If you only know Zosia Mamet as Shoshanna from Girls , get ready to see her in a whole new light. In one of her grittiest roles yet, she plays a young woman forced into the sex industry by her boyfriend in Bleeding Heart , a film that recently premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Her character, Shiva, battles to figure out her place in life with the help of her long-lost sister May (Jessica Biel), ultimately having to face her emotional fears and her physical ones due to her abusive deadbeat boyfriend.
After I chatted with Mamet about Shoshanna's future at the Milly for Kohl's launch in NYC on April 22, she opened up about her "exciting, challenging" role as Shiva. Now that she's tackled something so different from Girls, she's ready to play a "badass chick" next, and she also had some empowering advice for young women.
When it came to taking on such a heavy role, Mamet knew that she "wanted to portray her [Shiva] as something completely dynamic" instead of a walking cliche. "I think sometimes these grungier parts for young women where they’re abused or in the sex industry, it becomes very much about that title as opposed to showing that at the end of the day, she’s like a kid," Mamet points out. "She’s a young, quirky little girl, and I really wanted to show that side of her. She just happened to fall into this world. That was the most exciting, challenging part — to keep her really grounded. Part of her is incredibly innocent."
This also gave Mamet the chance to do "something totally different" while sending an important message about abusive relationships. "I feel that her journey was really allowing herself to believe that there was something better. When you’re in those abusive relationships or any sort of abusive situation, in order to survive, you kind of have to convince yourself sometimes that this is what life is, and it’s so scary to think beyond it," she says. "I think often that can seem impossible or improbable to achieve: actually getting out of it. So that was something really interesting and fun that Jessi [Biel] and I played with — her [character's] journey was to convince me that we could break free of these things."
With this film under her belt, Mamet is ready to tackle even more powerful roles and see more female empowerment overall in the industry. When asked about her dream character, she says, "I’ve always wanted to play a bad, evil villain. Something like a badass chick who assassinates people. I think there’s something very exciting about any form of female empowerment, whatever it comes in. Just playing a strong lady of any sort!" Amen.
Outside of acting, she's also empowering women in her personal life. Mamet has a monthly Glamour column giving advice to ladies of all ages about sex, relationships, and other things in life that drive us crazy, and she told me that she has plenty of tips she wishes she knew when she was young. One of her life mantras, courtesy of a dear friend, is, "You do it until it feels good, and when it stops feeling good, don’t do it anymore." For Mamet, that especially applies to sexuality.
"I think that idea applies to relationships and sexuality, and one of the saddest aspects of what isn’t communicated to young girls about sexuality is that it’s OK! It’s OK to be curious and explore, but obviously be safe," she says. "I think advice specifically for young girls instead of young boys is there’s this immense amount of shame that surrounds that discovery, and I think that’s often what gets us into situations we don’t want to be in or really scary situations or abusive situations."
At the end of the day, Mamet strongly believes that we can shape the future by just making sure women aren't ashamed for the way they feel. "I think if you feel more empowered about your choices, about your curiosities, about your desires as a young girl, then you’re going to feel more assertive," she adds. "You’re going to feel like you can say no or talk about what you want in a more vocal manner. So I think it has to start young, and I think it has to be something that is OK and encouraged."
Images: Getty Images; Aaron Epstein (2)