Allison Williams is not a spoiled, self-centered 20-something forever flailing through bad relationships—she just plays one on TV. The truth is, she’s funny, smart and incredibly genuine.
Unlike Marnie, the snarky, entitled millennial with a penchant for eye rolling, who she’s played for five seasons on the zeitgeist-capturing HBO series Girls, Allison Williams, 27, is personable and charming. “People assume they’re going to hate me when they meet me, and I’m delighted to report that they don’t all hate me,” she says with a self-deprecating smile and gentle laugh. “Marnie’s cold, so they assume I’m going to judge them or talk sh*t about them.”
On the contrary, the New Canaan, Conn.-bred, Yale-educated daughter of newscaster Brian Williams is quick-witted, thoughtful, easy-going, gracious and kind. She’s a fixture on the red carpet, where she radiates in head-turners from the likes of Ralph Lauren, Dior, Chanel, Oscar de la Renta and Joseph Altuzarra (whose sheer dress she rocked as his date to the 2013 Met Gala). But when we meet at Fika, a coffee spot a few blocks from Williams’ Manhattan apartment, she’s dressed down in Pilates-ready athleticwear from Outdoor Voices, Lululemon and online retailer Carbon38, and a sweater from technical cashmere company Kit and Ace. “I am the paragon of high fashion today,” she jokes between sips of a double espresso with almond milk. “I’m wearing cartoonishly large black UGG boots, which I was recently paparazzi’ed in while taking my dog, Moxie, out first thing in the morning. That should be illegal. I was wearing pajama pants and [was] just so tired.”
Paparazzi aside, Williams is not bothered by Girls viewers who call out “Hey, Marnie!” to her on the streets. “Our fans feel like they’re friends with us, and they see us around the city and it feels very normal,” she reasons. “Because the character lives here, it’s very believable that you’d run into her.” More often than not, it takes a second for people to realize it’s the actress, not the character, they’re bumping into. When they do, she can see the flush of embarrassment wash over their faces. But, hey, she can so relate. “I’m like, ‘No, no, no! I did that to Andi [Dorfman], the Bachelorette, once.’ She was walking down the sidewalk and I was almost like ‘Oh, hi.’ Only The Bachelor and The Bachelorette can bring that out in me,” she admits.
Williams’ own proverbial red rose came from longtime boyfriend Ricky Van Veen, the CollegeHumor co-founder. Last September, wearing a couture Oscar de la Renta bridal gown, she walked down the aisle on her father’s arm in a private ceremony officiated by Tom Hanks, a family friend, at Brush Creek Ranch in Saratoga, Wyo. Five months earlier, in April 2015, she had a trial run filming Marnie’s nuptials for the fifth season opener of Girls, which just aired, and Williams was nothing like the bridezilla she plays on the show on her own wedding day. “I was not at all Marnie about it,” the actress says. In other words, there were no hilarious spats with the hair and makeup artist, no manic-depressive mood swings, no passive-aggressive digs at her friends and no sarcastic barbs. For her off-camera nuptials, Williams hired event planner Bryan Rafanelli. “Look no further than the White House! He killed it for Christmas,” she says. With everything under Rafanelli’s control, “I remember every second of it, which everyone told me I wasn’t going to be able to do.” It was a low-key affair with wild flowers from the fields, Indian paintbrush, baby’s breath and lavender. “It was really beautiful, nice and private, and profoundly moving,” Williams recalls.
One thing both her TV and real-life weddings had in common: The guest list was populated by the tight-knit cast of Girls, including series creator and star Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke and Zosia Mamet, along with Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, who plays Marnie’s mother on the show. (Also in attendance on the real big day were Katy Perry, Seth Meyers, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg.) “It truly feels like we all exist on this parallel track where we have our friendships in real life and the alternate universe where none of that even remotely resembles the other one,” she says, referring to her beloved co-stars. “We exist and support each other in both planes, which is really cool. We feel so comfortable every day going to work—and we’re not doing the most comfortable things all of the time,” she continues.
Indeed, Williams’ character has been put in some seriously compromising positions, to say the least. The prime example, of course, is the time Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who plays her moody onscreen boyfriend, Desi, “went where few have gone on television,” she says, exercising discretion in describing the intimate act portrayed. Soon after her wedding, Williams recalls turning on the Emmys to see “Andy Samberg in the process of mimicking that scene. I was like, ‘That is so weird!’” Still, she’s “very proud” of that scene; its graphic content was meant to deliver the full picture of the characters’ emotional lives. “You have to see what they are like at their most vulnerable, and that moment communicated so much about what state Marnie was in at the beginning of last season. She’s unrecognizable from the person that doesn’t want to have sex facing Charlie in the second episode of the first season,” she explains.
This season, her character has a lot of prime screen time and, rest assured, the dramatic challenges are far from over. “Allison only grows as an actor, so it felt right we give her a really epic and challenging moment to play,” says Dunham of an episode that will air this month entirely devoted to Williams’ character. While details are still under wraps, Dunham says Williams pulled off the episode “with so much grace and soul, and is the hardest worker I know. The results speak for themselves.”
Recent news that the series will end after the sixth season was not a shock, but Williams is still processing the information and what it means to her personally and professionally. “I’ve been really trying to wrap my head around not going to work with them again. I talked with Lena, and she said, ‘I don’t want this to end either, but it’s just the right time for it to end,’ and I respect that,” she says. “It’s been a real privilege to have been on a show about girls in their 20s that was becoming, I hope, iconic, when I was in my 20s. It’s very neat and tidy in that way.”
Over the course of the show, Williams has gone from a young girl just out of college to a grown woman. She has settled down, gotten married, adopted a puppy (“I love my current child—my dog, which we adopted from the North Shore Animal League on Long Island”) and is looking forward to the two-legged variety down the line. “I’d like to have two. Ricky and I each have one sibling, so it’s kind of what we know,” she says.
Williams is now gearing up for her first film role. She’ll star in Get Out, the directorial debut of Jordan Peele (of Key and Peele fame); it’s a horror flick she describes as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets Rosemary’s Baby. “As it’s my first movie ever, I’m very interested to see what that is like: How do I convey who someone is in three scenes so the viewer understands her right away? On Girls, I’ve had five years to leisurely explore who somebody is,” she says. “But I’m psyched! I’m going to drive down to Alabama with the boy and the dog. We love road trips. It’ll be such an adventure.”
At home in New York City, the couple likes to host dinners at their Chelsea apartment and go for nights out with friends at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen (the kabocha squash toast and the carrot and avocado salad are favorites) and The Polo Bar (“I always get the corned beef and the Brussels sprouts”). Ricky is “an incredibly intelligent, wonderful person,” she says. “I’ve found someone that if you picture a two-piece puzzle, it’s like the negative space that we each offer.”
Their skintight relationship is the polar opposite of Marnie’s and Desi’s dysfunctional one. Those two characters, she says, are “both such lost people that they’re clinging to everything and just trying on personalities every day.” Ultimately, the message of Girls is that “in life, we are just in the permanent stasis of thinking that you’re about to get it together,” Williams says. “Maturity is being comfortable with the idea that that’s not going to happen—that you’re never going to have it together.” Wise words from an accomplished woman who, nevertheless, clearly has it together.
Hair by Rebekah Forecast with The Wall Group
Makeup by Gianpaolo Ceciliato using Diorshow at Jed Root
Manicurist: Michelle Matthews using Dior Capture Totale
Styling Assistant: Kevin Ericson | Photo Assistants: David Morrett and Danny Weiss | Digital Tech: Dan Atteo