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Lena Dunham Interview, Part Two: The Personal Factor

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Part one of my interview with Lena Dunham, of HBO’s Girls, ran here yesterday. Below, she talks about acting, the autobiographical aspects of her work, and some rather personal responses her work has received:

TIME: You have the same tattoos that Hannah [her character in Girls] has.  

LENA DUNHAM: I do.  I have one on my back and then I have two that [Jemima Kirke, an actress in Girls whose character gave Hannah one of her tattoos] gave me.  One of the one’s she gave me in Tiny Furniture is real and I have a tattoo of her dog’s face right there.  Then, I have this matching tattoo [“Staunch”] with my best friend who Marnie is slightly based on.  It’s from Grey Gardens, where they talk about being staunch characters.

So Aura in Tiny Furniture and Hannah, they’re not exactly the same, but– 

They have similarities.

And they have similarities to you. 

Yeah, my [acting] range is somewhat limited. I can play very annoying girl, very lost girl and then all the things in the spectrum between.

I acted very briefly in the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce. I was a nurse when Kate Winslet’s baby was dying.  In the final version, you can hear me but my head is cut out.  It’s just me from the neck down.  I was so bad.  And I’m not saying this like in a way where it’s like, “No, you weren’t.  You were really great!” Like, they cut out my head.

Well, given the characters that you have successfully played, do you accept that people will see you in these characters?  Does it bother you that people should see them as versions of you?

No.  I mean, I like that idea.  I just hope that I continue to keep a line between my private life and who I play, even if they are closely intertwined, and so I’m careful.  I don’t even know where my line is, but I know I have a line.  There are certain modes of me that don’t end up in the characters.  

But I like the idea of people seeing that stuff and feeling like they know me. The work that’s interesting to me in other people is really confessional.  And I love writers who I feel like I understand and that’s what makes me feel excited about somebody else’s work, so I don’t mind it.  

It is funny, I get so many great tweets from people that are like, “I saw your movie and you are me.”  I always thought of myself as a weirdo, and so the fact that these characters would resonate that way with other girls makes the world feel smaller in like a really comforting way.

Talking directors who sort of play versions of themselves, is Woody Allen one of those models?  There was the shout out in Tiny Furniture-

Without Feathers. [Her character is seen reading the Allen story collection in the movie.] Yeah, he’s a huge deal to me, and he’s a huge deal to every New York filmmaker, but I think especially I relate to a lot of parts of his psychology and I relate to his desire to like push himself and the sort of struggle that exists between comedy and drama and his work.

But it would bum me out if I felt that my characters just felt like — if it felt like I was coming back film after film as the same neurotic girl. It’s important that it doesn’t feel as though every character is going, “What guy would ever like me and look at me I’m fat,” like I don’t want it to feel like I’m just doing years and years of a Cathy cartoon. I also love Cathy cartoons.  But I know that it can veer in that direction and I try to be careful about it.  

But the performer who’s been the biggest, who’s been most at the forefront of my mind, even though what we do is really different, is Gilda Radner. She’s sort of my model of a brave, egoless performance that I’d like to emulate, even if I’m doing something different.

(MORE: Lena Dunham’s New Show Makes Growing Up Painfully Funny)

So talking about of the idea of shtick.  I sort of apologize for mentioning somebody’s shitty quote about you and asking–

Don’t worry.  I don’t mind that at all.

Last week [film writer Jeffrey Wells] made a comment–

Oh, the one about if I lose 30 pounds?


I only knew about it — I don’t have a Google Alert on myself or anything, but I do have Twitter followers, and someone had written something like, “Why Lena Dunham does not need to lose weight.”  I was like, oh, well, that’s very nice.  She tweeted it at me, so I read it.  So I did see and I think, “I met that guy once and he like took my photo and then later was like, wow, she’s really fat.”

Well, engaging in a conversation about my body is not problematic because I’m asking for it, because I’m naked a lot [on the show].  And I think like I’m clearly inviting commentary on seeing a nontraditional body in a sexual situation on TV.  But that guy basically said I was obese, which is really nuts, because I’m not.  I’m a size eight and that’s a size every women in this country is.

He made like some reference to Jonah Hill before he lost his weight, so he looks at a woman of your size as the equivalent of Jonah Hill in Superbad.  

It was so crazy.  I was like I’m not even fucking Roseanne. I mean, I don’t have a problem with people pointing out the fact that my body doesn’t look like every other body.  But it offends me for women everywhere that — I’m like, you know, I ate a burger, but I’m a healthy women who exercises and looks like other girls that I know.  I was heavier when I made Tiny Furniture.  I’m like many other 25-year-old girls.  My weight fluctuates depending on my mood and my current devotion to my fitness routine.

But I just thought, dude, you need to like take a walk around a city and see what some women look like. When is the last time you had sex if this is like what your consideration is, because–honestly, I got a little petty.  I was like, You’re like 70. I didn’t find you a treat to look at, my friend!

But, at the same time, like I was glad that that dialogue was opened up, because I don’t feel like my work is dependent on my size.  I feel like my work is dependent on the fact that I’m an everywoman.  I’d be an everywoman if I lost 20 pounds or if I gained 50 pounds, because of my attitude and it’s my relationship to the world and the fact that like I have two front teeth that are bigger than the rest of my teeth.

The only topic on which I’m almost political about is what I think that this country is doing to women and their body image. I was a babysitter before I was working in film, and I would hear like 7-year-old girls that I babysat say, “I think I need to go on a diet,” and it cracks my heart open.

So a real goal for me with the show was to cast girls, none of us–I mean, Allison’s all-American and beautiful, Jemima’s gorgeous, Zosia looks like a little deer, everyone’s beautiful but nobody looks like they’re on the CW and nobody has a body that your friend wouldn’t have and that means a lot to me to be able to do that.