Lena Dunham is a feminist force of nature. The wunderkind actress/director/writer/producer best known for her ground-breaking TV series Girls has helped young women (and men) come to terms with the agonies and ecstasies of sex, relationships, work, and personal identity. As the eternally conflicted and self-questioning Hannah Horvath, Dunham has served as a lightning rod for female angst alongside her Girls’ castmates — Allison Williams (Marnie Michaels), Jemima Kirke (Jessa Johansson), and Zosia Mamet (Shoshanna Shapiro). Over the years we’ve watched Hannah try to make sense of her dysfunctional relationship with Adam (Adam Driver) while her friends deal with their own challenges of love, lust, and longing.
Soon audiences will get a chance to revel in more adventures in Hannah and her sisters-in-arms’ world as the fifth season of the cult HBO series unfolds. Recently, Dunham confirmed that Girls will come to an end after Season 6 (set for release in 2017) in order to avoid “overstaying our welcome” and not “soften” as many series do over extended runs.
“It’s been very rewarding to have seen this show address issues that are important to me and which are important to women in general,” Dunham says. “I’m also proud that we have such a great and amazing team of women who are part of Girls and have contributed so much while being supportive of each other in an industry that needs to be give more opportunities to women.”
Season 5 of Girls picks up on the more hopeful ending note of Season 4, in which Hannah enters a serious, more adult relationship with her teaching colleague, Fran (Jake Lacey). Over the course of the new season, their romance evolves into a safe haven for Hannah, but it may not be what she wants after so many years of dysfunction with Adam. Meanwhile, Marnie’s marriage may be hitting the skids while Shoshanna deals with the aftermath of her decision to leave her adoring boyfriend Scott (Jason Ritter) and Jessa’s new occupation as a therapist causes her to do some soul-searching while questioning the way she looks at her relationship with the other girls.
The 29-year-old Dunham grew up the daughter of well-known members of the New York arts scene — her mother is famed photographer Laurie Simmons and her father is the artist Carroll Dunham.
Lena Dunham lives in New York City with her long-time boyfriend, musician Jack Antonoff. Said Dunham about her strong female following: “We’ve been very blessed to have the experience of people continuing to engage in the show in a really kind of rabid way.”
Dunham made an appearance at the recent Sundance Film Festival to present her new documentary film, Suited, which she produced. She also made headlines last year when she interviewed former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her email newsletter.
We sat down with Dunham to talk about the final seasons of Girls, as well as what’s next for her and how she’s adapting to being in the media spotlight.
How do you feel about bringing Girls to an end?
When I started working on Girls I was 23 and I conceived it as something that would cover a very specific period in the lives of the characters. It was about figuring things out in your 20s as you become adults and now that I’m about to turn 30 I feel that it’s time the women you see in the series move on just as we need to move on to other projects. … These birds have to fly!
You’ve spoken about wanting to keep the momentum up and not wanting to keep the series going past a sixth season?
It’s important to wrap up the storylines in a way that preserves the original idea and integrity of what I wanted to say about these young women and their experience of getting a job, becoming an adult, and dealing with everything that comes with that time in their lives.
Now that I’m turning 30, it makes sense to bring my 20s to a close and be able to move on to start thinking about and pursuing other projects. I want to do films and write other kinds of stories and as much as I’ve loved Girls it’s the right time to wrap things up.
What are your feelings about your generation of women that comes to sex and relationship?
Women are as confused by sex and the emotions that come with it as ever. Our instincts aren’t helping us when it comes to dealing with men in their twenties who don’t have a deep need or understanding of romantic relationships. I doubt that most men in their 20s are emotionally equipped to handle a serious relationship.
Most films and TV are utterly irrelevant to younger women because they never get at serious issues of self-worth and communication and being able to really talk to guys. We’ve grown up with the distancing effect of Facebook and texting and that often provides a false sense of comfort. I also wanted to present sexual situations in a realistic way and not portray sex as this classically profound or deeply romantic experience. Women can watch this series and think and talk about their own experiences without feeling so awkward about it. That’s why it’s important to break down these taboos and television is the most effective medium to do that.
What do you see down the road for yourself now that you’re about to enter your 30s?
I would like to stay in New York and continue writing and directing. I love the city. It is my home and here is my family. I hope I have children. And I hope over the next ten years I’m going to make a few more movies and write some more books that I will be proud of.
I also hope that there are going to be a lot of interesting surprises. If you had told me at the beginning of my 20s that I would be where I am today, I would never have believed it!
Was fame something that attracted you?
Fame is a by-product. My goal was always to be creative and write stories that are enlightening and compelling in some way. I wanted to talk about women’s lives and the way we engage the world and all the issues and problems young women face. I felt that there hadn’t really been a lot that I’d seen in film and especially on TV that I could relate to and that really spoke to my experience and many young women like me.
You’ve been very critical of the way society judges women’s bodies?
We live in a time in which we are confronted with unrealistic body images that the media is promoting and defining women in terms of those very idealised images.
Women are constantly staring at body images that do not like ours. This creates a lot of problems with regard to how to see ourselves and the guilt and resentment and shame we feel towards our bodies. That’s not only true for women but for men as well. The difference is that men are not judged on their appearances and whether they conform to an ideal the way women are judged.
You’ve been on a running and fitness kick of late, haven’t you?
I decided that it was time to change my habits. I’m the kind of person who would stay in bed and write all day if I could. Running and becoming more active physically is not something I was really anxious to do but once I started running I actually experienced that rush of endorphins that runners talk about. I feel really good after I’ve been running.
I’m naturally very lazy physically so this has been a revelation for me and I have changed my attitude about exercise. I’ve realised that just like you need to use your brain so it doesn’t atrophy so you need to move your body to keep it healthy.
You’ve spoken many times about the kinds of nasty and even vicious comments people have made about your body?
It’s very hurtful. Anyone who goes through high school and has to deal with taunting and insults will understand that. Now most of the abuse that comes my way is on the internet and it’s easier to handle that although it’s never pleasant. But insults about your appearance are always the last resort of someone who can’t find a more intelligent or civilised way to disagree with you. I can’t take it seriously.
What advice would you give young women or teenagers who are often subject to body shaming and being called fat or ugly?
When I was a teenager, I was so confused about how my body was changing and so full of fear that I would say: “You know what? Everything will be fine.” The best thing you can do is to be interested in becoming more aware of who you are and the world around you. You should accept that some days you’re going to like yourself and feel super about who you are and your appearance and on other days you’re going to hate yourself and the way you look.
But don’t get caught up in that and just stay true to who you are and explore life with a lot of hope and passion. The most important thing is to find a way to keep the mind and body in harmony and to find a healthy way to deal with both.
You’ve produced a documentary, Suited, which you brought to Sundance. What can you say about that?
My sister is the subject of the documentary and she is someone who has always had a complex relationship with gender. She’s a gender-non-conforming person born in a woman’s body. … She’s the coolest person I know.