Best known as Ray, cynical comedic foil and deflowerer of Zosia Mamet’s Shoshanna on the HBO series “Girls,” Alex Karpovsky is also the writer and director of four feature films and a documentary, whether you knew it or not. On February 19th, Karpovsky the budding auteur will finally get some more widespread attention when Tribeca Film and American Express release his two most recent films, the semi-autobiographical “Curb Your Enthusiasm” inspired comedy “Red Flag,” and the decidedly darker dramatic thriller “Rubberneck.”
The two movies, both of which were directed by and star Karpovsky, couldn’t be more different: “Red Flag” is a quasi-documentary following the actor as he journeys around the south on a screening tour of his second feature, “Woodpecker,” reeling from a recent breakup and a bad case of back pain as he maneuvers through crappy hotel rooms, psychotic stalkers, and post screening Q&As. “Rubberneck” is a slow-burning character study centering around workplace obsession in a scientific research lab. Both films were warmly received on the festival circuit this year.
Indiewire sat down with Karpovsky to talk about his sudden switch in genre, turning road trip boredom into a Gotham award nominated comedy, and, of course, the inescapable genius of “Girls” creator Lena Dunham.
Both films will have a limited theatrical run at New York’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center starting February 22nd, and “Rubberneck” will play in Boston at the Brattle Theater on March 1st. You can currently also see Karpovsky in Daniel Schechter’s “Supporting Characters."
The first thing I saw you in was Bob Byington’s “Harmony and Me” in 2009, so you’ve been around for a while. Does this year feel a lot different in the scope of your career? In terms of being in every indie movie?
Well, I’m not in every movie.
Six, it’s a good number.
It doesn’t feel any different. I still feel like I’m working with friends on projects I’m proud of. Hopefully that won’t change anytime soon. And I feel like I’ve been doing that for a little while, so it doesn’t really feel any different.
What does it feel like then – as like you said, a lot of those movies are in the same New York indie movie clique – to go from working on stuff like that to working on [the Coen brothers upcoming] “Inside Llewyn Davis?” Did that feel like a big jump for you?
Oh, it’s a huge jump. I’ve never really done anything like that before, I’ve never acted in a studio film. I’d never acted in anything that wasn’t made by my friends, quite honestly, cause Lena’s a friend of mine. It was a huge leap, and you know, a little nerve-racking but the set wasn’t as big as I thought. They like to keep things very intimate and small and comfortable. They’re so warm and engaging as people that I felt pretty comfortable pretty quickly.
And Adam Driver’s in that film too –
That’s what I hear!
Which is probably the oddest place possible for a mini-“Girls” reunion.
Yeah. I didn’t know that until I was in the makeup truck and there was a Polaroid of him in a cowboy outfit, and I said, “that’s not Adam Driver, is it?” And they were like, “Yeah, do you guys know each other?” This was before “Girls” had started airing. So I didn’t really know until I was there.
But I guess you two don’t really share that much screen time in “Girls” either.
We don’t, but there’s something coming up this season [In last week's episode, "Boys"] that changes that.
When did you and Lena meet for the first time? I’m assuming Jed, your character in “Tiny Furniture,” was written for you?
It was written for me. It was based on someone else.
Right, I’ve heard rumors of him being based on another certain individual. Who isn’t you.
Well, I think they’re true, if we’re thinking of the same person. I met her at SWSX in 2009. She was there for her first film “Creative Nonfiction,” I was there for my third film, “Trust Us, This is All Made Up.” We spent about five minutes together in a car and shared a ride. I was very impressed with her, this 22 or 23-year-old kid with her first film at a major film festival. She was very smart and funny, and just effervescent. We kept in touch, did DVD swaps. We liked each other’s sensibilities and hung out a bit over that summer. And then in November of that same year she wrote a part for me in “Tiny Furniture.”
Just to elaborate on that, because I think it’s relevant, so many of my friends and community come from SXSW and the atmosphere that Matt Dentler and now Janet Pierson are nurturing there. It’s really incredible. It’s just such a wonderful, bubbling place to share ideas, to meet new people, and to kind of explore collaborations. If it wasn’t for South By, even though Lena and I are from New York, both of us, there’s no way we would’ve gotten to know each other.
And then, moving from then on to “Girls,” I’m assuming that part was also written with you in mind.
Yeah, it was.
Coming on the tail end of all of those roles, did you write your part in “Rubberneck” to maybe distance yourself from what is becoming kind of the branded Alex Karpovsky comedic role?
No, well, I wrote the movie with Garth Donovan, a filmmaker in Boston. I didn’t write it to do something different as an actor, in fact we cast someone else. We had a very long, laborious casting process. We finally found someone in Boston that I loved. He’s older, he’s in his mid-forties, early forties maybe. A really talented theater actor, wonderful guy, but unfortunately after four days of production he had to drop out because of a family emergency so I stepped in and tried to fill his shoes as best as I could. So it was never a preconceived notion for me to try and act differently, or act differently than my other roles. It was just circumstances.