The Perfection star on normalizing on-screen queerness, allyship and her new Sapphic thriller
For Netflix’s horrifically relevant The Perfection, Allison Williams has been encountering the same challenge she did after playing the Crazy White Girl in writer-director Jordan Peele’s Get Out: talking about it.
Little should be revealed about the twisty, Sapphic thriller, its cryptic trailer a feverish, blood-splattered, suggestively queer montage: In the desert, something squirms inside the arm of a cello virtuoso, Lizzie (Logan Browning), as Charlotte (Williams), a troubled musical prodigy who now stands in Lizzie’s star-student shadow, offers her a giant cleaver. “You know what you have to do,” she says with a smirk, chillingly nonchalant about Lizzie’s alarming condition.
Careful not to over-divulge, the 31-year-old actress recently talked about The Perfection. She also discussed the queerness you might’ve missed in Get Out, how playing the eponymous flying boy in NBC’s Peter Pan Live! was a “happily queer experience,” and why she was concerned when she didn’t hear from more gay men after her rim-job scene in Girls.
So can we at least agree The Perfection is a lesbian power movie and lesbians will save the world?
(Laughs) Sure, your words to God’s ears!
But for real: I’m not sure if I came out of that film with a real sense of Charlotte’s sexual identity. Did you?
When we were working on it and prepping it, we never ever talked about labeling it one thing or the other. She existed in this sort of vacuum but knew she had this connection with Lizzie from their shared history and from their shared experience and trauma, obviously, but did not know that when they were face to face there was gonna be this undeniable and instant connection between the two of them, and that Lizzie would pull her in and they’d be drawn to each other in a way that I genuinely don’t think Charlotte was expecting. Especially in Charlotte’s case, she would not have had the opportunity in her life to do much exploration in this world, so I think just because of Lizzie’s confidence and comfort she was able to just go with it. And I’m proud of her (laughs), which is a weird thing to say about a character, but I’m proud of her for just following her instincts and following her heart.
Is this your first onscreen lesbian or queer experience?
Well, if you don’t count the completely botched threesome attempt on Girls where Marnie and Jessa make out.
Right! How could I forget? I was so focused on your scene with Andrew Rannells, when you have sex with a gay man.
(Laughs) Also a fantastic experience! It’s so funny: I just rewatched that season and that scene made me so happy all over again. But yes, if you don’t count that moment with Marnie and Jessa, then yes it was.
How did shooting a sex scene with Logan in The Perfection compare to the one you shot with Andrew for Girls?
Oh, you’re asking me to compare apples and oranges! I will say that one common denominator was just the comfort and safety of both of them. I’m very, very happy to report that in my somewhat surprisingly vast experience (laughs) in this arena I’ve always felt safe and comfortable, and this scene was absolutely no exception, if not more so because it was just four people in the room. It was our cinematographer, who was operating the camera, and Richard (Shepard), our director, who was hiding in the corner watching a monitor, so it was totally comfortable.
We felt like it was furthering the plot; we did not feel it was exploitative in any way. It was a communication of feeling and everything about it was exactly what you wanted it to be in that situation. And Logan is amazing, and we had gotten to know each other so well before that – and our working relationship was so easy and harmonious – that it just added to the level of comfort.
If you have to shoot a sex scene, that all sounds like what one would hope for.
You feel so vulnerable anyway, for every single reason. Not to mention the fact that it’s all immortalized on film! (Laughs)
While we’re on the subject of sex: the rimming scene in season four of Girls created quite a stir in the queer community. Did any of your gay friends help you prepare for that scene?
(Laughs) No! No, they did not. It’s so funny: I think that was my first day on set that season, and I think that was the day after my birthday. There were a lot of things that were weird about that scene, chief among them the fact that I didn’t know what Ebon (Moss-Bachrach, who played Desi) was gonna do in terms of his head movements, so the first time we did it I cracked and I laughed so hard because I just did not see that coming (laughs). We hadn’t talked about it! I didn’t know that was the choice he was gonna make! (Laughs) So it took me a little while to do it with a straight face. But no, if anything, I would’ve thought I would hear from more of them. But the fact that I didn’t either means it was an embarrassment and they didn’t want to talk to me, or that I did it well and actually they didn’t feel like they needed to give me any pointers.
I feel like you’re not following #GayTwitter enough, because then you’d know you did us proud.
(Laughs) No, I definitely am not. There is no such thing as enough. That was some of my favorite dialogue in all of Girls and a perfect way to start the season and catch up on where Marnie is. Desi says to her, “I love that,” and Marnie says, “I love you too.” Which is just so perfect.
I’m hoping you heard from more of the community after Peter Pan. Were you feeling the gay love after your live performance?
Yeah, I was! I was! And also, you know, the Lost Boys were helpful in making me feel that as well. It was a very happily queer experience across the board, and I felt the approval and the love from the beginning, in person and afterwards. So it was a true honor for a brief moment in time to experience that sunshine.
How much did you learn about gender-bending and drag from watching Andrew as Hedwig in Broadway’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch?
Oh my god. So much. Hedwig is one of my favorite musicals of all time. The music makes me so emotional, and to know John Cameron Mitchell (who played Hedwig in the film version), because I met him on Girls, is such an exciting truth in my life. And then to see Andrew in that role – and I saw Neil (Patrick Harris) play it as well – was just unbelievably moving and powerful, and I just thought it was such a celebration. It was one of the happiest theater audience atmospheres I can remember, because every single person in there was there because this is an arena they’re comfortable exploring. Walking into something where you all have that in common just frees everything from judgment and opens it up to the emotional truth of that musical, which is, by far, to me, the most powerful part of it. It was such an emotional experience for me and everyone around me. My tears were audible.
In Get Out there’s a fleeting reveal that Rose has recruited at least one woman to bring home to her family when we’re shown a photo of her arm wrapped around another woman, played by Betty Gabriel. What was your read on Rose’s sexuality?
It was that Rose, at her core, was stuck developmentally at the age where she started doing this with her family and truly saw herself as – and it’s a terrible word to use in this context but not altogether inaccurate – a sniper-type vigilante who would do whatever it took to get the job done. That included, of course, morphing into whoever she needed to be, which explains the different ways she looked and felt, her different energies in all those photos, whoever she thought she needed to become to entice the person in question. So if – and I mean, as disgusting as it sounds – in her mind there was demand for a woman then she would be someone who would be in love with a woman. But I think it went no deeper than that for her, which is so chilling to me!
And it’s just a photo – we don’t get much. But the LGBTQ community looks for representation wherever we can find it.
Yeah, one of the things that I love about (The Perfection) is from the beginning we weren’t gonna dwell on it. I love that it didn’t have to be about that; it was about the fact that they had a connection and then: “Can we keep going? Because there’s a whole lot of the rest of the movie we need to get to.” Like, “I know that these two people are really into each other, and can we move on with it?” I love that that was the way the movie treated it, because it doesn’t need to be dealt with with such a heavy touch all the time. And that’s one of the many things that drew me to The Perfection in the first place, that there’s all kinds of themes like that, that what the movie represents is in the eye of the beholder.
Let’s shift to your role as an LGBTQ ally: In 2017, you wore an ampersand pin as a sign that you stand with all communities subject to discrimination. When did LGBTQ issues become important to you?
Having not been on the other side of that hate and vitriol and discrimination and marginalization, I learned about it and the minute I learned about it, the minute I drew those connections – this is when I was pretty little – between learning about it and also the people I knew in my life who were part of that community and it just felt like such a no-brainer. I felt confused by it because, of course, it doesn’t make any sense. So to have to learn about something so illogical and to then also make the very, very obvious move of adding “joining the fight” and enlisting yourself as an ally seemed like a very obvious move and one that I am proud to continue to this day and will forever more.
You say you have ties that go back to when you were young. You grew up in a small town in Connecticut. What was your introduction to the LGBTQ community?
My actual introduction to the community, my mom was telling me, was in Washington D.C., when I was in first grade. We were walking down the street, and for the first time – definitely not the first time I had seen a queer couple, but the first time I saw two women holding hands – and I asked my mom, “Are they two mommies?” and she said, “Maybe, but they love each other,” and I said, “OK!” And that was it (laughs). That was my actual introduction to it.
Over time my parents would tell me about the men we knew who were in love with a man and I connected the dots and started to build this web of very special people I knew who happened to be in love with people of the same sexual orientation and gender and just thought, “OK.” I owe my parents for that, because they didn’t make it a big news flash, like scandalous or a scintillating detail. It was just something that, if I asked, they told me about, but it was not a defining characteristic to the people who didn’t want it to be a defining characteristic.
That’s how you hope every kid is raised.
Yeah, I feel really, really fortunate because it meant that I was ready from the beginning to just show my support in any way that would be helpful so that I could be a better ally for my friends who feel vulnerable and marginalized.
Based on your work in Get Out and now The Perfection, it seems you’re interested in work that is a social, political or cultural critique, or at least comments on something important. Is that true?
One-hundred percent. I think one of the great privileges of doing what I do is that I get to be part of art that will make people talk about these themes in a way that they’re not used to talking about them, which I think can elevate or at least change the playing field of the conversation. We get stuck in these grooves in the way we talk about stuff, like race and assault and trauma. Being lucky enough to be in projects like these, I get to be a part of throwing a grenade in that former conversation and forcing it into a new realm, which is such an exciting opportunity for me. And hopefully it’s entertaining people in the process. I’m really excited to see what kind of conversations happen as a result of The Perfection, and my hope is that people watch it with friends so they can talk about it afterwards. I can’t wait to hear what they say.
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.