The characters on HBO’s “Girls” have always been polarizing, perhaps because the writing makes them far too close for comfort — but type A Marnie Michaels might be the easiest target. And Allison Williams knows this.
“Marnie always tries to be better and do better, but never wants to get caught being the problem,” explains Williams from the Alabama set of her film “Get Out.” ”I think at her core she is a perfectionist, but she’s far, far less than perfect.
Season 5 opened with Marnie’s wedding to Desi, following a tumultuous — though ironically harmonious in a musical sense — courtship. Marnie fulfilled the bridezilla cliche we knew she would, while a panicked Desi is talked down from bailing by her unrequited paramour, Ray. The relationship unfolds to be as challenging as anyone might expect it to be, but Marnie soldiers on, determined to make it work. This weekend’s episode “The Panic in Central Park” is a special capsule centered on Williams’ character — the details are scarce, but the 27-year-old actress, insightful and charismatic and un-Marnie-like in every way, fills us in on what to expect.
(And possible spoiler alert: Christopher Abbott — Charlie — appears on the episode’s IMDB page. GASP.)
So this season started with a big life moment for Marnie that mirrors your own wedding last year. Was that weird for you?
It’s so funny because I didn’t know that was the direction Marnie was going in. She got engaged after I did, and I was lucky enough to have two very different weddings in one year. Thank God Marnie’s was [the crazy one] and it wasn’t the other way around.
Do you think she knew Desi was having second thoughts?
I don’t think so. She was well-insulated by the people in her life about it. Hanna finds out in the car with Fran that Desi’s been engaged so many times before and the ring wasn’t for her and this is just a thing he does and obviously she wants to tell [Marnie], but she thought better of it. Then Ray goes to retrieve [Desi] from a pond and keep him from leaving Marnie at the altar. In a show that’s so criticized for having friendships that are less than perfect, the way the characters help Marnie out to have the wedding she wants to have is really something. I think both Hanna and Ray understand what Marnie needs. She gains a lot from following things through.
We spoke to Alex Karpovsky [who plays Ray] a few weeks ago and he says that like his character, Marnie is also a true romantic. What do you think?
First of all — how great is Alex? And I think he’s probably right. She has, in many ways, the highest standards and hopes for what love could be. She’s gone back and forth between believing she deserves it or not. It’s so different from the marriage her parents have and the things she seen, but she still feels like great love is possible and she follows her instincts in that direction often. A lot of the decisions she makes are governed by that sense of romance. I think Ray is probably up there somewhere with the rest of them, too.
What do you think drives the Marnie and Ray relationship even after the romance is over?
Marnie needs a parent very badly and a lot of what she gets from her friendship with Ray is that he’s a source of the person who can provide the hard real truth of her life. She can tell [his criticisms come] from a place of love and anytime she’s needed to hear something uncomfortable about herself, that’s who she goes to. I think that as hard as it was for Ray to forego the opportunity to let Desi run away, and fly in for Marnie, it was a really sign of their friendship. It’s been there for a while now and it’s hard because Marnie seems a little bit blind to that, but knows that he’s got her back and [he’s] the closest thing she has to an authority figure.
Speaking of, we’re getting to see more of the characters’ parents as the seasons progress — what do we learn from Marnie’s mom and dad?
Well, you’ve never met Marnie’s dad. We talked about [both of] them coming to the wedding and decided on not having him come because it was more interesting and devastating, but maybe it was for the best. The minute I met Evie so much about Marnie cracked wide open to me. Evie is very critical and desperate to be young and accepted and she’s nosey and critical of Marnie while also living vicariously through her. It’s complicated.
Now in the fifth season and many relationships later, how have Marnie and the other characters matured or changed?
It’s hard to say because they’re all learning the same lesson in different ways and we focus on a couple major life lessons every season. I think compromise and love and translating raw emotions into how they live their lives [have] been the themes of this current season and last season — like the difficulty of following your heart blindly. I think Marnie is pretty good at sacrificing and can see herself pretty clearly in the framework of a relationship.
We don’t know much about your capsule episode, so is there anything you can tell us?
Marnie gets perspective of how she’s been treating Desi and she’s “the Fran” [in the relationship] that Hanna is complaining about. We get to spend a chunk of time with Marnie and see the result of a fight she gets into with Desi. Richard Shepard directed masterfully and I was so excited when I found out Lena [Dunham] was thinking about [a Marnie capsule episode. I tried not to get my hopes up because scripts and plans change, but then script came and there it was. It’s such a privilege and it shows so much trust from [Lena]. I’ll be forever grateful. Just to shoot it it was formative and I hope people enjoy watching it, even if Marnie drives them nuts.
That’s the sad thing about Marnie, she almost seems purposefully unlikeable, but she’s also the character that most actively tries to be better.
Of course wanting to improve herself is an admirable human quality and there’s a drive to find the truth about yourself and find the best version of yourself. I think she’s really admirable. She has an edge to her and a little bit of a bite that I don’t think is intentional. She comes off harshly sometimes and isn’t cautious or artful when she needs to be the most, which I think rubs people the run way. But she’s pretty serious about feeling love for someone who is also serious, even when there are more fun options to have.
Eh, I like Marnie.
I think people are starting to come around to her. She’s just trying to do her best at all times, and meet herself and understand herself. When she errs, it’s usually with the truth of intentions, and misbehaves occasionally which is human. There’s growing sympathy for her and this season will deepen that. Hopefully people getting to spend a whole episode with her will [help them] understand her better. It won’t make her instantly better to everyone but hopefully will create some empathy for her.
Marnie's "Girls" capsule episode "Panic in Central Parks" airs Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO.