Brow Beat

New Yorker Festival Dispatch: Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham at The New Yorker Festival on October 7

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The New Yorker

The New Yorker Festival’s “conversations” between cultural icons and magazine staffers can be odd spectacles. The best really do sound like conversations—even if one participant is holding a fistful of question cards and there happen to be several hundred eavesdroppers listening in—while the worst come off as overly scripted and stiff.

Sunday’s chat between Girls creator Lena Dunham and TV critic Emily Nussbaum—who has profiled the writer-director—was pleasingly intimate. Topics ranged from the controversial—such as complaints that her show lacks diversity and accusations of privilege and nepotism (“I had plenty of counterarguments,” Dunham said, “but it’s not elegant to share them”)—to the frankly gossipy. In the latter category, Dunham revealed what Louis C.K. said when he hugged her at the Emmys: “What you’re doing is really important.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that Dunham is able to distinguish between her own life and artistic choices and those of her creation, Girls protagonist Hannah Horvath; indeed it would be very disconcerting if she couldn’t. Even so, hearing her say that “Hannah doesn’t want the life I have now” turned the inside of my head into a broken-down Escher staircase.

Dunham has said before that many of the men on Girls, including Adam and Elijah, are based on her own real-life relationships. The real Adam “never became sweet,” she confessed today, adding that she still hears from men she once had flings with, and they claim to recognize themselves in her characters. “It’s amazing how many guys want to take credit for the complete dicks I write.” Using her own life as a template might be robbing the fictional world of a real scoundrel, though: “I don’t feel like there’s anyone in my life who’s a villain,” she said, “and I don’t want any villains in the show.”

Asked if Hannah—who, like Dunham, is working on a collection of essays—is a good artist, Dunham said: “We don’t know yet. She has potential, but her work habits are deplorable. She’s pretty caught up in what she should be doing.” But when the topic turned to Hannah’s frequent nakedness, Dunham put less distance between herself and her fictional stand-in. “Sometimes it’s a crutch,” she said. “It seems to make people laugh. It falls somewhere between artistic statement and personal preference.”