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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.
Jojo Whilden/HBO 'Girls'

Lena, your character in the show, Hannah, like Aura in "Tiny Furniture," takes some terrible sideways verbal abuse. What's lead to your choice of that as this painful comic device?

LD: It's funny, because everyone in my life is so nice to me.

JA: Yeah, what are you so mad about?

LD: I know! It's not like anyone's being snarky with me at the office. I think I'm still dealing with some high school shit. [laughs] But I also think in some way people are saying the things to Hannah that she's thinking about herself. Other people's snide remarks are a bit of a reflection of her internal monologue -- and because it's a TV show, we can do that. 

And she puts herself in so many ridiculous situations that people could redress her a little more thoroughly than they even do. People asked me, with "Tiny Furniture," why I put the character in such horrible situations -- I like to think of [Hannah] as a willing participant in her own humiliation. She cannot seem to make the right choice. That also makes it exciting when there's a moment when she does. An empowering moment with her is a big deal for me.

JA: I think everybody makes some really awful choices when they're that age. It's the moment where you think to yourself, "It makes perfect sense for me to sleep with the receptionist at the strip club!" [laughs] There's a time in your life where that just seems like a good move. Slowly you realize how awful it is.

LD: That's all "Tiny Furniture" was -- it was about a time when I thought it'd be a great idea to move three or four homeless guys into my house with my parents and didn't act like it was weird.

JA: We were walking down the street here [in Austin] and there were thousands of kids out partying. I remember being that age and you're just running around looking to make something happen. You're either going to get in trouble or try to sleep with some somebody or drink or do a drug, just to have an anecdote.

Jojo Whilden/HBO 'Girls'

And you have a sense that this is the time when you're supposed to do that kind of stuff, because when you get older you really shouldn't be. And there is that little window of experimentation -- for me, that window was eight days. That's what the show is about.

I also like that it's about someone who is, in a lot of ways, trying to be Jonathan Ames -- "I'm going to write these essays about my really interesting life!" -- but her life isn't that interesting, so when given the choice to do something or not do something she will make the wrong choice and hope that it's interesting enough to write about.

LD: I was thinking about Hannah and how once I broke up with a boyfriend and I said to him, "You are pessimistic! And I expect great things from life, and I want to have a big life where I have tons of experiences and I want to embrace everything!" And he was like, "You never leave your bedroom." [laughs] And that's what Hannah is -- she can't quite engage.

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

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