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Shoshanna On 'Girls,' Zosia Mamet, On Nightmare Auditions And Famous Parents

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Zosia Mamet on
Zosia Mamet on "Girls"

Of all the actresses on HBO's “Girls” (Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET) Zosia Mamet is the least like her character.

“I don’t watch much television,” Mamet, who plays "Sex and the City"-obsessed Shoshanna, told HuffPost TV. “My old TV agent used to always get mad at me because he’d send me out on auditions and I’d be like, ‘What’s this show?’ and he’d be like, ‘It’s literally the top show on television.’ I wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a kid.”

About that childhood: Mamet’s mother is, of course, actress Lindsay Crouse, and her father is writer David Mamet.

“I thought about changing my name when I started working,” Mamet said. “But I was like, ‘Fuck that. It’s my name, I don’t want to change it.’” The actress has been working since she was 17, and has appeared on “Parenthood,” “The United States of Tara” and -- most notably -- “Mad Men,” as Peggy’s photographer friend Joyce.

On “Girls,” Mamet’s Shoshanna is the youngest of four 20-something women (played by show creator Lena Dunham, Allison Williams and Jemima Kirke) navigating life and love in Manhattan. She spoke to HuffPost TV about landing a job on the series, the danger of being typecast as an actress and what happens when she encounters fans of her father on auditions.

How did you get involved in the show?
It's actually a little bit of a funny story. I got cast while I was shooting a movie in upstate New York, this small indie film, and we were working really really crazy hours. I was in almost every scene in the movie and I had what I now think was pneumonia. I was deathly ill and I got this audition. Everyone had gone away for the weekend, and I convinced this one PA who was lagging around to not go to church with her family and said, "Make this tape with me." I made it in a room in this abandoned barn -- with terrible, terrible wireless so I almost didn’t get the tape to send -- and sent it off being like, "Well, that'll never happen." And then I got the job.

The four of you have great chemistry. Did that take time to develop?
We do [have great chemistry]. It kind of happened very organically. Lena is super specific about the people that she casts and she has a clear vision of what she wants. I feel like, thankfully, everybody fit so well into the roles that all of our chemistry magically seemed to work naturally. We shot the pilot in the fall and didn't start shooting the show until the spring so there was a long lag time in between. We all showed up and got to work and immediately became dear, dear friends.

Your character really reminds me of Gretchen Wieners (Lacy Chabert) in "Mean Girls." Did you have anyone in mind when you read the script?
I really didn't, actually. Shoshanna is like the exact opposite of me as a human. She is nothing like me. I'm a little bit of a weirdo -- I'm kind of a loner, I didn't go to college, I spend a lot of my time reading. I've been working since I was 17, so that's sort of been my life. I was never really exposed to those kind of girls, sorority girls or party girls -- not that she's a party girl. It was a really exciting challenge to play this role because she was so different from me. She's a really foreign creature, and I didn't even really think about, "Oh, can I find a comparison" because Lena's writing and her vision were so clear. She writes so much growth into her characters, just on the page already, so it's very natural for us to be figuring out who they are as the season progresses anyway. It never felt forced.

What advice would you give Shoshanna?
I'm not a method actor. I don't have a specific process and I've never talked about a character as if they were a real person. But, immediately, with her, we all talk about her like she's a real human. I'm just like, "Oh, Shosh. I wonder how her weekend was?" I just feel for her so deeply. I think I would just want to give her a huge hug and tell her that it's gonna be OK ... just like, "Shoshanna. It's gonna be fine." You can see how pained she is that she just wants to do everything right and she so desperately wants to be cool and I would just want to be like, "Breathe. It's OK."

You're obviously much different than her, but do you worry people will immediately typecast you as this kind of character?
I think it's a weird thing as an actor -- especially if you're a character actor. It happens until it doesn't, and I think it also sometimes just happens all the time. Especially if someone becomes known for any specific role, it's sort of unavoidable. I think any actor in their right mind is afraid of getting pigeonholed. I think the most exhilarating thing as an actor is taking on a role that's so different from you; it's a challenge. It crosses my mind sometimes, but I love this job so much that it is quickly squashed. I think part of the vulnerability of being an actor is that you are doing something and then giving it over to the world and letting them take what they want from it and put whatever judgement they want onto it. Going into it, you have to be at peace with that in many ways. I did "Mad Men" and I still have people come up to me like, "Are you actually a lesbian?" Really? Just because I play one on TV? People will think what they’re gonna think. No, I'm not out there wearing a shirt that says, "I am not Shoshanna Shaunbaum!" If people want to think that I'm Shoshanna, let them think it.

Does having such famous parents create any problems for you as an actress?
It's different for everybody. I've really had the whole smorgasbord of reactions. It was definitely harder when I was first starting. I think that there's a very wide variety of people either being very, very saccharine and overly helpful to me, and also, people who I almost had failed in their eyes before I even walked in. They were expecting, you know, Laurence Olivier in "Hamlet" with me saying, "Hello" ... just sort of unfair expectations of what I was going to deliver. And then there are people who also just didn't give a shit.

There are awkward moments. One of my first auditions I ever had, an older director told me how much he hated my dad. I was like, "That's weird." I walked into one audition where there were seven men sitting on the couch, and one in the middle -- before any of them said anything to me -- was like, "You have your mother's lips." And I was like, "That's the weirdest fucking thing to say!" Or there was a casting director I knew very, very well once -- I auditioned for her like a million times -- and I went in for a guest star [appearance], and I went to hand my resume and my headshot to the director, and she like grabbed it from him. We did the audition and she wouldn't let him look at my headshot. And then she looked away for a second, and then he turned it over and, I guess he was some huge fan of my father's, and kept me in the room for 45 minutes [talking about my dad's films]. That's an icky feeling -- when you suddenly disappear and all there is is that. But I love my family. I'm proud of where I came from, but it's made for some interesting moments.

"Girls" airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO

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