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Girls’ Jemima Kirke on Jessa’s Stint in Rehab, Why She’s Not a Sociopath, and Online Commenters

Following her abrupt divorce and heart-breaking confrontation with her dad, Jessa disappeared midway through the last season of Girls. In Sunday’s season three premiere, she reemerged in rehab, where she tore into scrunchies and outed a fellow patient (Orange Is the New Black’s Danielle Brooks). So, not a ton of progress there. Vulture spoke to Jemima Kirke, who plays bored provocateur Jessa, about where her character went off to after she left Hannah at her dad’s (in real life, Kirke went off to have a baby), whether or not her stint in rehab will do any good, and why she doesn’t like being conflated with her alter ego. But first, we address last week’s contentious press tour session in which a reporter asked Girls creator-star Lena Dunham if she could explain her nudity on the show.

Well, that was lively.
Yeaaaah. It was awesome.

You didn’t jump in.
I didn’t address it because I was under the assumption [Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow] were going to address it in a very sort of civil way. I thought we were all going to talk about it later and be like, “That guy was an asshole,” so I was so happy to see Judd stick up for us. I was taken aback that he would be so emotional about it, and I thought it was fantastic.

Before we get into Jessa’s stay in rehab, where do you think she ran off to after leaving Hannah at her dad’s last season?
I never thought about it specifically, like, narratively, but I think she was doing much of the same. Being unpredictable, running around with all types. She probably eventually felt she needed a change again, as she does, and she went for the biggest thing she could think of, which was rehab. Anything that makes it seem like she’s moved on.

How did you feel about her breaking down in front of her dad like that?
I think it was needed. People needed to see that Jessa is human. I really enjoyed doing that scene because it was actually a moment where I got to think about the whys and the hows of Jessa’s life. When we did the table read, I cried. It works itself, that kind of scene. I can’t read those lines and not be moved by them.

But she’s back to her old tricks at rehab, being so awful as to out poor Laura during a group session. Do you think she’s going to benefit in some way from that experience?
For sure. She leaves with another experience where her bullshit doesn’t fly. I think that’s what the writers keep adding to Jessa’s story line, putting her in situations where her “thing” doesn’t work. That’s how they evolve Jessa. How is she going to learn? By facing these tests where she thinks she knows who she is, and she isn’t that at all.

She thinks she finds a kindred free spirit in Jasper (Richard E. Grant), who calls her on her truth-telling but winds up being not so unlike her.
Exactly. She thought he was a safe person. He thinks he’s a safe person. But the truth is, she latched on to him because of her issues with her father, and also because he was probably the least appropriate person for her to latch on to. And neither of them turn out to be who they think they are. They’re similar in being not great.

Do you think any part of her apology to Laura was genuine?
No, no. No. Jessa’s bored, and she was trying to kick up some dust.

Jessa gets called a sociopath, but we’ve seen her affected by the end of her marriage and her dad. At the same time —
No, no, I don’t think she’s a sociopath. I don’t know exactly what she is, and I don’t think she knows either, but she doesn’t really do things without feeling. We’ve seen that, as you say. The writers put glimpses in of Jessa’s humanity, of her vulnerability, which brings it back to, Oh, she’s not a sociopath in that one moment. It’s just that she keeps going right back to doing what she does.

Last season, you said you were unhappy that Jessa’s painting of her ex-husband (played by Chris O’Dowd) was not yours. It was a prop. Will we see any of your work on the show?
No, I don’t think so. Already, for some reason, people think I’m Jessa, and I think that would just push it over the edge for me. I think it would be too confusing for people. They’d think this is the way Jessa paints. Jessa is a hobbyist painter, and I wouldn’t want my real work to be seen as her hobby.

Does it bug you that people conflate you and Jessa?
I do notice that it’s there and I sometimes try to explain that away and explain that it’s not the case. It’s easy to do that, I suppose, to associate the person with the character. I guess. I don’t know. Maybe it does bug me, actually. 

Jessa decides to get a regular job a few episodes from now. I can’t imagine that goes well for her.
The baby store? That choice is fucking typical. It’s another thing where she wants to do something unexpected, which is so fucking predictable. She pisses me off with that kind of stuff, you know?

During the press tour panel, Lena mentioned that you succeeded in persuading her to let Jessa wear a Wu Tang Clan T-shirt this season. Is it for something specific that happens?
It’s for a ridiculous scene. But I thought about it as a mark of evolution for the character. People change. Sometimes on these shows you see the characters don’t change, which I think is very odd. One way to show is to change her clothes. We didn’t see any T-shirts in the first season. It was all vintage, vintage, vintage, boho ... Now it’s so much more complicated than that, because perhaps Jessa just doesn’t care as much. I just felt we needed a T-shirt in there [laughs]. The Wu Tang part is irrelevant.

Are you still reading about the show as much as you used to?
Yeah. I don’t go out of my way, but if something Lena sends something I’ll look online. And I’ll always read all the comments.

You’ll read all the comments?
Yeah. It surprises me how stupid people can be. It surprises me how many women hate other women, or feel uncomfortable with themselves. There’s a good portion of women who are offended by the show, which I do find strange. I read them because it’s fascinating. “Like Patrick Wilson would sleep with her!” You know what? He might, and in this story, he did! And why does that bother you? Is it not realistic enough, or is it that you haven’t seen it in other shows in movies enough?  

Photo: Michael Stewart/Getty