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Girls’ Alex Karpovsky on Filming in Wet Clothes, His Love Story With Marnie, and Why Ray Needs to Get on Tinder

Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Cold feet at a wedding are always difficult to deal with, but on the fifth-season premiere of Girls, it was especially hard for Ray (Alex Karpovsky), who had to dive fully clothed into a lake to convince his romantic rival to marry Marnie (Allison Williams), the girl he’s still in love with. To make matters worse, the lake was slimy and stinky, and Karpovsky had to spend hours in his soggy clothing during filming. He talked to Vulture about filming the scene and how his character, the oldest of the show’s ensemble, has changed over the course of the last five seasons. Plus, what it was like playing a cop on Law & Order: SVU. Now he’s been on two of New York’s most iconic shows.

How gross was it swimming in a lake in your entire suit?
[Laughs.] It wasn’t that gross. It was a little bit refreshing because it was one of those 95-degree days. We shot the wedding stuff in two sections, the first in late April, and it was too cold to swim. So they brought us back in in August to swim.

So the water was nice and warm?
The water was nice and warm. The thing is there was a real smell to it. They told us they did tests, and I’m sure they did, but they didn’t present vials to me, or anything. I’m a bad swimmer. When you see me in the water, I look like a Jewish kid plucked out of the city. And I take in a lot of water when I tread, which is a sign of inability to swim. I knew the water smelled, and I knew it was going to go into my body, so I knew it couldn’t be good. But it wasn’t that gross, and I don’t think I got sick. It was just a lot of panic.

How long did it take your suit to dry? In the episode, he goes from swimming in the lake to being in the wedding.
He just sort of walks to the ceremony. He’s wet.

Is he?
I believe he is wet. I know we talked about it being wet, maybe it didn’t read on-camera. That’s the sacrifice he makes, to be wet for the rest of the day. That’s how deep his feelings are.

We’re five seasons in on Girls. How has Ray changed over the course of those seasons?
In some ways he hasn’t changed, and in some ways he has. His ambition was quite amorphous at the beginning of the story. He was existentially adrift and disoriented. He still has those elements, but his goals and his ambitions have congealed somewhat. In politics, especially, he has a nice way to funnel his anger and his ideas about the city, and whatever charm and charisma he might have, which is limited, he might use as a benefit in the political context.

With the ladies and his personal life, I think it’s one step forward, two steps back. There was a nice moment of his life with Shoshanna, but it didn’t pan out. There’s a chapter of his life with Marnie that’s still playing out that may or may not work out, but I think his default is that he’s a lone wolf: There will be moments when beautiful flowers blossom in my life, but the default is always going back to that lone wolf. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

We see him putting a lot of focus into his business this season. Is he bringing the same anger and conviction to this that he does to his politics?
Yes. Another big change is that he has his own business now. The anger we saw in the political realm manifests in the business world when we see his competitor across the street sort of infringe on his business. You see Ray’s fangs come out again. Initially, he’s kind of reserved, but he gets fired up about the trendy charlatans across the street. That becomes another forum for him to rage out.

Girls’ sixth season will be its last. What would you like to see for Ray by the end?
This is sort of a cop-out answer, but I’m not in the writers room on this show. They guide his arcs through the season, and I try to interpret them and find ways to guide them in my mind and make sense of them, and [think], how do we pepper the early signs of this arc in the beginning? I’m a believer of finding the ends of things in the beginning. They sit me down and say, “Look, this is where we’re thinking of going. It may change, but this where we think it’s going. That’s very helpful for me because then I can sort of construct the subtle foundation for it.

I really like this political side that we’ve introduced to the character. I would like to see him get fired up and start climbing the ranks. Sort of like Howard Dean, who started as like a doctor in Vermont who wanted to fix his bike path and found out he was good at it. I think that path would be fun.

I’m rooting for him in his personal life. I hope he finds a lady that is good for him, that he’s challenged by and intimidated by and allows him to really have a sense of growth, and maybe a paradigm shift in the way he sees himself. Maybe a lady who shows him he is a good guy and he is a smart guy and he does have a pretty upright sense of morality. It would be nice for him to have a good mirror. And I would like him to keep this friendship he has with the girls and other people on the show. This guy is really temperamental, and he can be nasty, and he likes to hold his grudges. So I hope he evolves from that to a certain degree.

Should he date outside of the friend circle for once?
Give it a go just to say that you did it, or else you’ll have regret your whole life. Get on Tinder, Ray.

I noticed you on Law & Order: SVU in 2012 and 2015. How is it to be a semi-recurring character on such a landmark show?
It’s fun. It’s fun to play a character who is so different from the character I normally play, and then take a two- or three-year hiatus and play with the idea of, what has this guy been doing for three years? It’s like you’re cryogenically frozen, and now you have to go back in there and think about it. Most of the regular cast members are the same. Regular viewers have been through so much with them, they’re probably not thinking about this random cop with Asperger’s whose case bubbles to the surface again.

Law & Order is a real institution. So many countless great actors have been through there. Adam Driver was on there more than once, too.

Was it different filming that than Girls?
It was very different in that show has been on for more than 15 years, and that’s a spinoff. It’s such a well-oiled machine, and you can feel that the moment you walk on set. It’s a nice feeling. If you walk on our set [on Girls], you would think we just started a month ago. There’s a lot of exploration and zaniness and improvisation, and that is not what happens on Law & Order.

Girls’ Alex Karpovsky on Ray and Marnie