Andrew Rannells on Girls and His Love for Lena Dunham and Nancy Meyers

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Andrew Rannells is the comedic MVP of Girls this season, playing Elijah (a.k.a. Hannah’s former college boyfriend, current gay bestie, and surprise roommate in Iowa). He's getting some of the best lines (“The twins who live here have legal access to medicinal mushrooms and ecstasy”; “I see you are still in that same sad kimono”; “Oh, the whimsy! I love the poets”) and bringing some much-needed levity and party vibes to Hannah’s isolating experience away from the city. Vulture caught up with Rannells, who is back in New York City to film episodes of The Knick (he joins for season two), to talk about working with Lena Dunham and Nancy Meyers, and what he thought of Marnie’s now-epic onscreen rim-job.

So, Elijah just kind of … shows up in Iowa. Have you ever done anything like that?
Weirdly, I have done exactly what Elijah did. My best friend from New York decided to go to Harvard for grad school in 2003, and I honestly felt as lost as Elijah at the time, and used her leaving as an excuse to escape, too. I just started showing up in Cambridge and hanging out with her and pseudo-living there and getting the benefit of going there without really going there. I even dated a classmate of hers. I mean, I couldn’t have gotten into Harvard in a hundred years, but I went there by osmosis. It’s not as sloppy as what Elijah did. Elijah really doesn't have anything to do, and he’s looking for any reason to not have to figure out his own life. So Hannah’s thing seems like the best one to glom onto, to just get the hell out of New York. I can certainly relate to that. 

Yeah, the thing that everyone says about Girls is that no matter how they feel about the show, it in some way relates to their own life. Weve all felt the things on that show.
Sometimes I feel like Lena is incepting me. Like, there have been moments that feel ripped from my life. For example, last season, when we first meet Desi, we are all at the Gramercy Hotel, and he was playing guitar. So I knew Ebon [Moss-Bachrach, the actor who plays Desi] when he was at Columbia, and I said to Lena, "I’ve been at this exact party, where Ebon is charming large groups of women with a guitar and I’m just standing around, drunk, trying to follow the lyrics." There are moments where it’s déjà vu from my own life. What Lena does so well is she writes very specific characters that end up being very universal. Everyone has felt that time of aimlessness and anger ... I want to say angerlessness. Is that a word? 

So you relate to what Elijah is going through?
Elijah is more lost than the rest of them. He adapts well and can adjust to every group, but he doesn’t know what he wants next. He just goes along with whatever anyone else is doing, which I can definitely say I’ve done on some level. When I moved to New York, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted, but it’s a tough city even if you have ambition. I definitely relate to the flail-iness of it all. New York allows you to flail for a lot longer than you could anywhere else. 

You and Lena seem pretty close, on set and off.
Yes, we are in a very certain show-business love. Even when we did our first scene together, we fell into an easy routine with each other, and it’s been like that ever since. Elijah was not supposed to be as big of a character as he is, but Lena and I just keep coming back to each other like magnets. I love working on party scenes with her, especially because a Dunham party scene feels like a party. There’s something about that many people packed in with red Solo cups, that I always end up feeling drunk by the end of it. When we filmed that Jell-O wrestling scene in Ditmas Park, which was our Iowa stand-in, I remember we were both delirious. It was freezing cold and there was steam coming off that blue slime, and Lena just jumped in. She fucking goes for it, and so I did, too. I was actually cheering in that scene; they were really wrestling. I wanted Lena to kick that girl’s ass. 

And you two went to the Golden Globes together?
Yes, she asked me to be her date, and I was so touched. The Globes was such a dream. I’d been to after-parties in the past, but I’d never actually gotten to sit in the room before. I had to check myself a few times on that red carpet. When we first arrived, my friend Matt Bomer was just getting there as well. We were messing around with Bomer, just yukking it up. I was like, We are not at a high-school play, we are at a huge fancy event. Get it together, Rannells. Be professional! 

Well, youre in the big leagues now. Didnt you just work with Nancy Meyers?
Yes, I’m going to be in her new film this year, called The Intern, and I can barely believe it. I’ve been really fortunate to get to work with a lot of great writer-directors: Trey Parker and Matt Stone on Book of Mormon, Lena, Ryan Murphy. But Nancy to me is the ultimate, and it did not disappoint. It’s like 50 Shades of Cream on that set. 

Yes, I imagine every Nancy Meyers film to be a fantasy world of cashmere and French pastry.
Yeah, the majority of the film takes place in an office that Anne Hathaway works in, so I never got to be in one of Nancy’s famous kitchen sets. But the Nancy Meyers office is one you would want to work in every day. It’s like the most perfect office you have ever seen in your life. I have the utmost respect for her. She knows what she wants and how to articulate it. It’s empowering to work with someone like that where you know that you are giving them what they need in a scene. I left that film being completely in love with her. 

Finally, what did you think of Marnies ass-play in the first episode? Were you as shocked as everyone else?
Yes! I didn’t see it filmed because we always do our sex scenes on a closed set, but Allison [Williams] texted me about it afterwards and used the term “motorboating.” And I thought, Oh, honey, you must be using that term wrong because that can’t be what he did to your ass. And then I saw that scene at the premiere, and I was not prepared. Motorboating was the exact correct term for it.