She’s been listening to Lady Gaga, thinking about the idea of attention—what it means to want it, what it feels like to get it, and how fame has changed for her generation. I ask Lena why she’s naked so much in Girls, and she laughs. “I have no idea. I’m really trying to understand. Because at a certain point, it wasn’t like, I’m doing it out of necessity. I’m naked all the time.” Her friend Jenny Slate told her she only wants people she has sex with to see her naked; Lena jokes that she wants everyone except people she has sex with to see her naked. She ticks off a few reasons: “To feel some kind of ownership of your own body, the way getting tattoos does.” Another part feels like, “Not ‘Fuck you,’ but a way of saying, with these bodies, you know: Don’t silence them. I say I’m not a political person, but it’s a political statement in a way. I know it’s going to gross some people out. There’s people who don’t want to see bodies like mine or bodies like their own bodies.”
She shrugs. “It’s a very specific body,” she adds. “Even great reviews will be like: chubby, portly, overweight … Sometimes I’m like, Ugh, how did I make myself the guinea pig for this? But on the other hand, hating my body has not been my cross to bear in this life. Which I feel very lucky about.”
I tell her that I’m intrigued by the scene in Tiny Furniture in which Charlotte tells Aura that because their mothers are so successful, they must be assholes. That dialogue came straight from a conversation with another childhood friend, says Dunham. “I was fascinated by the idea that you really need to be an asshole to get things done, to not mind hurting people’s feelings.” Maybe everyone who is successful has had to make a “for them” decision, she suggests. “Of course, most people you meet who aren’t successful have probably done that too.”
Dunham’s tells me that her “least favorite thing” on set was the phrase “It’s your show.” If she hears that after giving notes, “I know I’ve lost you. I’m not a dictator: The way I got into this is that being a writer can be lonely.” While Apatow is very clear that the show is Dunham’s vision, she tells me he’s read each script, helped with casting, and watched dailies. (Later, when she edited an episode they co-wrote, he told her, “ ‘You need to cut two seconds between every scene of dialogue,’ and he was right.”) “He’s much more involved than you’d imagine a man in his position would be. But what I’m really grateful for is that while he’s always given me his opinions, he’s never strong-armed me.”
She reaches into her purse. “I’m gonna take some Zantac. It’s for heartburn. During this show, I realized I have the digestive system of an old Jewish man.”
A few months later, Lena and I meet again, this time in Tribeca. She’s been in L.A., in the editing room. (Also working on learning to drive. And preparing to buy an apartment in New York. And sticking a Q-tip in her ear, requiring medical treatment.) She seems relaxed, but she tells me her emotions are close to the surface: She just burst out crying on a plane while talking to a physical therapist from Dubai about how relaxing his life was. Girls’ SXSW debut is weeks away and Dunham’s been talking with Apatow about failure. “It was the first time I actually let myself think, What if this doesn’t work?” she says.
After eating omelettes, we walk to a Duane Reade, where Dunham needs to pick up a prescription. We each select nail stickers, and she searches fruitlessly for an egg-shaped lip balm the girls were passing around on the set. Dunham’s just returned from a weekend in Connecticut with her parents, but now she needs to go back to their Tribeca apartment, where she’s been staying again this week.
Just before we say good-bye, she swipes a People magazine from the rack and carries it to the counter. The cover displays Elizabeth Smart in a wedding veil, with the headline “Happy at Last! The kidnap survivor shares all the details of her big day in Hawaii.” “Why is it that I need to know every detail about this?” Dunham says cheerfully, as she walks out the door and into the sunlight. “I don’t know. But I do.”