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Sunday 24 September 2017

The Realistic Sex and the City

Are twenty-somethings the new teenagers? That's what highly-anticipated new US show Girls seems to suggest.

Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath in Girls. Photo: PA.

Katie Wright

Ask Zosia Mamet where she lives and she'll tell you it's, at least partly, "on an airplane".



The American actress says she has been spending so much time jetting between Los Angeles and New York recently that she's also started referring to herself as "bicoastal".

All those frequent flyer miles are a testament to Mamet's growing success as an actress, crowned by her appearance in Girls - the NYC-based comedy drama that premieres on UK TV screens this month.

The series follows four women in their 20s as they navigate that transitional post-university phase which, as Mamet puts it, is "sort of like adolescence, but with jobs".

The series, on which Judd Apatow is executive producer, has garnered critical acclaim across the pond, not only for being splutter-into-your-latte funny but for its frank portrayal of young womanhood, complete with awkward sexual encounters, humiliating drunken escapes and botched eyebrow makeovers.

Mamet, 24, knew the Sex And The City comparisons were inevitable from the start, especially as her character, Shoshanna, is obsessed with the show.

"It's a lovely sort of compliment," she says, "but at the same time we always said when people watch the show they'll see how different it is."

Mamet herself sat up and paid attention when she first read the script and when she watched show creator Lena Dunham's film Tiny Furniture, on which Girls is partly based. Somewhat of a polymath, Dunham also directs Girls and stars as main character Hannah, an aspiring writer.

"I thought it was really different to anything I'd ever read. And then I watched her movie and that just sort of sealed the deal and I said, 'I have to work with this human'," says Mamet.

She's not surprised at the reaction the show has had so far. "Many television shows have been made before about people in their 20s, but they don't really write in an unabashed way about how gritty and dirty and difficult that time is," she says.

Mamet didn't fancy her chances when she originally sent in her audition tape. Unwell and busy appearing in a film, she made the tape thinking "never in a million years" would she get the part.

But, with her 100-mile-an-hour delivery of Shoshanna's chatter - punctuated with more likes than your average Facebook page - it's obvious why she did, and she's rewarded with some of the funniest lines of the series.

In one hilarious episode, Shoshanna shakes off her good girl image and ends up running through the streets of Brooklyn without a skirt on. Set at a hipster-filled party, Mamet says it was a lot fun to shoot.

"We basically had a party for five nights in this big warehouse full of young people," she recalls.

"I actually had the same illness that I had when I was making my tape, so it was hard, but it was great to do something so wild."

Mamet's own tastes in TV comedy were formed by a rather bohemian upbringing with her Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright father David (known for works such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed-The-Plough) and actress mother Lindsay Crouse.

"I really wasn't allowed to watch television growing up," she reveals, "so I grew up watching old British television shows on DVD, like Fawlty Towers and Are You Being Served? and Ab Fab especially."

Strangely enough, when an American pilot of Absolutely Fabulous was commissioned in the US, Mamet got the role of Saffron. A "dream come true" for Mamet, but a full series didn't follow.

Ab Fab may not have crossed the Atlantic successfully but Mamet is confident that Girls will translate well for UK audiences, partly because it shares certain British characteristics.

She compares Girls to Ricky Gervais's The Office, saying: "It's not afraid to make people uncomfortable.

"Comedy arises out of very dark places and I think that's something that we really try to hold on to with our show."

Garnering five Emmy nominations in 2012, including best comedy series, Girls failed to bring home any gongs on the night. Mamet declares that while she's honoured that the show is getting recognition, award ceremonies aren't quite as glamorous as one might think.

"It's like a work night for us, it's kind of like an exhausting dream," she says.

With the second series of Girls already wrapped, Mamet is keeping schtum about any series two spoilers. She's equally secretive about the possibility of another stint on Mad Men as Joyce Ramsey, Peggy's lesbian friend who works for Time magazine.

Joining the cast of such a well-established franchise was somewhat daunting for Mamet.

"Especially now, having experienced being a series regular, you really become a family and you get so entrenched in this world. It's hard to be an outsider going into that, but [on Mad Men] they welcomed me with open arms," she says.

As for her own showbiz family, Mamet says her parents were "very supportive" of her chosen career, which is handy as she believes she was born, almost literally, into acting.

"My mother was pregnant with me on stage, so I was a goner from the womb," she quips. "I grew up on movie sets and at theatres and it always seemed like the most magical thing in the world to me. I never wanted to do anything else."

But she describes having famous parents as "a double-edged sword", especially when it comes to the ultra-competitive entertainment industry.

"It definitely makes it harder to make a name for yourself, but it's also lovely to have a family that understands what you're going through."

Following in her father's footsteps, Mamet has been trying her hand at writing too. She's just completed a monologue that she'll be performing at a "little evening of theatre" in New York this month and has also been working on a book.

In terms of acting, theatre is where Mamet's ambitions lie. "One of my dreams," she says, "is to do a play in the UK at some point."

If Girls is as well received here as it has been in the US, that surely won't take long.

EXTRA TIME - MEET THE GIRLS

Lena Dunham stars as Hannah Horvath, a wannabe writer who is forced to contemplate leaving her unpaid internship at a publishing house when her parents reveal in the first episode they will no longer support her financially.

Alison Williams is Marnie Michaels, Hannah's beautiful, glossy-haired flatmate and best friend. Paying all the bills in their apartment, Marnie supports Hannah as much as her parents do.

Zosia Mamet plays Shoshanna Shapiro, a university student and by far the most innocent girl in the group. But, she claims, she's "like, the least virgin-y virgin ever."

Jemima Kirke is the only non-native in the cast, playing Jessa Johansson, Shoshanna's hippy British cousin who returns to New York in the first episode. "You're so hip I could puke," Shoshanna declares.

Girls begins on Sky Atlantic tonight at 10 pm

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