"I'm a total feminist": 'Girls' star Allison Williams talks misogyny, self-acceptance and the gender pay gap

‘Girls’ may be coming to an end, but Allison Williams has only just started out [Photo: Getty]

Vibrant, articulate and incredibly intelligent, Allison Williams doesn’t disappoint. The 28-year-old actress, who rose to fame portraying Marnie Michaels in Lena Dunham’s witty comedy series ‘Girls’, is Yale-educated and the daughter of NBC news anchor Brian Williams and TV producer Jane Stoddard. But she’s miles from the character that’s made her career.

Allison’s close to her family, happily married to internet entrepreneur Ricky Van Veen, co-founder of comedy website/brand CollegeHumor, and a self-confessed ‘dogmother’ that clearly dotes on her pooch, Moxie.

She’s also a self-proclaimed feminist and just one of the many celebrities fighting for equality for women. So what’s it like acting alongside such strong women and working in an industry which is still so male dominated? We caught up with the actress as her sixth and final series of ‘Girls’ got underway.

Allison and her ‘Girls’ co-stars [Photo: Getty]

I always knew I wanted to act. But my parents didn’t want me to do it professionally until I’d gone to college. They knew that I would benefit from four years of intellectual incubation and mental stimulation and life, before being thrown into this very weird world.

Behind most actors are many, many people who helped pave the way. I’ve had so many angels on my shoulder throughout my life so far. Rita Wilson (Tom Hanks’ wife who plays Allison’s mother in ‘Girls’) gave me incredible advice at the beginning of my career, to celebrate victories as they come rather than waiting for the final answer on something. And working as a production assistant on Robert Altman’s last film meant I got to soak up some Meryl Streep genius.

Being cast as Marnie was a complete shock. My stomach dropped out of my butt when I turned up to the audition looking completely different to all of the other women auditioning. I saw Marnie in a way that was so different to everyone else – ultimately I guess that’s why I was cast.

What I associate with ‘Girls’ is a radical self-acceptance.  I don’t feel a pressure to look a certain way. I have a very standard look; I don’t have any tattoos and getting a second piercing was the most controversial thing I’ve ever done. I have long, brown hair like I’ve always done [although the actress has recently updated her look and gone blonde for the first time]. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been tempted. Tempted to give myself a little more alt like the rest of the girls on the show.

I don’t know how much I weigh, I don’t do any cardio. I do pilates because I like to be strong, but I don’t agonise over calories. I’ve been very lucky with my metabolism.

Allison Williams’ new look is a lot more edgy [Photo: Getty]

I’m a total feminist. I had to do research into the negative connotations around the term ‘feminist’, because I grew up in a house where it’s very simple: being a feminist is someone that sees no difference in how men and women should be treated by the world. And thus, I had to reverse learn what the uglier interpretations of the term meant.

It’s very obvious for me: I see no difference in the way I should be seen as a professional women than the boys in our show should be treated as professional men. Anyone who is different about that execution won’t work with me for very long. But I’ve encountered very little of it personally, but that could be because people know that I’m not going to stand for it. I’m in a really luxurious position where I can choose who to – or not to – work with based on the way I feel that they respect or don’t respect me.

The fact that women don’t get paid as much as men still is crazy. I don’t get it. It’s ice cold and shocking to encounter misogyny when it comes up – and it often does, especially in my field of work. And it’s just kind of like, ‘Ew, really? That’s so old. Just give it up, it’s so antiquated.’

I hope I’ve lived through all of Marnie’s mistakes with her. I’ve grown and developed with her – and that’s what I’ll take away from this role. But despite the success of the show, I think in a lot of ways I am who I’ve always been. I’ve always wanted to be an actor – so no one I know thinks I’m any different now than I was when I was before ‘Girls’.

‘Girls’ season six is available to watch now on Now TV and Sky Atlantic. 

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