The last time we saw Zosia Mamet on television, she was in Mad Men as Joyce Ramsey, a pot-wielding, lesbian photo editor at Life magazine who’s kind of friends with Peggy Olson. Prior to that, you might have seen her on United States of Tara or The Kids Are Alright — giving her rightful claim to some highbrow IMDb cred. Still, she was relatively unknown, mostly recognized as the lesbo foil to the workaholic Peggy. Recurring appearances still didn’t give their friendship a chance to flourish, but Zosia (pronounced “Zah-sha”) can cut her losses and move on. Anonymity’s no longer an issue anyway, not when you’re subway-spotted while on a phoner with writers from Asia (see: this interview). As Shoshanna Shapiro — the most endearing 20-something virgin in New York — she’s landed herself a breakout role.
Shoshanna is one-fourth of HBO’s Girls, and when her world collides with Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) — and it will — we’re faced with four hyper-aware and neurotic girls trying to make rent and make sense of their lives in New York. Shoshanna’s an anomaly, because unlike the other girls with whom words and actions are layers you have to peel away, you can take her at face value. She reads and will quote self-help dating books and will reference Sex and The City. She’ll bring a bag of Dylan’s to an abortion clinic. Shoshanna possesses a brand of self-absorption and transparency that tends to be a cross between Gretchen Weiners and any Bring It On cheerleader. But as one will realize with any Girls character, it’s the flaws that will win you over. Shoshanna, in all her twee and naive glory, is a friend we probably once had, still have or the friend we still tend to sometimes be. Didn’t we all try so hard at least once?
YOUNG STAR: It wasn’t shown in the ninth episode, but how was your date?
ZOSIA MAMET: That was something we shot that got cut out, but the date actually goes terribly. (Laughs)
Oh, my God, I don’t even entirely remember but it just ended up being not everything Shoshanna had hoped for.
What’s the relationship in the cast like? Does Lena ever get too demanding?
No, not at all. It’s very wonderful, it’s very easy. Lena really juggles all of her different hats rather flawlessly.
Do you get to contribute to the writing as well?
Most of our writing team is our age. There’s a lot of improv on the show and we can touch things and say “What about this?” and everybody’s so open to trying anything. It’s really... the writing’s wonderful — it’s truly, truly exceptional.
What do you think about the criticism that’s been said about the show — that it’s too whiny or lacking in diversity?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have a reaction, but I think that Lena responds to that criticism spot on—that she never claimed to be making a show universally about girls. She’s really making the show specifically about this very specific world and girls’ experiences. So that would be my response to that.
And what about the comparisons to Sex and The City?
Obviously they’re going to be compared because it’s about four women in New York, but I think they’re very different in tone and in the issues they address. I think Sex and The City is about a different part of their lives and dealing with very different issues. I definitely think our show is grittier and grimier than what was going on in SATC but I think it’s a brilliant show, and I grew up watching it.
Does your own family watch the show? Are any of the episodes too embarrassing to watch with them?
I haven’t watched any of the episodes just yet, but they do watch the show, yes. I think my stepmother the other day watched the episode where I almost lost my virginity and she called, very worried that I’m going to have a sex scene. She called slightly concerned about that. But other than that, they’ve been very complimentary and wonderful.
How similar or different are you from Shoshanna?
I’m like the polar opposite. (Laughs)
I think she’s a very… she’s really almost entirely consumed with doing everything right. And I think she desperately just wants to be considered cool. And she ends up being kind of uncool. But she cares a lot about that, and consumed by thoughts of wanting to be in the cool places all the time. I don’t know. I spend a lot of time reading, and I’m kind of a huge dork. (Laughs)
Why should people watch Girls?
I think we have done a really amazing job at writing something about what it’s like to be in your 20s, in a truly-to-the-core honest way. And we’ve obviously tried to make it entertaining at the same time, and I sincerely hope that it is. We’re doing our best to keep it really, really honest. And I don’t really think it’s been done before, in that way. I also think that it’s very enlightening about what it’s like to be in that age and go through those experiences. That’s what I think makes it different.
I think a lot of times in TV and film things are kind of romanticized, and I don’t think that our show does that.
This is something my friends and I want to know. In one of the episodes, you were running up and down the street, high on crack from a party and without a skirt. What were you wearing?
I was wearing underwear and tights. It’s funny I’ve heard people ask about that. I was wearing regular underwear and a pair of tights.
Any ideas as to how you lost your skirt in the first place?
I’d rather leave that to imagination, I think. (Laughs)
If you could play someone else on the show, who would it be?
I guess I would want to play Adam’s (Adam Driver) character. Just ‘cause he has abs. (Laughs) He’s so wonderfully weird, and I think it would be so fun to play somebody who’s that sort of beautifully simple and also complex at the same time. It’s such a difficult thing to do and he does it so well. But I think it would be fun to play somebody like that.
If you’re the polar opposite of Shoshanna in real life, which Girls character is closest to you then?
I don’t know, I’d say I’m probably a jumble of them all. (Laughs) I don’t know if I’d say I’m necessarily one in particular. I think I probably have a few aspects of all of them.
What about picking two, like a hybrid?
Oh, interesting. I’d say my mind probably works a lot like Hannah, and I think I definitely have a little… my need to organize and plan is a little bit like Marnie. And probably I wish that I was most like Jessa. (Laughs)
But I’m not in real life. I’m much more, uh… I think, I over-think too much. And then I think, we always talk about how Shoshanna is sort of like the truth serum — everybody sort of has a little bit of her inside of them. Kind of like, the part of you that gets insecure — you want people to like you or you’re sort of zany. I’d say everyone has that inside of them.
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Girls just aired its season finale in America, but it’s not too late for you to catch up. HBO Asia’s about to air the pilot on July 2 at 11 p.m.