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This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
“Hey Lena?” “Yes, baby.” “Am I wandering, or should I make a beeline?” Allison Williams, who plays anal-retentive pretty girl Marnie on Lena Dunham‘s black comedy Girls, is filming a scene with Christopher Abbott (he plays Marnie’s on-again/off-again underappreciated beau Charlie, whom last season Marnie accused of actually having a vagina). Dunham, who is directing this episode — the penultimate in the show’s 10-episode second season set to bow in January — sits behind a monitor with co-showrunner/executive producer Jenni Konner and script supervisor Kim DeLise.
“I think a sort of slow beeline,” answers Dunham.
It’s a sweltering mid-August afternoon in New York, and today’s shoot is, mercifully, indoors, with the airy eighth-floor digs of media arts company thelab standing in for the offices of Charlie’s startup. In a converted warehouse on West 27th on the far west side of Manhattan, the space is industrial cool and dot-com chic: brick walls, midcentury modern furniture, appropriately trendy and/or esoteric coffee-table books (Edward Weston’s Book of Nudes, Morten Andersen’s Color F.).
“Here we go,” says Dunham. “The first-ever slow beeline. And …ACTION!”
In this scene, Marnie — wearing a cobalt blue sleeveless dress, her hair styled perfectly in loose waves — comes to the office to confront Charlie for standing her up for a lunch date. Spotting him on the terrace with a co-worker (a willowy blonde with an impossibly neat ponytail), she raps loudly on the glass door until he sheepishly comes inside.
“What are you doing here?” asks Charlie.
“Are you kidding!? We had concrete lunch plans. I waited for you for like 45 minutes!” wails Marnie.
As the scene unfolds, Dunham and Konner smile. At one point, Konner lifts one side of Dunham’s headset to whisper in her ear. Dunham lets a giggle escape. “Cut!” she yells. “That was awesome!”
At 26, Dunham — whose indie cult hit Tiny Furniture got the attention of Hollywood comedy kingmaker Judd Apatow, an executive producer on Girls — has emerged as the voice of young Hollywood while living and working (for the most part) in Brooklyn. “Her voice is so clear, yet she is able to be collaborative,” says Konner, 41. “She knows what she likes, and she knows what she doesn’t like. She doesn’t get threatened by other people’s ideas.”
Adds Williams: “She’s great at giving direction. Usually she’ll describe a vibe. The way we were doing that scene, the first two takes were pouty, and then we did a little more petulant and incredulous, like in disbelief that this could happen.”
Together with their cast, Dunham and Konner (a huge fan of Tiny Furniture who got her big break as a writer on Apatow’s 2002 Fox series Undeclared) have crafted a unique take on post-recession angst that earned Girls a raft of Emmy noms for its freshman season, a second-season pickup and the ongoing fawning of the media literati.
On this day (the shoot began at 4 p.m. and will continue until about 4 a.m.), Dunham is cool, relaxed and happy, dressed in a black-and-tan silk Opening Ceremony dress, which she bought during an “insane shopping bender” on a recent visit to Los Angeles. “You’ve got to make people think you’re taking your job seriously,” she says dryly.
But her reserved tone belies a magnetic love for her job. “There isn’t one second when she’s not thrilled and excited about being here,” says Konner. “I’ve worked on sets that were unhappy. And we’ve worked very, very hard to make this a happy place to be.”
Dunham thinks of herself as a writer-actor, and directing is an extension of her writing. “I love acting,” she explains. “But I consider myself a writer who uses directing as one of her tools for telling a story.”
The story can be as ribald and raw as HBO’s 1998 breakthrough Sex and the City, also a comedy about four friends suffering romantic and professional slings and arrows in New York City. But interestingly, while Dunham fearlessly bares the most flesh in Girls, what makes her uncomfortable is being emotionally naked.
“The things that make me self-conscious are weird,” she admits. “Like if I have to act like I’m in love with someone. But whipping off my shirt? That I can totally get behind. It’s like, ‘Woo hoo!'”
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