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This story first appeared in the Aug. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: When and how did you meet Girls creator Lena Dunham?
Judd Apatow: Somebody slipped me the DVD of her film Tiny Furniture before it came out. But when I watched it, I had no idea that the person who starred in it also wrote and directed it! I e-mailed her and told her I thought it was great. It turned out she was in the middle of negotiating a deal to develop a show for HBO and that her partner was Jenni Konner, whom I had worked with on Undeclared and a bunch of other projects. They asked me if I wanted to be a part of it, and I was thrilled to jump in. I hadn’t done television since 2002. I was very proud of what we did with Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, but it was very frustrating that they ended so early. I wanted to go back to TV and threw caution to the wind.
THR: Lena writes, directs and stars in Girls. What exactly was your role as executive producer?
Apatow: My main job was to help Lena understand what it took to make a television series: how to structure a production, utilize a staff and maintain a healthy budget. It takes time to realize how to make things way more expensive than they actually are. She has so much creative freedom at HBO; the challenge is to take full advantage of it. I worked for HBO on The Larry Sanders Show, and they get mad at you when you don’t take risks.
THR: What types of notes did you give on her scripts?
Apatow: We talked a lot about what you need to do when you only have half an hour. The pace is different. You’re trying to expose characters, but you’re trying to be entertaining. We were also always aware of making the characters borderline unlikable. Lena enjoys exposing people’s flaws, and what was interesting when the show came out — we thought we were clear that was the point of the show — lots of people didn’t get it.
THR: How did you feel about the awkward sex scenes?
Apatow: I talked a lot about that with Lena before the show aired. She’s so comfortable with the sex stuff, but I didn’t want her to be blindsided by the fact that most people aren’t. But she and I both agree people are way too prudish. It’s ridiculous that at this stage of the human journey, someone with their top off or pants off is going to give someone a heart attack. Also, I think people feel bad about themselves when everyone they see on TV looks like a Victoria’s Secret model. Personally, I’ve never had six-pack abs, and I’ve tried. I’ve always looked more like Norm from Cheers.
THR: What have you learned about women from the show that you didn’t know before?
Apatow: Lena talks a lot about the struggle women have in deciding what’s important to feel good about themselves, but I don’t see it as being unique to women. The show is more about being young, experimenting and learning, but in the back of your head, you’re like, “I’ve got eight years to find a good job and someone to marry.” Everyone on Earth is frustrated, sad and lost when they’re young.
THR: Have your daughters seen the show?
Apatow: My older daughter, Maude, has been lucky enough to watch the rough cuts. She laughs, but her face goes alight with shock a fair amount of the time. There are some earmuff and blindfold moments.