It’s truly a nightmare scenario: You break up with you boyfriend and, in an unlikely twist of fate, wind up living in the same building. To make matters worse, he has a new girlfriend—the real estate agent that showed you the apartment and, as luck would have it, an acquaintance of your oldest friend. That small world is the quirky premise of Zosia Mamet’s latest film, The Boy Downstairs.
In her first starring role since HBO’s Girls, the actress plays a twenty-something writer who moves back to New York City after spending time abroad in London, only to face the same old feelings. Though the narrative is decidedly more Hannah than Shoshanna, first-time director Sophie Brooks’s directorial debut is in the same vein as rom-coms like When Harry Met Sally, and is sure to please fans of the series. Here, Mamet talks about the new release, exes, and going blonde.
What’s the craziest experience you’ve ever had with an ex? Many years ago, I got fucked over and wound up in a movie as a glorified extra. I had just broken up with my boyfriend of two years, who I was madly in love with and I thought I would probably die of heartbreak. We were shooting a party scene—five nights in a row, all night long—and the director asked a bunch of his friends, one of which was my ex’s older brother, if he would invite all of his buddies so it would feel authentic. So I had to spend the next five nights with my ex, his brother, and all of the people who were our friends that were no longer my friends. That was not fun.
Do you believe in staying friends with exes? I am not someone who has ever been able to stay friends with exes, mainly because the reason my former relationships fell apart is because the guys were bad dudes. I had terrible taste in men until I found my husband. The breakups weren’t amicable—it was always an explosion where everyone died. But my husband is friends with a lot of his exes, and I’ve met a lot of them and they’re wonderful people. I think it depends on the person and the relationship.
This movie could feasibly be one long episode of Girls, but Diana is a far cry from Shoshanna. What drew you to the role? I loved Shoshanna so much. She was the only character I ever felt like was a separate entity, because she was so, so different from me as a human. This felt like a departure, because it was a lot closer to home for me. The first time Sophie and I met, we immediately bonded over our struggles with anxiety, and the things that plague Diana in the film were things that we had experienced as well: the ways you learn to cope with it, and how it morphs as you get older.
What is the probability of a Girls reunion on the big screen? I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility. We had always joked about it, but I think there was always an underlying sense of hope within the joke that it might happen. Lena always said that, if we ever did a movie, there would need to be time in between so it felt like we were finding these people in a different part of their lives, as opposed to just picking up where they left off. She didn’t want it to feel like a continuation of the show, but a separate thing.
Speaking of which, Lena has been harangued in the press recently. How do you console a friend when she’s down? With Lena, the focus was and always has been on the work. When we were shooting Girls, whenever the press about the show would come out, we would be back in production, so none of us really had time to absorb it or take it in. Of course people’s opinions matter, but only to a certain extent, and I think the nature of our technological world at the moment is a bit Hunger Games-y at times. You have these platforms that have this insane reach, and yet there’s zero responsibility because you’re not saying these words directly to another human being. Words are thrown around in a pretty irresponsible way, unabashedly and without thought. People are going to say what they’re going to say, and they’re entitled to their opinions, but that doesn’t mean we have to listen to them. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to make something good. Lena’s always done that. I can’t imagine that this time would be any different.
Tell me about your decision to go blonde. Have you always wanted to make the change, or was it because Shoshanna moved to Tokyo on the show? I wanted blonde hair for a really, really long time. On Girls, someone coined the term “Bloshanna” when we were pitching for me to be blonde, because I wanted it that badly. Then, right after we shot season 4, I dyed my hair during my hiatus and it ended up working out because of the Tokyo storyline. Bloshanna lived inside of me. I’m staying strong.
Your name is notoriously mispronounced, as is Saoirse Ronan’s. Have you two ever had the chance to get together and commiserate about it? I’ve never met Saoirse, but I feel like we’d definitely share similar stories, because both of our names are pronounced so far off from the way they’re written. When you have an odd name, or a name with an odd spelling, it becomes part of your life and you come to terms with it. I honestly think it upsets other people more than me, because they think it offends me when they mispronounce it, which it doesn’t at all. Now that I took my husband’s last name, Jonigkeit, I joke that I threw my hand into a Scrabble bag full of letters.
VIDEO: Watch an Exclusive Clip from Zosia Mamet's New Movie The Boy Downstairs
The Boy Downstairs opens in New York today and in select cities on Feb. 23.