They may be saying goodbye to ‘Girls’ but showrunners Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner are sticking together
“What am I going to change my Twitter bio to?” Jenni Konner wonders aloud.
A few days before the finale of “Girls” — the HBO series she’s run for the past five years alongside Lena Dunham — Konner is in the midst of a minor existential crisis. On her social media page, the 45-year-old has long characterized herself this way: “i write, direct and ep #Girls on HBO.”
Come Monday, that will no longer be the case.
“I’m in a definite postpartum scene right now, as you can tell by the fact that you’re up at my house and I’m drinking wine at 5 o’clock,” she says lounging on a pool chaise in her backyard, hidden in one of the winding hillsides of Nichols Canyon.
Across the country in New York, Dunham was feeling similarly discombobulated. She’d made plans to watch the finale with co-star Allison Williams and pizza. But saying goodbye to the show she began work on at 23 was proving challenging.
“I miss everybody already,” Dunham, now 30, said over the telephone last week. “At a certain point, my entire life was making the show … then I entered a long-term relationship, I had a career, I was financially stable, I was living in a neighborhood that Hannah has probably never even walked through. Our lives diverged.”
While they may be moving away from “Girls,” Dunham and Konner aren’t ready to bid farewell to each other. They’re still running their feminist newsletter, Lenny — an amalgamation of their names — which is about to celebrate its second anniversary. And through their joint production company, A Casual Romance, they’re planning a “VICE”-esque Lenny docuseries for HBO and looking at making their first film.
Plus, they’re totally co-dependent. Every morning, Dunham texts Konner first thing to make sure her partner made it through the night.
“It’ll say, like, ‘Hi, baby!’ but it’s to make sure I’m alive,” said Konner. “If I don’t respond, I’m dead, or something terrible has happened. So I have learned to respond instantly.”
When they first met, however, Konner was supposed to be more of a mentor to Dunham than an equal. While the younger woman was just a kid out of Oberlin, the older was fresh off a divorce and raising two kids. Konner had already established herself as a TV writer and script doctor on action films like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Red,” where she was brought in to flesh out the female roles. But she was taken with Dunham’s debut film, the 2010 South by Southwest hit “Tiny Furniture,” so when HBO asked if she’d be interested in shepherding the newcomer’s blind pilot script, Konner said yes.
Initially, Konner — along with fellow executive producer Judd Apatow — was brought in as a supervisor. She was tasked with teaching Dunham everything from three-act structure to on-set protocol, like the fact that when the crew starts ringing bells, that means it’s time to shoot.
“But Lena is like the fastest learner in the history of learning,” Konner said.
“It became clear that she had just as much to offer creatively as I did,” Dunham added. “I think they had prepared her for babysitting a 23-year-old, and I actually was able to partner with her more than had been expected.”
Dunham had never envisioned her career would include a collaborator. She is the daughter of two solitary visual artists who prized working alone and she studied creative writing in college — another solo endeavor. “To find that my life and my art were better when somebody else was there,” she said, “was amazing.”
Over the years, Konner has imparted plenty of her own experiences to Dunham. During the finale, when Hannah is struggling with breastfeeding, Konner explained how inadequate you can feel as a new mom.
The finale, by the way — directed by Konner — left Hannah in about as good of a place as we’ve ever seen her. After moving to upstate New York for a teaching gig, she’s five months into motherhood and living with Marnie (Allison Williams) for emotional — and physical — support. When her son stops taking to her breast, Hannah fears she’s failing as a mother. One late night, as she sings Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” as a lullaby, he finally latches on.
The episode is meant to be more than a commentary on breastfeeding, though the duo is prepared for that kind of reaction. Since its inception, “Girls” has proven to be one of the most dissected programs on television, inspiring criticism about everything from how the show dealt with race to Dunham’s oft-naked, non-cellulite-free body. Dunham frequently felt inclined to respond, posting public apologies on Instagram. She felt so grateful to have her dream job, she said, that she constantly felt it was necessary to repeat some version of “I am humbled. Thank you. Whatever you say.”
She doesn’t feel that way anymore.
“I’m completely done with apologizing for my existence or going, ‘I totally understand if you don’t like me! I know I’m taking up too much space!’” Dunham said. “I’m not just done apologizing because it’s tiring for me, I’m done apologizing because it’s a bad example for other young women.”
Both she and Konner attribute much of the criticism to an infamous line from the pilot. After drinking opium tea, Hannah wanders over to her parents’ hotel and begs them not to cut her off financially. “I think that I may be the voice of my generation,” she explains. “Or at least, a voice of a generation.”
“People don’t give women the benefit of the doubt,” Dunham said of the backlash. “Larry David can say whatever he wants and take a prostitute into the carpool lane and it’s ‘What a fun, funny guy.’ But I can’t make a joke while my character is on drugs and not be told I’m a raging egomaniac who wants to speak for every woman in the world.”
“And I think, in a way, it’s true,” said Konner. “I think she’s one of the voices of a generation. I think she’s inspired so many people. ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ could not be a more different show — and I love it — but it’s also a safe space for a woman to put on Spanx and talk about her body and eating in a way I’m not sure was done before Lena.”
Dunham’s body — and her relationship to it — has long been a topic of public discourse. When she first showed up naked on “Girls,” she was one of the first leading ladies without a thigh gap or flat stomach to bare herself unapologetically. Since, women with all different body shapes have slowly begun to land prominent roles in film and television.
Even now that Dunham has lost weight — a result of recent surgeries to help with her chronic endometriosis — critics are still chiming in on her figure. But Konner described Dunham as immune to body shaming. “She is someone who truly feels hot as [hell] at every weight. It’s all I wish for my daughter.”
Dunham said she’s exceptionally close to Konner’s kids, who are 10 and 13, and has always dreamed of having her own children and liked wearing a prosthetic pregnant belly during the sixth season of “Girls.” But because her endometriosis was flaring during the final episodes, she began to wonder whether or not she’d ever be able to get pregnant herself.
“There was a part of me that was like, ‘Maybe this is the only time that I’ll look like this,’” Dunham acknowledged. “The way the finale intersected with my personal life, what it was as an end to an era for us — it’s all deeply, deeply, deeply, emotional. It was one of the most wonderful times of my life.””
Eventually, she and Konner would like to explore a “Girls” movie — though they stress that no one at HBO has asked them to make one yet. They’d also be down for a spinoff for Andrew Rannells’ character, Elijah, but that’s also just a pipe dream, for now.
“I just want to start feeling more normal about seven years of work ending,” said Konner. “And if ‘Girls’ is the greatest thing that ever happened to me — the thing that people paid the most attention to — then I just feel so lucky to have that.”
Follow me on Twitter @AmyKinLA
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