Alex Karpovsky is a busy, busy guy. He's best known for his role as Ray, the coffee-slinging man-child entangled with the naive Shoshanna on HBO's "Girls," but when he's not wearing his characters Cafe Grumpy apron, you might find Karpovsky in an editing bay, behind a camera, holed up writing, or starring in one of his own films.
Though two of these features, "Rubberneck" and "Red Flag," are both out on VOD and in limited release Friday, their openings and top billing (Karpovsky is writer, director and star of both) are about all they have in common. "Rubberneck" follows meek research scientist Paul (Karpovsky), whose infatuation with a co-worker escalates to dangerous levels, while in "Red Flag," Karpovsky plays himself as a filmmaker struggling with life and love on the road.
Karpovsky sat down in New York to chat with NextMovie ahead of the films' release to talk "GIRLS," keeping busy, and his caffeine intake habits.
So you’re not busy at all, are you?
No. So tell me a little bit about making the movies, were they back to back?
They were sort of checker-boarded. We shot "Rubberneck" first. I didn’t want to immediately edit it, I wanted to have a little break from it. "Rubberneck" was also kind of an exhausting shoot, so then I took a little break and shot "Red Flag."
A break for more work?
Well, yeah, a break from that type of work. And then instead of immediately editing "Red Flag," we started editing "Rubberneck" and then we just started checkerboarding the editing of "Rubberneck" and "Red Flag." I was editing the movie with Garth Donovan in Boston and sometimes he'd be unavailable...he’s also a filmmaker, so sometimes he’d go off and do his own projects. We were also shooting "Girls" season one at that time, so whenever there'd be breaks or downtime I would try to focus on the other movie. It's nice, because the movies are so different that you would just go into a completely different mindset when you switch gears. It helps keep things fun because things can get — you can lose perspective very easily in the editing room, obviously, and this helped nurture that.
Definitely. So what's your end game? I mean you’re on TV, you’re directing, you’re writing...what do you like doing best or do you ever want to narrow it down? Do you want to do studio movies?
I always like to say, and I think I believe this, that I like to try different things. I know as a filmmaker I tried to do a documentary, comedies, I try to do a thriller, so I’d love to maybe try and do a studio movie to see what it's like. I think it’d be an tremendous amount of pressure, but I'm sure it would be rewarding in many ways. One of my close friends is actually making a studio movie now. He’s doing a six, seven, eight million dollar movie, so I'm very interested to see how all that stuff goes. I think he’s having a lot of fun with it, for the most part. But anyway, I would love to continue to act and direct if I can, I would love to continue to direct movies that I have a lot of control over whilst acting in stuff that I have a lot of faith in — "Girls" is definitely in that camp — and also stuff that hopefully gives me a little bit of financial dependence where I could a.) live in New York, which isn't cheap...
You don't say.
...and b.) Allow me to fund my own movies, which is sort of from what I understand as kind of the John Cassavetes model. As an actor, you go in and you do your thing, you make a little bit of money and you bring it to your friends to make your own personal babies, and I kind of like that model. He viewed it very skeptically, like he'd have to bend over for "the man" to get the money. I don’t view it that way. I think I'm more fortunate in that sense because I really am proud of "Girls" and I have a lot of faith in it, and I don't feel like it's compromising any part of my spirit.
Yeah, it's not like it's championing anything terrible.
No. I don't feel like any part of me is like compromising or selling out or anything like that.
So it sounds like you keep yourself very,very busy. Are you one of those people who like, unless you have 90 things to do in a day you can’t brush your teeth?
It’s not that paralyzing, I hope.
I mean, that's an exaggeration obviously.
Yeah, I don't, like, have hobbies...I don’t know how else to fill the day. "Girls" is only half the year, now that we’re not shooting right now, how else am I going to fill the day? Take walks and watch movies? I would get very bored doing that. So I just try to nibble on things, which keeps the rat on its little treadmill.
So how many projects do you have going on right now? Are you writing again?
I'm writing a few things, I’m editing something, we have a few movies coming out, so there's different types of projects in different stages of completion. And then "Girls," we’re going back into production at the end of March and we’re doing 12 episodes, which is more than we normally do, so I’m very excited about that too.
And how do you find out about the show getting renewed? Did someone just call you? Were you excited? Did you expect it?
My manager sends me like an ecstatic e-mail with exclamation points from like Deadline.com. You know once it’s out in the world, then we can kind of —
But do you know before that?
We have — no, we don’t know — but we have sometimes some hints and whispers. But we don’t know until it's official.
It’s just fascinating to me. When you get picked up, it's like warning that you're not going to be suddenly unemployed.
I think there’s a lot of anxiety about not knowing where you’re gonna be in a month or even two months or even two weeks from now. Yeah, it's nerve wracking...you never know. But you know, we had a feeling with "Girls," only not to sound cocky, but you know we just won the Golden Globe...
Yeah what are they gonna do? Like, "See ya!"
Well, we thought we had a good chance of carrying on.
Yeah, definitely. So can you talk a little bit about the choice to write yourself into the movie and be Alex as Alex. Is movie-you the same as real-you?
I like to think it's not that similar, but I think it's sort of a caricatured version of who I really am. I think a lot of his insecurities and delusions are magnified, hopefully for comedic effect. There are people like Larry David, early Woody Allen, Steve Coogan, and Rob Brydon in this movie called "The Trip." They play kind of caricatured versions of themselves that have enough perspective hopefully to humiliate themselves in a way that's funny and that's basically what I tried to do here. I would have loved not to call the character Alex, but because we really were on a "Woodpecker" tour and I really did meet and greets and I'm really being introduced on stage as Alex Karpovsky, we couldn’t really change that without it being kind of confusing.
So those were real shots?
Those are real shots, yeah.
Oh, that's cool.
Yeah, those are real Q&As and real motels that the tour arranged for us and everything else so we really did stick to the — yeah, so it’s basically a documentary of narrative components woven together.
Yeah, so it’s like an alternate reality of what actually happened.
That’s cool. So it must be strange casting your own love interests. How do you go about that?
Well, in “Red Flag," I met [co-star]Jennifer [Prediger] at Sundance literally three weeks before — the movie kind of came together in two or three weeks. I basically was supposed to go on this tour, which I knew about for many months in advance but...you know it’s a wonderful tour, it’s a wonderful idea, you show these obscure kind of movies to a rural Southern audience that normally would not get exposed to these type of movies, so that’s great. But it’s kind of a lonely endeavor, you’re by yourself a lot and you drive long distances by yourself. A month before the tour was supposed to begin I started getting very anxious about being in a car for five or six hours. I hate driving, especially long distances, and I've crisscrossed the country many times, so the allure of the American highway has long since evaporated for me.
You're over that.
Completely done. Any Jack Kerouac spirit in has long since eradicated. So I sort of started thinking about ways we can maybe make a movie about this tour, maybe some sort of meta-comedy, a playful meta-comedy and that’s when I started thinking about a girl I could use and a guy that would be a good foil. I was at Sundance with another movie two or three weeks before I went on the tour and I just started wrapping my mind around who this person would be like, and then I met Jennifer [Prediger]. She was in Joe Swanberg’s movie "Uncle Kent," we went to a few parties together, she just had a great energy. So I cast her — I mean, I asked her if she wanted to do it and she said yes, so that was the casting process. And the same thing with [co-star]Onur [Tukel] — he was also at Sundance, at the same Sundance with "Septien," and I thought he was wonderful in that movie and just a real charismatic party guy that I thought would be wonderful to have on screen. And I said, "Can you give me two weeks next month?" And both of these people, they basically were kind enough to say yes. And that’s how it happened.
Nice, awesome. I see you at a lot of these industry things around New York, like the premieres and stuff. Are those weird? Do you get starstruck by anyone ever?
Sure, sure. All the time.
Anyone in particular?
No, I don’t think I have any stories about being specifically starstruck, but you know it's still — yeah, I can’t really think of anything but I definitely do. Like when I worked with the Coen Brothers I think I was a little bit starstruck just because they’re are kind of my idols as directors, but very quickly you have to — if you’re working with them, you have to adjust.
There’s one part of "Red Flag" where you’re on the phone and you say, "Oh are you still at Yahoo?” And it really made me laugh because I remember that people still use Yahoo. That still exists. So of the free e-mail clients: Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail?
Oh, Gmail, sure.
All the way.
But Yahoo is a great punchline, so is Hotmail.
This one's also from "Red Flag": Your character starts substituting innocent, everyday words for curse words. Namely, frittata. Do you do that in real life?
Oh, no, I don’t really have any problems swearing. I feel like I swear a lot so I don’t have any substitute curse words. But there is that theory that people — I’ve heard several times now — where people feel like you do form neurological associations between anger, stress, anxiety and swear words neurologically, so if you formed a new semantic, if you formed a new word, there’d be a new connection that would be free of these anxiety-filled associations.
On "Girls," you work in a coffee shop. What is your caffeinated beverage of choice?
I liked green tea, Japanese green tea, with a hint of Agave nectar.
Oho! A hint?
Just a whisper.
Do you carry your own agave?
Well, the really nice coffee shops have it. I don’t know if Grumpy’s has agave. If not, they damn well should.
How do you think you would fare in a zombie apocalypse? Do you have a plan?
I don’t have a plan. When is the zombie apocalypse coming, do we know?
Hopefully not soon.
Okay, I would like to have Netflix streaming in my bunker, I think that would keep me sane, and a lot of quinoa.
With your agave and green tea.
Do you Google yourself?
I do occasionally. You know I have Google alert. But, not to poo-poo Google, I’m a fan of Google -- but sometimes stuff doesn’t get attached to the Google alerts. Sometimes it doesn't find stuff, which I’ve found because people send me links and I was like, “Wait, that didn’t come in the Google alert!" So because of that I do occasionally Google myself.
What's the craziest thing you’ve read about yourself on the internet? Any outrageous lies or rumors?
No, there’s lots of mistakes, little mistakes that are annoying but they’re not outrageous, they’re just a little bit frustrating. Reporters, I feel like they don’t spend more than eight seconds to research something which is sometimes annoying, but no blatant lies or anything like that.
And how about your Oscar picks?
Oh, I'm so out of the loop I don’t even know who's — what are two or three movies that are nominated? "Zero Dark Thirty"?
There are nine this year.
I haven’t see any of those movies. I don’t know... I liked “The Master” a lot. And I liked "Django" a lot. I liked "Django," I’ll go with "Django."
And we ask everyone this one: What would your porn name be?
Jesus. Isn’t there a formula for this?
Yeah, your first pet’s name and the street you grew up on.
In which order, first pet's name first?
Uhh, Piccolo Drumland.
Sounds like a Mediterranean lover.