Allison Williams has entered the broader cultural conversation once more, this time for the PG-13 horror flick M3GAN. However, her star-making work on Lena Dunham’s Girls remains just as viral and conversation-inducing.
The 34-year-old says if Girls had been made now, its runaway popularity and conversation-spurring quality would be all the more stress-inducing for her in an online world that’s “louder and meaner.”
“I was thinking recently, if I was cast on Girls now, what would the experience be for me and I think it would be much more stressful,” she admits in a new interview with The Guardian. “I didn’t know anything else. I was 22 when I was cast on the show, I was 23 when it came out. We were so young and it was loud in the way of watercooler and thinkpieces and Gawker was like obsessed with us and it was the heyday of that kind of thing but I didn’t have any sense of how to calibrate how big any of it really was.”
When it debuted in 2012, a show like Girls hadn’t really existed before, and its reach was unprecedented. While shows about imperfect, horny, and borderline villainous millennial women became commonplace following Girls, Dunham’s show helped rewrite the narrative for women’s stories on-screen.
However, it was far from perfect, and its widespread popularity made it all the more vulnerable to criticism, from the characterization of the leading women to the lack of diversity in the Brooklyn-set show. Williams says this barrage of critique—from thoughtful to misogynistic—helped her learn early on how to sift through the bullshit online.
“I think a lot of people look back at their work and what they were writing about Girls now with a little bit of shame,” she says. “It was really also diminishing of our skill. I saw that Taylor Swift was giving an interview recently where she said that people were treating her music like it was a trick, like there wasn’t skill involved and as one of the great living songwriters, I don’t know how that is possible but I do know that is how it also felt probably for Lena, that people thought it was just some accident that she was writing these episodes or something.”
In addition to M3GAN and Girls, Williams recently spurred headlines when she waded into the nepotism baby discourse, saying, “It doesn’t feel like a loss to admit it. If you trust your own skill, I think it becomes very simple to acknowledge.”
As the daughter of NBC anchor Brian Williams and TV producer Jane Gillan Stoddard, the Get Out star dives further into the discussion. “When Girls came out, I think it was Gawker that only referred to us by our parents so it would be like Brian Williams’ daughter is in this scene with David Mamet’s daughter and blah blah blah and so we just got used to it,” she recalls. “One of my first big magazine covers didn’t even put my first name, or my name on the cover at all. It just said Brian Williams’s daughter and so I got used to being seen in that way.”
“That made me feel really defensive because the subtext of that is you’re not very good. And now as an older person who’s been at this longer, I feel like I know there are people who don’t think that I’m good,” she laughs. “I’m not for everybody and so letting go of that means it’s much easier for me to also say if you also are wondering that perhaps my relationships helped me get in the door and get me to where I am then the answer is 100% yes and I don’t feel like I’m losing anything by admitting that. It’s totally unfair in a way that’s maddening so to be told that it’s not real and it’s not happening, is just gaslighting.”
As murmurs around a potential Girls reboot continue to swirl, Williams takes a moment to check in with the modern Marnie Michaels.
“I think she’s probably still on a search, a quest for identity, for meaning,” she says. “I think she’s probably got two more engagements, one more marriage because she tethers herself to people really easily. And she probably makes purses and she’s doing open mics on the side.”