EMMYS: Lena Dunham On 'Girls'

Charlie Mason is an AwardsLine contributor.

A year ago, you’d have been hard-pressed to find anyone who had ever heard of Lena Dunham. Now, of course, the 26-year-old New Yorker’s name is one of the household variety. Her Judd Apatow-produced HBO series, Girls, didn’t just earn its creator-writer-director-leading lady rave reviews, the pop-culture phenom also sparked Girlsdiscussions of nepotism and race — since she and two of her co-stars come from distinguished families, and there’s not a person of color among the cast.

AWARDSLINE: Congratulations on the nominations we think you’re going to get.
LENA DUNHAM: Thank you! That’s something I still can’t wrap my brain around.

AWARDSLINE: No? C’mon. Would you say you have a healthy interest in a nod, a mild obsession, or would you rather I hadn’t jinxed you by bringing it up?
DUNHAM: The Jew in me wants to go with the third. I’m so focused on shooting Season 2 that it’s hard for me to [worry about it]. That being said, it’s always nice to have the fantasy of the dress and getting to tell your parents how much you love them in a context that really matters — all those things [you] imagine when you’re standing in the shower.

AWARDSLINE: Is it a relief to just concentrate on work?
DUNHAM: It’s the best. If I wasn’t working, I can just imagine myself under my covers, hiding from people, reading every obscure blog entry possible.

AWARDSLINE: Would it be more meaningful for you to be nominated as an actor, director or writer?
DUNHAM: I’ve never thought of myself as an actor, so somebody recognizing me for that would be a real shock.

AWARDSLINE: Is that because the parts that you’ve played so far, in Girls and your breakthrough indie feature Tiny Furniture, have been versions of you?
DUNHAM: Yeah. I always say that I can play sort of six variations on one girl, all of whom are a variation on me. Maybe I’ll think of myself as an actor if, like, I do a corset drama.

AWARDSLINE: Compared to a lot of the people who’d be in your Emmy categories, you’re relatively inexperienced. Is that actually an asset in your work?
DUNHAM: I think so. I’ve been really encouraged… to stay in my own bubble. [No one’s] given me a lecture on how TV works, so it’s been a huge gift to just [create] without any limitations to the form. That’s like, ‘It’s OK to cast your friend from camp … it’s OK to write a 30-minute episode with a 15-minute scene.’

AWARDSLINE: Does Lena the actress ever frustrate Lena the director?
DUNHAM: Definitely. Even more, I frustrate myself as a writer. There are certain things that I’ll think, ‘Well, that would be really fun to play … if somebody else was playing this character.’

AWARDSLINE: Do you worry that, now that you’ve ‘made it,’ you’ll stop having the kind of misadventures that inspire your writing?
DUNHAM: That was my fear. [I harbored] an illusion: Nailing down what you want to do professionally would save you from certain interpersonal anxieties, and [now] I don’t think that’s true. Maybe the opposite is.

AWARDSLINE: With all the praise that’s been heaped on the show, there’s also been some backlash. You seem to be bearing up well.
DUNHAM: Of course, it’s challenging when people are attacking your show … especially the ‘race on television’ dialogue. But I was like, ‘Well, there aren’t enough people of color on television, and if my show is the one that gets people talking about it, I’m willing to take that one for the team.’ As for the well-known parents thing, we laughed about that in my house. People were like, ‘She’s Laurie Simmons’ daughter!’ I wanted to say, ‘I’d like you to give me an explanation in two sentences of who Laurie Simmons is and see if you can even do that.’ I do get it, though. It might seem like a crazy coincidence that we’ve got a David Mamet child and we’ve got Brian Williams’ child, but I think, once people watch the show, they forget who their parents might be.

AWARDSLINE: Yeah, if you’re watching Allison and thinking of Brian Williams…
DUNHAM: … Then you have your own special Brian Williams obsession that needs to be treated!

AWARDSLINE: Is there anyone you’re afraid you’ll forget from your potential acceptance speech that you’d like to thank now to be safe?
DUNHAM: My grandmother would be very angry at me for even allowing myself to believe that this could happen. But you can’t give any exciting speech without misremembering things. I gave a graduation speech in high school where I thanked, like, every single person except the school principal who was retiring that year. It definitely felt like about as low as I could sink in the ‘forgetting people’s names’ category, so I think I’ve already nailed this one!

    1. True, but the majority of the complaints have been from other women. Guys either like her, or don’t care at all. Women are ticked that she’s getting her shot, and they’re 25 and are out in the cold. Worse, they care that a difficult to look at girl is getting her shot, while they look the same and expect to get passed over by model types. You expect pretty girls to get the breaks, but when one of your own gets it, the claws come out.

      1. It took reading about two sentences of her interview to see she has both a sense of humor and very good timing. I know squat about her show — this made me want to watch. Good for her.

      2. Where to begin? First, I personally know several men who HATE the show, especially fathers. Your theory that guys either like her or don’t care is weirdly dismissive as if Lena and her show aren’t worth male attention. Secondly, “a difficult to look at girl.”. Seriously? I find her to be adorable and the most compekling thing about the show. The whole “claws come out” think is the same old tired perpetuation of sexist stereotype. Get a clue.

    2. I LOVE LOVE LOVE GIRLS.
      THE PILOT WAS A BIT WEAK BUT HAS GOTTEN BETTER WITH EACH EPISODE WITH THE BESDT FINALE OF THE LAST FEW TELEVISION SEASONS.

      I also feel that one shouldn’t feel compelled to add people of color for the sake of being politically corect. HOWEVER IS IT REALLY EASIER TO FIND A 26 YEAR OLD VIRGIN IN NYC(BROOKLYN NO LESS) THANK PEOPLE OF COLOR????

      I AM AN NYU WRITER ACTOR I WOULD LOVE TO SHARE MY SCRIPT WITH YOU ABOUT MY NYC

      1. Hi, NYC is full of people with color. Hispanic, blacks, Asians. The way they shoot this show doesn’t make me think New York at all. Sex And The City didn’t have any people of color as main characters but they had a way of making their surroundings full of colorful people.

        Great show.

  1. I love Lena Dunham. I don’t care that she has no minority leads.

    I do care that she and her staff refer to defecating as “Taking Obama to the White House.” Get it? From The Atlantic: “That is ‘funny’ because the President has brown skin, and brown is the color of feces. There are other examples of her [Arfin's], ah, insensitivity on these issues. A reader sent a long this screencap of when Arfin favorited a swastika tweet.”

    Also, when she does have a minority character, she does everything she can to rip minorities, specifically minority women who guys are apparently passing her up for.

    The Asian character she slammed, the line about “it was all Indian girls,” the black homeless guy, the line about –

    “I judge white guys who date Asian girls.”

    Well, Lena, you’re not the only one, but how about this? I date white girls who judge white girls for dating Asian girls? Because only fug girls worry about the lack of white guys to date. I support your “art,” I loved TINY FURNITURE, but have some respect for your President.

    1. Those quotes don’t prove shes a racist. She wouldn’t have Donald Glover on if she were a racist. Also, Donald Glover probably wouldn’y join the show if she made racist statements.

    2. Ha, I wrote my post before I read yours. My issue is with the staff writers and the blatant racism in the show. My jaw literally dropped at the end of the first character with the “smile, girl” homeless, crazy black guy. A show can have an all white cast. A show shouldn’t have an all white cast where the characters routinely make racist quips, the staff writer is a white woman who openly talks about using the n word and makes racist comments, and several of the minor minority characters are cringe worthy stereotypes. Girls makes 2 Broke Girls look culturally sensitive, and that’s hard to do.

    3. Wait, you’re holding Lena Dunham responsible for a column one of her staff writers wrote before she was even employed by the show? What kind of bullshit is that? I don’t even like “Girls,” but it’s bizarre watching Dunham getting held to a standard that literally no one else in the entertainment industry is.

    4. you include no context as to where/how these things were said– really, you should have some links when you post this kind of stuff.

  2. It’s sad that Jemima Kirke and Lena Dunham have never really acted beyond Tiny Furniture, yet they both act Allison Williams off the screen. Allison Williams might be the single worst actor in the history of television. She is wooden in every single season. Just ruins the show for me.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. No one knows who this chick is, outside of maybe this site and the 45 people who have seen Tiny Furniture.

  3. Guess what people, minorities are just like white people. Just write a human experience and cast some people that don’t look like you. No one is looking for a race episode, we’re looking for representation visually. The poster for girls is ridiculous and sad since Lena is 23 years old. Come on. Hearing her on NPR was horrifying. “Minorities are not my experience.” Are human beings your experience?

    1. Minorities are not her experience.

      Going out of her way to trash them on her show seems to be her experience, however.

    2. Why are you crying for Lena to include somebody who looks like you in her show? We’re just schvartzes to those people. Make your own movie and shoot it yourself. Reflect your OWN reality instead of crying to be in someone else’s. Have some dignity.

    3. Lena Dunham has no responsibility to cast minorities just because they exist. It’s a show about Upper East Side white kids, hence the casting of a bunch of white girls.

    4. Gee, I wonder, if an African American made a show with no whites in it, then compared whites to birdsh!t, and said “Whites are not my experience,” would we see anyone in the media praising that show?
      Or would they be labeling it as “controversial,” “exclusionary,” “or “racially biased?”

      Outside of New York this show has no significance. This is not a show about Generation Y. It’s not the “voice” of a generation” unless you think that the Millenials are all white girls from money.

      This is strictly a program aimed squarely at a white suburban audience and it’s a lie to describe it any other way.

    5. Good lord….please stop acting like you’ve been victimized because you don’t think the show has “representation”. Go watch BET or anything by Tyler Perry if you’re so offended.

      1. What reality are you living in? Clearly, you’re own. Grow an intellect and have a spark a real discussion next time. Good lord.

    6. You’ve said it.

      Do you happen to have the link for that interview? I’m a huge fan of hers and if she really did said that, well, that’s just sad.

    7. Girls simply reflects everything that’s wrong with the White Industrial Entertainment Complex. Dunham is just a young heiress-cog, so I don’t blame her.

      It’s just blindness all the way around in the industry. Nothing can and will change that.

    1. Your comment not only made me laugh – but it is so much funnier than ANYTHING that has been on GIRLS. You should be writing the show. Don’t want that to come off as sarcasm – it’s TRUE. Funny post. Horrible show, Horrible little girl.

    2. Your comment chillingly nails what nepotism is REALLY about. People want to help “their own”. Being “related” is when someone looks at you and sees themselves. And that happens a lot more for some people in Hollywood than it does for others. Or, as Lena puts it: “Minorities are not my experience.” Obviously.

      So it’s not that no one knows who Laurie Simmons’ daughter is. It’s that Laurie Simmons has enough privilege and access to create a life for her daughter where she A) has the self-esteem to believe that people will give a s**t about her tiny movie (because they will, and frankly, they should); B) has access to the resources necessary to realize that tiny story; C) has access to the resources to find an outlet for that tiny story at SxSW; D) is exposed to a very very powerful person who looks like her, see “something” in her, and because of that, E) move to the front of the line at HBO who turns on the hype machine, gets the NY Times in the bag and F) become the new Voice Of A Generation.

      Done and done.

      A great story. No one’s saying she doesn’t deserve it, but let’s be real, it’s not gonna happen to someone from Washington Heights.

      1. It is unfortunate that you blame her for having had opportunities. She deserves the praise she has received, she writes, directs, stars and produces a very poignant show. It is not for everyone and does not relate to everyone’s experience but to make it sound like she doesn’t work hard and is handed everything is just absurd. I know plenty of people her age who have come from families equally as privileged and aren’t doing anything with their lives. Because her mom is a successful artists you’ve never heard of doesn’t mean she was handed the keys to a castle.

        1. I think nailed it’s point was not that Lena Dunham doesn’t deserve her success, or that plenty of people just as privileged as she is have wasted their opportunities, but the opposite – that some people – not a lot, but surely a few – who are just as talented as Lena Dunham – maybe even more so! – didn’t have her opportunities and therefore may never be heard from.

          Certainly Lena Dunham is talented and works hard – would she have gotten this far, this fast, if she was a nobody? We’ll never know.

  4. Her tacit approval of the disgusting racial remarks leveled at Barack Obama are completely unacceptable.

  5. I wanted to like the show, especially since people have been raving about it. Too bad it sucks. It felt like I had seen all of those characters and situations before in previous movies and tv shows. It didn’t feel like it was bringing anything new to the table. Now that I know that she’s only 26, I know why. The show is slow, bland and unoriginal in my opinion. Felt like a dumded down Sex in the City, but with slackers. Maybe I’m too old for this show and it’s for a younger audience. Nah, it just sucks.

  6. “The Jew in me” Yawn. The over-representation of Jews in the industry continues. It’s beyond tired. Can someone else please take over? Like the Chinese? Or Latinos?

    1. Jews got into the industry because other industries were closed to us due to overt anti-semitism. If you’ve got a problem with “over-representation,” then blame the white Christians at the turn of the last century who wouldn’t let “one of them” into other professions.

      That said, too many writers and directors who can’t get that the rest of the country isn’t Jewish or from NY and LA is a problem. I am Jewish and from New York and I don’t need to constantly look in a mirror. I’d love to see shows set in other places with other kinds of characters. But it isn’t axiomatic that “over-representation” in the industry is the problem. It’s failure of imagination.

  7. There is an upsetting sense of arrogance and entitlement to this girl that ironically reminds one of the early/mid-90′s Judd Apatow — back when he was one of the most insufferable and annoying people in Hollywood and before his “Cable Guy” smackdown. Still, she’s five hundred times the director Bret Ratner is, and eight million times the writer Doug Ellin is, so I’m excited to see where she takes her talent and I hope she makes a lot more money than those substandard creatives.

    BUT the loathsome attitude has got to go. She seems to almost be assuming an Emmy win in this article. Does she not have a real publicist to tell her to be a bit humble?

  8. This whole interview is a jinx fest when it comes to her nominations. I’m sure she’ll get at least one (for writing the Pilot), but was it really necessary to focus so so much on something that isn’t even that certain like say a Desperate Housewives lovefest during the first season or a Breaking Bad bonanza this year?

  9. THIS IS GREAT COMEDY !! If people don’t understand it, to bad- comedy doesn’t have to be P.C. it has to be funny Keep up the good work !!

  10. What I don’t get is, of ALL shows, why is this show the one getting slammed for lacking minority characters? I don’t watch it- and I’m really honestly wondering.

  11. I am not concerned with the politics surrounding this show, whether its the nepotism, sexism, lack of minorities, what it does or doesn’t say about a small sample of women of a particular generation. I do not find the humor to be “offensive.” What I am offended by and concerned with, is that Girls is a terrible television show. I’ve tried giving it a shot based on the hype, and I wanted to like it. I wanted to be a fan of this show. I’m not. It stinks. The writing is awful, the acting is awful, the directing is awful… It’s a bad show, period. This is what is offensive about Girls. It is cringe worthy (not in a ground breaking social commentary way) to the point of giving me douche chills.

  12. A blast of stinky, crazy, unbridled banter and unabashed brains in the writing is what we all need from our art… like great American theater of the mid-century… from the gutter to golden horizons of the human mind… It’s all very emotional and fragile… Which leaves all the other neophyte, race, nepotism and beauty bashing comments mute. Long live the work Lena and Judd… I can still watch “Freaks and Geeks” without cringing. As for shows like “My So Called Life”… I really can’t say the same.

  13. I’m African-American and I can enjoy a show that has no minorities on it (I loved Cheers, Seinfeld, and every Woody Allen movie). I like Lena’s show – the narcissism of the characters is kind of entertaining, although I can see it getting a little tiresome if they don’t change it up a little.

    However, even I get weary of the monolothic white programming on the 5 networks. I don’t think white people who are dismissive of this complaint fully realize just how few representations exist for non-whites. Someone always names two or three shows as if that means the problem doesn’t exist, but in terms of seeing the experiences of non-white people in series television, there really isn’t much.

    You have entire networks that can go entire seasons with only shows about white people. It’s the reason BET was created in the first place (for all the posters who I know were going to start shouting “What about BET! We don’t have WET!” Well, yes you do times 5). Without BET we’d have even less. Just looking at the cold hard numbers. How many shows do you see about the experiences of non-white people year to year? Few, if any. It’s not unusual for an entire TV season to go by without any new shows about non-whites on any of the 5 networks. Can you imagine a season with no new shows about white people? It’s a legitimate complaint, but I think Lena got the brunt of it because she’s viewed as being from a privileged and insular background and now she gets her own TV show. Personally, I like her sensibility and wish her the best.

  14. Having seen both Tiny Furniture and Girls, I have to say I like Lena Dunham. However, is it mean to say that she seems just a little self-indulgent? I don’t know, maybe I just don’t get her style or I’m subconsciously jealous. Or maybe she’s self-indulgent. I still like Girls though, don’t get me wrong!

  15. It’s not only laughable but patently offensive that she would claim that not including actors an characters of color on her show was “taking one for the team” to promote discussion of there being not enough actors on color on tv. As though it’s some kind of selfless sacrifice for the good of minorities that she is somehow championing by not including them? That doesn’t pass the laugh test.

  16. I still dont understand why THIS show gets so much flack for being racist? Does no one remember “Friends”? That was on for 10 years and watched by tens of millions of people. No one dared to wish Lisa Kudrow was Latina back then.

    1. There were plenty of complaints that a show could be set in NYC without minority leads. I rationalized it as a science fiction show set in an alternate universe.

  17. Hoping season two gets back to what makes the show work… It’s brutal honesty. The last 3 or 4 episodes felt tonally wrong like they wanted to be sex and the city and more likeable rather than cling to the painful funny truth. In those last 4 episodes, all but the finale were directed by other people rather than lena herself. She needs to take full control of everything again and stop listening to the online chatter.

    1. No. That scene where Adam calls out Hannah was brutally honest in episode 10. That scene in episode 9 with
      Marnie and Hannah was very dark.

  18. Lena Dunham = Daughter of Laurie Simmons

    Allison Williams = Daughter of Brian Williams

    Zosia Mamet = Daughter of David Mamet

    But I’m sure they’ve earned their opportunities.

    1. Please explain to me how any of these relationships would make anyone at HBO care about who any of them are.

      Brian Williams daughter? Really? That’s some sort of huge step through the door? Allison was discovered online by Judd Apatow. You really think he gives a crap about Brian Williams?

      Is David Mamet one of the producers or writers on the show? No. So what’s the value of having Zosia (a previously established actress) on the show? Maybe because she’s talented?

      In any of the promotional material, did HBO ever mention any of this stuff? No. Because it’s totally irrelevant.

      Did knowing they might come from places more familiar with the industry possibly crack open a few doors for them? Of course.

      I got my first job at a grocery store because my sister worked there the summer before. Is that something unique or even the slightest bit outrageous?

      Because from what I can tell, my sister gave me a better in to that job than any of these women got from the list you mentioned.

  19. I think the discussion of diversity being represented on television is a good one, but that the shots taken at Girls are completely misguided.

    The source of the problem is that there are not enough opportunities for minority writers in television to better express that diversity.

    I’m a Caucasian writer from Ohio, and that’s the sensibility I have in my writing. I would be kind of foolish to write anything else, and I often deal with that ignorance with my Caucasian characters.

    Comedy is also not my strength, so I don’t try to write that either.

    What’s the old adage? Write what you know. It’s true, there’s a way to know a lot of things you might not have grown up knowing… but the life experience of people of other races is a stretch.

    It’s out of respect for my own ignorance that I don’t attempt to write about an experience I could not possibly fully understand. I am not purposely excluding any color or creed from the worlds I create, and often the race of my characters actually doesn’t matter.

    After all, are there cries to have Caucasian writers or actors on Tyler Perry shows? I don’t think so. Certainly not from me. It totally makes sense that his writers might be predominantly African American as well as his casts.

    I would completely support better efforts by the WGA to get more minority voices in writing rooms and in showrunner chairs, as well as SAG efforts to demand more jobs for minority actors.

    I think GIRLS is simply another symptom of a much different problem. Their lack of experience, age, and coveted spot on HBO just rubbed a few people the wrong way.

    Maybe there should be something like a “Rooney” rule like they have in the NFL. The networks MUST consider a certain number of pilots written by minorities every season. They can’t be compelled to pick them up, but getting them in the room and getting them read is a big part of opening up those opportunities.

  20. Show is EXCELLENT. And got better from pilot.

    Super funny, awkward, poignant. Episode where she went home was great. And beautifully shot.

    And dude who plays Adam is from another planet of good, he elevates all his scenes. What a find.

    Can’t wait for next season!

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