I’m obsessed with Lena Dunham. I know everyone is kind of in love with her so it’s not big news that I’m singing her praises, but she is definitely my new girl crush. If you aren’t familiar, she is basically an indie icon and quite possibly the voice of our generation, duh! Her 2010 film Tiny Furniture–which she wrote, directed and starred in–is one of the my favorite films of recent years. Lena made the film when she was just 23, and it went on to win the juried narrative film prize (essentially ‘best picture’) at the South by Southwest film festival, and was later released by IFC. The film tells the story of Aura, a recent college graduate who moves back to New York to live with her artist mother and sister in their family’s Tribecca loft. The film is semi-autographical, and Lena cast her mother and sister alongside her in the movie as fictionalized versions of themselves. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely watch it asap, it’s on Netflix instant play right now! It’s just so funny and simple and honest, and I know that saying a movie “made you laugh and cry” is a bit played-out, but I watched it with my mom and literally, we spent the entire length of the film switching back and forth between laughing hysterically and sobbing. #MotherDaughterBondingExperience
So… this April Lena’s new TV series, Girls, premiers on HBO. Again, she is the writer, director and star. I’ve been Tweeting about Girls a lot recently (follow me on Twitter!), and though I don’t have a TV and almost never watch telivision, I’m going to make an exception for this show. It looks amazing. It’s about a group of girl friends in their mid 20s in New York trying to “figure out life.” It’s basically a mumblecore, Brooklyn-centric version of Sex and the City for the Twitter generation. (Dream come true?) My friend Dev “Blood Orange” Hynes sent me a text today that said “Are we going to watch Girls together every week and then discuss the meaning of our NYC lives straight after?” I replied, “I can’t think of anything I want more.” Here’s the trailer!
I got to interview Lena recently for Dazed and Confused. We talked about Girls and confidence and movie making and vaginal exams and lots of other important stuff. Read our conversation below! Enjoy!
Why did you decide to write a show about 20-something girls in NYC?
Lena Dunham: Oddly enough, I didn’t feel like it was subject that had been broached. There have been shows about groups of gal pals, and about people in the city, but I’ve yet to see a show that’s a real reflection of Brooklyn life. Sex and the City is fun and aspirational, and of course I love that show and really respect it, but it’s not something that reflects the reality of living in New York. Then there’s Gossip Girl, but that’s a teen story. So in terms of my generation–a generation that’s defined by being the first people who were raised on IMing, who communicate mainly through texting, who graduated from college during a recession, who found out about Bill and Monica in the 5th grade—there hasn’t really been a genuine portrayal of us on TV yet. The aim with Girls was always to do something very authentic.
And why girls specifically?
Well, I know it’s almost become a cliché for female directors to say this, but I was really excited about was writing complex female characters–girls who can’t be pegged as just a virgin, or just a whore, or just a bitch, or just a pushover–because those characters are not allowed in most forms of media. Girls is a show with a female protagonist who you kind of love but kind of hate, who’s trying really hard but who is also fucking up all the time, and I don’t feel like that’s really been done.
A lot of Tiny Furniture was based on your own life. Does Girls also combine reality and fiction?
Yes, definitely. There are elements that are completely fantastical, and my character does things that I have never done and would never do, but then there are some things that are so ripped from my own life that it’s actually embarrassing and makes me feel like I’m not a real writer.
You write a lot about sex and intimate relationships between people. How do you decide what goes public and what stays private?
I’m so horrible at keeping my own secrets, it’s my least developed skill. I do want to the privacy of my friends, but right now there isn’t much about myself that I want to keep in shadow, because I’d rather use my humiliation as a tool for connection. I realise it sounds grandiose, but I sort of see that as my reason for being at this point in my life.
Do the guys you date ever get scared that the juicy details of your relationship might become the subject of millions of people’s entertainment?
It has been acknowledged, yes. What’s amazing about guys though is that even if they know the deal and say things like, “You always write about sex stuff and you’re going to write about things that I say,” it never prevents them from doing the most ridiculous things. It’s actually amazing. It’s like, have you learned nothing!?
You are involved in a fair amount of sex scenes and naked scenes in Girls, right?
Oh yeah, I’m totally naked on the show. I made a promise to myself not to show my vagina, but it ended up that you can see it for a second at one point. It’s not like my inner vagina, but you can see the outside of it. I feel like that’s the line–it’s like the difference between erect and non-erect penis.
Yeah, it’s like elegant vagina. Not an inter-vaginal exam.
Well, I do get an inter-vaginal exam in the show, but you don’t see my vagina during it. But yeah, I get naked quite a few times. It’s something I almost didn’t consider fully until after I did it, at which point, to quote the movie State and Main, I was like, “So that happened!”
You started your career as a filmmaker making various web series and feature films with almost no money, doing almost everything yourself, both behind and in front of the camera. What gave you the confidence to become a director?
Growing up, I never thought about filmmaking as a job I could actually have. I loved writing and I loved movies, but it didn’t occur to me that I could do this with my life. The moment that changed was when I first saw the sort of films that were being shows at SXSW in 2005–what we now call mumblecore. They were these small, digital movies made by people my age about people my age, and suddenly I understood this is a different world now. Now it’s possible for anybody to make a movie. So that gave me confidence. That and the fact that I don’t like waiting around for people to give me permission to do things.
Because you write, direct and act, are there ever times when you’re conflicted by knowing something would benefit a scene, but also being hesitant to go there as an actor?
That’s a sensation I have over and over. Like today I was recording voice over, and I had to make all these sex noises, and I was so mortified and resentful while it was happening, but then I was like, “Well, I did this to myself!” But working in all three roles has definitely given me more sympathy for actors, which is good. Like I no longer write scenes and then just thrust them at people without thinking about how it would feel to act it, which I may have done in my younger years.
Judd Apatow, AKA the kind of bromance, is producing Girls. He’s gotten some flack in the past for the lack of complex female roles in his films. How has it been working with him?
It’s funny because I know that’s the case, but that has never been my feeling about Judd’s work. I think the roles he writes for his wife Leslie Mann are some of the most interesting, flawed, dynamic female roles around. I’ve been lucky enough to see a peek of his new film, and in it Leslie plays one of the most awesome female roles in a mainstream comedy ever. But the thing I really connect to about Judd’s work is that it’s always about people trying their hardest. So he brought that spirit to Girls. We were in a really open dialogue; it didn’t feel dude-ly in the least.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing and directing an adaptation of Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, which is a novel by the authors of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. I’ve just written a first draft of it. I really love the story–it’s two teens on a mission. It’s the first time that I’m making a film without a big acting part for myself, so I’m excited for the change.