HBO’s Girls co-star Allison Williams talks about leaving Marnie Michaels behind, the criticism the show continually faced, and co-starring in Get Out.
Leaving a character behind must be a difficult task for any actor, and Allison Williams will miss playing Marnie Michaels on HBO’s Girls. For six seasons, Williams brought us a young woman who was direct and unapologetic. When the series began, Marnie emerged as the most assured and the least “lost” of her group’s foursome, but life got in the way of her perfect path.
As the show progressed, Marnie continually discovered what she really wanted, and Williams imbued her with a mixture of confidence and fierce intelligence. It’s shocking that Allison Williams never received a nomination for a Primetime Emmy® Award for this performance.
Now that Girls has been over for a few months, how does it feel?
It feels really weird. I’ve been bouncing around the place, so it hasn’t fully set in. I think once it’s solidly warm and summery in New York, it’s going to be super strange that I’m not shooting. There was something funny that sort of signified the end of the show to me. I was just in LA, and I noticed these beautiful purple, flowered trees. I was thinking, ‘Oh those are really pretty. I’ve never seen those before.’ Someone pointed out to me that they only bloom at this time of year, and I realized that I’ve never been to LA at this time of year because I was always shooting Girls. I am seeing little signs of it everywhere. It’s really weird.
Aww! That’s so sad!
I know! It feels really weird.
What do you think you’ll miss most about playing Marnie?
I had a lot fun playing her. The moments that were so cringey for other people to watch were often not as torturous to perform, and I got sort of a sick, twisted, deep satisfaction out of doing it. The same reason it’s so hard to watch. It’s like performing your worst idea and seeing it through so that you get it out of your system or writing a note and putting it in a drawer. It felt like that, and I miss that.
But I also miss those sporadic—too sporadic for my taste—displays of support and friendship and love, particularly to Hannah. Those were always my favorite scenes to shoot aside from the scenes with all four of us, but they were so rare. My favorite scenes were the ones between Marnie and Hannah when Hannah was actually being a good friend. That’s the part of her that I loved and admired the most.
I have to tell you that Marnie was my favorite character on the show.
Wow. Thank you!
I honestly didn’t know what Marnie was going to do next. That’s fascinating as a viewer, especially when you think you know what the character is going to do.
The thing to remember about or look back to on Marnie with is that she had no structure or support system to her life from the place that a lot of people get it. Not everyone, of course, but a lot of people get it from their family. That’s certainly where it comes from for me. If I need to ground myself, I just have dinner with the whole crew.
For Marnie, it was always trying to find that stability and a partner. It never worked, but that is what drove a lot of what she did in weird directions towards guys or in weird versions of herself that she thought she wanted to be. She didn’t actually know. She didn’t have a compass for herself which is why I took an outsized amount of hope in her statement that she likes rules, thus she might want to become a lawyer.
Marnie has always worked backwards from what she wants to be and then sets about accomplishing it. When you go from what you know you love and who you know yourself to be and you go from there… that’s really what job placement people do. For Marnie to be going through that thought process on her own gives me a lot of hope because it means she may finally be getting to know herself. From there, it’s someone who can be a lot more manageable person and be someone who is self-effacing and can make fun of herself and be self aware.
Everything that people criticized her about over the years kind of come from that increased introspection. I left playing her feeling really good about where she was headed. It’s very painful hard work, but for Marnie, that’s why it was so hard to figure out where she was going next because she didn’t know. Her desire shifted with the people around her and with the versions of life she thought were attractive at any given moment.
I’ve always had this weird thought about series finales that the best ones let you know that the characters are going to be okay. I never worried about Marnie for a second because she has such a drive that she won’t ever not be working towards something.
I do think that she was so sure when the series began.
I knew why I was cast as her. We were very similar when the show began, and I kept going on that track. My life is relatively identical to the way it was years ago because I had the benefit of knowing what I wanted to do when I was 2 or 3 years old. I had that core compass and the grounding capability of my family. She was using Charlie for all that, and because Charlie was so steady, she was able to feel very concrete in where she was. Because she felt the art world was a very good idea. It was solid to her.
When she got fired from the gallery, it jump-started this free fall that continued for years because there was nothing to stop it. There was no safety net for Marnie. I don’t mean just financial. There was no moral or life skills safety net, so from there it became trying to erect stop to the fall so she could save herself. But she couldn’t do it.
She will always be looking for something, but when she figures out who she is, the rest of it won’t be as scary or have such ramifications. Like a break up won’t rock her like it would now or something like that. You know she’ll study her ass off for her LSATS and take the exam. She’ll get into a school that will be appropriate—she won’t stop until she does. I totally see that as a career for her.
I want to talk about the series finale for just a moment. How long do you think Marnie stayed in that house with Hannah?
She will stay there for as long as it takes to study for the LSATS and take the exam. She’ll put some time in, because I also think that Hannah is different upon returning from her walkabout.
As partners now they will have direction and boundaries which is how they are going to be successful. Hannah’s mom is right in saying that you could ruin this friendship by disappointing each other. Once their narrative for their friendship becomes that Marnie is making moves to extricate herself it will become a much more harmonious relationship.
A lot of friends texted me and they had the same thought. They all messaged me and said, “Please tell me she gets out of that house.” She’ll definitely get out of that house, but the vibe in that house is different after that episode.
People always had their knives out for Girls even if they didn’t watch the show. Everyone had a comment or something to say. How did you deal with that? Were you always conscious of it, or did you find a way to shut it off in your head?
It was hard not to be conscious of it, because people were very free with their opinions of it. From the beginning it was kind of understood that that level of scrutiny is in and of itself a testament to how seriously people took the show. I don’t see this many think pieces written about shows that aren’t needy enough to be stuck into like that. It’s a weird distinction reserved for shows that are clearly the product of someone’s true artistic vision.
One thing that bugged me the most, though, was the criticism that the characters were unlikable or that Lena wasn’t self-aware in the writing of them. “They were entitled, blah blah blah.” The fact that no one ever gave her the credit to ask themselves—or at least none of those critics gave them the credit which I think is a kind of a misogynist move—for things like “Maybe she’s doing this on purpose?” It’s so offensive to me, because it happens so much more to female filmmakers.
It just bugs me because she should have gotten a lot more credit for basically being able to write satire about the exact age she was. Do you know how hard that is? In real time to be living a life and at also satirizing it. It’s incredibly hard. That’s what I’ve always observed about Lena (and I remember saying this when I first met her) that it felt like she was living life and hovering above it, jotting down notes. Now I think that’s why her and Nora Ephron got along so well. Lena reminds me of Nora. That ability is really rare to be able to comment on something in a satirical way, especially when you’re young.
Lena started making the show when she was 24? 23? That’s an astounding level of self-awareness. I hope that time will give her the credit that’s due for being able to make the definitive millennial artistic rendering that we’ll be able to point to. I think it was almost too real for a lot of people.
I’m waiting for the time when people discover it and then go on and on about how brilliant it is. It’ll happen in about 10 or so years. The rest of us who loved it from the beginning will just be standing there like “Thanks for catching up!”
Exactly! It’s hard to watch it’s too close, but that’s the sign of good content and not bad content. That misunderstanding was always annoying to me. There was never a line in our series that felt like a clunker. There was no moment that felt untruthful or dishonest. This show was made was made so carefully by brilliant people. The criticism about representation was a lot more legitimate and was taken so much more seriously by Lena, Jenni, and Judd and all of us.
But a criticism that that the characters aren’t sympathetic and annoying and entitled…what are we supposed to do with that? That’s the premise of the show! Do you honestly want to see a show of just all sympathetic characters? Do you have any sympathetic friends that are just likable all the time? I don’t trust those people for a second. I don’t know any of them.
Get Out is such a phenomenon. While you were filming it, did you think it was going to be this huge?
I am definitely still reeling from it. It just came out digitally, so there’s this new round of people that are reaching out having just seen it or are seeing it for a second time. It really is a very special experience for a movie to have a life that Get Out has had. I feel very lucky to be a part of it.
We were all together celebrating the DVD and the digital release, and it was great to be together as a group and celebrate as a unit. We were all together in Alabama 100 percent on board to make Jordan’s vision come to life. That’s where our job ended technically, and now it’s in the hands of the public. Everyone has taken such good care of it has been, again, really prying into it and pulling back layers to see what Jordan put underneath. I am just very proud to be in something with enough meat in it to hold up to that scrutiny. And think pieces.
I’m thrilled to see that Jordan is getting the credit he deserves for making something so layered, crucial… I would say iconic. Maybe that’s weird coming from me, but I say that without taking credit for that status. Jordan made something really special that hopefully will encourage filmmakers to take risks. I hope it means studios will let artists do what they do. When left to their own devices they deliver incredibly thorough and personal pieces of work. I look forward to seeing more of those and being in some more in the future.
What’s next for you?
I’m unemployed and I’m waiting. I am just going to wait for something that excites me for its potential for danger or what it has to say. I am waiting for that to come along.