Emmys

Eye on Emmy: Lena Dunham Defies Convention and Ditches Inhibitions In HBO's Golden Girls

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 discussions 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). And, come Emmy night, it’s quite possible you’ll hear her name again, following the words “And the winner is… ”

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

TVLINE | 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?
The Jew in me wants to go with the third. [Luckily] 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.

TVLINE | Is it a relief to just concentrate on work?
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.

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

TVLINE | Is that because the parts that you’ve played so far, in Girls and your breakthrough indie Tiny Furniture, have been versions of you?
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.

TVLINE | 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?
I think so. I’ve been really encouraged… to stay in my own bubble. [No one’s ever] 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 [meant], like, ‘It’s OK to cast your friend from camp … it’s OK to write a 30-minute episode with a 15-minute scene.’

TVLINE | Does Lena the actress ever frustrate Lena the director?
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.”

TVLINE | Do you worry that, now that you’ve ‘made it,’ you’ll stop having the kind of misadventures that inspire your writing?
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.

RELATED | HBO Renews Girls and Veep for Second Seasons

TVLINE | With all the praise that’s been heaped on the show, there’s also been some backlash. You seem to be bearing up well.
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 [respond], ‘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 [playwright] David Mamet child and we’ve got [NBC Nightly News anchor] Brian Williams’ child, but I think, once people watch the show, they forget who their parents might be.

TVLINE | Yeah, if you’re watching Allison and thinking of Brian Williams…
… then you have your own special Brian Williams obsession that needs to be treated!

TVLINE | Is there anyone you’re afraid you’ll forget from your potential acceptance speech that you’d like to thank now to be safe?
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!

This story first appeared in the pages of TVLine’s print sibling Awards|Line. The specialty Awards|Line editions canvass various facets of the Emmy and motion pictures awards season including deep coverage, analysis and interviews with the leading contenders and industry players.

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60 Comments
  1. When she gets an award, she should thank her high school principal in her acceptance speech.

  2. Nicole says:

    I have a special Brian Williams obsession that needs to be treated. Haha

  3. Rania W says:

    Definitely rooting for Lena in all categories! Love being slapped in the face with that kind of reality.

  4. Dennis says:

    i’ve tried watching this show, it’s just not good. i don’t if it’s the horrible acting or if i just don’t like the character but something about it, maybe everything, just makes it unwatchable. i rally can’t explain what it is,

    • Sara says:

      I totally agree. I watched an episode and kind of actually felt robbed of the time that I’d just spent watching it.

  5. Chance says:

    The writing is TERRIBLE. The acting is sub-par.

  6. Jan says:

    ‘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.’

    Wow, that takes a special kind of narcissism.

    • PC says:

      Have to agree with this. I actually like the show- it’s not meaningful or groundbreaking, but it’s funny enough. That said, nice job sidestepping the fact that the reason people decry the lack of people of color on her show (where she can apparently do anything- cast someone from camp, write a 15-minute scene in a 30-minute episode), is that there are NO people of color on her show. It’s great that the amazing Donald Glover is going to be in S2, but it’s incredibly not great that it wasn’t just a matter of fact before that.

  7. TheMediaFan says:

    I love Girls. I think Lena Dunham is pushing the envelope in ways we might not comprehend yet.
    Girls is one of the only comedies on premium cable that is dark and funny at the same time thanks to Lena Dunhams witty dialogue. Lena Dunham is a great writer. The reason Girls works is because it let’s the audience know that it’s aware of the characters unlikability and it makes fun of them. For example in the pilot when Hannah proclaims herself the voice of the generation, there’s a shot of her parents looking disgusted. Her parents are a metaphor for the show saying that this character is a bit unlikable and deluded.
    A lot of critics are liking this show because Lena Dunham is doing stuff never done before on a premium cable show.
    Lenas daring to show that both males and females are pretty messed up. She’s going against 60 years of tv viewing training that you can only like a show or movie if they have characters that are rootable. People don’t know how to react to the characters not being likable. So, they just dismiss it as the show being terrible when it’s anything but terrible.
    Lena Dunham is showing that a show can be great by having interesting characters who are not likable.

    • TheBeach says:

      Breaking Bad, anyone?

      • TheMediaFan says:

        Breaking Bad doesn’t come from a females perspective. Also,the fact that she isn’t pretty or conventional bothers some people.

        • Sara says:

          But Girls isn’t really a “female perspective”. It’s one very limited and narrow point of view. It’s spoiled overindulged girls in NYC. That’s hardly the voice of generation, in fact most of the people in NYC that I know would tell you the show bears no resemblance to anything they or their friends go through.

          It has nothing to do with whether the characters are likable or not, and I disagree strongly with your opinion that people don’t know how react to unlikable characters. Gregory House, JR and Sue Ellen Ewing, Tony Soprano, the cast of Seinfeld. People do just fine with unlikable characters as long as the material supports things. In this case, it just doesn’t.

          • TheMediaFan says:

            When she says that line in the pilot, the show is making fun of her as though she were delusional.

          • Sara says:

            I wasn’t talking about a line in the show… I was talking your comment that this show obviously had female perspective but Breaking Bad didn’t. I was also referring to just about every major media outlet which has tried to force this stuff down people’s throats as art and has claimed that Lena Dunham is the supposed voice of women and of her generation.

    • Kimmie says:

      I really enjoy the show, but I do NOT understand when people say it’s the first to be aware of and portray unlikeable characters. Um, writers have been doing this for ages now. The anti-hero blew up during the late 90′s and has retained its popularity since then. Mad Men? Breaking Bad? THE SOPRANOS? Girls is no different. It’s a well written and entertaining for what it is, but it’s definitely not controversial or pushing any boundaries from what I can see. I think had Lena paid more attention to casting characters of colour then she might have had a chance of creating a more acclaimed and original show. As it is, I think she will never fully escape the well deserved criticism that she is currently receiving.

      • Jellymoff says:

        What about Seinfeld? They are all horrible people!

        • Chance says:

          Precisely. Seinfeld may have been a show about nothing, but it was a show populated with some of the most unlikable characters ever. It was great. Girls is crap.

      • mawhi says:

        But see, this show isn’t Seinfeld, or Arrested Development. It wasn’t conceived as “we’re going to tell hilarious stories about horrible people” – it was “I’m going to tell real stories that I’m not seeing on television that I think people like me, Lena Dunham, can relate to.” This all feels like backpedaling in the wake of criticism.

    • Peace Maker says:

      Exactly!

    • Nick says:

      I’m not easy to please. I’m a senior citizen who now has mortality on the horizon. I don’t like wasting my time watching crap. This show however is clever, witty and groundbreaking. I look forward to each episode. Some of the “popular” broadcasting shows are crap to me. Canned laughter. Predictable humor. This show is unpredictable. The acting is extremely natural and totally believable. In fact, it is so natural, you think they are not acting. Not an easy task. Kudos to Lena for such a terrific series.

  8. CatLyons says:

    I love Girls and think that dunham is extremely talented. I personally love the humor in it and hope she gets some recognition from the emmys.

  9. jess says:

    Great interview. Thanks!
    I lol’d at the Brian Williams comment.

    Girls is hit and miss with me, but it does seem genuine. The characters are often boring and self-important, which makes them all the more real to me. The show certainly isn’t for everyone (most HBO shows aren’t), but I find it interesting and often humorous. There is really nothing special about it or its characters, which makes it kind of special.

  10. JWB says:

    Veep is a better show. I just couldn’t get into it. I don’t understand the hype.

  11. Lili says:

    She should be nominated for writing and win for that “All Adventurous Women Do” episode. That dialogue with the former boyfriend is simply one of the best things I’ve seen on TV this year.

    I think Modern Family, 30 Rock, Glee and The Big Bang Theory will SADLY be nominated otherwise the world ends. And the spots left must go to Parks and Recreation (or another NBC comedy – probably The Office, who has been nominated for every single year since season 2) and one of the HBO new hits (Veep is brilliant – and weirdly addicting I gotta say)

    I think Modern Family and 30 Rock deserve the nominations. The Office’s nom should go to Parks and Recreation, Glee’s to New Girl and Big Bang’s to Wilfred – which is very underrated. It’s as dark as the short dramas from Showtime, but it makes me laugh out loud with every single scene.

  12. nerdiest says:

    Wait a second. Did the author here really write “since” all the characters come from distinguished families there are “no people of color” in the show? Distinguished families are only white? Wow.

    • AJ says:

      The distinguished family part was in reference to nepotism. I have no idea really, but I would wager a guess that one of them has a parent that works for HBO or a studio. As for the show, it’s not bad, but once again I don’t think “emmy” when I watch it. I don’t get why people think it is “groundbreaking” to write about awkward stuff that happens to a lot of people when they are young.

  13. chloe says:

    I’ve tried to watch this show a few times. I just don’t understand why people like it. I blame the poor writing. I’ve liked other shows that only have unlikable characters, but the characters have been interesting in some respect. The girls on this show are too one note; they’re all spoiled, immature, and boring.

    • Sara says:

      That’s honestly kind of how I felt about it. I tried watching the pilot and I really just kept waiting for something to happen or for someone to do something that would make me want to pay attention. It wasn’t that they were unlikable to me… I just didn’t care.

    • Eli says:

      But that’s what’s so new and groundbreaking about this show Chloe! Finally now we have a tv show where not only are (almost) all the main characters unlikable, but they are even uninteresting to boot! Never before seen I tell ya (except that one season of Survivor nobody ever talks about).

      • Sara says:

        I still don’t get why fans of the show hype the fact that the characters are so unlikable as if it’s new or edgy. They say things like detractors have never had a show with unlikable characters and that’s why they don’t get it… Gregory House could be pretty unlikable. As could Tony Soprano, Jackie Peyton, Dexter Morgan, JR & Sue Ellen Ewing and the cast of Seinfeld. The big difference is that they were and are at least interesting. Even if you didn’t agree with what they did or how they did it, you still rooted for them. And each of those characters were on shows that provide(d) material that was coherent and actually seemed to go somewhere. I only watched the first episode of Girls and it was painfully obvious that not only was the main character ever going to change but there was never going to be any sort of character development or growth. So not only were the characters unlikable, boring, and badly written/acted, but they were also devoid of any sort of redeeming feature. So honestly, what’s the point?

  14. Walrus says:

    I’m all for diversity in casting when it’s called for, or when it doesn’t matter what actor plays a role… but if she’s writing based on her personal experiences, and her close circle (which is what the show is about, it seems) didn’t include minorities, it would actually detract from the believability that she has managed to project. I think diversity just for it’s own sake is as bad as lack of diversity when there should be some. Also, isn’t her co-worker at the coffee shop mixed-race?

  15. Elisabeth says:

    “getting to tell your parents how much you love them in a context that really matters .” Because, God knows, award shows are what really matters. Pathetic.

  16. CJ says:

    She is delusional and her show sucks. I will be incredibly unhappy if she wins anything.

  17. Eli says:

    Holy moly! I guess Andy Patrick can tell us all about Ms. Dunham’s vocal cords considering how far he just crawled up her ass…
    In case you can’t tell I am SO FREAKING TIRED of getting this person and her HBO show crammed down my throat in almost every frickin article on this site lately.
    I mean, I almost sorta kinda get why you “critics” and entertainment journalists (yes Ausiello, that is directed at you) are so in love with this show. I can imagine if you have to pretend to be excited again about the umpteenth procedural-clone that features yet another brilliant character solving murders/crimes with some “unique” characteristic (seriously, there are more people with eidetic memory on tv than exist in the entire bloody world), or when you are forced to watch the “next mysterious serial show that is the new Lost”.
    I get it, you’ve gotten jaded. And then a show like Girls comes along and besides the obvious hipster-approved certificate that totally appeals to most of you, it is something completely different from all those generic tv shows you have to sit through because its your damn job.
    But seriously guys, just because something is different, doesn’t mean it’s good (let alone so great you guys are single-handedly gonna be responsible for getting her an emmy nomination, cause if we actually take an objective look at the show (and the ratings) there’s just no way this is emmy-worthy).
    I could dive into why Girls really isn’t that good, but this rant has already gone on long enough. Just please, Ausiello, Mitovich, and everyone else on this site, stop shoving this show down my throat. You’re mentioning Girls more than Game of Thrones, or Mad Men, or The Good Wife, or a lot of other shows that deserve the attention a lot more.

    • CJ says:

      Co-sign.

    • Ethan says:

      “just because something is different, doesn’t mean it’s good”

      EXACTLY. This show isn’t Emmy worthy. The writing is poor.

    • Britta Unfiltered says:

      Nobody is jamming anything down your throat. You are sitting at a computer of your own free will choosing to read an article on Lena Denham and Girls, and then choosing to think enough about it that you are willing to write a lengthy commentary on how much you dislike it. You are making your own choices here to immerse yourself in the Girls universe. If you hate it so much, just do what I did with all the Glee articles and stop reading them. You’ll end up feeling so much better about yourself and life if you do.

      • jenna says:

        THIS!
        There are a lot of shows on tv that are written about that I have no interest in. Like a newspaper or magazine, just skim over the articles you don’t care about. Why in the world would you take up your valuable time to reply in depth to something that has no place in your life?
        I’m glad to see some press given to shows that aren’t in the main stream. And, many awards have been won by actors and shows I don’t care for. So what?
        To each his own; there’s something out there for everyone.

  18. Eli says:

    PS Andy Patrick, a person on a show that gets watched by about 1.7% of the entire population is NOT a “household name” ffs.

    • TheMediaFan says:

      Uh, the ratings go way up when you factor in OnDemand.

      • Sara says:

        According to the Nielsens, the June 3rd episode of Girls was its highest rated episode ever with it’s initial telecast. Just how many people was it? 1.1 million people. You add in the OnDemand number of viewers and you arrive at 1.7 million people. Were these numbers on any show on free to air TV, the show would be considered a substantial flop.

        • TheMediaFan says:

          That’s not a failure by pay cable standards though and when you factor in OnDemand, it goes up to 4 million.

          • Erin says:

            When Neilson’s says that its viewers are in the millions they really mean thousands. One family watching a program equals 25,000. So really there aren’t a lot of people watching these programs.

          • Eli says:

            Do you have a source for these on demand numbers?

          • Sara says:

            Actually, WITH OnDemand included here’s the numbers for the June 3rd airing of Girls:

            Girls – HBO
            1.094 million viewers, #22

            I don’t know where you’re pulling this mythical 4 million viewer number from, but it’s not anything based in reality.

          • Eli says:

            Thank you Sara, I sort of suspected he/she was pulling these numbers out of his/her ass.

  19. Lyndsey says:

    Is this what TV has come down to? Heaping undeserved praise on a show simply because it “dared” to have unlikeable AND uninteresting characters with boring storylines?! Seriously?! I’ve got no problem with having a cast full of unlikeable characters (Breaking Bad has excelled in this category) but why in hell would I waste even 30 minutes of my life on uninteresting characters in boring storylines? Does Hollywood even realize anymore that the entertainment industry is all about allowing us to ESCAPE from people like this?

    And beyond that, her character is just disgusting! I cannot imagine being so lazy that you would continue to sponge off your parents rather than getting off your butt and getting a job! If I could wait tables and tend bar with two bachelor’s degrees & a Master’s when times got rough then she surely can.

  20. Erin says:

    I’m watching this show from a person of color’s pov. Like most shows, it’s a show about over privileged white girls. I still find it to be somewhat entertaining so I continue to watch it. It is a ridiculous show and I think it needs to be tweeked a little. I’m not really offended by her answer to the question about race, because it seems like that is a lot of people’s answer in Hollywood. Hey watch it or don’t, she’s still making money.

  21. Britta Unfiltered says:

    Good luck, girl, I’m rooting for you. I just started watching Girls this week and I’m already salivating for more new episodes. It is up my alley to say the least. I realize the anti-hero archetype on TV has been around for awhile, but I don’t believe anyone has ever really done this from a female POV (at least on American TV, I know AbFab has done this already in Britain), which I find fascinating as television shows that have women as their leads usually just try to show them as perfect women with perfect bodies who don’t ever seem to make really bad mistakes in life because of unique character flaws. I love the characters on this show. They make me horribly uncomfortable because there is so much there that is completely familiar to me and my life, and that makes me die laughing. For me, when it comes to Girls, some things in life are funny because they’re not true, and this is NOT one of them. Everything in there feels very true to me. Have I sponged off my dad in my 30s to help get a car and a condo? I’m ashamed to say I have. Have I dated skanky guys who wanted to do weird things in sex that I really wasn’t into, but I pretended to be anyway to make them happy? Sure! Who hasn’t. Have I dumped guys because they seemed too into me or told me they loved me too much? Absolutely. I know those girls, I am those girls. I think a lot of us out there feel the same way as them. And then there’s those who don’t, but that’s cool, they’ve had different life experiences than me. I do feel like I am an unlikeable person, which is what bonds me to those characters. And the more people on sites like this say how much they hate the characters on Girls, the more it makes me like them. We are kindred spirits now in our unlikeableness.
    .
    And I do think the show and Lena will get nominated. And it won’t be because people are fooled into thinking it must be edgy, it will be because they see so much of themselves in those characters and how brave and honest they think Lena is for her both her writing and her acting.

    • Eli says:

      So basically you are saying the members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences are all unlikeable like those characters? That’s nice…

  22. Rables says:

    This show is boring. I’ve talked to girls from FairField CT, rich white girls. They hate it. I hate it (male). My wife hates it. It is the worst 30 min show in the history of HBO. And talk about anti hero females VEEP. Its hilarious. Has black people. And is about a rich white lady do

  23. Rables says:

    About rich white lady doing things literally no one could believe. Shallow. Self centered. And the writing is much better. Just because your a female doesn’t mean you can write for all females or men wouldn’t make shows for females. Also while we’re at it Episodes is the best show on Televison. Period.

  24. A.J. says:

    I like Girls. I don’t love it, won’t necessarily root for it, but I like it enough to watch On Demand in the middle of the week. The characters are too delusional to take seriously, but I think it’s interesting to watch a show created/directed/written by someone my age. It’s kind of inspiring. Of course I wish Lena’s version of Brooklyn was colored with a few more shades, but if this is what her vision is, then hey. It’s pointless to expect everyone to “get it.” Especially overprivileged white girls lol. It’s certainly no Seinfeld, but it’s entertaining enough.

  25. Jo says:

    This is the worst show on television. There isn’t enough money in the world for Hbo to buy this garbage an Emmy.

  26. LaurenMC says:

    I don’t understand why there is a race issue regarding the cast of Girls. It’s a show about spoiled-ish, entitled, post college white girls getting their lives together in NYC. Does that not happen? Why is every show required to cast by race and not by the story/plot?