Though Girls star Alex Karpovsky has shot to fame since commenting on Lena Dunham’s “slim leg” jeans, he’s been a triple threat for much longer than he’s played Cafe Grumpy’s manager, Ray.
For the past five years, Alex has written, directed, and produced his own films, and they’ve all led up to this year’s double feature: inspired-by-a-true-story thriller Rubberneck and the semi autobiographical comedy Red Flag. Though both were made around the same time, they couldn’t be more different, with the exception of Alex stripping down — both physically and emotionally — in each film, which he claims doesn’t phase him because his “junk’s gonna look the same” for the rest of his life. Well, hopefully, he adds.
Wetpaint Entertainment sat down with Alex ahead of the film’s release to talk about getting naked on-screen, playing himself (and whether he’d go full-on James Van Der Beek in a caricatured role), competing with Lena Dunham, and what’s next for Ray and lady-love Shoshanna on Girls.
Wetpaint Entertainment: Rubberneck and Red Flag are so different. Did you write and shoot them around the same time?
Alex Karpovsky: They were sort of checkerboarded in every stage of their production. We wrote and shot Rubberneck first, but before we really got into the edit of it, I kind of went away and did Red Flag in the South … It was a totally different mindset, which was really nice, like, "I’m done with my thriller/tension feelings; now I can go to something silly and slapsticky." It was a great escape.
At the beginning, it said Rubberneck was based on a true story?
Inspired by. And I correct you only because we did take narrative liberties with what happened. You can argue, "What’s the difference between inspired and based?" but I try to distance myself. The idea — basically, in Boston, there was this workplace romance that was unreciprocated and went awry, and we definitely borrowed some elements of that … But we took liberties — I don’t want to pretend we didn’t.
It was no Lifetime movie!
[Laughs] Yeah, definitely not that.
I don’t think Rubberneck was that violent — you don’t really see blood at all. Do you think the psychological horror-thriller is more accessible since it’s all in your mind?
Yes, I do feel it’s more accessible. And maybe this is just personal, but I personally feel, as a viewer, that if I’m not shown a lot of the gore and explicit details, I’m forced to fill it in myself, and that makes me involved, if not somehow guilty, in the crime … That’s definitely something we wanted to do — if you show them everything, there’s nothing left to the imagination.
There were some parallels in the two films with a stalker — or, in Red Flag, a superfan. Then you have the stalkee in Rubberneck. There’s also an underlying theme of death. Is it something you noticed in editing, or even in writing?
I noticed it when both movies were starting to solidify in the edit; it wasn’t preconceived. But it isn’t too surprising since I am obsessed with obsession. and my death anxiety and fear of mortality is always hovering around me. And I do kind of write from what I know, or what I feel comfortable with, so I’m not surprised that they found their way into these stories.
Did you base everything in Red Flag on your life? In addition to the character being named Alex Karpovsky, you’re a director, actor, producer, and writer...
Well, with Red Flag, it’s semi-autobiographical, but let me just back up for a second. Red Flag is my fifth film. My second film was a movie called Woodpecker, which is the movie within the movie.
Yes! But while I’m a filmmaker and I did go on this tour, and all the Q&As and stops along the way were real stops that I adhered to on the itinerary of the tour ... that’s kind of the extent of it. I never had a groupie follow me, much to my chagrin. [Laughs] So all of that stuff has been dramatized for effect.
There have been a lot of people playing versions of themselves on TV. Did you find it difficult to play yourself, or was it easier because you could adapt your own life to your script?
I think some elements were easy. Both. It’s easiest to draw on what you know, and it’s within arm’s reach. Just cultural influences, I’m a huge fan of people who do that well. I think Larry David does it really well; Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon did it really well in The Trip; Woody Allen sort of did it in a lot of his early movies, to some extent … I just like that style of comedy, and so that was sort of the driving source of enthusiasm.
The most recent, but sadly cancelled, example was James Van Der Beek on Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23, who played a very dramatized version of himself. Is that something you’d ever want to tackle: playing the “celebrity” version of yourself, whether in television or in film?
Well, I’d love to wait ‘til I become a celebrity — then we can have this discussion! [Laughs]
Arguably you are, so...
Well, I mean, no. The people who play themselves — or at least in television — there has to be some sort of foundation of some sort of broad, cultural understanding of who they are. Like Larry David; or, in England, like Steve Coogan. And we’re definitely not there.
Did you run into any troubles directing yourself?
No. I like directing myself; I think it makes things more efficient; it’s one less person to give notes to. However, one thing that’s difficult is … you have to simultaneously be engaged in the scene and be able to improvise or be flexible while simultaneously downloading notes on what to say to everybody after the take. Lena [Dunham]’s incredible at it. She’s totally engaged in a scene, but as soon as we yell, "Cut!" she knows exactly what adjustments to make. That’s something I very much admire.
If you didn’t play these roles, is there anyone you imagine you’d like tackling them?
Well, it’s interesting. With Rubberneck, we actually cast someone ... a great theater actor in Boston who just had the perfect look, the perfect dark energy, and I was so excited. Four days into production, he had to drop out because of a family emergency, so I stepped in. We couldn’t go and re-cast — there was no time left. But for Red Flag, no. It’s such a personal, semi-autobiographical story that it was either me or David Schwimmer, so I just went with me.
You bared it all, both physically and emotionally, in both of these films. Was that difficult for you?
You know, I’ve done it before a few times. There’s a movie called Lovers of Hate that I’m very proud of that played at Sundance [in January 2010] where I showed much more … and once you do it once or twice, it’s out of your system. My junk’s gonna look the same for the rest of my life. It’s not gonna change hopefully too much. So it’s out there and it is what it is.
You haven’t really had to show anything on Girls, though; in fact, no series regular other than Lena and Jemima Kirke have really had to get naked. Would you be more nervous, or would you find it more difficult, to strip down on television?
No. I don’t think it would be difficult to tackle; I’m not nervous about it anyway. If Lena wants to do it and everybody wants to do it and they think it’s a good idea, then I totally have faith in their judgement.
Jumping to Girls, in the polarizing Patrick Wilson episode, Ray was the only other character seen, and he seemed to be pushing Hannah a lot. What do you think of their dynamic?
To some extent, Ray views himself — because he’s a little bit older, and in the context of that at Grumpy’s, he is her boss — I think he feels that he has some right, whether it’s founded or not, to give her advice. I think we get a glimpse of that toward the end of last season when he suggests she focus on writing, and I think there’s an extension of that in Season 2 as well, a little bit. I think he sort of nudges her in certain directions and he tries to object his own sort of twisted, tortured, and perverse advice. And sometimes she’s naive enough to listen, and sometimes she’s wise enough not to. But yes — I think there is sort of some of that broken sage dynamic between Hannah and Ray sometimes.
What about Ray and Shoshanna? They’re clearly in love, but do you think he’s ready for the next step — especially given the doubts Adam pushed on him in Staten Island?
It’s interesting — yes, I do. Well, we already shot it all, so I kind of know; but there’s a lot of gray area, too. Being in a relationship, being in a serious relationship, is something that’s very new, and also, because of that, filled with a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. This goes for both Ray and Shoshanna — Shosh largely because of age and inexperience, and Ray for doubting himself. And I think one of the lubricators in this process of Ray negotiating with these issues, forcing to look at them for the first time, is what Adam says to him in Staten Island.
Adam pushed Ray along, but Shoshanna has definitely been doing that, too. Has she truly influenced him, and can you tease anything about what’s coming up with them?
A part of him loves her so much that it’s not easy for him to fully dismiss anything that she says, even if he feels it’s misguided or off. The fact that she says it, and says it sincerely, is something he can’t deny because of his affection for her. So whether or not a specific suggestion will resonate will Ray? Maybe not. But it will reverberate somewhere in his mind.
Do you relate to Ray more, or do you relate to any of the girls more?
I think I relate to Adam a lot. I just sort of find him a very mystifying and engaging, conflicted, funny, smart character, and I think Adam Driver plays him in a mindbogglingly interesting way; I think it’s one of the most interesting TV characters I’ve seen in a very, very long time. So anyway, I don’t know if I relate to him, but I guess I’m infatuated with him, which makes me want to relate to him.
Rubberneck and Red Flag are playing in select theaters in New York City and Boston and on video-on-demand, and Girls airs on Sundays on HBO at 9 p.m. ET.
Alyse Whitney is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @AlyseWhitney.