STAGE TO SCREENS: Zosia Mamet, One of the "Girls," Is Now Really Really Starring Off-Broadway

By Christopher Wallenberg
19 Feb 2013

Zosia Mamet as Leigh and Evan Jonigkeit as boyfriend Jimmy in Really Really.
Photo by Janna Giacoppo

Has she been a tough character to figure out? Or was she clear to you from the beginning?
ZM: I think all of the characters in this play are complicated. You know, Paul is a really, really incredible writer, and he's written very clear but very complex and deep characters, which is what human beings are. Especially in that time period, early adulthood…it makes for even more unclear characters. One of the most wonderful parts of this process has been that we've talked a lot, and the conversation has always been open. I think we'll be talking until the night that we open about who these people are and what their souls are and what they care about. And it's constantly changing and morphing. And I think we really wanted to flesh it out as much as possible so that the characters would feel as real as we could make them.

In a Washington Post review of the Signature Theatre production of Really Really last year in DC, Peter Marks wrote that the young people in the play "practice what the playwright sees as the sorry singleminded preoccupation of the age: looking out ruthlessly for Number One." "I'm just doing what I have to do" is a line uttered by more than one character. Granted, it's dangerous to paint an entire generation with such a broad brush stroke, but do you agree with that assessment of your generation? Do you find that to be true personally?
ZM: I think that that's an aspect of the play, but I don't think that it's the whole thing. I mean, I have a little bit of a different experience, because I didn't go to college. I was working during that period when everyone else was in college. I spent a bunch of years hustling my way in the working world. So I didn't really experience that moment in life, those college years between childhood and adulthood, in this exact way. So sometimes it's hard for me to speak to that period in life. But I think there absolutely is an aspect of that [generational critique] that's true. There is, of course, an aspect of selfishness in our generation — and Paul makes sharp points about it. But I also think that there are many other things that he is trying to say with this play. I don't think it's just about that argument.

So do you think it's dangerous to paint an entire generation with a sort of broad brush stroke like that? Plus, to me, it seems that a generation of people is a product of a society — and in this case, with the younger generation today, they're the product of a society in great turmoil.
ZM: Yeah. I mean, there's this great line that the Grace character [played by Lauren Culpepper] has where she says that, "The map of this generation's promise is not one that we were given." I think that's a lot what Paul is commenting on as well. Like, sure, this generation might be selfish, but also we are a product of our upbringing.

How has it been working with director David Cromer on this production?
ZM: He's really wonderful. He's a fascinating human. And he's also one of the best directors I've ever worked with. It's been the most wonderful process. He's so exceptionally collaborative, and it's this mix that you find very rarely in a director. Lena is very much like this as well. They know want they want, and they have an idea of where they want to go. But at the same time, they are so open to anything you have to say or throw out there, which is rare and wonderful when you encounter it.

Turning the tables here, what was it like to be part of the exciting upset for "Girls" at the Golden Globes last month? The show won two Golden Globes, both big upsets, and you were up there on the stage when it won for Best TV Series, Comedy or Musical. (Creator and star Lena Dunham also won for Best Actress in a Comedy Series).
ZM: It was really, really exceptional. None of us really expected that at all, so yeah, it was kind of mind-blowing. It was an absolute fantastic surprise.


Zosia Mamet as Shoshanna and Jemima Kirke as Jessa as on "Girls."

Both the show and Lena herself have become such a cultural flashpoint among a certain demographic. "Girls" is a cult show in some ways, but it definitely has resonated in the wider cultural milieu. What's it like being on a show that's at the center of the Zeitgeist and resonating in the wider cultural sphere, especially amongst a certain type of younger viewer?
ZM: It's been a whirlwind. None of us expected this show to become what it has. Yeah, it still kind of blows my mind. I sort of forget that people can see the show. We work so hard, and we all love what we do so much, so I think the fact that it has become what it's become in the world, it still has yet to hit us in some ways — or at least me. Because it was never something we thought could happen in our wildest dreams. We just set out to try and make a good television show. So it all still feels very surreal to me.

I've read in a previous interview with you that you never really grew up watching television and that you still don't watch much television now. So what makes "Girls" feel so original and unique among all the many good shows on TV right now?
ZM: With "Girls," it doesn't really feel like I'm doing TV specifically. It just feels like we're making a really long film. That period of life, early adulthood, is really not pretty or cute or great. I think it's very entertaining. But I think it's very gritty and sad; and it can be very dark and scary. And Lena is really showing all of it in a super unapologetic way. So we all strive to keep the show as real as possible while still being entertaining. But I think she's really writing for our generation, from the perspective of our generation, and she doesn't pull any punches. And I think that's why people identify so much with it, because they feel like this is so close to what's happening to them. We don't put on extra makeup in the sex scenes, and we don't make them wear clothes they can't afford. We keep it all very grounded.

You've talked in previous interviews how you're very different from the character of Shoshanna in "Girls." But you always seem to express a real affinity and love for the character. Why do you think you've connected so strongly with Shoshanna? Why is she so close to your heart?
ZM: I mean, I think that she is so different from me. But she's so sincere in her fuck-ups — or just like in her anxiety, in the way that she functions. And I never really played a character like that before. She's very endearing, and I sort of came to love her.

In what ways is Shoshanna so different from you personally?
ZM: She just is! We're two very, very different individuals. I mean, I don't think I even own anything pink. I talk at like a quarter of the speed that she does. [Laughs.] Like the list is endless. She is very specific human.


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