Lena Dunham on Ending ‘Girls,’ Taylor Swift and Being Blamed for Hillary’s Loss
“I’ve always annoyed people,” says Lena Dunham. “I was the girl in third grade where everybody was like, ‘This girl is so annoying – like, leave.'” But Dunham has done a whole lot more than freak out critics on the left and right for the past five years: In addition to her bestselling memoir and her smart feminist newsletter, Lenny Letter, HBO’s Girls, which begins its sixth and final season in February, has been consistently hilarious and innovative, even as a fair number of people could never stop confusing Dunham’s sometimes clueless character, Hannah Horvath, with the woman who created and portrays her. “People never gave us the benefit of the doubt that the show was actually a self-aware commentary on privileged white womanhood,” says Dunham. “When a guy plays an antihero, nobody’s like, ‘I think Bryan Cranston’s really promoting drug use.'”
It’s a big thing to end a show. What did you want this final season to accomplish?
We always we wanted to go out while people were still engaged in the show, still talking about it. It felt like the saddest thing that could happen would be for people to be like, “Is Girls still on?” During Season Four, we started talking about wrapping it up; we then were able to clearly see the 20-episode arc of Seasons Five and Six that took Hannah and the girls to their logical conclusion. It’s an intense, painful sort of breaking up of a family but it’s also one of the most inspiring creative experiences that you can have.
The first season of a show, you don’t know if you’re gonna have a second season – you don’t know if anyone’s gonna like it, and you put everything you have out on the line. And then you come back, at least in my experience, and go, like, “Okay, what do I still have to say? I already kind of screamed out my identity.” [That] first season, we pushed ourselves as hard as we could, and now we get to make more. You kind of have the same experience ending a show – you’re like okay, everything I ever wanted to say about these characters, this time of life, let’s blast it out right now. It’s an interesting thing, because I think we really did end up using kind of every scenario and moment we’d ever imagined for these girls.
How did you grapple with the specific challenge of making a series-finale episode – did you watch any previous finales in the process?
We were obsessed with our finale and we talked a lot about other shows that we thought did it right, but we actually sort of purposely didn’t model ours on anyone else’s. The ninth episode of the season is sort of the more traditional finale, and then the 10th is almost like a short-film epilogue. We did it a little bit of a different way. The show’s never been about that traditional connection, where it’s four best friends who just can’t get enough of each other. So to do a traditional everybody-gets-their-happy-ending finale didn’t feel right. At the same time, we wanted people to have the satisfaction of closure. I think we found kind of a creative way to do that. We’ll see if other people feel the same way.
You ended up shooting the finale and the first episode of the season at the same time – what was that like?
That was actually kind of crazy because we had the fun of starting the season and the weird … I mean, there definitely was like a funereal vibe over the finale, I can’t lie. We had moments of real fun, but there were a lot of “lasts”: last time we’ll be in Hannah’s apartment, last time Hannah and Marnie are together, last time we’re gonna see Hannah’s parents. People really felt that deeply, and we had crew that have been with us from the beginning. These are people who are really, really connected to the show and what it is, really emotionally invested in it, and it [was] hard to say goodbye to them. The last night was just me like weeping into the arms of everybody. Those guys are my brothers, I mean like our grips … There’s tons of women who work on our show but the majority of the crew members who do those big physical jobs wind up being men. We don’t all share the same ideology, we don’t all vote for the same people, but these dudes have defended me in locker rooms before. They’re my true family.
And so, saying goodbye to them, [showrunner Jenni Konner] and I were just bereft to lose the day-to-day intimacy with this group of people you kind of never imagined you’d be intimate with. Like if you had told me one of my best friends would be, like, a Teamster who is anti-gun control, I would have been like you’re insane! And now, he’s one of my best friends.
What do you make of the fact that some people are actually, somehow, blaming you for Hillary Clinton’s election loss?
It’s amazing. I’m like, “Why don’t we check in with Russia, you guys?” I think it tends to come more from the right wing, although I’m not sure. Now it’s so hard to know what’s coming from where, because stories get published on Breitbart and two days later they’re in Newsweek and you’re like, “What the fuck is happening right now?” No one is more studied in the art of the right wing planting a story and liberals eating each other alive over it than I am. I see it every single day, but I’m not gonna stand there screaming about it, ’cause that makes you a bad sport. And also it’s boring and I’m not interested in it. But do people want me to go, “I don’t think I’m really good for this. I’m gonna bow out”? I wouldn’t see any use for celebrity if I wasn’t fighting rabidly for what I thought was right.
I backed Hillary Clinton when a lot of people in my age group were on the Bernie train, so I was getting shit from the right for being a “libtard” – and getting shit from young people for supporting what they saw as a corporate candidate. It was painful when people were like, “Hillary lost because Lena Dunham is such a bad example of liberalism.” But everyone’s scared and upset, and they need someone to blame. It’s easier to blame me than it is to, like, blame George Clooney for not giving enough speeches or whatever. You could go around pointing fingers in every fucking direction in Hollywood if you wanted to. If I’m gonna be the punching bag for that, I know where my heart is and I know why I felt like I needed to campaign for her. I know what those experiences on the road meant to me with other women, the connections that I made – and I just have to hold on to that.
On the flip side, your friend Taylor Swift took a lot of heat for not speaking up. Is that unfair?
I just think everyone has to do it their way. When I was lesser known, I was like, “Who could not share their opinion?” Then I found out that when you talk about politics, people straight up tweet you the floor plan of your house and say they’re coming to your house. You have to fucking watch it because people are nuts.
“People were like, ‘Hillary lost because Lena Dunham is such a bad example of liberalism.’ But it’s easier to blame me than it is to, like, blame George Clooney for not giving enough speeches.”
In general, what have you taken away from Taylor’s approach to her career?
She’s been in the public eye since she was 15. I felt young when my career started and I was 23, 24. When I met her, she was newly 22, and she was a fucking seasoned pro at this stuff. Watching the way that she understands the vicissitudes of the cycle, and she just keeps making her work, – that’s just really impressive to me. That’s how I hope to live my life, which is not as a slave to public opinion, but just as somebody who continues to make things. She’s truly just an artist who has to make things to survive. I guess that’s what we have most in common. And she’s never not making music. If people know about it or they don’t, she’s never not making music, and that’s like, something that I’ve really watched with a lot of admiration. Because she’s been put through the wringer, and she’s continued to make her work. People who understand how to protect themselves but aren’t so beaten down that they can’t be creative – that to me is the greatest.
Will you keep acting after Girls?
I have mixed feelings about it. Obviously if the Coen brothers were like, “We’ve written this role for you,” or Andrea Arnold was like, “I want you to come play a complex mother in the North of England,” I’d say, “Of course.” But I have no interest in doing it for the sake of doing it. I really started by accident because I didn’t know who else could play this sort of specific archetype, and I’ve had an amazing time and amazing luck with it. My dad still laughs: “How the fuck did you win a Golden Globe for acting? You were cast as a bouncing ball in your school play and you wouldn’t stop waving at your mom and me.”
So I don’t think that that’s really where my future lies. Maybe I’m retired. I don’t have the kind of patience, focus and spiritual drive that actors need to have to do what they do. Also, people have a short memory and I’m not the best at being a public figure in that way. I was really close with Nora Ephron, and she could take the train and people would recognize her for her writing. They’d be excited to see her, but a lot of people just recognized her because she was like a regular in their deli. I don’t want the life that being on screen for your whole 30s, 40s, 50s gives you. I really want something different.
What’s your vision for your post-Girls creative life, then?
I really wanna keep writing. I’ve been working on a book of fiction for two and a half years. That’s something I’m gonna be putting out in the beginning of 2018, called Best and Always. It’s a novella and short stories, they’re all about sort of intersecting relationships between men and women in various combinations. “Best and always” is something that Jenni Konner and I say to each other in text messages. It started as, “Love you best and always” and then it became “best and always,” then it became “B and A” – it’s an endearment that made sense in the context of the book. Jenni and I are gonna continue working on Lenny – I’m so proud of the world of writers and thinkers that we’ve built, and I don’t think there’s currently anything else like it on the Internet. And then I’m going to make movies, which is my hope. I’m not trying to get a big box-office movie, not that I think that’s what anyone thinks I’m good for. But as much as I’ve loved my job I’m a little excited to let somebody else be the poster girl for white liberalism. That will be a nice transition [laughs] if it can happen.
Your boyfriend, Jack Antonoff, is often making music in your Brooklyn apartment. What’s it like being close to that other kind of creativity?
He’s in the back of my apartment right now recording with two artists. I have a whole other career as a rock-star housewife, making tea for musicians. I really love how private and emotional Jack’s work is – how he’s super-public when he goes on tour or when he’s promoting something, and then he goes back into the hole for three years. That’s really appealing to me. He can be very secretive. If he’s working on something with Taylor, he’ll tell me I can’t hear it, which makes me crazy!
What did you make of Adam Driver as Kylo Ren? He told me you’d never seen a Star Wars movie before.
I had a lot of catching up to do because I didn’t know who anyone was or what they were doing. I was like, “What the fuck is a lightsaber?” But it’s really exciting to see your friends in an action movie, slaying people and doing supernatural things. It’s not an experience you get every day. And I love the fact that he’s not going to be known as [Girls character] Adam Sackler. If he has one role like that in his life, it’s going to be Kylo Ren. So I appreciate not being the person that gave him the role that’s going to, like, haunt him until his death, but I also thought he was awesome!
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