A Conversation With Lena Dunham, Part 2
Meghan O’Rourke talks with the creator of Girls about the season finale, Sex and the City, and why Shoshanna is like that.
This is Part 2 of the conversation. Read Part 1, in which Meghan O’Rourke and Lena Dunham discuss high school, high art, and the controversy that’s swirled around Girls since the premiere.
Meghan O’Rourke: Let’s talk a little bit about the finale. What I like about it is that it subverts the usual narrative romantic comedy premise: that the woman is trying to get the man to move in (or marry her) and then finally he does and she’s happy. Here, Adam says, OK, I’m gonna move in, and Hannah has this ambivalent reaction.
Was that plot point in your mind at the beginning? Or was that something you discovered as you wrote?
Lena Dunham: I discovered that as I wrote. I had a sense of where the characters should go and the kinds of revelations they could have. But once we were on set, and we were making the show and we were feeling their dynamic—specifically between Hannah and Adam—it really took on a life of its own. And, suddenly, it was clear that they were going to do this kind of do-si-do, and it would reveal a lot about who they both were, even if we thought we knew them well previously, to that point. That was actually the hardest stuff to write of the whole season, because I had no idea if we’d ever get to make more. So I kind of wanted there to be an ending where it was like, if this is the last piece of the show we ever do, then we’ll be in good shape, and people will feel like they really got a satisfying sense of the many sides of this person. And also I wanted it to feel like there was somewhere to go from there.
I don’t know. It was hard to write and it was hard to shoot. But I was so amazed by Adam and kind of humbled by the experience of doing it.
O’Rourke: Did you have any sense that he would become one of the most popular characters on the show?
Dunham: You know, I was obsessed with him. But I had no understanding of how other people would perceive him. I have more fun writing Adam than doing almost anything. He is such a thrill to write for and as an actor he can do anything. He’s really only scratched the surface of what Adam Driver is capable of. I also think he’s really great-looking. I find the character really sexy, so I was curious about whether anybody would have that reaction to him. Because he’s sexy, but there’s also something really unusual about him that’s not necessarily going to appeal to the average American woman. There’s a lot of women who bashfully confess to me over Twitter that they’re attracted to him. I’m like, Dude, I wrote a million sex scenes in which I need to touch his naked body, so clearly I get what’s working about that.
O’Rourke: He’s so charismatic too.
Dunham: He’s an amazing actor. Just as a scene partner, he’s so excited to explore things, and he’s so generous. Getting to work with him—as an improviser and general, thoughtful dude—made it more obvious where that relationship would go, and really influenced the way that my character ended the season.
O’Rourke: So there’s some degree of improvisation, but you’ve also written it up and mapped it.
Dunham: We always have a really, really tight script. But then there’s definitely an improv element, which we introduce whenever we can. Even if we use 0.1 percent of the improv, some of the best, most unexpected, strangest lines will be born from that.
O’Rourke: What about the other characters? Did you know that Shoshanna would be who she was from the very beginning, a kind of jester who provides a very particular kind of comic relief on the show, even though we also connect and identify with her?
Dunham: It was very clear from the beginning that Shoshanna would act as this counterpoint to the world that the girls were living in. But that was sort of her whole job. We hadn’t yet considered her as the fourth girl. I thought we were really gonna differentiate ourselves from Sex and the City by going, “We’ve got three girls and they’ve got four, so we’ll be fine.” Then, when Zosia Mamet got to set, she was just so incredible. I was like, this show needs her. She gave her this entire other dimension, and so we immediately made her a series regular. It pretty quickly occurred to me that Shoshanna was a virgin, and she had this entire, strange inner life that I hadn’t known about when I wrote the pilot.
Meghan O'Rourke is Slate's culture critic and an advisory editor. She was previously an editor at The New Yorker. The Long Goodbye, a memoir about her mother's death, is now out in paperback.