The impulse to creativity, the need for a day job, the struggle to find your “voice,” and the notion that when found, that voice might catapult you above the rest — these are concepts that shape the landscape of the HBO smash Girls, the 2013 Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy. Watching, it’s easy to forget that what you see is actually a scripted television series, rather than an accurate scene-by-scene depiction of what life likely still is for creator Lena Dunham, living among her hip set of artistically inclined, Brooklyn-dwelling partners in self-discovery.
Amid this set is the character Ray Ploshansky, an Average Joe as far as Bushwick goes. He works at a coffee shop, seems vaguely dissatisfied with his life, and has a degree of intangible artistic ambition. He was briefly seen in one episode playing a gig with his amateur band. And what do you know, true to the show’s art mimicking life/ life mimicking art nature, Ray Ploshansky is played by Alex Karpovksy, himself a Brooklyn-dwelling indie film director. In a phone interview, Karpovsky says that though “It’s high octane fun working on Girls,” he wouldn’t feel satisfied solely working to fulfill someone else’s vision. As an actor-director, he gets the best of both worlds.
Karpovsky became involved with filmmaking through an editing job and has been making a name for himself on the scene since. As an actor, he has had roles in indie films including Lena Dunham’s debut feature Tiny Furniture, Sleepwalk With Me and Supporting Characters, and will next star in The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. As a director, he has completed five films since 2005, when he helmed and starred in festival hit The Hole Story. Most recently, he directed and starred in Red Flag and Rubberneck, both of which worked the festival circuit last year and can currently be seen on On Demand and in a New York City cinema as a double feature.
But don’t let the double bill fool you — these are two very different films. Red Flag follows the travels of a suspiciously familiar young filmmaker named Alex. After being dumped, the dejected Alex traverses the South promoting his film and gets caught up in an awkward love triangle between himself, his road trip companion, and an overly adoring fan. It’s an admirable comedic work in the blurred reality genre. Karpovsky says, “Basically, I just really like it when people can heighten their own fears and insecurities and neuroses and their delusions for comedic effect. It makes me laugh. And that’s what I tried to emulate.” The shrewd self-observer cites Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, various Woody Allen films and Louis C.K’s Louie as examples of the style that he strived for. Based on the largely warm reception thus far, it seems that his version has struck a chord with reviewers.
Karpovsky changes his tone in Rubberneck, a psychological thriller about a lab scientist played by himself who is pushed to his emotional limits when his beautiful co-worker casually ignores him after a weekend fling. For this one, influences included Fatal Attraction, Michael Haneke’s Caché, and Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble. Of the gripping genre, Karpovsky notes, “They’re so hard to pull off. There are so few that most people can rattle off as really great, taut psychological thrillers. It’s just a challenge to try to do one.” Nonetheless, Karpovsky considers it to be his favorite genre as a viewer.
Though in some ways Red Flag and Rubberneck are from different worlds, there are striking similarities between the two characters Karpovsky plays. Both are deeply depressed, anxious about their failings, and neurotic when it comes to women. “I am always drawn to stories of obsession, of loneliness, of misanthropic perversions. They turn me on. They get my creative juices going. And I’m not surprised that there is some similarity as such between the two films,” he ponders.
But the aspiring auteur is not averse to change, and looks forward to exploring new genres in his future work. “I definitely like trying new things,” he says, “I would like to try pretty much anything. The only movies that have no appeal for me are action films, which I rarely watch, and superhero and fantasy stuff I don’t like. Most sci-fi I don’t like, although I do kind of like cerebral sci-fi, if that’s a genre. I like movies like Inception and The Fountain by Aronofsky. Anything else I would love to try, for sure.”
Audiences will have to stay tuned to see where Karpovsky’s burgeoning career takes him, as his on-screen and real-life identities doubtlessly converge, diverge, and exchange knowing glances of recognition along the way.