Lena Dunham talks Taylor Swift, feminism and the Cosby controversy
Girls showrunner Jenni Konner sits down with her BFF for a very frank conversation
By Jenni Konner|
It’s hard to describe my relationship with Lena because she’s my creative partner, my friend, my mentor, my (unlicensed but excellent) doctor and so much more. Instead, I will share some numbers:
5: The number of years we’ve been best friends and partners 4: The number of months we spend shooting a season of Girls 3: The amount of days it usually takes us to finish writing two episodes of Girls if we’re holed up in a hotel room binge-watching Scandal 2: The amount of godchildren Lena has (both mine) 1: The amount of desks we have between us. We share one. 146: The number of times we text on a “low-contact” day
Despite all that, in this interview, I’ll attempt to get to know Lena better.
So I’m reading Time Out’s Karen O and Julian Casablancas interview to learn how to do this interview. Who would be who in our relationship? Who’s Karen O, and who’s Julian Casablancas? I think you’re Julian, ’cause you’re cooler. You’re cool at parties. But Karen O is also the coolest.
Well, let me tell you something: If I’m him, I’m stoked, because in this interview, he’s wearing the hottest jean-jacket vest that I’ve ever seen. [Shows her the photo] Oh, my God. It’s amazing. During the brief period of time where I went out to the party MisShapes on Saturday nights, there was a guy there that was famous expressly because he looked a lot like Julian Casablancas. And people knew him, and he was cool purely by association. It was like if there was an Elvis impersonator who came to parties.
So one reason they want us to talk is because we’re very close and we’re best friends. Yes, we are.
But you have other best friends too, and I really respect and honor that. Maybe you can tell me about your relationship with…Danny DeVito, your other best friend. Danny DeVito?!? No! [Laughs]
Sorry, I was looking at the wrong questions. That was the interview that I’m doing later today with John Travolta. [Laughs] Did you know that Danny DeVito’s son went to Oberlin? He would come to Oberlin and hang on parents weekend. And because everyone at Oberlin is such a loser, it was, like, the fucking Rock came to Oberlin. It was the biggest deal in the world.
Well, I just ran into Rhea Perlman somewhere, and I kind of grabbed her and said, “We love your daughter, she was on Girls, she was so great.” And she was like, “Oh, that’s so nice.” But I could tell it was weird. You know, the day that Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman got back together was the happiest I’ve ever felt, and that’s not an exaggeration.
Amen. It’s really important. And then there are other friends, like Taylor Swift. It’s funny that you mention Taylor Swift because I just got back from dinner with her. We had Turkish food. [Editor’s note: Konner has not mentioned Taylor Swift.]
I’m going to pretend that I don’t know that. I do know that, because we text up to 2,000 times a day. I delete all my texts so you can’t tell, but [boyfriend] Jack [Antonoff] dared me not to delete them and count. He said he thought we would find it was upward of 250 times a day.
I’m going to count. And I’m going to count photos? Or no? Yes, yes, yes.
[Counts to 142] I can’t process this. You know, I was going to guess like nine.
But back to Taylor Swift. I remember you saying that you shared an aesthetic with her, that you wrote about similar things. I mean, it’s different approaches, you know, but a similar idea. As you know, the Internet can put me to bed for four days sometimes, and to know someone who can be under the kind of scrutiny she’s under and wear it so lightly and just like move through the world and…
Shake it off? [Laughs] And shake it off! By the way, the other day, my dad told me to shake off the haters, and I said, “Where did you learn that?” And he said, “The gym.”
That’s where I learn all my pop music. Well, I heard Taylor on NPR. And the interviewer said something like, “Well, you have this incredible power over all these young women. Do you ever think of using it for something other than what you’re doing?” Which was so offensive, first of all. So offensive.
The woman was like, “You just talk about romance so much and everything.” As if that’s not helping a teen girl. As if that’s not the thing that’s obsessing the teen girl more than anything. Yeah. Well, I mean, her image is as a woman in control and as a woman in power, but it’s also somewhat clean-cut, like the opposite of getting naked on television. She’s one of the pop artists who noticeably isn’t trafficking in her own sexuality. She has an America’s Sweetheart quality, and I have sometimes like a quarter of Americans’ demon quality. But she’s really comfortable supporting what I do and saying why she thinks it can also have the power to speak to women. Right. What you both do at the end of the day is tell your truth. I just had a big fantasy of going to her next concert and, even though your daughter is now 10, holding her up on my shoulders. I was like, I’m going to hold her on my shoulders, because those shows are so inspiring. These girls are having peak emotional experience. I was at a Justin Bieber concert once—because Judd Apatow forced me to take his daughter because he didn’t want to—and I was like, This is horrible. This is like some kind of drug has been released into the arena and three-year-old girls are crying and humping things. But with Taylor, it’s just pure unadulterated joy; it’s transportative. Like when I went to the first Lilith Fair.
The first-ever Lilith Fair? First-ever Lilith Fair: Paula Cole, Tracy Chapman, Fiona Apple, Indigo Girls and Jewel. Isn’t that an amazing lineup?
Where is everybody? I thought you were asking, Where was it? And I was like, It was in Farmington, Connecticut. No, well, Jewel is getting divorced from that rodeo guy, Ty Pennington or whatever his name is. [Editor’s note: His name is Ty Murray.]
She can reach out to me, I’ve been divorced. It’s very hard, but you can get through it. There will be something on the other side.
Do you remember telling me about how you once wrote into Time Out for advice? Oh, yeah, I wrote into Jamie Bufalino’s sex column, “Get Naked.” I was obsessed with it.
What was the column like? It was…God, you are a really good interviewer. I just want you to know you’re a good interviewer.
[Laughs] Thank you. I’m working on a talk show. You should.
John Travolta’s my first guest. And who’s your sidekick?
Danny DeVito. Oh, I made a joke to Jack in bed the other night about starting a musical supergroup consisting of Victoria Justice, Kelly Osbourne and you.
Oh, my God, that sounds perfect. Doesn’t it sound good? So, “Get Naked” was kind of, like, less political than Dan Savage. It was a little bit more “I’m going to help you, 55-year-old housewife.” And I loved it. I would take Time Out, and I would tear that page out and carry it to my room every week until finally my dad was like, “You have to stop ripping out our magazine.”
How old were you? I read it avidly from like 12 to 20. When I was 19, I wrote to him: “I’m a virgin. I can’t seem to get rid of my virginity. I’ve tried really hard.” I said, “I’ve tried six ways to Sunday.” I warned my sister, who at the time was 12—I was going away to a poetry summer program in Boulder, Colorado, and I was like, “You have to…”
Wait, can you…please name that summer camp? Yeah, Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac Institute for Disembodied Poetics.
Gorgeous, thank you. Where you can minor in jazz listening. So I was in Naropa, and I said to my sister, who was staying home because she was 12, I was like—listen, people, this was an appropriate thing to do—“Will you check the magazine every week and see if he publishes my letter?” And I got a call on my cell phone from my sister being like, “He responded to your letter!” Grace read it to me over the phone, and we were shrieking, and he wrote the best advice. He was like, “Firstly, I don’t believe you’re 19, because you use the expression ‘six ways to Sunday,’ so I know this is an 85-year-old woman writing in.…”
[Laughs] “Secondly, being a virgin is not a big deal. The minute you have sex, you’ll be like, I can’t believe I was worried about that. So go back to trying to convince your mom to buy you a Juicy tracksuit or whatever else it is you people are up to, and don’t stress.” And I honestly think it was because of that letter I was able to chill in my obsessive quest to have sex and just exist and enjoy my life. Who cares how long you were a virgin for? I still have the magazine; it’s like yellow and withered.
We’ve chatted about this plenty, but I thought we could talk for a second about the Bill Cosby controversy. One thing that I kind of wanted to talk about was how incredible Judd [Apatow]’s been during it—he’s our partner—the way he’s been one of the lone voices, and certainly one of the lone male voices coming out against Cosby. The lone voice, the lone male voice, the fact that Judd is such a comedy fan. Like Judd’s whole DNA is a commitment to other comedians. You know, Judd was also one of the first people ever to speak out against Woody Allen. Before any of this happened, he was like, Sorry, Woody Allen marrying his daughter is creepy and it’s stopped me from liking his movies. Judd—he’s not moralistic, but he has a strong sense of morality, especially as a father of daughters. He is the most deeply appropriate male I have ever engaged with.
I don’t feel as if I have a gender around him—in the best way. For Judd, it’s all about: Are you funny or interesting to talk to or not? Like, there is truly not a gender dynamic, and I feel so lucky to work with him.
Me too. And I saw some people being critical: Why are you going so hard at Cosby? Like the Black-ish creator [Kenya Barris]?
Right. I saw someone call [Apatow] obsessed. If obsessed means trying to bring justice to all these women [reporting] being raped and drugged, God bless him. Bring on the obsession! It’s sort of like saying someone’s obsessed with the Holocaust. It’s not “I’m so angry about Hulk Hogan’s sex tape.” This is a huge issue, and it speaks to the way that we abuse power and the way that celebrity allows for injustice. Everyone else has gone, “Let’s hope it’s not true.” Chris Rock, who’s an incredible guy and who has a strong sense of social justice, has basically said, “We’ll see.”
Right. I’m going to change topics now. So I would say that we are sort of single-handedly hunting female showrunners and forcing them to… Be our friends. [Laughs]
That worked very well with [Grey’s Anatomy showrunners] Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers. We forced them into dinner, and by the end of dinner, I had already invited them to Mexico. Yep, you planned a vacation. My next goal is getting deep in with the entire Jane the Virgin situation.
Oh, Jennie Urman’s the best! That show is so good. That show makes me laugh so hard.
I know. This is the thing: This year, I was very excited about our Golden Globes category, because aside from one, every single show had a female showrunner. It was incredible. Unheard of. It was really exciting. Considering over at the Grammys, every rapper was white, it was like, Let’s try to turn it around at the Globes.
I feel really good that [producer] Dede Gardner, who we totally worship, was… Nominated for two projects.
She also won the Emmy and Oscar last year, so. She’s going straight to EGOT Town. I don’t know about you, but I felt pretty upset when I found out that the Golden Globes do not count toward an EGOT.
I don’t even get what an EGOT is, but I think I heard that Bob Fosse got one. I have a question for you: If we found out one morning that someone in our cast was sick and we couldn’t shoot that day, what would we do with our best-friend day?
I think we would catch up on all the work we definitely had to do. Yes.
Then we would go on a very fancy shopping trip for a short amount of time. Like how we keep talking about how we want to go to that one store on the Upper East Side? We really want to go to Claire Distenfeld’s store, Fivestory. Yes, and if we couldn’t get there, we would go to Bird in Williamsburg and do like a real run-through and like try to shop fast enough that we don’t feel shame.
[Laughs] Exactly. And then, like, come home covered in Isabel Marant and not know what hit us. But we would not go to a museum.