Emmys 2013: Lena Dunham on ‘Girls,’ ‘Scandal’ and the danger of Q-Tips

Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham, nominated for an Emmy for lead actress in a comedy, for “Girls.”
(Jessica Miglio / AP)

Lena Dunham was en route to Silvercup Studios in Queens when she found out she’d been nominated -- twice -- for her work on the HBO comedy “Girls.” The 27-year-old phenom scored nods Thursday morning for both her performance as Hannah Horvath, the aimless Brooklynite she plays on the series, and for directing one of the season’s most infamous episodes, “On All Fours.”

We talked to her about what’s ahead for Hannah, her love of network TV (especially “Scandal”) and her real-life run-in with a Q-Tip.

And how are you feeling about your nominations?

This is amazing. It’s a very exciting boost to go to set with something to celebrate beyond just the fact that the breakfast truck serves quesadillas.


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The women in this category  (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Laura Dern, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Edie Falco) are like my dream dinner guests.

I mean, that’s how I felt last year too. The women who are in this category -- I got in trouble last year at the Golden Globes for being like, ‘I grew up watching you.’ I forgot that in L.A., you’re not supposed to mention that anyone is more than like six months older than you. But it’s like my fandom is out of control. These are the women who have made comedy what it is today. They’re also brilliant actresses who can convey so much subtle stuff; they set such a crazy-high bar. You can kind of only speak in platitudes about it, but even to be mentioned in the same breath as them is like freaking wild.

Hannah experienced a lot of self-induced physical pain in Season 2 -- the Q-tip in the ear, the splinter in the behind. Were any of those based on real-life occurrences?


I did get a Q-Tip in my ear. It was like the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve been through emotional trials and tribulations in my life, but nothing ever compared to the heinosity of the Q-Tip in my ear; it was deeply, deeply terrible. I was 25 when it happened, and now I’m 27. I’m a year and a half out. I wasn’t in the middle of a psychic break. I was with my friend Jesse Peretz, who is a director on “Girls.” I don’t know why I was Q-Tipping my ear in front of him; that’s kind of the big elephant in the room here. We were in the middle of a conversation, and it was going OK, and suddenly I just let out this scream of ultimate pain because I had not been conscious and had gone too deep in my ear. I’d never felt anything like it in my life.

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Are you on location today?We’re actually off today, because we have a table read and a tech scout. We’re at our home at Silvercup Studios. We kind of took over the “30 Rock” stages and where they did “Sex and the City."  There’s a lot of good girl comedy karma there.

Season 2 ended on a high note for Adam and Hannah. Any hints about what’s ahead?

It’s “Girls,” so nothing can ever stay on that high note. Hannah and Adam are going to sort of attempt to give this relationship a go, which over the  last two seasons has not been ultimately that successful. There’s that.  And then you’re really kind of seeing them start to realize. The previous years it was like, just got out of college. Now it’s like, are we behaving like people who just got out of college, or are we radically immature because we’re a quarter of a century old? Maybe we are just uniquely [screwed] up. We have a lot of amazing guest stars. The girls are pursuing some new career ambitions. There’s a lot doing, but for some reason, even though our show is not “Scandal,” I feel the need to guard all the secrets obsessively.

Are you a “Scandal” fan?

I love “Scandal.” I’m in a real golden age with my TV watching. I feel like I’ve gone through phases where I’ve watched begrudgingly. Of course I love everything that’s part of the gold rush of cable, that I am so lucky to be serving the tail end of, the new TV-as-cinema movement; I’ve loved everything that’s come out of that. Now I’m in a real romance with network TV. I think there’s so much good network TV now, too. I’m obsessed with the medium on all fronts.  I’m not a cable snob. I’m all about “Scandal,” “Nashville,” “Mindy Project,” “New Girl.” I’m really into “Orange Is the New Black.” I know that that is in its own brave new world. And “The Dog Whisperer,” I know he’s off the air, but I watched all nine seasons, including the one where he went to London.

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Do you watch much reality TV?

I was super into “The Real World.” I even had the books that accompanied the season. I still believe that the early seasons of “The Real World” were organic but once reality became sort of like “The Hills,” “Real Housewives” scripted situation, it’s not like I’m a snob about it, it just doesn’t give me pleasure. The first season of “The Real World” is amazing.  It’s like Heather B. She’s bringing the drama without us needing to stage anything. I believe all the way up until New Orleans “The Real World” was going great.

What Emmy-nominated show would you like to guest-star in?

That is such a great question. I have lots of fantasies about things like that. If “Top of the Lake” decided they were going to do another season, all I would want is to play one of the women on that commune or a drug mule that worked for Matt Mitcham. I would really cherish the opportunity to prosecute someone on “Scandal.” I would like to be a prosecutor who’s going head to head with Olivia Pope and isn’t scared. That seems really fun.  My fantasy used to be to die on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’; now it’s been upgraded to “Scandal.”


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