Spoiler alert: please be aware that this story contains information about Williams’ character in Get Out.
Allison Williams has made a name for herself playing a certain type of white woman: upper middle-class, theoretically liberal, and lying somewhere on the scale between ‘awful’ and ‘monstrous’. Her breakout role in Girls, Marnie Michaels, was frequently the most excruciatingly un-self-aware woman in a TV show about women notably lacking in genuine self-awareness – but her latest character heightens this unpleasantness to new extremes.
In new horror film Get Out, Williams plays Rose, the wealthy white girlfriend of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American man. We don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen the film yet, so let’s just say that Rose turns out to be, well… not a very good person.
Williams is sharply aware of the complex racial politics surrounding both Get Out and Girls, which faced harsh criticism in its first season for the overwhelming whiteness of its cast and plotlines. Now, the Stylist cover star says that understands why Get Out director Jordan Peele chose her to play Rose.
“I felt like he was looking to cast me as a representative of [someone] who is perhaps the whitest girl imaginable,” Williams tells the Washington Post. She adds: “I felt like I kind of had a job to do.”
“I was very happy to make sure that I deployed all of that whiteness that I’ve had my whole life to this character to make sure that she was full around the edges with everything that she needed to be,” Williams continues, “[such as] white privilege and all of the issues that are dealt with in this movie.”
In one of Get Out’s many striking scenes, Rose strikes up an argument with a police officer who has pulled over her and her boyfriend while they drive to her parents’ house. Although it’s Rose who is driving the car, not Chris, the policeman still asks to see his license. It’s a tense moment that instantly calls to mind the many African-American men and women – including Philando Castile and Sandra Bland – who have been shot by US police after supposedly routine traffic stops.
Williams highlights this scene as epitomising the issue of white privilege. Rose, she says, is a “a white girl arguing with a police officer, feeling that entitlement without thinking that it might be dangerous to whoever she’s with or that [arguing with a police officer] is an unthinkable activity for a lot of our population”.
Playing a character who turns out to be shockingly ‘evil’ was “absolutely fascinating”, says Williams. She reveals that she delved into grisly real-life stories of violence to try and wrap her head around Rose’s appalling behaviour.
“I listened to true crime podcasts to desensitize myself to the idea, to remove my shock – my very privileged Connecticut shock – that someone could be like this,” she says.
She adds that she tried to examine Rose’s character “kind of matter-of-factly, so that I could get in her mind a little bit easier without judging her.”
Ultimately, however, Williams says that “it is very hard not to judge her”.
While Marnie Michaels might not be as all-out psychotic as Rose, Williams says her Girls character was similarly difficult to inhabit.
“Of course, Marnie is insufferable to almost anyone who watches her,” she says, adding: “It has been hard to play someone that I don’t agree with a lot of the time.”
However, Williams says she “[likes] the challenge” of tackling unpleasant characters. “I predict that that will be the majority of the characters I play, because I don’t find it super interesting to play someone that I totally get and is morally upstanding all of the time.”
She also skewers the widespread obsession with female characters being ‘likeable’. “Our goal [in Girls] wasn’t even to make the characters likeable… With the criticism that they’re privileged, I thought well, yes, that’s exactly the point we’re making.”
Images: Rex Features