Newton Native Alex Karpovsky On Indie Film, Neurosis, Playing 'Ray' on HBO's 'Girls'

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If you're a fan of the HBO hit TV series, Girls, then you know who Alex Karpovsky is. He plays Ray, the self-involved barista and outspoken friend of the four female leads and sometimes boyfriend to two of them. What you might not know is that Karpovsky is a BU alum who hails from Newton, Mass. He's also an independent filmmaker whose most recent film is called "Red Flag."

The film stars Alex Karpovsky who plays a character named Alex Karpovsky. A struggling independent filmmaker who gets dumped by his longtime girlfriend because he won't marry her. "Red Flag" just screened at the the L.A. Film Festival, it's Alex Karpovsky's fifth feature film.


Alex Karpovsky, independent filmmaker and actor in the HBO series "Girls." He tweets at @alexkarpovsky.


On his new film, "Red Flag":
Alex Karpovsky: "I made a movie a few years ago called "Woodpecker." It was my second feature-length film. And this society out of Atlanta was nice enough to set up a tour for it across the south. They basically show low-budget independent films in rural areas that might not normally get exposed to that type of stuff. So, it was a two-week engagement. I'm flattered that anybody wants to show my stuff, but the prospect seemed a bit lonely. You're kind of driving by yourself, it's a low-fi operation from one rinky dink sort of screening to another, and I wasn't really that excited about it. So I thought, maybe we can try to whip up some story around it, some sort of creative enterprise around it. So I started thinking about ways to kind of maybe bring some friends on board, make it a) fun and maybe b) something I can call a film later on. So that was how the train sort of got rolling. And then I wrote an outline for about two or three months, and then while we were on the tour for "Woodpecker," we made a movie about a filmmaker on tour, so all the screenings and all the venues, all the locations, are actually real locations that were part of the itinerary of the tour."

On being a "deadpan noticer of indignity":
AK: "One thing that I really like about Woody Allen and one thing I really like about Lena as well is that they're both incredibly perceptive people. And they catch all these subtleties of human behavior and human interactions and the way people carry themselves and express themselves that really illustrate a truth that is often kind of buried in the corners of our interactions and other parts of our social society. If I'm somehow able to have some heightened aspects of perception in that sense, I think it's a good thing and it could only help and it could only foster a sense of originality, I think, ultimately too."

On how he thinks about his character on "Girls," "Ray":
AK: "Ray is a person who initially is very opinionated, he's very judgmental. He has very little patience for these slightly younger hipsters that populate his social scene, and also his job at the coffee shop. But slowly, as we spend more time with him, and that's one of the great things about episodic TV, is you can really sit with someone for an extended period of time. We understand that there's a lot of insecurities that are underlying this judgement and cynicism, and a lot of vulnerability. And we kind of explore those things in his unfolding relationship with Shoshana, and then in season three in his sort of strange, misguided sometimes, relationship with Marnie. So he's a man who's a little bit older than the group. I feel like he's compulsed, because of that, to give them some sort of advice. Oftentimes the advice is quite tortured and perverse but sometimes I think he's there to give the girls some perspective on their 'plights.' He's sort of the truth-giver at many times, the perspective-injector, the moral compass. And that's what I really like about playing that character as well."

On working with Lena Dunham:
AK: "Lena wears so many hats on the show, she's creator, producer, writer, director, star. Her sensibility is allowed to be expressed in a way that's really undiluted and clear. So, the set is basically an expression of her personality in many ways and because she's very relaxed, she's very confident without being arrogant. She's very generous to the actors, she really kind of encourages us to take risks and play around. That's what every actor dreams of, to be comfortable, to be given space, to be encouraged to kind of go into weird and wacky places. It's been absolutely wonderful. She comes from an incredibly talented home of artists. She made a movie that was really honest. I think it took a lot of courage to make 'Tiny Furniture' in the way that she made it. But, I mean, I cannot really articulately explain where the genius of Lena Dunham comes from."

On growing up in Newton:
AK: "Look, I love Newton. It's a leafy suburb outside of a really wonderful city so it was really great. I had an incredible public education at Newton South High School. Free school, amazing school. It was pretty great in many ways. In other ways, you know, my parents are Russian immigrants, as you said. They spent the first 30 years of their life in the Soviet Union. So, to put it very mildly it was an adjustment for them, coming to America. Most of their TV shows, most of their friends, most of their sources of news, is coming from Russian sources so I kind of was late to the game in terms of integrating myself culturally into America. And the fact that I didn't have any brothers or sisters didn't help either."


BU Today: Girls Actor Comes To Cinematheque Tomorrow

  • "I don’t know if there was a clean morph. In grad school in England I started doing some acting in comedies and plays and writing some plays. I took a leave of absence, because it was something I was particularly interested in and willing to explore. I never went back to grad school. I can’t really say that a particular academic discipline led to acting or writing."

New Yorker: Fussbudget Verite

  • "Though the films were made for less than twenty thousand dollars each, they feel compendious and fully inhabited. Yet, even as he shows promise of becoming his generation’s Woody Allen, a deadpan noticer of indignity, Karpovsky remains in the milk-crate-décor stage of adult life."

The New York Times: It’s All About My Failed Romance

  • "Alex Karpovsky owes Lena Dunham big time. Without her, he would probably be just another struggling actor-filmmaker in the crowded indie marketplace. With her — and her HBO show, 'Girls' (he plays Ray, the barrista) — he’s part of a cultural juggernaut."

This segment aired on April 9, 2014.


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