Kat Dennings Takes on the Girly Girls: How She Fell in Love With the Polarizing ‘Dollface’
After six seasons of “2 Broke Girls,” the star talks about why she signed on for the fantastical Hulu series about a newly single woman’s struggle to fit in with female friends.
In the opening scene of Hulu’s Dollface, Kat Dennings’ Jules is at brunch with her boyfriend, Jeremy (Connor Hines), and asks how his huevos rancheros are. “I don’t love you anymore,” he responds.
The emotional sledgehammer continues to pound away during their awkward car ride home as she spirals. “We’ve hung out together every day for half a decade. I don’t really know what to do now,” Jules tells him. “I think what you do now is go back,” he responds. “Back to hanging out with other women.”
“Dollface” is the nickname Jeremy calls Jules. Dollface is a series about identity, specifically female identity in 2019: what does it mean to be a woman, what does it mean to be a friend, and what does it mean to be yourself.
Part simplified Sex and the City anthropology, like a watered-down Cosmo, and part fantastical exploration of stereotypes and gender norms—an approach that owes most to FXX’s clever Man Seeking Woman—the series fizzes TV’s preoccupation with female friendship into a Pinterest-ready froth.
Take the very next scene from the first episode. A bus driven by an actual cat lady—a woman who, through CGI, is an anthropomorphic cat (Tom Hooper is shaking)—pulls up, full of other sobbing girls post-breakup who have been on “the other side” in a relationship for so long they need help finding their way back to spending time with other women.
In this fantasy sequence, the only other options besides rekindling neglected friendships is becoming a guy’s girl—cut to a desert full of women in football jerseys and cutoff shorts desperately insisting they love video games and asking if anyone wants to order wings—or getting off the bus at Rebound Town.
The reality is that Jules is not comfortable in large groups of women, judging their cliques and weekly worship at the church of brunch, but realizes how much she needs the support of her former best friends. Can they find a way to reconnect and, despite their different ideas about femininity, trust each other again?
“There’s a heightened reality that’s sort of magical, which I haven’t seen in a comedy before,” Dennings says about the show, which launched on Hulu last Friday to, due to its subject matter, polarizing reviews.
It’s Dennings’ first live-action TV project since her six-year run on the CBS multicam sitcom 2 Broke Girls ended in 2017. (Her versatile vocal fry gives life to Leah Birch and Lorraine the Hormone Monstress on Netflix’s animated series Big Mouth.) After the long broadcast series run—138 episodes!—ended, she said her next move would be for a passion project, which, when we met over the summer at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, she said Dollface was for her.
Beyond the content it would be exploring, it was appealing that the series was single-camera and wouldn’t be performed in front of a studio audience. “Contrary to how loud I am, I’m kind of shy and I don’t love crowds,” she says. “So [2 Broke Girls] was a struggle.” In fact, on filming days in the first two seasons she was so nervous that she would take out her contacts so she couldn’t see the people in the audience.
“It’s a trick I still can do,” she laughs, joking that she also removed them to make filming a scene in the Dollface pilot, in which naked men act as furniture, more comfortable. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many naked men before in my life. But, you know, you just keep the nose up.”
Dennings, whose first role was playing a disturbingly mature and sexual 13-year-old planning her bat mitzvah in a 2000 episode of Sex and the City, has made a career out of discovering interesting shades in a certain kind of girl.
Typically it’s someone who, maybe because of her husky voice, vicious sarcasm, and sardonic, tough exterior, has the full spectrum of their femininity or vulnerability discounted or underestimated; someone who, despite sharing Dennings’ natural glamour and va-va-voom good looks, is considered a tomboy who doesn’t like other girls and girly things.
That’s true of Max on 2 Broke Girls, who must learn to love her Odd Couple roommate, Beth Behrs’ fallen-from-grace heiress, Caroline. And it’s true of Jules on Dollface, who, despite working at a GOOP-like company called Woöm, is open about disliking those who, at face value, fall into the girly girl type—before discovering that she, too, is judging superficially and unfairly.
“I think I choose these roles because I’ve never fully related to that aspect of femininity,” Dennings says.
One of Jules’ friends on Dollface is a very feminine, confident businesswoman. The other is a free-spirit wild child. “I’m neither of those,” she says. “I’m not even a Jules and I’m definitely not a Max.” Growing up with two older brothers, she ventures that maybe she identifies as a tomboy—”if that’s a phrase that people still use”—but concedes that maybe that’s not even accurate.
“I feel more comfortable away from the girly girl kind of stuff,” she says. “I’ve never enjoyed dressing like that. But then, I do love makeup. I like a whole full face and then a flannel. So I’ve just been carving out my own space in the world, I guess.”
She remembers how uncomfortable the transition from her film career (movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The House Bunny, and Thor) to 2 Broke Girls was because of her shyness and how frightening the early live tapings tended to be—let alone the tornado that is making 24 episodes a season of a network sitcom.
“But playing Max helped me kind of own my pushiness and my power, and that’s helped me immensely in my life,” she says. “Jules on Dollface has kind of taken me back to a somewhat uncomfortable place in my twenties. I don’t think I want to learn from that place that I’ve already been, but I think it’s important for me to take the knowledge I have in my thirties and look at that from a different perspective.”
With hindsight, people are, hopefully, able to see the ways they changed themselves and what parts of their identity they gave up in a relationship. Jules on Dollface is confronted with all those things immediately. In some ways it’s not the breakup that’s the wrecking ball to her life, it’s that realization. “I wish I had a Dollface on my TV… streaming device”—she smirks, catching herself—”when I was in my teens or twenties.”
We end by going back to the beginning, that iconic guest-star role on Sex and the City. Michael Patrick King, who was an executive producer on the HBO series, cast her on 2 Broke Girls. Dennings laments that, in all the time they worked together, he would never tell her whether she was a Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, or Samantha. “He’s like, you’re none of them,” which was both disappointing and a bit of a cop-out.
There have been comparisons made between Dollface and Sex and the City, the way there is whenever a new series about female identity and friendship airs. What’s trippy to Dennings, though, is that the friends in Dollface are the same age and generation that her own Sex and the City character would be now. “That’s so weird,” she deadpans. “I’m 100.”