A Conversation With Lena Dunham, Part 2

Meghan O’Rourke talks with the creator of Girls about the season finale, Sex and the City, and why Shoshanna is like that.

Lena Dunham and Adam Driver in the season finale of Girls.


This is Part 2 of the conversation. Read Part 1, in which Meghan O’Rourke and Lena Dunham discuss high school, high art, and the controversy that’s swirled around Girls since the premiere.

Meghan O’Rourke: Let’s talk a little bit about the finale. What I like about it is that it subverts the usual narrative romantic comedy premise: that the woman is trying to get the man to move in (or marry her) and then finally he does and she’s happy. Here, Adam says, OK, I’m gonna move in, and Hannah has this ambivalent reaction.

Was that plot point in your mind at the beginning? Or was that something you discovered as you wrote?

Lena Dunham: I discovered that as I wrote. I had a sense of where the characters should go and the kinds of revelations they could have. But once we were on set, and we were making the show and we were feeling their dynamic—specifically between Hannah and Adam—it really took on a life of its own. And, suddenly, it was clear that they were going to do this kind of do-si-do, and it would reveal a lot about who they both were, even if we thought we knew them well previously, to that point. That was actually the hardest stuff to write of the whole season, because I had no idea if we’d ever get to make more. So I kind of wanted there to be an ending where it was like, if this is the last piece of the show we ever do, then we’ll be in good shape, and people will feel like they really got a satisfying sense of the many sides of this person. And also I wanted it to feel like there was somewhere to go from there.

I don’t know. It was hard to write and it was hard to shoot. But I was so amazed by Adam and kind of humbled by the experience of doing it.

O’Rourke: Did you have any sense that he would become one of the most popular characters on the show?

Dunham: You know, I was obsessed with him. But I had no understanding of how other people would perceive him. I have more fun writing Adam than doing almost anything. He is such a thrill to write for and as an actor he can do anything. He’s really only scratched the surface of what Adam Driver is capable of. I also think he’s really great-looking. I find the character really sexy, so I was curious about whether anybody would have that reaction to him. Because he’s sexy, but there’s also something really unusual about him that’s not necessarily going to appeal to the average American woman. There’s a lot of women who bashfully confess to me over Twitter that they’re attracted to him. I’m like, Dude, I wrote a million sex scenes in which I need to touch his naked body, so clearly I get what’s working about that.

O’Rourke: He’s so charismatic too.

Dunham: He’s an amazing actor. Just as a scene partner, he’s so excited to explore things, and he’s so generous. Getting to work with him—as an improviser and general, thoughtful dude—made it more obvious where that relationship would go, and really influenced the way that my character ended the season.

O’Rourke: So there’s some degree of improvisation, but you’ve also written it up and mapped it.

Dunham: We always have a really, really tight script. But then there’s definitely an improv element, which we introduce whenever we can. Even if we use 0.1 percent of the improv, some of the best, most unexpected, strangest lines will be born from that.

O’Rourke: What about the other characters? Did you know that Shoshanna would be who she was from the very beginning, a kind of jester who provides a very particular kind of comic relief on the show, even though we also connect and identify with her?

Dunham: It was very clear from the beginning that Shoshanna would act as this counterpoint to the world that the girls were living in. But that was sort of her whole job. We hadn’t yet considered her as the fourth girl. I thought we were really gonna differentiate ourselves from Sex and the City by going, “We’ve got three girls and they’ve got four, so we’ll be fine.”  Then, when Zosia Mamet got to set, she was just so incredible. I was like, this show needs her. She gave her this entire other dimension, and so we immediately made her a series regular. It pretty quickly occurred to me that Shoshanna was a virgin, and she had this entire, strange inner life that I hadn’t known about when I wrote the pilot.

O’Rourke: She gets to be this true eccentric.

Dunham: She is, and it’s so funny because she’s the strangest and most normal all at once.

O’Rourke: She’s the one who indulges most in certain stereotypes of “girl”-dom, with the girly bedroom and the pink clothes.

Lena Dunham

Michael Buckner.

Dunham: And I think she does it because she feels like such a weirdo. I think she’s forced herself to have the kind of taste she thinks is “America’s taste” because she internally feels like such a total freak. In a way, she can’t even deal with the idea of external quirkiness because she’s feeling so much turmoil about I’m not like the others. I’m a mutant.

O’Rourke: How did you feel about Sex and the City? Is that a show that you watched?

Dunham: Yeah. It came on when I was fairly young, like when I was 12 or 13, and I loved watching it. I had watched all of it before I had ever had sex. It was a totally big deal for me. I’d watch it with my mom. I was completely obsessed with it, but I didn’t think about it as relating to my own life, because of my age, because of my interests. I thought of it in the same way that I watch, maybe, Entourage: I really like looking into that world but it didn’t feel like my world. But I really have an incredible respect for it, and I think it opened up a lot of dialogue. I think Girls wouldn’t have been able to talk about a lot of things it talks about without Sex and the City.

O’Rourke: Do you have a favorite character on the show?

Dunham: You know, it’s not Hannah. I mean, she’s so close to me I really get pleasure writing for her, but it’s sort of like I do that without thinking.

It shifts all the time. I really have a lot of love for Adam. I have a lot of love for Ray. I have a lot of love for the boys on the show. My parents. It really changes by the week. It changes depending on where I’m at and who I feel like writing. I will say that I’ve learned a lot from writing the character of Adam. That’s been really informative for me.

O’Rourke: You’re filming the second season now. Do you feel like you’re seeing each of these characters change and develop?

Dunham: I do feel that way. We’re still in process, we’re still beating out the last couple episodes, but you’re really going to see a transformation in their approach, a real maturation. If we were to come back Season 3 there may be a point when it is a show about women called Girls, and not a show about girls called Girls. They’re shifting. They’ll have some of their same trademark attitudes, but it changes a lot. I’m being vague, like I’m guarding the spoilers from Lost.

O’Rourke: “Girls” is a word with a time stamp on it.

Dunham: For sure it’s a word with a time stamp. The part I found funny about the title was the idea that you could have these characters that, at some point, are 35 and have kids and are still called girls. The title actually came from the fact that I was coming up with so many different, too-awful-to-repeat-here titles for the show. And they all had had the word “girls” in them in some form. So I was like, “What about just Girls?And I remember telling it to my dad, and later, when there was this spate of shows with girl titles on TV, asking him, “Should we change it? Is it going to be too popular?” And my dad saying, “No, you got the meta title. Stick with it.” And I was like, “Great, we have the meta-title. Done.”

O’Rourke: What has been the most surprising thing about watching this season go out into the world?

Dunham: The thing that I love, and I had this experience on a lesser scale when I was putting out Tiny Furniture, was that I spent so much of my time when I was younger feeling like such a weirdo that it was hard for me to imagine that anybody was sharing my experiences. And the fact I put out this thing so personal and specific, where the character is going through emotions that feel so mine, and so many girls have gone, “That’s what it’s like to be me” or “You and I are the same,” it’s really been heartening. It has made the world so much smaller, and I think that has been the most wonderful, educational part of the show actually being released. It’s been amazing to feel that connected when I maybe had a habit of feeling, like, disenfranchised, and like I was a 98-year-old woman trapped in a chubby 17-year-old body.