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Spin Crush: Zosia Mamet in ‘Girls’ and ‘Mad Men’

Zosia Mamet / Photo Courtesy HBO

What is David Mamet’s most interesting creation?

An argument could be made for Alec Baldwin’s surgical strike appearance in Glengarry Glen Ross, the sort of tour de force that undergrads and the nebbishes they become have been quoting ever since: “Third prize is you’re fired.”

Then there’s the screenplay for The Verdict, an amazing piece which nobody ever remembers, because it wasn’t directed by him but rather Sidney Lumet, and it starred silver fox-era Paul Newman in one of his grittiest performances.

Or is it simply “Mamet speak” itself, a poetic vulgarity with a rhythm frequently ripped off by TV shows (hey there, Aaron Sorkin) and comic books (what up, Brian Bendis?).

I submit that Zosia, his daughter with actress and ex-wife Lindsay Crouse, should be somewhere on list. If I look up “catbird seat” on Google, I really hope I see a gif of young Zosia, all of 24, waving. It’s tough to think of another actress who has ever been on two water cooler series at the same time (Alison Brie?). Still more striking: The characters could not be more different. One is experienced, one is pure innocence. She’s not being cast to type, she’s on some Robert Duvall shit, vanishing into diverse roles the way Duvall went from Boo Radley to Tom Hagen. The fact that her comic timing can match her dad’s flair for swearing is pure icing.

Zosia kicked around TV shows (United States of Tara, Parenthood) and in indie flicks (Cherry, where she can be seen in the trailer’s final shot with, um, a very natural look). But we first got a proper look at her as Joyce Ramsay, the assistant photo editor who befriends (hits on?) Peggy in Mad Men. Joyce is confident, professional and forward, which translates as “so damn self-amused” to her friend Abe, who eventually dates Peggy. She is fond of sports jackets and slacks in neutral tones, and she rocks a mustard blouse better than anyone in Midtown. She is also a lesbian and has more than a passing familiarity with underground culture, which makes her downright mind-blowing to Peggy. Joyce is who Peggy wants to be: Self-confident, hip, aware of who she is and what she is interested in. She cannot be much older than Peggy, but she certainly seems wiser, and Zosia plays her with a cool reserve that almost translates as stiff the first few times we see her. (Given who her father is, she was probably mannered in the womb.)

But there is a caution to her performance that seems savvy — it is only the mid-’60s. How out can she be? How visible? Her “men are vegetable soup” speech seems both words that Peggy needs to hear and a neat take on the snails versus oysters speech from Spartacus.

The stiffness thing is an act, clearly, as Girls‘ Shoshanna Shapiro couldn’t be less like Joyce. Some devout Mad Men fans claim they didn’t recognize Mamet as Shoshanna, and I buy it — the personality transformation is total. (For more coverage of Spin’s love of Girls, click here.)

The virginal Shoshanna, youngest of the four central characters, is the sort that openly adores Sex and the City, bring snacks to an abortion and thinks getting an STD test is fun because it means that you’ve had sex. Check out her timing in an
upcoming episode when she says that her smallest emotional baggage is “her IBS” and her second biggest is “that I don’t love my grandmother at all.” Lena Dunham’s Hannah asks, “Really?” And Shoshanna’s shake of her head falls somewhere between matter-of-fact and dead-earnest. It’s a throwaway moment, but it’s a scream.

At first, it’s a little unclear as to why she is friends with the others. Are Hannah and her pals using Shoshanna for her worldly English cousin Jessa (Jemima Kirke)? But no, Shapiro is that rarest of people: She seems almost entirely without guile. Mamet plays her with a rubbery, naive enthusiasm that scans as soul. These more sophisticated girls hang out with Shoshanna because they really like her.

And if they met? Joyce would probably roll her eyes and mumble something about kids today before hitting on a pantyhose model. Shoshanna would be openly excited to befriend a real, live lesbian. The fact that Zosia understands both women must make her parents proud.