The day after the “Girls” finale aired, Allison Williams left New York to tour prisons in Los Angeles. She’s been working with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to helping convicts who are no longer incarcerated. In the HBO series’ sendoff, Williams’ character, Marnie, also lent a helping hand outside of her Big Apple bubble as she headed to the country to help Hannah raise baby Grover.
Less than 48 hours after “Girls” said goodbye, Williams called us up to debrief on the episode, Marnie’s future and her favorite moments from the show.
Have you spoken with anyone from “Girls” since the finale aired?
Oh yeah, we’ve all been talking. I was with Lena when it aired. We FaceTimed with Jenni Konner right before. We talked to Judd Apatow after, and Jenni and the other girls. We’re a pretty tight group. It feels weird. For those of us who were involved, I think it was more emotional when we finished shooting it, but certainly the realization that there’s just nothing left anymore is very strange. It’s hitting me sort of slowly. It hit hardest when I was done playing Marnie.
It must feel odd doing a long-term series like this because of those waves. You wrapped months ago, and then you have to relive that same closure process with the rest of the world later. As a performer, it must be such a strange sort of déjà vu.
It’s really weird. One benefit is that that it’s a long goodbye, which is both excruciating and helpful at the same time. It would be a lot easier if everything happened all at once and we just had an entire day with our cast and crew where we all got to say long goodbyes, and really put a period at the end of our working relationship.
The ellipsis that it creates is a little gentler, and it allows for more reflection and also just prolonged and more specific gratitude for each person’s role in our lives. These are people who had great impacts on my life ― the crew we worked with, the other actors, the directors we worked with. It’s nice to have some distance on it to be able to process what they all meant to me and what the series as a whole meant. Also what our collective work, and what we did together, will end up meaning down the line to the people who watched it while it was on so loyally. Also the people who will discover it in the years to come, and what will they make of it, and how soon will it seem like an impossibly outdated world.
It’s interesting to think about the impact of what Lena and Jenni and Judd have done, and how it will continue to be felt over the years. I just feel lucky to be part of a project that even has that conversation around it. There are shows that are totally beloved about which there are no think pieces written in terms of what the legacy is gonna be.
The opening shot of the series finale is a mirror image of the first time we met Marnie, in the pilot. What did that mean to you?
It meant so much to me. It was something that I’d be dreaming of happening for two years. I didn’t say anything.
So you had the idea in your mind already?
Only because the symmetry of it was so satisfying to me, and also it would mean that Marnie and Hannah were still connected by their umbilical cord.
It’s such a Marnie thing to say the symmetry would be perfect.
Oh, of course! I, like Marnie, am very attracted to rules, so we’ll get to that later. If that shot didn’t exist, it would almost signify to me that maybe the driving breakup of the show was between Marnie and Hannah, and not Marnie and New York City, or Hannah and Adam, or whatever other relationships were severed. I’ve liked Marnie best when she was being a supportive, good friend, and this is her version of what that means, which is 50 parts for herself, 50 parts for other people. Even before I knew what was going to be happening in that final episode, to me it signified that their friendship had endured the span of the show. When I read the finale and I saw that in there, I was so happy. I was just happy that Marnie made the choice that she did.
It feels right to have Marnie stick around longer than the rest of the characters.
Even the resulting monologue about “I win,” which was the most intense Marnie had ever been about anything. But also you get the sense that, over all of these years, the people that Hannah drifted toward that were maybe more fun or interesting or cool had all kind of fallen away, and that just left the foundation of the two of them.
What conversations did you have about the evolution that Marnie and Hannah’s relationship would take in those final few episodes? I ask because Marnie was critical of Hannah’s choice not to tell Paul-Louis about the baby, and her showing up uninvited to Hannah’s house is a sacrificial mark of friendship on Marnie’s part. On the other hand, she doesn’t have much going on in her life, so she might as well pack up and go to the country for the indeterminate future.
Right. Hannah wouldn’t have gotten the name Grover if she hadn’t followed that advice. It was not only Marnie urging that she did that. It was literally everyone Hannah interacted with that reinforced the idea she should tell him. I think in Marnie, after that scene at the pawn shop, we started to see an increased sense of culpability and of willingness to take responsibility for her own shit.
She was definitely tested with regards to Shosh’s party and ignoring Hannah’s call because she was stuck between two friends. She’s not always gonna make the right choices when it comes to that stuff. Then Hannah’s showing up and revealing that she hadn’t told Marnie about the choice to leave the city. Marnie’s betrayed, but I think she was able to do a postmortem on that and realize where Hannah was coming from. Eventually showing up to be there for Hannah shows a level of forgiveness and processing that she hasn’t always had. To me, that just shows a lot of growth on Marnie’s part.
She’s also able give a pretty clear-throated explanation of why she was there and why she was ready to take this on with Hannah. She acknowledges that she doesn’t have a lot going on but she still has a lot to give. What she didn’t totally anticipate, and what Hannah didn’t anticipate, were the emotional struggles of the position that Hannah is in, and how tricky it is, plus you add hormones and your body not feeling like itself and the added stress of Grover not latching. Because Marnie is reading all the books she thinks are the right books, she’s putting all this pressure on Hannah, that she doesn’t even realize is just further stressing Hannah out.
Plus Hannah is resisting this connection with Grover in a way that at the end of the episode she relents to and allows a completely unbreakable bond, which is signified in this act with latching. You could argue is the first uncomplicated, reciprocated relationship Hannah’s been in.
Are you hopeful for Marnie’s future? We leave her in another state of limbo, even if there are glimmers of hope.
I feel very good about where Marnie is at the end of the series. I feel comfortable that she’s rewired the decision part of her mind to start with the fundamentals of who she is and work backwards from there, rather than picking a point on the horizon about who she’d like to be, and then moving awkwardly towards that. She’s saying, “I like rules. Maybe that indicates that I should go into law,” which I actually think is perfect.
Now I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.
We had talked about Marnie going to law school in prior seasons, but we thought going in the music direction was more interesting. It was always something I thought about in terms of Marnie. For a million reasons, I just think it’s a perfect avenue for her. With her conversations with Hannah’s mom, it’s helpful for Marnie to be able to hear someone say that to protect your friendship with Hannah in the short term you have to do things that feel like you’re neglecting her. Additionally, do not neglect yourself at this stage in your life, and make sure that you do something for yourself in a way that is actually for yourself, not for some version of yourself that doesn’t exist yet. I feel very good that Marnie’s gonna follow that instinct.
Do you think she’ll head back to the city right away?
Logically, she’s likely going to stay at the house, study for her LSAT, take the LSAT, hopefully do well, and then go off to law school. She’ll still be there for a little while. A lot of my friends have texted me and been like, “Just tell me she gets out of that house.” I reassure them that she’s on her way out of the house. It’s not gonna happen immediately, but it is going to happen eventually.
It’s interesting to think about how Hannah will reckon with Marnie’s absence. After having Marnie’s help, she’ll probably be more shellshocked than she realizes.
But I also think that Hannah’s mom saying she’s gotta go to save both of them shows she has the faith that Hannah can pull this off. More importantly, she needs to do it on her own, for a million reasons. She needs to take complete ownership of this task after being able to pass the buck to Marnie, and Marnie more than gladly picks it up.
It’s interesting to me that she feels that Hannah can do it. Also, she’s like, “I can help them here. You go do your thing.” People say it takes a village. The person who should help with Grover is the mother rather than the best friend, who also has her own life to live in a certain way. She’s willing to give her daughter what she needs in this time. I love that Hannah’s mom comes to intervene in the situation and help both of them sort out what has clouded over given the morass of hormones and pent-up passive-aggression.
With a TV show that runs for six seasons, viewers form opinions along the way, well before the full story has been told. With a movie, that only requires a couple of hours. “Get Out” is a great example. Your character starts one way, but within 90 minutes we know she’s very much somebody else, and then it’s over. As you know, Marnie has been a very polarizing character. Now that we’ve seen her full arc, what do you think Marnie’s legacy will be within the “Girls” universe?
What a good question. I think Marnie, in some way, particularly illustrates the battle between who someone is to her core and who she wants to be. I think she recognizes very clearly, as I have in my life, that being Type A and uptight and organized, which she is organically drawn to, is uncool. To be a little bit more free and to follow her instinct in a certain way is going to give her more credibility and a more full, interesting life. In reality, there’s always that conflict. It’s knowing that Booth Jonathan wasn’t the right direction for her to go in, but going in it anyway. It’s thinking she has a passion for music, and then picking her most unstable partner imaginable in the midst of an affair to hitch her wagon to musically ― her finest moment being when she goes solo and then quickly goes back to the partnership.
Finally, in the end, we get to see someone starting to accept the things that she can’t change, rather than fighting it tooth and nail, which she had been doing. There’s certain parts of her that people observe. Obviously she’s very judgmental, she’s harsh at times, she’s more critical of other people than she is of herself. Towards the end, we started to see her turn that critical eye on herself. I hear from a ton of people who are Marnie defenders who inevitably have doses of Marnie in themselves. I think what they love about her is that same intensity is also applied to their friendship. When shit hits the fan and then someone needs her, she shows up in a big way. If Hannah’s stranded alongside train tracks with a bicycle and Adam, Marnie will just show up out of nowhere to protect her. Those gestures don’t always pay off. In that instance, it ended with Marnie stuck between the two of them in a cab, miserable. It’s late at night and Hannah’s grinning ear to ear that she has a boyfriend.
I expect her to signify someone who fought who she was for years, and in the end starts to actually get to know who she is. Hopefully with that increased comfort with who she is organically will come a much easier way of life for her, where she can actually start making fun of herself, being a little bit more self-aware, and thus free from all that she has been trying to avoid looking at for all these years.
What was your all-time favorite “Girls” scene to shoot?
Oh my god. That’s so hard. One of my favorites was when we were sitting, waiting for the bus during the beach-house episode, where we start to silently do the choreography to the dance that we learned. It just felt like such a friendship-y moment where there’s been this knock-dead drama fight where Shosh really brought most of the artillery, and they said a lot of mean things to each other, purging all this pent-up stuff. All Marnie wanted all weekend was this Instagram-worthy, perfect weekend. She wanted her friends to take learning this dance seriously. Then, in this moment, it’s this quiet way that they have of coming back to each other and reconnecting. Shooting it felt really lovely. There’s a million scenes that were incredible to shoot.
And your favorite Marnie moment?
One of my favorite Marnie memories is her taking the stage solo, because that was really important for her. And breaking up with Desi. It was during the “Panic in Central Park” episode. In some ways, I think that was a good moment for Marnie to stand up for herself and extricate herself from something that was damaging.
There are a million. The reason I’m having trouble isolating is that truly, with the exception of scenes where people were yelling at Marnie, every day of going to work on this show was a happy, happy, happy day. Even when they’ve been hard, it’s been my favorite kind of hard, which is such a privilege, and I feel very fortunate for that. Even filming in the middle of the night, when I’m exhausted and grumpy, even those moments were the best possible grumpy and tired working moments I can imagine.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the show for literally everything in my career. Additionally for giving me this very fulfilling creative outlet for six years, where not only was I given an incredible thing to do as an actor, but also I was given a very happy, harmonious, safe, cozy work environment from which to do all of it. Trying to wrap my head around all of that going away is no easy feat, but you’ve caught me in the middle of it, so it’s a pleasure talking to you about it.
Absolutely. This show means a lot to people.
Thank you very much! I’m sorry it had to go away, but I hope many happy re-watchings!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.