When we first met Lena Dunham’s Girls, each one had a clear role to play: Hannah (Lena Dunham) was our neurotic protagonist. Shoshannah (Zosia Mamet) was the naive one. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) was the selfish free spirit. And Marnie — played with pretty, uptight perfection by Allison Williams — was the only member of the group who really seemed to have her life figured out.
That was then. Since its pilot, Girls has systematically stripped away everything that helped Marnie maintain her carefully constructed facade — her long-term boyfriend, her job, even her friendships with the other girls. But even though her character started out season 3 having truly hit rock bottom — before digging even deeper — Williams is convinced that things really are looking up for Marnie as the dramedy heads into its third finale. (Even the hate-sex she’s been having with Shosh’s ex-boyfriend Ray is a net positive!) Why? See her reasoning below — as well as her thoughts on embarrassing music videos, offscreen curveballs, and why these four are still friends, despite all evidence that they shouldn’t be.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I want to start out by asking point blank if you, personally, like Marnie.
ALLISON WILLIAMS: [Laughs] I do! I would probably be friends with her — I’m sure she would drive me crazy, but I would employ a very straightforward method of communicating with her. I think she’s someone who benefits from that — I think she really is drawn to people who are somewhat direct, if not slightly mean to her.
So you wouldn’t be afraid to be mean to her if she was annoying you.
No, not mean — I would just let her know. Because I honestly just think [she's] completely tone deaf to her own delivery. I think a lot of stuff that leaves her mouth, she thinks she’s sending off into the world with the best of intentions — and then by the time it’s landed, it’s become totally weird and twisted. I mean, I really like her. I root for her so much, and especially while we’re shooting any scene where anyone’s mean to her, it’s really hard to watch and read.
What was your reaction when you first read that scene where Marnie asks Ray [Alex Karpovsky] to tell her all the things that are wrong with her?
I was so happy. It was hard to read his answer, but it felt really honest, and also I knew that it would be cathartic to people watching the show who hate Marnie. I also knew it was kind of what Marnie needs. I don’t know many people that are brave enough to go to the most devastatingly honest and judgmental person that they know — besides themselves — and ask them to list their faults. And when I saw what happened as a result of that conversation, I was thrilled.
Marnie started season 3 in a pretty bad place. Do you think she’s climbing out of that hole?
I do. Obviously, she was devastated after Charlie [Christopher Abbott] left. She missed him, but I think also she just wanted answers, which is something everyone can relate to after a breakup. It’s so hard on the other side of that, because you’re like, “The answer’s probably something as simple as, like, he was over it, or you drove him crazy, or whatever.” So yeah, of course she was devastated and a little bit at sea. And I think the second half of the season, after dealing with Ray and having his influence, she’s really compelled to be forthright about wanting a job at the gallery, and also [wanting to] pursue music in a more real way.
What was the original plan for the season before Christopher Abbott decided to leave the show?
I think for Marnie, almost her entire season was Charlie-related. We were going to see how that relationship went. I think there was talk of cohabitation certainly, engagement, all of that. So it definitely required a big shift on the part of the writers. But what we’ve ended up with is something that I’m incredibly proud of, and obviously as brilliant as whatever the writers were planning to write initially. It probably closely resembles what Marnie’s fourth season would have looked like, because obviously things with Charlie wouldn’t have worked out. She would have ended up kind of where she was at the beginning of [this] season anyway.
How did you feel about singing becoming more of Marnie’s focus? Were you nervous about that?
Yeah. It’s a little bit weird. It’s pretty vulnerable, to be honest. I made the choice pretty early on, just in terms of maintaining my own sanity, to not try to make Marnie a very studied, exacting singer. Or trained, really. And I’m someone who took voice lessons for many, many years, so in making that decision, it sort of took the pressure off of me to sing perfectly. Or even close to perfectly. Or well at all. It allowed me to explore the more comedic or other elements of it — like in “Stronger,” I was not as focused on my vocal performance as I was on making sure everyone felt super uncomfortable. I think making that decision allowed me a lot of freedom while we filmed it, but it makes me feel very vulnerable watching it back. That’s probably what people think my voice is like, and that’s kind of a weird thing. It’s what Marnie’s voice is like.
What was it like to shoot that Edie Brickell video?
Oh my gosh. It was so — I can’t even — it was just the most cathartic thing in the world. It was just so fun. Trying to think about how Marnie would have conceived of this song — which is admittedly really hard to figure out. I’ve read the lyrics, sung the lyrics, I’ve performed them — I have no idea what it’s about still. But the fact that Marnie thought she did have a handle on it and then just misinterpreted it is so funny. It was great being able to be Marnie’s idea of what a punk is, which basically is someone who wears Converse and kicks a wall. And has like, sort of grungy looking hair, and an e-cigarette, and kind of smudged black eyeliner. It was a blast.
There are clips of you singing on YouTube from before you were famous. When you think about them, do you feel the way Marnie does about her embarrassing video?
Oh yeah. I mean, the video I made of the Mad Men theme song was a choice I made after I graduated from college, and I stand by and am still very proud of that video. But there are some from when I was in college – like, I covered “Tik Tok” in a very ironic way. But it’s still very earnest and weird. When I watch those back, I have similar reactions to everyone watching Marnie’s video. It was something I could relate to for sure. [laughs]
Do you want Marnie to find success as a singer? What do you hope for her going into the finale?
Because I’m always on her side, I just want her to be happy. But in the long term, I’m conflicted. I want to see passion in her. I want her to start caring about what it is that really makes her tick, and I want her to follow that. It’s nice to at least see her giving singing a try. I don’t know if it’s what she’s passionate about; it seems to have come out of nowhere. But right now, it’s what makes her tick.
This season especially, there’s been some criticism about the friendships on the show—people are wondering why the four main girls are still friends with each other when it seems like they don’t get along that well. The beach house episode especially was really hard to watch. Do you understand why they’re still friends?
Of course! It makes total sense to me. I feel like it’s such a girl thing. That episode, the beach house, was one of my favorites. It was really tough to shoot, honestly. But that fight was such a thing that needed to happen. It was an incredibly cathartic purging. And then in classic form for the four of them, the next morning, they silently did dishes and they did that little dance waiting for the bus. And it was like all was sort of forgiven, but never, ever forgotten. A lot of things were said that people have been bottling up for a long time. And to me, I see progress as a result of it. So I don’t know. I think anyone who doesn’t believe that they make sense as friends may not have — well, obviously they don’t have friendships that resemble this, but I definitely do. I certainly feel better when they’re on good terms with each other, and I root for that. But I also know that they’re not always good friends to each other, which is totally real as well.
What can you say about the finale, especially the fallout after Hannah discovers Marnie and Ray?
Well, what she says to Marnie — “you can never judge me again” — obviously won’t be upheld by Marnie. [laughs] She can’t help herself. I can’t give anything away, but it definitely gets addressed. I think I have to leave it at that. Marnie has one area of moral clarity that’s really undeveloped, which is the one of other guys belonging to other girls even after they’re broken up. She has this sense of, “Well, if they’re not dating, they’re fair game.” That’s not true. So I think the fact that she made that mistake with Elijah, and then she made the same mistake again with Ray, is very human.
Do you think that she and Ray are good for each other?
I actually do think they were good for each other. They both needed each other at precisely that moment. He needed to dump her and feel stronger. And for Marnie, she really liked the idea of being the exception to his rule of hating Millennials. She wanted to be the only girl in their group that he respected. I think she felt incredibly comfortable with him. One of my favorite scenes from the whole season was their Chinese food lunch. It felt awkward and stilted, but also fairly natural and comfortable at the same time, which is a line that we love to straddle on our show. But yeah, I think they are good for each other. Of course, time will tell. We don’t know, it’s still fresh — and the last thing anyone saw on the show is them having sex.
Have you guys started on season 4 yet?
We haven’t. I’ve seen Lena and Jenni [Konner, Girls‘ co-showrunners] a bunch lately, and they’ve started telling me Marnie things, and I don’t want to hear yet. I know they’re writing. I think they actually just finished writing. And we start shooting in a couple of weeks, actually.
Do you have any kind of wish list for what you’d like to see happen next season — not just for your character, but the others as well?
Oh my gosh, I don’t know. I…I can’t think of anything. It’s so funny; I’ve never thought about the show that way. I would say to Lena, just keep doing what she’s been doing.
The Girls season 3 finale airs Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO.