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Lena Dunham Interview, Part Three: …Or A Voice, of A Generation

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The first two parts of my Lena Dunham interview ran here Thursday and Friday; in the last, below, we talk about some of the specific themes of Girls, whose pilot you either saw last night or need to see as soon as you can:

TIME: It seems to me that beyond the way you portray your body on the screen or whatever, there’s definitely in Girls an element of self-deprecation.  Is there anything you’re self-conscious about doing on screen?

LENA DUNHAM: Honestly, the things I’m a little scared to do are like have an orgasm on screen, look like I’m enjoying myself.  I mean, that’s my own damage.  Looking like you’re freaked out during sex is easy.  Looking like you’re enjoying it and sharing like that intensely private moment is hard.

That and also, you know, doing a really genuinely, earnestly romantic scene.  I think that there’s a part of me that’s a cynic about that stuff and Judd is always sort of pushing me to let the romance of the relationship show itself because that’s hard stuff for me to depict for some reason and it’s sort of my little like shy place. That’s something that I’m scared to do on screen but that I hope to do because those are things I want for myself and for my character.

One thing that really struck me with Hannah’s character in the pilot is that last scene where we see her take the $20 that he parents left for her and then the $20 for the housekeeper.  You’re showing a not very sympathetic side of her.  

No, it’s like, “You just took that from a Mexican lady with five children because you want a fucking buy some fancy sandwich.”

What does it say about her?  

I think it shows that she’s a little scared, that she’s a little desperate, but also that she’s a little entitled and like there’s a part of Hannah that probably feels like the world’s not giving me what I need and I need to take it.  And she thinks she’s being proactive and she thinks that somehow like she’s owed this.

Of course it will cause her tremendous guilt later and she’ll probably confess to her parents in a year and try to pay them back. But, at that moment, like it was a moment where I sort of announce this is what the show is. You’re not going to necessarily be with this girl at every – you’re not going to necessarily agree with this girl’s every move.

One of the lines that everybody is going to quote was “the voice of my generation” because it’s so funny and also–this is a show about girls, from the title, it’s generational.  But that thing about I can be the voice of my generation, have you ever felt that?

When we were doing that, I thought, this is sort of bait for you to be attacked.  It’s sort of like when you call your movie The Next Best Thing and then it gives critics a chance to call it “The Next Worst Thing.” It was dangerous, because it seems like I’m announcing myself.  But I hoped the fact that she was on drugs would somehow make it clear that she was having a complete break.

With that being said, I haven’t felt that, that feeling, but I’ve had–and I have to give Jenni Konner credit for “a voice of a generation.”  She came in and whispered it to me on set, and I was like, “That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

But anyway, I think I haven’t had that feeling, but I did have that feeling after college that was like I have something vitally important to tell everybody and like I need people to listen and I can’t get that done if I have to work at this stupid restaurant as a hostess.  That sort of desperate feeling.  And like now, of course, I understand that like the market is completely saturated with like talented people with a lot to say.  But I love this idea of this sort of idealistic girl going if I just had a chance, I could change everything.  I sort of love that as a quality, like feeling you have great talent and it’s more fun to imagine it than it is to do it.

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

In Tiny Furniture, Aura comes home and she decides enable her art by living in her mother’s fantastic apartment. Hannah is in a similar situation, but she opens the series getting cut off by her parents. Did you feel this would be a more sympathetic position for a character?    

Definitely.  That’s something that Judd really helped with, and Jenni–that’s a catalyst for her, her story is that she’s figuring out she thought her life was going to be more cushioned than it actually is.  And I think it is a more sympathetic position, although there are some people who will say, “My parents didn’t give me money for two years after college.  Eat me.” 

But the thing is, it creates a very clear goal and a very clear object blocking that goal.  So part of her arc through the season is realizing, oh, it’s not an injustice that I have to have a job.  It just is the way that it is.

If you’re doing that kind of premise on a big network, you can’t do that.  Kat Dennings [on 2 Broke Girls] is really poor and she’s paired up with a former rich girl who’s getting her comeuppance.  But the idea of sympathizing with somebody who’s had a pretty privileged upbringing and has been supported, you know, that’s probably like a narrower– 

It is.  So as long as you can motivate people’s feelings, I think – The Sopranos is a great example of, I don’t relate to or feel particularly sorry for a mafia hitman, but I do feel that way about Tony Soprano because it was set up for me in a way that allowed me to.  Or now, I’m obsessed with Homeland and like even though [Carrie] is doing some naughty things, her belief that’s she’s right and her desire to do good make me connect with her no matter what.

I’m glad you mentioned that, because that’s the drama analogue of a woman who’s being allowed to be an antihero in the way that like one male character after another has been on TV.  

Completely.  That episode where she and Brody go off to the cabin–they have that interaction where you can’t distinguish what is her at work and what is her at play, if you will.  And it’s just the most amazing thing because I just feel like, in a male character, people would understand like he’s got to do his job yet he’s falling in love.  And in a female character, it’s like, “That little bitch!”

So I was so excited that she was allowed to do that.  

Homeland has been a huge deal to me because even because even though the shows superficial have nothing to do with each other, I feel like shows like Homeland and Enlightened are allowing these sort of prickly female characters to exist on television.