TV isn’t just a huge time-suck for viewers; it’s the same for TV actors. Because she’s spent six seasons as Marnie on “Girls,” Allison Williams hasn’t had the chance to do any movies. At least her first is “Get Out,” the directorial debut of Jordan Peele (of “Key &”) and a bracing and scathing film about race in America in the form of a terrifying horror movie. She plays Rose, a woman taking her boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to meet her parents in the suburbs. They don’t know he’s black, and pretty soon Chris begins to suspect something very weird is afoot.
We spoke to Williams, 28, about seeing herself on the big screen for the first time, dealing with tetchy commenters on social media and the weird things he and her husband, Ricky Van Veen, do when they’re bored.
This is your first feature-length movie, though I swear I saw a credit for a small role you had in some previous movie. [Update: Was actually a short film she did, but we misremembered it.] I’m not sure why people make up fake info on the Internet.
I do. There’s something my husband I do recreationally called “Wikipedia tickling,” which is the phrase we came up with for putting very benign info online. We don’t make things up; we just add things to Wikipedia pages that are kind of unnecessary. Like adding that “pillows can be in the shape of bananas.” One of us added that to the Wikipedia page for pillow. I haven’t looked for a while to see if it’s still there. [Ed. It is, as of now.] But I’d be shocked if someone removed it, because it’s like, “Oh, I guess that’s true.” Unless you add something weird or inappropriate, it’s going to stay there forever. If people are really bored, that’s something you can do.
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How was making your first movie?
The biggest difference was realizing I only had about 15 minutes total to introduce an audience to a person, rather than six years to ease them into someone like Marnie. Those first scenes became really important, just in terms of giving people a good sense of who she is very quickly. Which sounds really obvious if you’ve done a million movies, but for me it was a bizarre challenge.
Were there other unexpected challenges being in your first movie?
The finality of it is really weird. With “Girls” I was always somewhat comforted knowing that we’ll be back next year, can’t wait to see what happens with them with time. But we [the “Get Out” crew] are still very close, especially because the movie is a bit risky. It was kind of unique to go through together. Did you see this in a theater?
With an audience?
With a real audience, not just quiet journalists.
That’s good. I think a movie like this is best consumed in a group of strangers in a theater. Feeling that desperation is not something I’ve experienced. On “Girls,” I’ve always been pretty realistic about the ways people consume it. My emphasis on seeing it live, because it’s not like a “Red Wedding” spoilery show, is much more intense now that I’m working with material that should be seen in a theater when it comes out — not on your laptop or your iPad at some point. That’s not obvious immediately, because [“Get Out”] doesn’t have a lot of CGI or effects. It’s more about the communal experience if anything. If you’re going to watch it at home, have people over as a group. Then you have the call-and-response with the movie itself.
How did you react to seeing yourself on a big screen?
I got really emotional when I saw the Universal logo. Which surprised me, because it just means, in my associative brain, that it’s an official movie. [Laughs] I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in a real honest-to-god movie!’ It’s sounds really weird, but that was my reaction to it.
Back to watching “Get Out” in a group, another benefit of that is all the discussions you have about it when it’s over.
Dinner conversations afterwards are pretty good for this movie. You get to sift through what’s actually going on.
I don’t want to say watching it now makes it very different, but only because it was still terribly relevant when you made it a year ago.
I can’t think of a time when this wouldn’t be timely, which is really sad. An easy point of comparison is “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” That was made 50 years and it’s still relevant. It doesn’t reflect flatteringly on progress in general. But now’s a good time. If it were six months ago or six months from now, it would still spark conversations we sadly need to have.
At least it prompts us to have those conversations.
Yeah, exactly. That’s the brilliance of Jordan couching a conversation about race in a horror movie. He’s using it in a platform that doesn’t so often any more use it for social commentary, to make us think about something in a new way. You could just go into the movie and be entertained by it, but you could also engage with it more directly and actively and have a completely different experience.
Have you already seen some interesting reactions, even ones only based on the trailers? There’s been a very strange movement against the teaser for the “Dear White People” Netflix show, with people saying it’s racist, based on a misunderstanding of what it’s about.
The knee jerk reaction I’m seeing a lot is, “This seems racist.” Someone posted that on my Instagram, and as I was responding to it they deleted it. Hopefully people will see it and find that what it’s saying about race is useful or speaks to them. I think it’s revelatory what people take away from the movie. Just watching people react to it in the theater reveals something about their personal experiences and what their feelings of outsiderness have been.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge