the parallel lives of zosia mamet
As Girls comes to a close and Zosia Mamet prepares to play the ultimate New Yorker Patti Smith in the new Mapplethorpe biopic, we meet the actress to discuss the intersection between Horses and Hollywood.
Zosia wears Top Moschino. Trousers Vetements.
"No one expected me. Everything awaited me." So wrote Patti Smith in Just Kids, about the minor miracle of moving to New York and becoming oneself in the city. The magic of that book is that Smith was talking about herself, but she could have been talking about anyone who's ever left home and made the leap to live authentically. She definitely could have been talking about Zosia Mamet, an actress on the cusp, now more than ever.
Zosia has never met Patti Smith, but she's watched endless videos of her, listened to all her music, and read her books. Typical prep for portraying an icon, as she will in Ondi Timoner's upcoming biopic Robert Mapplethorpe. When Zosia talks about the poet/rocker laureate of the Rockaways, she sits forward and speaks faster. Not as fast as Shoshanna Shapiro, the Girls character that she will be closely connected with for a while longer (Lena Dunham's HBO show is shooting its last season now). But fast.
"The thing that I found most present was this childlike wonder that she has," says Zosia. "There's a deep intrinsic curiosity and an excitement about the world. I think that's what helped her create what she did. Also there's this openness, which I think explains why she was so easily hurt by so many things."
As Zosia (pronounced like Sasha with a "z") speaks, she motions with her hands, unthinkingly flashing a large heart tattoo on her palm. "It hurt," she says, "but... I really liked the idea that every time I shook someone's hand, that inevitably was going to be present." So Zosia playing an ultra-open, sensitive artist with a deep sense of childlike wonder is not such a stretch. Her favorite words are "amazing" and "human being," often used one right after the other.
We're at an unassuming Upper West Side diner where a couple might break up in a Woody Allen film. Zosia is a regular, and she brings her own almond milk. It's a nice place, but not overly nice. Just like the Pleasantville, New York place the actress has just bought with her boyfriend, actor Evan Jonigkeit. "I'm not a big fan of those places that feel like I could lick the ground," she says. Upstate, she rides horses, and is plotting goats and chickens too. Zosia grew up riding horses in Malibu, near where she lived with her mom. For her, it's a release from acting but also a Zen meditation on control. "A horse is going to do what it's going to do, and if you're not a good rider or a committed rider, you're not going to get the result that you want," she says. "Especially working in this industry, where so much is about the game you talk, the money you have, it's like, you're going to get the horse over the jump or you're not. There's no reasoning or manipulating you can do to change that."
You have to be present and you have to prepare. Lessons Zosia vigilantly applies to her work. When I ask if she auditioned to play Patti, Zosia nods vigorously. "I fought tooth and nail for that role," she says. "I shed blood, sweat, and tears." Thus the videos and the books. "I always do my homework," she continues. "My criteria for jobs is that I always want to do something that I feel like I've never done before. I like when I read a part and I'm a little bit scared of it. I feel like that energy, intrinsically, is going to force me to grow as an actor."
Pre-Girls, Zosia was auditioning endlessly in LA and not getting far. As the daughter of playwright David Mamet and actress Lindsay Crouse, she knew the business, and she knew that she wanted to be part of it. But Hollywood didn't warm to her quickly. "I was pretty lonely and this industry didn't really welcome me with open arms," she confesses. "So I dealt with a lot of harsh rejection."
During that time she was spending most of her free time reading or watching old films at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. She'd always found solace in books and movies: "I'm very grateful to my dad for giving me a great literature, art, and film education. I would come home to a book on my bed, and a list of books and movies in the book on my bed." Suffice it to say that she was probably the only young starlet-to-be reading Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage at casting calls. She also loves Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, and Agatha Christie. Right now she's reading Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography, tucked into her purse next to her almond milk. Next on her list is War and Peace.
The first one to really get Zosia was Lena Dunham, who cast her in 2012 for the show that would make all four of the girls in Girls not exactly household names, but certainly cultural figures. She grew up on Girls, going from her slightly lost early twenties to her slightly less lost late twenties. "It's been a gift to be able to mimic that time period with a very different human being than myself," she says. "We've been living these parallel lives." As Shoshanna went from college student to millennial jobhunter to Japanese branding creative, Zosia went from an unknown with a famous last name to a serious young star.
She's now the kind of actor who can hold her own alongside Ellen Burstyn, who plays her grandmother in Todd Solondz's sort-of sequel to Welcome to the Dollhouse, Wienerdog. And in an industry with a dire lack of female directors, she's had the unusual experience of working with a bigger proportion of women: Dunham, as well as Jill Soloway and Diablo Cody (United States of Tara), Sophie Brooks (The Boy Downstairs), Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids are All Right). "I've been in this sort of epic, female, creative level for the majority of my career which is really special," she explains. "I've gotten to work with some amazing female artists."
She's fast becoming one herself: Zosia and Evan have formed a production company, which has features, television shows, and shorts in the works. Their short Mildred and the Dying Parlor screened at Tribeca Film Festival this year. She writes, too: plays, think pieces for magazines, hopefully a book someday.
At the moment, Zosia is living a true love affair with New York City, which she calls "my soul's home." Her favorite thing is watching people on the subway. She's curious, like Patti. "I saw a woman grading papers the other day, and I wanted to ask her what her system is," she says. "She was doing it so fast, in this weird shorthand. I was so fascinated. I rode with her for like ten stops and I was like, 'What kind of alien person are you? This is so cool!' In no other city would you get to see that." And that teacher went home and told her kids that the actor Zosia Mamet wouldn't stop staring at her on the A train.
Text Rory Satran
Photography Brianna Capozzi
Styling Delphine Danhier
Hair and make-up Ingeborg using Tata Harper Skincare and John Masters Organics. Set design Whitney Hellesen at Frank Reps. Photography assistance Guario Rodriguez, Zhi Wei. Styling assistance Cathleen Peters. Production Anne Ryan.