05/18/2012 10:40 am ET

The Ability To Be Fascinating: Jemima Kirke

I spend a great deal of time sitting in theatres, evaluating the reality of people's performances. Watching a great actor, or star-sometimes they are not the same thing-is like watching the best fiction writers creating in real time, and the only metaphor they have available to them is their actual body. Or-reversing the metaphor-a fabulous performer embodies the intensity and thoughtfulness and joy that one sees in Jackson Pollock’s face and body as he makes a work in Hans Namuth’s 1950 documentary film, "Pollock Painting"-an over-all painting that illustrates an over-all emotion.

In any case, Jemima Kirke, who plays Jessa Johansson on Lena Dunham’s "Girls," is emerging as one of the best actresses and stars I've seen on any screen in a very long time. Part of Dunham’s skill as a director is to realize that movies and television, whether fiction or not, have a great deal to do with reality; they're emotional documentaries about this or that person playing such-and-such character. Casting is everything, and if the performer can’t or won’t find anything to relate to in a role we’re as bored by their efforts as they are. What Dunham perhaps saw in Kirke-a sort of don’t-care freedom that’s free of snark-inspired her to create a character you can’t take your eyes off of, because she's less interested in our approval than she is in being watched.

Read more on The New Yorker