TV & Film

Jemima Kirke, 'Girls' Star, On Periods, Collaborations And Sex Scenes


Jemima Kirke plays the free-spirited Jessa on the HBO comedy "Girls," but she says she's nothing like her character.

"This is an impression for me, in many ways," she told HuffPost TV. "I know acting is not impersonating, but I'm good with impressions. I can do impressions of people I know, and people I've been, and roles that I've acted before."

To that end, Kirke hasn't played many roles before. Besides lending her voice to the 2005 short film "Smile for the Camera," Kirke's only other onscreen appearance was in "Tiny Furniture," Lena Dunham's 2010 breakout indie movie. Dunham and Kirke have been friends since high school, and Kirke even inked one of Dunham's many tattoos.

Kirke -- daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke -- sat down with HuffPost to discuss the polarizing new series, why collaborating is important to her, and just how surprised she was at some of Jessa's more shocking moments. (Like her character's perhaps ill-timed period during Episode 2.)

I've read that you don't consider yourself an actress. Did Lena have to really convince you to join the show? She did have to do some convincing, for sure. She proposed it to me and I said, "Listen, can I get back to you? Because this is something I need to think about." She said it was a pilot. In my mind, I was like, "Pfft, pilot. Pilot's not gonna get picked up." That was sort of helpful; to pretend it was not a big deal. Thinking about it as a work project more than anything else. I'm not trying to identify myself as any one thing. I make stuff. That's what I do in my daily life. So, I'll make this.

Once you agreed, what was something you really enjoyed about working on the show? My own trailer, even though it was like the size of a chair. It was my space! I enjoyed the whole thing. Sometimes you spend so much time with people, and those people tend to be very big. They're characters. They're actors. That can be exhausting. Although it's fun, sometimes you need a minute to go into your trailer and read. You're on all the time. Even when the cameras aren't on, you're on, because everyone is so fucking funny.

Is that intimidating? It can be intimidating, for sure. People know what they're doing. I know what I've laid out for myself to do: "This is what I'm going to do today. This is how I'm going to approach this scene." I've just sort of made it up in my own way. Then I watch a seasoned professional do it, and it's like … the way they just switch it on -- that can be intimidating.

You've known Lena for a while, how much collaborating did you do with her to create your character? There is collaboration because I think there needs to be. I've never been one to just do what I'm told. I don't say that necessarily with pride, it's just something that has gotten me in trouble before. But I think she just knows that. She gave me the bones of a character and we built it. Together. I can't play someone that I'm not super close to. In order to be super close to it, I've got to create it.

Do you worry about people automatically equating you to your character? People do! People are already like, "I heard you know Paz." Like, Paz de la Huerta. That's very easy for them. They want me to be like my character and then they find out I've known Paz in my real life, and they're like, "There's a bridge! She is like that. She's gotta be like that." It's not frustrating or upsetting, it's just like, "Oh, OK. That again." I have had moments like Jessa, for sure. I keep saying this -- I just can't stress this enough -- this is an impression for me, in many ways. I know acting is not impersonating, but I'm good with impressions. I can do impressions of people I know, and people I've been, and roles that I've acted before.

There are some pretty shocking sex scenes on "Girls." They are mortifying. You've got hundreds of people watching.

Is that difficult for you to watch? To see yourself onscreen in such an intimate setting? It was worse shooting it at the time. Now I see it as one big performance; one effort as this package of girls. It doesn't embarrass me as much because it's all related and all part of something bigger. When I do it myself, on set, and I'm doing a real orgasm -- not "real," but the way I know it sounds in real life, because I don't know how to fake it -- I'm embarrassed in front of the cameraman. That's embarrassing. For some reason, when it's on TV, I'm proud of it as part of the work.

Did you think scenes like Jessa getting her period while fooling around with that guy in the bathroom were shocking when you read them? No, when I was reading it. I was like, "Girl shit. That's what happens to girls." But when you see it on TV, it's quite shocking. I got it as a good show, and I got maybe 80 percent of what Lena was trying to do, but then when I saw it, I understood. I've never read a script before so I read it and I don't have much frame of reference. I don't look at the script and, visually, I don't see it onscreen. I just read it and, to me, it's very standard. That's what happens to girls: Periods.

"Girls" airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO

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