It can't be easy growing up as the offspring of a Very Famous Person. But when your dad is David Mamet, one of our greatest living playwrights and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter of films like "The Verdict" and "Wag the Dog" and your mother is the actress Lindsay Crouse ("House of Games"), you have enough show business baggage to clog up the security screener at La Guardia.
Zosia Mamet, who has captured hearts as Shoshanna on HBO's cult hit series "Girls," has revealed that awkward moments about her pedigree have already abounded in her nascent career in Hollywood. One older director she met was quick to share how much he hated her father. At another audition, as she stood before a group of male producers and casting agents, one of them remarked that she had her mother's lips. A naturally private person and self-described loner, Mamet thought about changing her last name when she started in the business, but decided to keep it.
Fortunately, the 24-year-old actress is starting to carve out her own singular name and reputation in show business, apart from her celebrated parents. Mamet, whose first name is pronounced ZAH-shah (like Sasha, but with a "z"), first burst onto the scene as Peggy Olson's sardonic lesbian friend Joyce on "Mad Men." A photo editor at Life magazine, cool-girl Joyce pulled Peggy into the bohemian world of 1960s New York and introduced her to current squeeze Abe. Mamet has also played memorable recurring roles on "Parenthood" and "United States of Tara" in the past few years.
But she's made her most indelible mark the nervous, speed-talking, "Sex and the City"-obsessed Shoshanna on "Girls" — a character so sincere and insecure at times it's painful to watch. But as the first season of "Girls" progressed, Shosh has become a fan favorite, despite her palpable insecurity, mile-a-minute speaking voice and odd inflections, her frequent use of "like" and "totes" in conversation, and her obsession with the color pink and other girly affectations. As a New York Times profile of Mamet recently put it, "[Shoshana] is the weirdest one and the most normal one" on the show.
The character, a cousin of Jessa's and a virgin up until the end of last season, was originally conceived as only a tangential friend to the three main characters (Hannah, Marnie and Jessa). But creator Lena Dunham (who also plays Hannah) has said that Mamet's eye-opening audition tape shifted her original conception of the role, and before Mamet knew it, the show went from three main girls to four.
The summer after high school, Mamet spent a summer at the training program at the Atlantic Theater Company, which was cofounded by her father. While she has mostly focused on television and film work since first becoming a professional actress at the age of 14, she wants to do more theatre. Now she's getting her chance. This month, Mamet is costarring alongside Matt Lauria ("Friday Night Lights") in the New York premiere of Really Really for MCC Theater, which is now playing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
Written by Paul Downs Colaizzo (read the Playbill features about him here) and directed by Obie-winner David Cromer, Really, Really is set on campus at an elite college among a group of undergrads facing the woozy aftermath of a wild campus kegger. As morning-after gossip about a booze-addled hookup between Davis and Leigh starts to turn ugly, what unfolds is contrasting he said/she said accounts of the previous night that threatens to engulf everyone around them. Mamet plays the enigmatic Leigh, who comes from a hardscrabble background. When her wealthy, controlling boyfriend Jimmy (Evan Jonigkeit) finds out about her tryst, a panic-stricken Leigh tells Jimmy she was raped. But a seemingly sensitive Davis (Lauria) can't remember what happened. This twisty, sexually-charged drama offers a scathing critique of what one student in the play has dubbed "Generation Me." The characters, with their caustic wit and profane tongues, are brash, manipulative and forever scheming. As their coolly calculating minds spin into high gear, each character seems increasingly intent on selfish survival at whatever costs, no matter who has to take the fall.
Having garnered critical kudos during its run last year at the Signature Theatre in Washington, DC, Really Really comes to New York riding the wave of a Helen Hayes Award nomination for Outstanding New Play or Musical.
Speaking with Mamet via phone, the actress comes across as reserved and soft-spoken, but also smart and engaging, her words often punctuated with easy laughter.
Really Really centers on a group of "coldly-calculating collegians." Tell me about the central conflict in Really Really. And what's the play really about in your mind?
Zosia Mamet: I think that takes away from the play if I reveal too much about the plot. But I think essentially it's about a very complicated moment in a human's life — this crossroads right before you're shot out into the real world. And, except for my character, the kids in this play are very, very affluent. They've grown up in this very sheltered land, they go to a super-highbrow college, and have never had to step into the real world and the real economy. That's a terrifying moment in a human's life. I think at the core, it's very much about how people react when they feel that their survival is threatened — how they react internally and also to each other. It's about human nature.
|photo by Janna Giacoppo|
The characters behave pretty awful toward each other during the course of the play, with the playwright offering a harsh critique of today's younger generation and some pretty troubling observations about human nature. Were those troubling aspects of your character difficult to play? Or was it really important to dig down and find the truth of things, no matter how dark they are?
ZM: It's certainly the thing that gets me excited about what I do. That's what real drama is, that's what real life is like. It's not glossy and pretty and perfectly put together. And obviously, to a certain extent, it's a comment on our generation, of course. But at the same time, I think is really transcends [it] as well. I think it's very much about human nature and also about that time in a young person's life that is so very universal. It's inescapable — that moment of feeling so exceptionally lost. … I mean, when you feel your survival is threatened, the first thing on your mind is yourself.
Tell me about your character, Leigh. Who is this girl? And what's going on with her in the play?
ZM: She is the one who is not really part of the group. She's an outsider, she comes from the other side of the tracks, and she sort of fought her way into this land of milk and honey. One of the things I love the most about the play is how ambiguous it is. People will be thinking a lot after they leave this play and maybe not knowing exactly how they feel right away. And I think my character, Leigh is a big catalyst for creating that energy. I mean, all the characters are. And when a character comes across as morally ambiguous, that might alienate some people at first. But I think the interesting thing is: She is perhaps just an extreme version of many of us. Like I think there are many times in life when we think morally ambiguous things and we just don't act upon them. But in this play, many of those things are being acted upon.
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