Through her hapless alter ego Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham has brilliantly captured the anxieties and ambitions of a generation. Nathan Heller meets the hardest-working millennial in show business.
“Three bells!” someone shouts from the far end of the Girls soundstage, and in the dark beyond the blazing lights the crew grows quiet. It’s late summer, in the urban tangle of Queens, and Lena Dunham—showing no hint of exhaustion after months of writing, directing, and acting—is shooting the show’s season-three finale. She’s sitting on a bed, wearing the sort of tank top and bright-green pants favored by her character, Hannah Horvath. Standing opposite her, head in a towel, is the actress Allison Williams, who plays Hannah’s highly strung friend Marnie. A pair of cameras are trained on Dunham’s face. The sound rolls. Clapper boards snap shut: “A-camera mark!” “B-camera mark!” And in the silence that follows, Dunham transforms from one of the most powerful women in TV into the confused, questing neophyte she brings to life on-screen.
This morning, they are shooting a bedroom tête-à-tête. Over several takes, Dunham and Williams embellish the script with improvisations, trying to catch each other off guard. At one point, Dunham adds a laugh line about “chromosome sorting.” At another, she dreams up a gag about adopting chinchillas. “Let’s reset,” she says after the second take. “Did that feel closer, Jenni?” ( Vogue)