Alex Karpovsky is quickly proving he’s one of the best talents to emerge out from under wunderkind Lena Dunahm’s thumb. A Boston native, the actor was cast in Dunham’s first film Tiny Furniture, which garnered Dunham the attention of Judd Apatow and the powers that be to create HBO’s most talked about show Girls.
In Girls, Karpovsky plays Ray, a brassy, but sensitive barista that takes on a more observant role in the lives of the 20-something Brooklyn characters that orbit his world. Unlike most of the characters on Girls, Ray wasn’t introduced to the audience with half the contents of his life out on the table. He has slowly been introduced to us in a slow burning, unfurling process that Karpovsky and Dunham have fostered quite admirably.
Proving that he has more to say outside of the 20-something spectrum, Karpovsky has been turning out a diversified body of work as a writer, director, and actor for the last seven years . With his recent Tribeca release, Rubberneck, Karpovsky brings forth a suspenseful story, that opens itself up to unpredictability as it does to the slow-burning character driven pieces the actor has a penchant for. In the film, Karpovsky plays an emotionally stunted scientist who can’t scratch an infatuation with a co-worker. The tension-filled atmospheric film is just one of several that Karpovsky has released over the years. His second film in the double feature running through Tribeca Film is Red Flag, a semi-autobiographical piece that plays with the elements of Karpovsky’s image and love life in the same vein of Larry David’s work.
THE INQUISITR: Are you from New York?
ALEX KARPOVSKY: No. I’m from Boston; the suburbs of Boston. What about you?
THE INQUISITR: Staten Island.
KARPOVSKY: Oh yeah? We have an episode on Staten Island coming up on Girls.
THE INQUISITR: Oh, do you? I can’t wait to hear what you guys have to say about us.
KARPOVSKY: Yeah, Staten Island is very much featured in it. It’s very much a supporting character in the episode. We were shooting close to the ferry. We were near the water.
THE INQUISITR: That would be the place to film. You’re getting all this mainstream recognition now by being on Girls, and your role prior in Tiny Furniture, does that change your perspective on what kind of films you want to make?
KARPOVSKY: No it doesn’t. I’m still interested in sort of obscure, character driven stories. Maybe the opportunity to make films with a little more resources will broaden but maybe it won’t. I think the type of story I want to tell won’t change, or it hasn’t changed yet. I hope it doesn’t change, but maybe the way of telling it might change.
THE INQUISITR: Were you there for Girls‘ Golden Globe win?
KARPOVSKY: No, I wasn’t. I was there for the Emmys, which we didn’t win!
THE INQUISITR: It must have felt nice though, to go through the award season for the first time.
KARPOVSKY: Of course! It’s my first time by a long shot.
THE INQUISITR: I had a conversation with director Daniel Schechter about the film you starred in [Supporting Characters], and he asked Lena for notes when he was making his micro-budget. Do you ever ask her for notes on your own films?
KARPOVSKY: I haven’t asked her for advice yet. It’s only because of timing. Rubberneck and Red Flag were congealing by the time we started working together on Girls. If that weren’t the case I probably would have, definitely. I trust her judgment so much; I would have asked her at some point what her opinions were.
THE INQUISITR: The last episode of the show that aired was a huge Ray-centric episode. It was perfect. We really got a look into how he views himself, and his place in the world.
KARPOVSKY: Oh, well thank you. I watched it once, just so I know what to say in interviews. I’m also curious how things translate from our table read to our shooting, and the edit. As a filmmaker I’m curious about the translation of it all.
THE INQUISITR: When you started on the show, was there ever any discussions on Ray’s background?
KARPOVSKY: I didn’t have any that I remember. It was pretty clear to me what they wanted from Ray from the beginning. The writing on the show is very clear. I feel like I got it, I liked it, and we didn’t really need to have too many conversations. Also Ray was sort of brought in very gradually. They introduced him subtlety and I feel like I got to know him slowly.
THE INQUISITR: The scene between Ray and Shoshanna [Zosia Mamet] in the train station is probably one of the most vulnerable scenes we’ve seen thus far from you and Zosia. How did you prepare for that scene?
KARPOVSKY: Well, that was already halfway through season two, so at that point I felt like I had a pretty good understanding of who Ray is, what Ray’s underpinnings were, what his issues are regarding romance and love, and what some of the demons he’s fighting. I have some understanding. I know Zosia [Shoshanna] has probably a much greater understanding of her character just because we’ve seen a lot more of her. I think what I try to focus on, now that I feel like I have that foundation, is just to be present, be focused, and be able to listen and respond to her.
THE INQUISITR: Working with Zosia must be a blast. She has a real effervescent energy about her. How is it feeding off of that?
KARPOVSKY: She’s an incredible improviser. She’s an incredible actor. She’s incredibly subtle, and present, and if I can keep up with her, it should be a good scene. Her character is so raw and exposed, and sincere, and I think that’s a lot of the reasons why Ray likes her. She’s such a counter weight to these sort of ironic, hipsters that he seems to work around and see every day at Greenpoint. Here’s this sort of vibrant, effervescent injection of honesty. For him to try to tap into that and ride that wave is not only engaging for him, but it’s cleansing for him.
THE INQUISITR: Both of your films Red Flag and Rubberneck both have a voyeuristic feeling to them. Ultimately I think that adds to the vulnerabilities of both characters, although they’re different. Was that always your intention to set those characters up like that?
KARPOVSKY: No. There’s never really any preconceived notion to make any similarities between these two films. I wrote Red Flag and I co-wrote Rubberneck with Garth Donovan. As a writer I’m just interested in character-driven stories rather than plot-driven or action-driven endeavors. One of the things within character-driven stories that I like is obsession, loneliness, voyeurism, one-sided love. It’s something that I’m drawn to very much. I am not surprised that they both have these similarities.
THE INQUISITR: I was really drawn to Rubberneck. The first half really brilliantly creates tension and sets up the second half perfectly. How did you build to that?
KARPOVSKY: We kept re-shooting the first third of the movie. That’s the honest answer. We did three week of principal photography before we shot the whole movie. Then we did several rounds of re-shoots and most of the re-shoot was dedicated to act I, to setting things up so that hopefully at the end of the movie, there was a foundation of things to congeal emotionally and dramatically. It’s trial and error; it’s just about making mistakes and trying to fix them.
THE INQUISITR: Most of your characters have such a brute honesty about them. How badly did you want to dive into the head of Paul?
KARPOVSKY: I wanted to make Rubberneck with Garth, not because I wanted to try to play a different character as an acting exercise. In fact, we cast an actor through a very laborious ongoing process, and he had to drop out four days into production. I basically stepped in for him and did it; so there definitely wasn’t an initial desire to say, “Let’s see if I can play a dramatic scientist.” It was sort of an emergency solution. Also, Garth and I just really love slow burning character driven, psychological elements.
THE INQUISITR: Like Fatal Attraction.
KARPOVSKY: Yeah, exactly! It’s a movie that turns us on as viewers and we wanted to hover in that space more than anything else. Paul was an extension of that space. Hopefully he felt like an organic extension, so that’s how Paul came about.
THE INQUISITR: The performance really creeps up on the viewer. There was a really climatic scene, and I won’t give it away for the readers, but how did you find the physical endurance for it?
KARPOVSKY: You know, you’re on set and it’s almost like you’re driven by so much adrenaline. You’ve been working very hard to get all these people in the same room, to rent this truck, to rent these lights, and to rent this location. Something’s released in your blood stream hormonally or you’re in it, and you can be in it for many hours if you need to be. Although we were shooting in the summer and it was 100 degrees, and we couldn’t use air conditioning because of the sound, but it doesn’t matter, you’re just pumped up.
THE INQUISITR: Sometimes you hear about actors that direct and write their own films just out of necessity. Where do you see yourself in the scope of your own creative endeavors?
KARPOVSKY: To be honest, I see myself as both an actor and a director. I would be very sad and anxious if I just did one. If I were just an actor, even though I love it, but if I just did it, I think I would be uncomfortable with the fact that I wouldn’t have enough creative expression. I would also be uncomfortable with relinquishing all of my fate and destiny to external powers. I think it’s very difficult to surrender your fate to people you don’t even know. However, it’s very satisfying to my soul, as cheesy as that sounds, and if I didn’t do that I think the narcissist part of me loves the attention. You do three percent of the work and you get ninety-seven the amount of attention. I think I’d miss that too if I just directed. If I continue to do both I think I’ll be very happy.
THE INQUISITR: What’s next for you?
KARPOVSKY: I’m just acting these days. Season three of Girls is going into production in the end of March.
Rubberneck and Red Flag are out nationwide today. Catch the next episode of HBO’s Girls on Sunday at 9 PM.