Sex Advice From Alex Karpovsky

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The Girls star on the mysterious appeal of dickishness.

Writer and filmmaker Alex Karpovsky plays irascible Ray Ploshansky on HBO's Girls, which returns for its second season this Sunday.

Why is Ray so cranky?
A lot of Season Two explores this very question. A lot of the underpinnings of his personality are really probed. I want the audience to get the meat of the reasons by watching the show, but I can say that he's been living in a place that's more theoretical and less empirical for a long time, and I think if you spend too much time in an ivory tower you can start getting all forms of rashes and bacteria [laughs]. I think he's got a few of those on his soul, and they definitely are points from which anger and contempt spew. But a lot of his wit and convictions and worldview are also coming from out of that place, and I think those are… well, I'm not going to say what I think about them.

One of the running themes of this show is that the girls are generally helplessly attracted to dickishness. What's up with that?
Not to get on an academic chair about this sort of stuff, but I do feel like a lot of what women find attractive in men, to make a vast generalization, is cyclical. Right now, maybe it's receding, but I think very recently we were in a stage where the aesthetic of dickishness in men was more widely embraced. Dickishness was more tolerated, if not coveted. And the reason for that may be that before that, there was just too much cuddliness, too much sharing, too much empathy, to the point that girls maybe started to feel like there wasn't enough of a difference between them and men — there wasn't enough exoticism underlying their relationship and highlighting their differences. When that hits a tipping point, we start reverting to the opposite extreme. And in this case, that extreme is complete dickishness. Gender differences get accentuated for a few years, and then girls get sick of it. I wouldn't be surprised if in five or six years, they're back to the cuddly man who's making cups of tea all day long.

You see what the show's doing with it as a reflection of trends in the world?
I do. One of the reasons I feel really proud of the show is its authenticity. Though we stylize things for effect sometimes, I think for the most part the characters are grounded in something that's pretty natural and authentic.

People associate this show with an irony-heavy generation; my impression is that the characters are trying to be genuine as often as possible.
I agree with you — I don't think the show is striving to reverberate ironically, for the most part.

What's the best way to seduce Alex Karpovsky?
If I knew it, I'd never leave my apartment. But I can rattle off a few characteristics that I like in women. Along the lines of what we were just talking about: authenticity is probably front and center. Sense of humor. Self-deprecation/humility. You have to be smart, but that goes hand in hand with being funny usually. If you have all those things, it's just a matter of not fucking up: not insulting me by accident, or stepping on my family history. As I get older — I'm in my thirties now — I've tried to get much more forgiving about a lot of this stuff. I guess everyone does as they get older: just much more flexible and accomodating. Whereas in my twenties, I was much more rigid and much more tightly tethered to this notion of perfection.

Forgive me, but… what's the best reason to seduce Alex Karpovsky?
[laughs] Wow. Stopped me there. I don't know. Just opening a world of hurt.

At the end of Season One, Ray falls hard for Shoshanna. Which of the four leads would you yourself be most likely to fall for?
Oh, my word. We don't really hang out that much. A lot of the people on the show are real actors, and I just don't come from that place. I know Lena really well, but she's the only person I really know.

But what about the characters?
Shoshanna. There's something just so raw and sincere and pure about her that to me is really attractive. But one thing that Season Two explores is that there's a fine line between sincerity and naivete, and knowing the difference between the two things is a line that Ray walks for most of the season.

You recently told an interviewer, "I feel like I've let girls get away or let girls go or sabotaged early stages of relationships because I've been scared that this girl is so cool, that she's so 'above' me, in a position to dump me." What advice would you give a friend who confessed that same problem to you?
Get over it! I just… I don't know how to get over it, and it's a terrible mistake to keep making. One thing I did in my twenties was verbalize some of this stuff to the girl, in my oversharing phases, and I would definitely suggest against doing that. Going back to something we said earlier, a lot of girls don't want to hear that. Especially in the early stages of relationships, I think they want a little bit of the dickishness, or at least a person who more closely guards thoughts and emotions that are still forming. If you don't know what you feel, chances are that a girl who you don't know very well isn't going to help you very much. So stop sharing. That's a mistake that I've made recently that I hope to learn from. But it's also very easy to forget things that are unpleasant. It's hard to learn from mistakes, especially if they're buried kind of deeply in your past. So hearing this stuff is nice [laughs] because it kind of brings attention to change back to the forefront.