'Girlfriend Experience' Season 3 Explores How Tech Affects Dating

Starz’s anthology series The Girlfriend Experience returns for a third installment on Sunday, this time exploring the complicated relationship between technology and romance, and the overriding power it has when it comes to dating, desire and love. Bunheads and The Affair star Julia Goldani Telles takes the lead as Iris, a neuroscience major, who finds herself thrown into the center of the London tech scene. As she explores the transactional world of dating and relationships, she begins to question whether her actions are driven by free will or something else altogether — and as a result, heads down a path of exploration. The first season starred Riley Keough, while season 2 was led by Carmen Ejogo. 

“What was great was to have the springboard of what the franchise is — a nonjudgmental approach to the whole subject matter and a deep-dive into character and filmmaking — but also to have the freedom to make it my own and to bring to my own unique lens to it that has to do with a technology approach to the story world,” creator, director and executive producer Anja Marquardt tells ET. (Watch an exclusive clip above.) “Looking at all things tech and artificial intelligence and the push towards finding a path to machine consciousness, it’s all super fascinating and scary at the same time. My gut instinct was that there was an interesting overlap of technologically existing simulation and the world of simulation that happens in a Girlfriend [Experience] set-up, where the character, Iris, goes in and reads the room very quickly and decides very quickly how she’s going to deliver to the client exactly what it is that they want.”

“From a storytelling perspective, that was going to be a really interesting engine that would allow me as a filmmaker to give Iris an endgame, if you will, and make her a three-dimensional character that goes into these situations, not only because they might be interesting in her own experience — there’s a financial component and a personal choice of free will. But I think what was important for me in season 3 was to give her an engine that goes beyond that and give her an endgame,” she says. “Almost like she’s a spy going into the world and extracting behavioral data.”

If past chapters of The Girlfriend Experience — a reimagining of Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film starring Sasha Grey — are any indication, season 3 will be as sexy and intimate as ever. Marquardt pointed to Goldani Telles’ performance on relationship drama, The Affair, as what sold her on the actress’ ability to play Iris with depth and care.

“I was really impressed by her ability to be quick on her feet and pivot, and be nuanced and exposed in any given scene. And I thought that was going to be a very pivotal character trait for Iris, which is to be able to pivot very quickly and read the room very quickly and put on a new persona. It would be so interesting to put Julia in this place and have her carry the entire season. If you watch all 10 episodes, you’ll see how transformative she is and how many roles she really galvanizes into the role of Iris,” Marquardt praises.

Marquardt, whose previous work includes 2014’s She’s Lost Control, says Goldani Telles brought “a number of things” to the role that surprised her throughout the process. In fact, after casting the actress in the lead role, Marquardt began tailoring Iris to Goldani Telles more and more.

“The transformational aspect of how Julia can flip seamlessly into different personas in Iris’ world, that was one big component. And the other one was that she could believably bring to the table an aspect of intense brain games that allows the audience to track Iris’ trajectory through the two worlds — the tech world and the world that she is seeing — so we will understand at any given moment that she’s almost like a supercomputer,” Marquardt says. “Having seen her work in The Affair, I was convinced that there is an effortless, fiercely quick-on-her-feet intelligence that seems really appropriate to the tech component of the story. She’s a scientist, but also she has her Achilles heel, and we needed to be able to see all that as well.”

If there’s one thing Marquardt wants viewers to know about the upcoming chapter, it’s that it’s a wild, unexpected ride. 

“If you haven’t seen any previous seasons, I would say expect the unexpected and enjoy the ride. It will go pretty deep into the rabbit hole. This season presents a spin on the idea of transactional relationships in a way that’s new and different,” she previews. “We’re constantly pushing boundaries in how we interact with other people intimately. From OnlyFans to whatever online experience one could hope for, it’s all there. At the end of the day, we’re part of a giant experiment and we’re all experiencing technology taking more and more real estate in our intimate spaces as we go through our day. I’m curious to see how audiences perceive the season and how it resonates with them.”

The Girlfriend Experience debuts with a two-hour premiere Sunday, May 2 on Starz. For more, watch below.

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