'Girls' Star Lena Dunham Talks Future Plans, Weaving Her Political Beliefs Into Plot

Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner at PaleyFest - H 2015
Michael Bulbenko for Paley Center for Media

Don't be surprised if HBO's Girls features a storyline next season in which the characters go camping.

The possibility of that plot development in Girls' fifth season, which HBO has already signed on for, was raised at the end of Sunday's PaleyFest panel featuring the cast and executive producers of the series, when moderator and executive producer Judd Apatow asked Lena Dunham what she hoped to accomplish with the show before it ends.

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"I said earlier…Like a campsite, I want to leave all the girls better than we found them," Dunham recalled, adding that her comment prompted a laugh from co-showrunner Jenni Konner because she's never been camping.

But Dunham's co-star Allison Williams chimed in that she thought that meant that they should go camping, something she, Dunham and Konner were very enthusiastic about, but just for the show, not in real life.

"I want to pretend to camp then stay in a hotel," Dunham said.

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But, in all seriousness, she revealed that her goal is "to take these girls to the next phase of their life."

"Something that's amazing about working at HBO and not working on a multi-camera sitcom is we really are allowed to let these characters grow and develop and change. And there's definitely fantasy storylines that we're still working towards," she added.

Apatow then revealed that he has "very specific ending ideas" that have been "violently disagreed with," with Konner and Dunham cutting him off before he could elaborate. Konner said there's a "constant struggle" with his vision for how the show should end. Dunham did say that Apatow's ideas were "violent," and he jokingly teased, "It's very similar to Breaking Bad."

If the girls do go camping, it wouldn't be the first storyline to come out of an impromptu remark. During the question-and-answer session, Dunham told a story about how Konner played a prank on her by rewriting a fight scene between Ray and Marnie to be a "soap opera-like" exchange involving a line like, "We should never have made love last night, but I can't resist." And now Girls has featured a storyline in which Ray and Marnie had a secret romance.

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There was also a discussion during the panel of Andrew Rannells' "Your dad is gay" line from the show's first season, which viewers may be reminded of after watching Sunday night's episode, which screened before the panel for the crowd at L.A.'s Dolby Theatre. The line was actually an improvisation, with Rannells explaining that Apatow asked him if he could work into the scene that Elijah thinks that Hannah's dad is gay.

"So my brilliant improv was 'Your dad is gay,'" Rannells explained. Dunham and Rannells also revealed that Elijah was initially written quite differently from how the Book of Mormon star ended up playing him.

"He was written as this sort of mealy, granola-y hippie who was sort of like anxious and wearing a hoodie," Dunham explained. "Andrew came in and just played it in the freshest, most surprising way." Although Rannells was only supposed to do that one episode, the Girls producers quickly realized they wanted to keep him around longer.

The PaleyFest panel featured Dunham, Konner, Apatow, Williams, Rannells, co-star Alex Karpovsky and executive producers Ilene Landress and Bruce Eric Kaplan recalling the characters' evolution on the show and how the people behind those characters have dealt with the attention and criticism that the show has received.

Dunham, in particular, is often the subject of online bashing, and she's gone so far as to stop handling her own Twitter account, she explained on Sunday, building on her comment at the Golden Globes that she deleted the Twitter app from her phone.

"I stopped looking at my own Twitter. I send the tweets to someone I won't name, for fear you'll harass her, and she posts them for me and then she lets me know if there's an important response," the actress and co-showrunner explained, adding that it just became too psychologically unsettling to deal with her anonymous social media critics.

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"You think you can take it all…but it does affect you internally," she said. "You walk through the day and these horrible phrases are being repeated [in your head]."

Still, that doesn't stop her from expressing her own views through storylines on the series, explaining that her political views just naturally come through in the stories she decides to tell on the show.

"I and we do care deeply about politics and do care deeply about things that are happening in the United States right now, particularly to women, particularly to women of color, particularly when it comes to reproductive rights," Dunham said. "So while we don't set out to be didactic or turn our show into a Trojan horse about all our ideas about who you should vote for, the natural truth about our politics comes through in what we are doing so we can fully tell stories. We tell stories not just about the world we live in but about the world we want to live in."

Later, she added, in response to an audience question, that creating characters that sometimes do annoying things is a feminist act in and of itself.

"We have an essential belief that being complex, annoying and multifaceted is the right of women on television, so therefore to see characters you don't necessarily adore all the time is hopefully in some ways an inherently feminist action because its a form of representation that we've been lacking for a long time," she said.

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Nevertheless, despite the debate that the show has generated, Dunham says she remains focused on producing the series.

"We spend all year long working on this show, so whether we're receiving praise or whether we're receiving criticism, we're together as a team trying to push the ball forward and tell stories about these characters that we've come to love so much," she said. "It feels like I have a really stable delightful family that are all encouraging me. We're all encouraging each other to continue on and our focus really remains on the work. And what I think would be dangerous would be if we became too invested in what the Internet was or wasn't saying or what awards we were or weren't getting because it's always been so much about the show."

Speaking of criticism, Karpovsky explained that one of his character's responsibilities was to "call the girls out before the critics and everyone else could. So I was taking some ammo out of them."

With that Williams joked that it worked perfectly. "He took all the ammo away. No one criticized us," she said.

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As for Ray's relationship with Marnie, Karpovsky said it took a while for him to wrap his head around that, but now he understands the attraction.

Konner explained that the pairing works because, "You're both so opinionated and…you have very very strict ideas about the way life should be. And that to me always made sense that you guys would connect on that level."

Apatow added that it's a "love-hate" relationship and Karpovsky joked, "There's still hate in the picture."

Marnie's many relationships, as part of her evolution, was also a topic of conversation. After Williams ticked off all of the men her character had had sex with, Dunham mused, "I haven't counted but Marnie may have had the most onscreen sexual partners of any of us."

"Oh, definitely," Williams concurred. "[Fellow castmember] Jemima [Kirke] always looks at me and she goes, [speaking in a British accent] 'You'd think it would be me but…'"

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(Kirke, Zosia Mamet and Adam Driver weren't in attendance at Sunday's panel.)

In all seriousness, though, Williams said she was "thrilled" at the "crazy" path her character has taken.

"When I think about the person that I read in the pilot: She worked in a PR firm, which we later changed to a gallery. She had a boyfriend. She had everything squared away," she said. "To think now, when I see a feather in my hair and I'm singing at a jazz brunch. I'm just so thrilled to have had that journey. It's been crazy…I feel really lucky because the writers have done an amazing job writing a continuous person while putting her in more and more different situations. It still sort of feels like her soul is there. It's been really, really fun."

That progression has included Williams participating in a particularly risque sex scene at the beginning of this season, in which her current love interest, Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), literally had his face buried in her rear end.

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The shocking moment served as viewers' introduction to the pair as a couple, but both Dunham and Williams said actually revealed the nature of their relationship.

"What we really saw in that first episode is that Marnie was the most vulnerable she's ever been," Dunham said of the scene, adding that the sex on Girls is meant to serve a purpose. "We really try on the show, and people may laugh at this, but to do sex that really pushes the characters and the plot forward and doesn't feel gratuitous."

Williams also pointed out that the dialogue in the scene, which viewers distracted by the visuals might not have noticed, perfectly encapsulates Marnie's mindset at that point in their relationship.
"The dialogue was that Desi said, 'I love that' and Marnie said, 'I love you too,'" she noted. "It's everything you need to know. In like 12 seconds, you're brought up to speed about where she is emotionally [and] physically."

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Konner and Dunham also explained that with Marnie's sex scenes, including that one, they do the position clothed in the writers room and take a picture of it and send that to Williams so she can picture it and design whatever she needs to be wearing.

And while Dunham echoed what Konner previously told The Hollywood Reporter about Williams being game for what they write for her character, Williams said she'd realized this season that Marnie had passed a certain point with respect to her sexual exploits.

"The ultimate to me was that I realized this season that a masturbation scene of mine had been cut, so we're at the point now where me masturbating is so boring…that's amazing," she said.

Check back with The Live Feed after Sunday night's Girls for more about this week's episode from Hannah's dad, Peter Scolari, who makes a big revelation at the beginning of the show.