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Honor Roll 2012: Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham Talk Sex, the City and 'Girls'

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire December 7, 2012 at 10:39AM

The meteoric ascent of Lena Dunham from precocious indie filmmaker to, well, still-precocious TV series creator and star can be tracked over iterations of SXSW. In 2009, her debut "Creative Nonfiction" played in the Emerging Visions category. In 2010, her sophomore film "Tiny Furniture" won the narrative competition, was picked up by IFC Films and eventually released on DVD by the Criterion Collection. And this year her terrific new show "Girls," about four young women trying to carve out lives in New York, was all over the festival, with HBO touting its April premiere via posters, bicycle shares and free coffee, and with three episodes screening at the 1300-seat Paramount Theatre.
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"Do we have to set this in Boston, just to make it different?"

"Sex in the City" gets name-checked right in the pilot episode. How do you see the relationship between "Girls" and that show? "Sex in the City" is so aspirational, while "Girls" seems more about have no idea what you're even aspiring to yet.

LD: Part of it was to call it out straight on -- it'd be one thing if we were on a different network... As we were writing, I'd wonder, "Do we have to set this in Boston, just to make it different?"

JA: "Should we make one of the girls a guy? It could be 'Girls,' but there's one guy."

READ MORE: Honor Roll 2012: 'The Sessions' Star John Hawkes on the Negative Side of Fame

LD: Totally! They're girls, but there's one guy, and they're in Boston, they're eating beans -- it's a totally different situation!

JA: They never wear shoes.

LD: Then we realized there was no way to make the show and not have that comparison, and we decided to call it out and let the audience know that we were aware and that these characters were aware, that they wouldn't have moved to New York without the influence of the show -- that's how the character of Shoshanna [played by Zosia Mamet] was born. She was the "Sex and the City" girl.

'Girls'
Jojo Whilden/HBO 'Girls'

I wonder if the comparison to "Sex and the City" will stop once the show's out in the world and people have seen and felt the difference.

JA: And it's also about women in New York making a lot of terrible mistakes on their way to finding happiness, so we were well aware that they covered not a lot of ground but all the ground, and did it brilliantly for a really long time.

A long time ago I realized that it is true when they say there are only 27 stories. It's all about texture and tone and pitch. Because if you're going to do a show where someone's trying to have sex, the sex is going to be either really good, really bad, or just okay. There are only two or three options. It's the other details that make things come alive.

Can we talk about the sex? The sex scenes in "Girls" are raw and funny and sometimes made me cover my eyes.

JA: Imagine me having to watch them for six months straight, in the room with Lena!

LD: Imagine Judd coming into that sweaty, disgusting room to give me notes between takes!

We tried to show sex that felt like the sex women that age are having. There are probably going to be girls who are like "I have good sex! I don't know what your problem is, but my sex life is fun!" But for me and for a lot of people I know, sex has been this battleground on which you're playing out a lot of identity issues beyond just getting off (or whatever the kids are saying these days). We were really trying to make each sex scene be a real moment of education about that character and what they want, what the two want from each other.

'Girls'
Jojo Whilden/HBO 'Girls'
JA: It's unglamorized sex -- it's real and strange and some of it seems fun and some of it seems uncomfortable. Some of it, you can't believe what she's tolerating. But it's shocking to me, how funny it is. It's hard to be funny while showing graphic sex.

We watched an episode yesterday in which there's a very graphic scene, and the laughs were so giant -- I hadn't ever seen a sex scene get laughs that big. It wasn't a broad teen movie joke, it was just a version of sex. That's a real achievement, to pull that off. When Lena shoots it, she's so comfortable it's weird. It's so comfortable on set. We're almost at the point where there's boredom.

LD: I got offended at the end by how little the crew was interested in looking at my breasts. [laughs] "They are still here and real." That's one of the things I remember loving about "Knocked Up," the pregnancy sex scene. To see the mechanics of pregnancy sex, I was so excited by the fact that someone was doing that. That sex scene was about more than seeing how well they were getting along -- it was a pivotal relationship moment. That's what I aspire to in these sex scenes.

JA: It said a lot about Kristen Wiig's character in "Bridesmaids" that the movie starts out with her having this very aggressive sex with Jon Hamm. And afterward, he treats her horribly. But in the aftermath, you realize -- she has a low opinion of herself, but she did still get to have sex with Jon Hamm, and she's kind of okay with that trade. There's something demeaning about it, but she got laid. And I think that's a little more accurate than how it's usually portrayed in a lot of movies.

This article is related to: Honor Roll 2012, Girls, Interviews, Lena Dunham, Judd Apatow






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