With an HBO starring role and half a dozen upcoming films, Alex Karpovsky may just be one of the busiest GIRLS in New York

Accidental success in the acting business is a rare thing. The exclusive clique of performers who make their living on screen or stage tend to have worked their entire lives to achieve success. Not so for Alex Karpovsky, the prolific filmmaker whose side job performing in his buddies’ movies and TV shows may just result in bonafide stardom, whether he likes it or not.

The Oxford-educated Karpovsky’s career in film began with the 2005 no-budget indie The Hole Story, which he wrote, directed and starred in. “I have trust problems, and I don’t have the greatest faith in myself as a communicator,” he says of his decision to cast himself as his first leading man. “I figured I could bypass both of those things by just putting myself in the movie.” The film tells the story of a neurotic East Coast filmmaker who travels to the frozen tundra of Minnesota to film a self-financed reality show pilot about the sudden appearance of a mysterious lake that does not freeze and in the process has a nervous breakdown.

The Hole Story never made Karpovsky any money, but it did become something of a sensation on the festival circuit, winning prizes and respect among indie-film tastemakers, scoring the neophyte director a spot on Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2006. And while he scored his fair share of accolades for The Hole Story’s filmic accomplishments – its audacious and preternaturally original tone, the unconventional narrative and his brilliant use of non-actors as the story’s befuddled townsfolk – much of the praise singled out his performance, which brought to mind a darker, fun-house version of Woody Allen.

Soon after The Hole Story wrapped its festival run, casting offers began to roll in from a number of highly regarded indie auteurs, including Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation), who promptly casted Karpovsky as a supporting character in his film Beeswax. Dozens of acting roles soon followed, as well as two more directorial efforts, another nature-themed mockumentary comedy called Woodpecker, and the documentary Trust Us, This is All Made Up, which covered the careers of improv comedy legends T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi.

Alex Karpovsky

Karpovsky got his first taste of mainstream recognition last year when his good friend Lena Dunham (they’d first worked together on Tiny Furniture) asked him to play hipster-hating barista Ray Ploshansky in the pilot for Girls, the new series for HBO she had been hired to make with newfound mentor and champion Judd Apatow. Within months, Girls had become the most talked-about new series of the year, and Karpovsky had both a steady paycheck and a growing fan base, thanks to his pitch-perfect deadpan takedowns of the show’s poor little rich girls and their bourgeois crises, all the while providing just enough vulnerability and humanity to make us wonder what lurked underneath his carefully constructed misanthropy.

“Ray is someone who hovers on the periphery of the social structure who feels that it’s his obligation to provide these younger girls with some perspective and wisdom, no matter how misguided and tortured and perverse it might be,” Karpovsky says. “In some ways he’s sort of the moral compass of the show. That’s not to say that his compass points straight north. He’s a guy who is negotiating on a daily level with a lot of anger and resentment and skepticism.”

"I'm not nearly as talented as Cassavetes, but I feel in some respects I'm luckier"

In 2013, the 32-year-old Karpovsky’s inexhaustible appetite for creative exploration will was on full display with a slew of projects. Along with the premiere of the second season of Girls, whose storyline included a romance of sorts between Ray and the virginal Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), the first few months of the year featured the release of two new feature films in which he both directs and stars: Red Flag, a comedy about a brokenhearted director named “Alex Karpovsky” who’s touring colleges with his new movie, and Rubberneck, his first foray into the thriller genre. Add to that a star turn as a lovelorn film editor in Dan Schechter’s romantic comedy Supporting Characters and a role in Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen brothers’ film about the folk music scene in ’60s New York, and we’re betting that by the time 2014 rolls around, Alex Karpovsky may no longer be the indie world’s best-kept secret.

“I’ve read about the model John Cassavetes used in his career, where he’d get his coins from ‘The Man’ by acting in these big Hollywood pictures, and then go back and make his own films with his own friends, which would give him personal satisfaction,” Karpovsky says. “I’m not nearly as talented as Cassavetes, but I feel in some respects I’m luckier just because I can get my money to make my movies from a project that I’m actually really proud of like Girls, then do my own thing. It’s a really fortunate place to be in, and I try not to take it for granted.”