A night out with Lena Dunham and her 'Girls'
When the stars of HBO’s Girls get together, it feels less like a co-worker meeting than a camp reunion: warm hugs, squeals over hairstyle changes, and breathless catch-ups on one another’s lives. “When I hear the cast of Friends talk about missing each other every day and going on vacation together, I think: That will be us,” says creator and star Lena Dunham, who joined costars Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, and Zosia Mamet on a recent Tuesday for dinner in—where else?—Brooklyn.
These days, it’s rare for all four ladies to be in the same room. Girls‘ fourth season premieres Jan. 11 with its heroines all over the place: Hannah (Dunham) is in Iowa for graduate school; Marnie (Williams) is still trying to launch her music career; Shoshanna (Mamet) is heading into the workforce; and Jessa (Kirke) is still at loose ends when it comes to where her life is meant to take her.
With pasta and wine on the table, the conversation between the four women has the same wit, warmth, and raunch that’s allowed the show to strike such a zeitgeistian chord. Buckle up for their thoughts on love scenes, nudity, friendship, and the secrets of Star Wars.
(Warning: Explicit languages follows!)
All of you have been very busy with side projects during Girls‘ hiatus. Let’s start with Allison’s: Did you all watch Peter Pan Live?
[Lena Dunham, Zosia Mamet, and Jemima Kirke all start to applaud.]
Jemima Kirke: I was away in Miami where I had no access to—
Allison Williams: Television?
Kirke: I watched the clips online, and I was bracing myself: Oh, God, is this going to be weird? But you were really, really good!
Williams: Thank you. I want Rafa [Kirke’s 4-year-old daughter] to watch it.
Kirke: Oh, she’ll watch it. I didn’t know you had to do an English accent.
Williams: How was it?
Lena Dunham: It was better than Jemima’s.
Kirke: Better than mine.
Dunham: I bought it on iTunes. Allison did this smart thing—she prepared everyone, like, “I know you hate-watched [The Sound of Music].” As a result you got ahead of it, and Twitter’s cynicism was pretty silent.
Williams: I was in such a bubble. I’ve never been so invested in something. For only three hours of my life, everything needed to go right. It was so f - - -ing complicated with the flying. I flew into Christopher Walken a week before.
Is musical theater something you want to keep doing?
Williams: Of course, I’d love to. I’m doing an American Songbook concert at Lincoln Center in March.
Zosia Mamet: Oh my God, that’s so exciting! Why haven’t you told me this?
Dunham: I’m going to be there. On the show we have Marnie doing all this cringeworthy singing.
Williams: I know. I’m nervous that people are going to be like, “Just stop f - - -ing singing!”
Dunham: You are actually an amazing singer, and what you do on Girls is acting. Zosia also is a great singer.
Mamet: I actually just found out that they’re workshopping the musical of American Psycho for next fall, and I’m going to do it.
Williams: What? Holy shit.
Dunham: That is amazing. Are you the Chloë Sevigny part?
Mamet: Reese Witherspoon.
Williams: I cannot wait for this.
Kirke: What’s workshopping?
Mamet: You do it for a month and rehearse like you’re putting on a play. It’s for investors to figure out how much the play is going to cost, figuring out the kinks.
Dunham: This is a really big deal. And not to brag, but Jemima had two art shows this year, and you have not made a painting that hasn’t sold out before it was finished.
Kirke: That might have to do with being on the show.
Mamet/Dunham/Williams: Who cares?
I’m assuming all of you read Lena’s book, Not That Kind of Girl, which came out in September.
Dunham: They were all so supportive. They were all at my book party, I felt very lucky. Jemima did an event with me at BAM.
Kirke: I got up on stage with f—ing Zadie Smith. God, she was so intimidating.
Dunham: You were a star.
Speaking of stars, has Adam Driver told you anything at all about his role in next year’s Star Wars?
Williams: I’ve tried everything. I’m the biggest Star Wars fan! I feel like I’m a bigger fan than he is. Nothing! It’s so frustrating. He won’t even say if he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy.
Kirke: Obviously he is the villain. Come on, guys.
Dunham: He has a beautiful but evil face. [Laughs] He won’t tell us anything. He won’t even tell us what country he’s in.
Williams: I asked him if he was real or CGI.
Dunham: I asked him if his costume was heavy, and he was like, “I can’t tell you that.” They transfer him back and forth—
Mamet: In a trash bag, right?
Dunham: Basically. It’s a parka that looks like a trash bag.
Kirke: What’s the name of the director again?
Mamet/Williams/Dunham: J.J. Abrams.
Kirke: Why do they do that?
Dunham: Because everyone cares so much. A high premium is placed on secrecy in Hollywood.
Williams: I would take pictures. [Laughs] I would take paparazzi pictures at this point.
This fourth season begins with all of your characters in very different places emotionally and—in the case of Hannah—physically. Lena, was there an overarching theme you wanted to convey this season?
Dunham: Something I thought about a lot was how when you’re in your 20s, there’s a feeling of “When I decide to be an adult, this will all work out.” People start making good choices: They get a job, they figure out how to graduate, they get sober. But just making the good choice isn’t enough to save you. I remember I was living with my parents when I realized that even if I wash the dishes and don’t steal alcohol from my mother and don’t ignore my friends when they call me for a week and a half, life is still really hard.
With four seasons under your belt, do you guys feel like you know your characters more intimately?
Mamet: Yes and no. Part of me knows [Shoshanna] intrinsically because we’ve got this amazing platform to play characters who are allowed to grow. I think I don’t know her in the way she doesn’t know herself yet.
Kirke: I’m still trying to figure it out. When someone asks me who my character is, it’s hard to answer. I don’t really have a formula for who she is.
Dunham: I always felt like Jessa was the Tracy Jordan of Girls. Like, you know how on 30 Rock Tracy Morgan could say a really smart math theorem but then ask what a sandwich is?
Kirke: You’ve actually given me this Tracy Morgan reference before. It helped.
Dunham: We’ve always joked that Jessa’s the person who would start speaking fluent Chinese but didn’t know what Facebook or a text message was. This season we really start to figure out who Jessa is, and where her vulnerabilities come from.
Do you find it strange or amusing when people tell you they identify as a “Marnie” or a “Shoshanna”?
Williams: That’s a compliment. But it’s also a simplification, and things change over time. If you stopped watching after season 1 you’d have a very different idea about what that statement means.
Dunham: Something to note: Anyone who says they’re a Jessa is not a Jessa. Jessa would never say it! So whenever someone comes up to me and is like, “She’s the Hannah to my Jess,” I’m like, “Okay, you’re two Hannahs. Or you’re probably a Marnie.”
Williams: I’ve found that most journalists relate to the Hannah part of it and are running from the Marnie-ness that kind of haunts them.
Dunham: [Executive producer] Jenni Konner was like, “Am I a Marnie?” And I was like, “Sorry, you’re a Ray.” [Laughs] Judd Apatow once said Marnie is like Charlotte—”You know, the normal one.” I love Sex and the City and those characters, but Charlotte was not normal. [Turns to Kirke] People tried to say that you were the Samantha.
Kirke: I’ve had one sex scene. How could I be the Samantha?
Dunham: She’s got a big sex scene in episode 9. It’s a very sexy scene, and the spoiler that I’ll give you is that her sneakers are on. She’s wearing Keds and a bra, and she’s naked besides that. Someone said it was weird to watch because it was sexy.
Kirke: [Points to Dunham] She wouldn’t watch it! [The director] said, “They’re squirming in their seats. It’s so lame.” Why couldn’t you watch it?
Dunham: Because it made me nervous!
Kirke: But I have to watch you having sex all the f—ing time!
Dunham: But I have shitty, awkward sex. You don’t watch me look genuinely aroused in the sack.
Williams: The funniest thing to me is how much sex I have on the show and how little I wear that amount of sex as a person. People wash it off of me or something and are like, “Oh, you’ve never seen a penis in real life.” And I have so many sex scenes!
Dunham: You got your ass motorboated in the season premiere!
Williams: Which I can’t wait to see…. I had a couple of days talking to wardrobe and makeup to get ready to rig the thing that I wore for the ass motorboating. It was an engineering achievement! I would manufacture it if more than one person a year needed it. [Laughs] It was so elaborate—it involved Spanx that we cut away and glued down and involved menstrual pads and two of those weird thongs. I’ve had to do scenes like this twice now.
Mamet: I’ve done it once. It’s awkward.
Dunham: I’ll tell you an early funny sex-scene story. Zosia was allergic to the glue you apply to the nudity patch. So we had to create this thing that was a piece of a shoebox with a pad.
Mamet: It really was elaborate.
All the nudity and sex scenes must be incredibly awkward to film in general.
Kirke: [To Dunham] You won’t show pubic hair. It’s very weird. I don’t see it as different. Nude is nude is nude.
Dunham: I won’t show my pubic hair. Rebel Wilson made a joke about this on the MTV Movie Awards, something like “I’ve seen Lena Dunham’s vagina more than Ben Affleck’s beard.” I’ve never shown my vagina! That’s my thin red line.
Williams: Do you know why?
Dunham: I think because for me boobs and butts feel comic, and vagina feels intimate and specific. If I was going to do it, I’d want to do it in a sexy French film or something.
Kirke: Even just the front?
Dunham: Yeah, we filmed it once and then I was like, “Can we cut that?” On a purely aesthetic level…there’s a Margaret Cho bit about how she has a fat vagina and tried to do vagina crunches. I relate heavily.
Williams: You’ve talked about this a lot.
Kirke: You have great tits, so you’re happy to show them.
Dunham: I have nice boobs. My butt is fine. I have a fat vagina. [Laughs]
Kirke: My husband loves a fat vagina. I don’t have a fat vagina. But apparently it’s like a muffin.
Dunham: Do you remember that conversation when you were like, “I’d let you have sex with my husband.” And I said, “But I don’t want to.”
Kirke: Well, why wouldn’t you want to? Now I’m offended.
Dunham: He’s gorgeous! But I want to have sex with my boyfriend.
Kirke: You were single at the time. I was being charitable. I just wanted you to experience that joy.
There’s a lot of guest stars this season, including Jason Ritter, Anthony Edwards, Gillian Jacobs, and Spike Jonze. Any chance of us seeing your pal Taylor Swift make an appearance?
Dunham: That would be the greatest thing of all time. She’s a little busy taking over the world right now. I once read this thing online that was like, “Lena doesn’t think Taylor is a good enough actress.” Taylor is an incredible actor, she’s the most iconic performer of her generation, and she’s also one of my best friends. If she wanted to come murder my character on the show, I’d let her. She can do anything she wants.
Do you have any endgame idea in mind for how long Girls will run?
Dunham: I feel so lucky because I was warned over and over again that the first season will be fun, the second season everyone will start to give you shit, the third season will be a hell where no one is speaking to each other, and by fourth season everyone will be quitting.
Kirke: I did try to quit first season. I remember being on my porch and smoking a million cigarettes and saying, “I can’t.”
Dunham: She tried to quit. It was a momentary panic. You were like, “Lena, I have to quit!” And I said, “Really?” And then you were like, “I’ll think about it.” And then we never discussed it again. [Laughs]
So is there a chance this show could turn into Women and be about all of you in your 30s and 40s?
Dunham: When I first started, James L. Brooks said to me, “When there is a TV show that’s going well, there is literally no better job in the world.” I had this attitude at the start like, I want to be like British TV and know when it’s time to stop and leave people wanting more. Now I’m like, I love these characters. I love watching them grow. We have so much freedom. And I’ll never have a better job.
Williams: It’s a pleasure and a privilege. Also, I feel like the film business is in such a weird growing pain.… I’m fine being like, you guys figure that out and we’ll keep doing this dream job.
Mamet: We’re essentially doing what they used to do in the heyday. We’re making a very long movie every year.
Dunham: I don’t think I’ve told you guys this. I used to have this idea that after Girls my adult life would start. And my adult life is happening! Our adult lives are happening, and we’re doing this together. It’s beautiful.
This article appears in Entertainment Weekly‘s Jan. 16 issue.
In a related video: EW’s Ashley Fetters and Esther Zuckerman discuss the Girls season 4 premiere: