Interview With Elijah, Desi And Ray From 'Girls'
Sex, drugs, politics, beauty, insecurities, love, cheating, defeat, success — the themes that are seamlessly woven into the six seasons of "Girls" read like a droning laundry list of societal woes, but they appear on screen as a mirror image of what life is really like for my “entitled” generation.
The final season of Lena Dunham's HBO show is four episodes into what will surely become a satisfying ending for the raw characters audiences have empathized with over the last five years.
The 20-something “I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up” mentality may be a foreign concept to older generations, but millennials have found themselves, and their flaws, in Dunham's complexly beautiful characters.
In her original pitch for "Girls," Lena Dunham adequately summed up the dreams of genY in two sentences,
They have varying degrees of ambition, but have been raised to achieve. They know they want to be successful long before they know what they want to be successful at.
While Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa may translate as caricatures of what actual 20-somethings living in New York are like, the show's success is wildly attributed to audiences, perhaps begrudgingly, seeing and understanding their own flaws played out on screen.
As Andrew Rannells, who plays Elijah, eloquently put the just-like-us quality of the show,
It's very honest and they're [the characters] not always likable, but she's [Lena Dunham] not supposed to be representing every young woman, she's supposed to be representing this one woman and she did so with such specificity that it actually ended up making it pretty universal.
Judging by a photo from the show, one may assume the strong, female principles of this cast are synonymous with those of “Sex and the City.”
However, the eight-year gap between the two shows is glorious proof of our cracking glass ceilings, showing the transition from fashion and mainly male-focused females to groundbreaking, ambitious realness.
Although the show's title may be gender specific, the grievances each character goes through are generally gender neutral -- menstrual pains and UTIs aside.
I had the pleasure of speaking with some of the guys of "Girls" about their experiences, connections to their characters and biggest takeaways from working on such a unique show.
Alex Karpovsky (Ray), Andrew Rannells (Elijah) and Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Desi) are not only talented actors, but speak with the same level of passion and rawness as the characters they play.
With the final season upon us, I began by asking each actor how they feel their characters have evolved since the first season of the show.
Karpovsky looked back on Ray's character development and said,
I think one big sort of thing that opened him up and allowed us to explore his type of vulnerability and insecurities was his relationship to Shoshanna, which happened the beginning of season two, when they really started to spend time with one another… and also, skipping to the end, there's something that happens midway through this season that's traumatic and tragic to the Ray character that also really forces him to open up and to reevaluate a bunch of really important things for him.
Audiences first met Rannells' character, Elijah, as a newly gay man who used to date Hannah in college. While we've seen Elijah's vulnerable side develop, the true evolution of his character is somewhat difficult to dissect.
We started to see him as, for lack of a better term, just kind of a fuck up. And he was kind of just along for the ride and didn't really have direction of his own... Then in the last season, he sort of got a taste of what it might be like to have some focus, be that a career or a boyfriend... and I really loved that storyline because even though it didn't end well for him, it sort of left him in a place where he was like, 'Oh, I could do this. I got close, so next time I'll get even closer.' So it was exciting for this final season to continue… He's still not quite in the right headpiece, but he does get there throughout the course of the season. As everyone else starts to pull themselves together, I think he feels pressure to find his thing and figure out what he wants to do with himself and I'm glad that Lena gave him the opportunity to continue to grow up because it would've been easy to sort of leave him drunk in the street so it was nice that he got to pull it together.
Desi, who we only met in season three, has had more of a volatile evolution. He went from working with Marnie to marrying Marnie to getting a divorce, with addiction and mental health issues splattered across his character's arch.
Speaking on Desi, Moss-Bachrach told me,
I think he went from somebody who was very self-confident and felt like they had everything, a guitar and a motorcycle, and sort of the world was at his disposal. And then you fall in love, and you sacrifice part of your self and all of a sudden you need something more, this person, and I think as much as he was maybe a terrible boyfriend and husband, I think that need and dependence on Marnie sort of shook him up and he became a lot less sure of himself.
In addition to each of these inevitable evolutions, I questioned if each actor was pleased with the way his character's arch concluded.
The answer was a unanimous "yes."
Specifically, Andrew Rannells said,
I was very happy because it doesn't feel like a finale in that now it's all closed up and sewn shut, it definitely feels like the door is open and we sort of leave everyone as they're about to start the next chapter which is nice… It's a little messy.
As anyone who has watched "Girls" knows, it's not the type of show audiences expect to end tied up in a neat bow.
The fourth episode of season six concludes with Hannah finding out she's pregnant. Dunham, who is an adrenalized activist, has spoken openly and publicly about abortion on multiple platforms.
While Dunham has always weaved her liberal beliefs into her storylines, I was curious how the actors think audiences will react to Hannah's pregnancy -- particularly in our current political climate.
You know, Hannah's made a lot of mistakes over the first five seasons and I think some people will view this as yet another mistake, and other people will maybe think something else... A lot of sort of big moments on the show [are] polarizing, where we pull some people in one direction and others in another, so that's kind of my hope.
In today's society, the stigmas around abortion and unplanned pregnancies are heightened, so based on the show's reputation, it only makes sense for this storyline to pop up -- no societal stones are left unturned on "Girls."
While the sixth season of the show was written months prior to Donald Trumpp being elected president, political controversy and topical content are consistent throughout the show.
Karpovsky, specifically, enjoyed Ray's take on politics. He told me,
I really like his political journey. I thought it was just really weird and fulfilling for me as an actor to really create this sort of side to this character, this new sort of vent for him to express his frustrations and anger.
Additionally, Moss-Bachrach commented on the audience's perception and the inevitable criticism that comes along with those whose beliefs don't align with the show,
I think ['Girls' is] innately a challenging show so... it's going to come out and people are going to say it is political, not realizing it was written a year ago. It's just the nature of these things, it happens again and again. I guess it's a testament to the writers.
Part of what makes "Girls" so sharp is its consistently modern stories in a fast-changing world. The millennial generation is more accustomed to change than we are to stability.
Speaking about the pressure to remain topical, particularly in the ever-changing city of New York over the course of five years, Karpovsky said,
You know one thing that I think always made the show cool for me and interesting and different is how tethered it was to reality. It felt very raw and gritty and real while also being funny, I hope, and for the show to continue to work we would have to keep up with a rapidly changing borough, Brooklyn. I felt like we always had to keep doing that. There were certain scenes we had to reshoot because even in the fourth months between shooting trends have changed or things have become played out, so we're always trying to be topical and current and relevant and that's been very important to us.
The importance of topicality is, in my opinion, the over-arching theme that separates "Girls" from everything else on television. Lena Dunham's dedication to this concept is almost overwhelming.
Rannells spoke on Lena Dunham with a level of praise that replicates their sibling-style relationship between Elijah and Hannah on the show. Adding to the importance of the show's sustained social relevancy and Dunham's talents, he said,
It's very inspiring to me to see her [Lena Dunham's] progression as an artist into also being an activist. And I think if you look at the projects she chooses to do outside of 'Girls,' with Lenny Letter and the podcast... she could've gone off and done a movie franchise or something but what she chooses to do [is to work with] Hillary Clinton.
I pressed on and asked if the show were to do a seventh season, would it be as politically charged as Dunham is? Andrew Rannells nodded and said,
I feel like, if we were to go one more season, we would have to address that [politics] because the world is changing very quickly. I mean, every day you turn on the news and something crazier has happened. It's sort of unbelievable and I don't care how you voted, you can't not be shocked every morning to be like, 'Wait, what happened?' And you keep thinking, 'Is there ever going to be a day where like there's not some shit going on?' Like no, probably not for a while. So I feel like we would have to address that. Because... things are going to change for us here and the vibe is going to be different and everyone's lives are going to be different and I think Lena would take that head on.
Moss-Bachrach also celebrated Dunham's writing and credits the achievements of the show to her unique style.
I attribute that success to just somebody writing really something very observant, that someone being Lena Dunham, writing personally. Although she's not at all that character [Hannah Horvath], just writing truthfully to what's happening in herself and in and around her in the city... I think people will still watch this show in 20 years.
Of course, the glaringly obvious questions when speaking to male actors on a female-centered show boil down to gender.
I asked each actor what working on "Girls" has taught them about female friendships. Each actor gave an expectedly honest and enlightened response.
Alex Karpovsky spoke with the same passionate wisdom and insight as Ray while commenting on his experience on the show and gained perspective on women:
It was eye-opening. There's a part of me that feels like there's not a lot of things more fascinating in the world than hearing women talk amongst themselves. It's just so much more perceptive and nuanced and, I don't know, sophisticated for lack of a better word than when men talk amongst themselves about relationships and personality traits... There's just something, it's more evolved in many many ways and I learned a lot... I thinks it's really, it's insightful and revelatory and rich with details and perceptiveness.
Andrew Rannells commented on the unique trickiness of female friendships,
I grew up in a house with three sisters and most of my closest friends are women, so I feel like I've always sort of observed a lot about female friendships and how tricky they can be. Because there is a kindness and a nurturing that's there but also it can be pretty ugly, like women can be sort of really nasty to each other... I've seen girlfriends treat each other very poorly in the past and I think that's what's so great about what Lena wrote.
Ebon Moss-Bachrach sang a similar tune regarding his new insight on the subject,
I will say that from living with my wife and our two daughters, female friendships are typically more intimate than male friendships, which is too bad for men, I would say, but they seem more real, more complicated, more frustrating but deeper and more loving… It matters. I have a lot of friends, great friends of mine, but if they say they're going to do something and they don't do it, I say it's fine. I get it; that's how it goes; it doesn't matter. But what's nice about these [female] relationships is you said you were going to do something and you didn't and it does fucking matter and I'm upset about that and that's important.
Lena Dunham's perceptive vision combined with a passionate, unwaveringly talented cast are the qualities that make "Girls" more than just a show of this generation.
The final season of "Girls" airs on Sunday nights on HBO.