The gradual, uneasy evolution of Ray and Shoshannah's relationship has been the emotional foil of the coke-fueled dance parties and bizarre doll threesomes of "Girls'" second season.
In this weekend's episode "It's A Shame About Ray," Shoshannah (Zosia Mamet) realized that Ray (Alex Karpovsky) had been living in her apartment and sharing her bed without ever officially announcing that he'd moved in. The truth came out at Hannah's dinner party, when Ray admitted that when he wasn't crashing at his younger girlfriend's place, he was living out of his car.
For Karpovsky, an actor and director who's worked with "Girls" star Lena Dunham dating back to her breakout film "Tiny Furniture," the arc bore a surprising resemblance to his real living situation. In an interview with HuffPost TV, Karpovsky revealed that he's never had had his own apartment, and shared Ray's experiences of couch-surfing, sub-letting, and living with his parents ... even as "Girls" was earning Emmy nods.
Read on to find out more about Karpovsky's connection to Ray, his thoughts on the backlash against "Girls" and his character's expanded role in Season 2.
In "It's A Shame About Ray," Shoshannah came to realize that Ray has basically camped out of her place when he wasn't living in his car. What were you drawing from to make him so believably vulnerable in that moment?
Well, look, when they do a lot of these scenes, I try to -- without sounding too theoretical and dramatic about all this stuff -- I do try to attach myself to specific and tangible notions rather than sort of overarching motivational backstory stuff. That wasn't phrased very well, but that's sort of where I come from usually.
So in my case, I've never had my own apartment in my life. I've never signed a lease in my life. I want to, but I have commitment problems, and also I don't have credit, which is worse than having bad credit. I've never had a credit card: I keep applying, and they don't want to give it to me.
Yeah, I applied in November and they didn't give it to me. Maybe one or two more seasons and they will. I've always been subletting, and sometimes the sublets have been two weeks or three weeks. All of Season 1 was shot when I was living in my parents house in Boston ... well, most of the season anyway. So I would come down on the Amtrak and I'd crash with friends for two or three days. And it was kind of shameful a little bit, because I'm in my 30s and I'm living with my parents and I can't get my own place and stuff. So there's a shame there, there's secrecy that's woven into the shame, and that's exactly sort of what's happening in this scene.
He doesn't want to tell this girl that he's a grown man and ... in many ways, she sort of looks up to Ray -- or at least kind of respects their difference in age before she disrespects it -- and I think him telling the truth would really compromise that feeling of respect that he feels she has for him.
What's your living situation now?
I have a sublet that expires [soon], so I have to find another place. I just started going onto CraigsList. But I'll have to pay cash or upfront and stuff, because of those credit problems. I would love nothing more than to have my own place. I think I'm fully ready finally to have my own couch and have my own wallpaper and have my own lighting setup, because I hate temporarily retrofitting a place for my own needs. That gets really old. And schlepping your stuff gets really old. But anyway, I'm workin' on it.
The subway scene in this episode was also powerful. In filming it, did you have to time it with the subways coming by?
We did. We couldn't shut down the subway, so we just found a quiet corner of the subway. So yes, we did have to time it. We did a lot of ADR work afterwords, looping, because of audio problems.
So when he ended up saying, "I love you so fucking much" so hesitantly, was that just a reflection of his cynicism and his maturity in wanting to protect her from being hurt in some way?
I think that's a more altruistic take than what's really going on. I think it's a more selfish thing. I think he's afraid to go there. I think there's a lot of cognitive dissonance between what he wants and what he's afraid of. I think he simultaneously really wants to be in a relationship, he really wants to be close with this person who he's really mesmerized by. On the other hand, there's a lot of surrender it will take for him, a lot of opening up that he'll have to negotiate with, and that's something he's really not comfortable with. And it's that struggle that really begins to come to the surface in that scene, but it goes for another few episodes at least.
Ray shows a more vulnerable side this season than in Season 1 where he was more hard-edged. Did you see that as a challenge, or just a gradual transformation and growth of the character?
Well, both, it was a natural transformation, but it was challenging to express it. I think in Season 2, most of the characters, I think two things start to happen that I've noticed. Now that we've sort of to established some sort of familiarity and understanding, in Season 2 we have the liberty to do two things: One is explore underpinnings, motivations and backstories, which is what you're referring to, which was really challenging and fun to do, and an organic extension of his story; The other thing is we have a little more liberty to go into zany places, without it feeling disorienting or fundamentally confusing. So that was great too. Some characters get more zany, and some characters get more underpinning, but I think both things are applied to all characters in some degree.
And I think that's great. I'm really glad that a lot of Ray's anger and cynicism is explored in Season 2. I think it's interesting. I hope we express it in a way that's engaging.
A lot of Ray and Shoshannah's breakthroughs have happened through fighting. Is that just because the characters are coming from such different places that they have to break through each other's exteriors?
To a large extent, yeah, and there's all these hopes that they have from the other person which are not being met. And a lot of their fights are expressing, indirectly or sometimes passively, that shortcoming. Ray really falls for Shoshannah at the very end of Season 1, and that's sort of where we begin Season 2. But there's a very fine line I think between sincerity, and authenticity, and rawness, which he sees in her and is very attracted to, between that and naivety, or lack of experience. Shoshannah's very young. And obviously those two go hand in hand and complement each other, but they can be parsed, to some extent, and they can contradict each other, to a large extent, and it can be a fine line between those two things. And it's that line that Ray largely walks in Season 2.
"Girls" was received in a polarizing way during Season 1. People seemed to either react by saying, "This is my life," or coming at it with a range of intense criticisms. What about it do you think inspired such a range of heated reactions?
Well, that's an interesting question, and a difficult one. I mean, first of all, my intro comment would be that I'm really proud that it's polarizing. I think, like a lot of people feel, that any good or worthwhile artistic endeavor should be polarizing if it's doing something right. So I'm proud that we are polarizing.
Now, why was it polarizing? That's a tougher part for me to answer. I think because the show is a comedy, in large part, yet it's so grounded in authenticity and believability, all the way from its characters to its storylines to its relationships and its overall tone that encapsulates everything. I feel like that was an adjustment for people. And I think that people who like the show like that it's refreshing for this reason, because it grounds this comedic story in a very naturalistic place. Because it does that, it also opened the show up to criticisms -- criticisms that people had a hard time applying to comedies or dramas, and now you have to apply it to a show that's trying to hover in between the two things, and I think that was disorienting. I feel like some people demanded certain things from the show because of its authenticity, or because it was striving to be authentic.
Like the race criticism?
Yeah. Well, a show that would be on network television that was a very broad comedy that had the same storylines that we did, these responsibilities or obligations or demands or expectations, whatever you want to call them, wouldn't be stapled to that show ... A lot of those shows wouldn't have these controversies or demands attached to them, but ours did, because I think we tried to do something different, which specifically in this context is root ourselves in something sort of believable or authentic. So to me, it was maybe a sign, potentially, that maybe we're on the right track, maybe. Maybe.
That people were watching with a higher bar?
Yeah. That they were demanding all these things from the show. I'm glad you care enough to demand. I'm glad you are invested enough.
"Girls" skewers hipster culture, which is an incredibly rich vein of comedy. What's Ray's role in that?
I feel like Ray is a little bit older than everyone else on the show, certainly older than the girls. So ... it's almost his function in that circle of friends, to skewer, to use your word, hipster culture, to really put it in its place, to show how privileged and self-important it can be, and how full of itself it can be. I think that's one of his central pillars of agenda: to let the other people in the circle know that this culture they're around is, in many ways, bankrupt. By that I mean, it has no real authentic core. It's just sort of re-interpreting and re-mixing pre-existing things, and he feels like that's very insincere.
To bring it back to Shoshannah for a second, I think one of the reasons he really likes her is because he sees her as this strange freak of sincerity and innocence. I think one of the reasons that he really is attracted to her is because she's not a part of this hipster thing that he skewers.
"Girls" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post referred to "Tiny Furniture" as Dunham's debut film. The error has since been corrected.