock bottom, and she’s been dumped by her boyfriend. Things are kind of happening to her in a way that she thinks are very unfair.

DD: Do you think we’re a generation of perfectionists?

Allison Williams: Yes, that’s true. I would definitely put myself in the perfectionist category, although I have completely abandoned the idea that it’s possible to perfect. And I do believe there is a little part of Marnie that believes that if she tries just a little harder she could be perfect. Which is so sad, I wish I could divorce her of that theory. I’m very hard-working and I can definitely speak for the competitive-girl nature. I went to an all-girls private school in Greenwich, Connecticut, and then I went to Yale, it’s a competitive environment. I mean I do see a lot of that in our generation, but I also do see Hannahs everywhere, I see people that are kind of driven but stagnant, and don’t really know where to put their energy.

DD: The show’s called Girls, but do you see the characters as more universal than just gender?

Allison Williams: Definitely. I have a lot of guys who say they’re Marnies.

DD: Straight dudes as well?

Allison Williams: Yeah! I think Marnie’s very, almost like a straight guy in her wiring, in a lot of ways.

DD: In what way?

Allison Williams: She is and she isn’t. She says to Charlie, and I totally agreed when she said it, like, she could go nine months without having sex and she wouldn’t miss it. I believed it 100 per cent.

DD: Yeah, but she says that and then she goes and masturbates in a bathroom.

Allison Williams: That was after she’d masturbated in a bathroom! She’d had her kicks, so that was fine. I was so nervous about (filming that), Lena brought me in the dressing room and we took turns being up against the door. I would go “Do you think it should look like this,” and then she’d say “No, no, no, no, hey, you sit down, I’m gonna try it,” and it was like “Oh, that’s so interesting, because I was picturing like this.” We were trying to decide, because Marnie was wearing tights and a dress, does she like, pull up the dress and then go down the tights? Or does she pull down the tights and then pull up the dress?

The third season of Girls continues Mondays 10pm on Sky Atlantic HD. Seasons 1 and 2 are available now through Sky’s On Demand service.

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