"My life has been nonstop 'Girls' for the last two years," says Lena Dunham, creator, executive producer, star and oft-director of the new HBO series about four young women trying to make it in New York. As if those tasks weren't enough, the 26-year-old has been kept busy addressing a wave of controversy that has arisen since the show premiered. Everything from its cast's lack of diversity to the realistically graphic sex scenes have been debated at length, with Dunham asked to weigh in on it all. (Oh, and her weight's been an issue as well.)
She's accustomed to reflection, having been in therapy since she was a child. Dunham's low-budget feature "Tiny Furniture" portrayed a college graduate crashing back into the nest to figure out what to do with her life. She filmed at home, her own mother and sister playing their onscreen counterparts to her character. "Girls" continues the baffling journey into almost-adulthood. The four friends are a mess of bad judgment and self-loathing. This is comedy with a cringe factor.
Speaking by phone from New York, where she's filming Season 2, Dunham apologizes for her voice, thrashed from yelling in a scene all day. But that's all she'll reveal about what's to come for her character, Hannah Horvath, whose own self-disclosure is practically an extreme sport.
When you started working on the show, did you think it would engender this much dissertation?
No. People look at things that come from your subconscious that you never really gave that much thought to. I feel lucky that there's a dialogue happening about it, and it's part of my job to figure out how I can incorporate that into what I do and also maintain a sense of autonomy as I'm moving forward.
You've addressed the diversity concern quite thoroughly ...
If anything, I'm glad it brought up a conversation about race on television, which is a conversation that needs to happen, and if that involves my show taking one for the team in that dialogue, I'm fine with that.
Photos of Donald Glover ("Community") on set for Season 2 have circulated online. That would imply some action as well.
I can't talk about Season 2, because we're acting like it's "Lost" and we're guarding state secrets. But I will say that Season 2 was written long before the show came out, or any of the controversy surrounding it happened, so whatever artistic evolution was happening with the show was happening already.
Hannah isn't a particularly likable protagonist. Did you ever worry about alienating the audience?
Likability is nothing I ever thought that much about when writing. It's not even something I think that much about when connecting with people. I just want to be close to interesting people who are working toward self-awareness and living a big, rich life.
The most radical element of this series may be that it doesn't show youth as anything to be envied.
I've never felt like being young was the coolest move. I've always felt like I've been working towards being a grown-up, and waiting for that day. I don't know when it comes. But this was never meant to be a 'youth is sexy' kind of idea.
How do you manage an awareness of the pitfalls of your age while you're still in the midst of it?
I've been in therapy since I was 7; that's probably helpful. The way I process my experiences is to translate them into some artistic form. I don't know another way to get through them.
Your character is quite exposed on the show — the nudity isn't the half of it. How do you find that ease on camera?
I do feel comfortable, and I'm not sure why. I started making videos where I was holding the camera and the boom — it was so intimate, I was acting with very few observers. I think that's a big part of it. I don't consider myself a great actor by any means; it took a long time to even think of myself as someone who was an actor. But there is a certain feeling of life in front of and off the camera not being that different that is helpful to me at certain times.
Your alma mater, Oberlin, is known for a lax attitude toward nudity. Is that why you're so comfortable with the literal exposure?
My third day at Oberlin, everyone ran outside into the rain naked; I wore a bathing suit and rainboots. I was the demure one. I actually didn't spend that much time naked at Oberlin, but I was always a walk-around-naked little kid. Of all my fears and damages, the nakedness was never one of them.