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It’s Different for 'Girls'


Kirke and Dunham met in a manner that sounds almost like a parody of what those who criticize Dunham’s privileged background might imagine: They were featured, at 11, in an article in Vogue, about children interested in fashion. Dunham says she studied the photos of Kirke intensely, then “fan-stalked” her during middle school at St. Ann’s. In Tiny Furniture, Kirke was pure charisma, all red lipstick and grand misstatements. Yet she had to be talked into Girls by Dunham, who visited Kirke, who is married to a property developer, immediately after she had given birth to her daughter Rafaella. “Literally six weeks after I had the baby I did the pilot,” Kirke tells me in her mocking British drawl, cutting dry side-eyes at me. “My vagina still hurt.”

Kirke describes Jessa as a more complex character than Charlotte: “She’s less broad. And that was difficult! Because this is my first time acting, really.” All of the characters in Girls are based on real people, well blended with the performer who plays them, and Kirke describes herself as having been much like Jessa only a few years back; she says this with a mix of disdain and sympathy. “I think a lot of girls at that age start to use their … they get their personality confused with who they are.”

All of the Girls actresses have a deep knowledge of fame: Like Dunham, they are the children of well-known artists. But Kirke, a painter who graduated from RISD, is the most ambivalent about the spotlight, with the privilege, perhaps, of someone who already feels like a movie star. “My friend was saying, ‘I’m so glad I’m not an actress,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, me too!’ ” Kirke says, laughing. She wonders if you can pick up acting and then step away—which might seem flighty, until you think about her family, which includes her rock-star father; her mother, a muse and designer; her singer sister, Domino; and her actress sister, Lola. “Obviously, it’s more lucrative than painting right now. And I can see how people could do one movie and then do a million. It’s easy to just fall asleep on the train, so to speak, and I’d rather get off at some point.”

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The last day that Girls is filming, Lena and I meet at Provini in Park Slope. She’s been dating a guy who lives nearby, although it’s just two weeks in: “I’m not great at dating, but I need to do it to relax. Also, it feeds this thing that we’re doing.” By February, she’ll tell me, “It’s a hard time to be dating somebody. I think it takes a specific kind of dude who’s in his twenties to be comfortable with what’s going on right now.

“What is that? Spinach and ricotta? Salad? You okay?” she asks me. “I’m very happy with what I’m eating.” Dunham is radically sleep-deprived, after repeated 3 a.m. calls and writing all night. “I’ve lost my ability to make small normal life decisions, and there are a few words that I can’t remember. Like, I’m totally articulate except I can’t—yesterday I couldn’t remember the word, what was the word? Oblivious. ‘Like, you know, when you don’t know what’s going on? Confused?’ ”

Lena begins dinner by peppering me with questions, beyond mere politeness. We trade Oberlin College memories—I’m also a graduate—then gossip about hookups on her crew. “I’m like this sex-­obsessed old spinster: I hope you kids are having fun!” Dunham had rented an apartment in Brooklyn Heights for a while (“I picked an apartment that was exactly like what I thought a girl my age would have”), but her schedule meant she did no laundry for three months, and so she’s moved back to her family’s loft. “I’ve only recently realized that I have a radically different relationship with my parents than a lot of people,” she says, telling me she related strongly to memoirist Emma Forrest’s description of her mother as “the love of my life.”

We talk about Hannah, about Dunham’s own mixture of affection and disdain for her own character. “I mean, she’s mine and she’s me and I love her. She’s—trying. She thinks she’s doing the best she can, and she’s not, and she’ll figure that out soon.” Dunham herself has shape-shifted with the years. At St. Ann’s, she was a vegan into animal rights. “I thought I was really a radical, political person, which of course I am not. So when I went to Oberlin, I was like, I want to wear a cute dress and go to the movies.” She was a creative-writing major who spent most of her time bingeing on movies; the only one she confesses she hasn’t seen is The Godfather. “I watched the whole Criterion Collection. I’d spent the entire week watching every Fassbinder movie in my bed. I got mono, and I would just rent movies. It was the kind of time you just don’t get to spend with yourself when you’re out in the world.”

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