ARTICLE JACOB BERNSTEIN
PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY RICHARDSON
STYLIST KEEGAN SINGH
LENA DUNHAM'S UNABASHED AUTHENTICITY HAS EARNED HER A COVETED SPOT ON HOLLYWOOD'S INSIDE TRACK. AS THE SECOND SEASON OF HER HBO SHOW HITS THE AIRWAVES, THE MULTITALENTED WRITER-ACTRESS-DIRECTOR AND MULTIMILLIONAIRE AUTHOR PROVES THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
When celebrities buy homes, they typically do so in grand fashion, a giant apartment on Central Park West or a mansion somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. Lena Dunham, on the other hand, bought a modest one-bedroom in Brooklyn Heights. And as she tells it, one of her favorite moments since becoming famous was when a tabloid published a piece about celebrity real estate in which her closing price was reported.
“It was this cheesy thing where they listed the prices people bought homes for,” Dunham recalls. “And it said something like, ‘Nicole Richie 5.3 million dollars, Lena Dunham 430 thousand dollars.’ It was my proudest New York real estate moment.”
How could she not laugh about it, or turn it into something of a joke? For one, it didn’t make her look extravagant, when she was all of 25 and had just made it big. For another, she’s a comedienne, and the stock-in-trade of a funny-woman is always appearing to be a little less fabulous than the leading females around which she orbits.
At this very moment, Dunham is sporting a pixie cut she’s been rocking for the past few months and sitting at a front table at Tea & Sympathy, sharing a rhubarb crumble with me. The place was her suggestion, a perennial favorite in a city that is turning into a nightmare of gentrification. “It’s crowded, no one’s respectful to you, and I love it,” she says.
Dunham is in a bit of a rush, as of late she’s incredibly busy. She’s finishing up editing the second season of Girls, the runaway hit on HBO that she created and stars in, which returns to the air January 13. She’s been traveling constantly. There’s a memoir in the works (Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned), for which Random House has reportedly paid $3.7 million.
And she’s due at dinner in an hour, with her mother and new boyfriend, whom she’d prefer not to leave alone with one another.
Time is the one luxury success deprives you of.
But keep talking to Dunham for a few more minutes and it becomes readily apparent that she’s still the same delightfully self-deprecating person she has always been, albeit with increasingly celebrity-like accoutrements. Here is Dunham with characteristic frankness talking about the onslaught of free clothes that has recently arrived: “I cannot deny it, and I cannot get over it,” she says. “And they actually send them in my size. No one’s being an asshole and sending them to me in a 4. They’re sending me clothes, they fit, and what people should know is that I always wear them. Somehow even if I wouldn’t have bought it, the fact that it was free and my grandma’s depression-era mentality make me think it is the most beautiful thing I ever owned, and I wear it for several days straight.”
And here is Dunham talking about her recent friendship on Twitter with none other than Taylor Swift: “We have D.M.’ed. I’m a really big fan. She started following me, and here’s how you find out Taylor Swift is following you. You start hearing from all the insane Taylor Swift fans that are like ‘If Taylor Swift loves you I love you.’ So I sent her a message. I was like, ‘I just want to let you know that your albums have gotten me through a lot of very hard times.’ When I tweeted that her new album was amazing, every one of my Twitter followers was like, ‘I so hope that you’re joking.’ But I have no interest in liking anything ironically. If I wanted to be ironic, I’d grow a mustache.”
And here she is discussing a recent trip she took to India with her mom: “I hated India. I know you’re not allowed to hate India. But I did. I wasn’t happy. And I felt crazy. I’m a hypochondriac. I saw too many puppies that I thought needed me. So my mom and I got in a big fight and I left India. Early.”
About three years ago, at the age of 23, Dunham debuted her first film, Tiny Furniture, at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, where it won the prize for Best Narrative Feature. It told the story of a woman who returns home from college, moves back in with her parents, and embarks on a romance with a man who does not fall for her. She’s whip-smart yet totally unsure of what to do with her life, not invisible to boys, but not the prom queen either.
Soon afterward, IFC bought the film. And when it was released that November, raves followed in nearly every publication that counts.
Portraying a character who was more than loosely based on herself (her mother, Laurie Simmons, a well-known artist and photographer here in New York, actually played her mother on-screen), the movie also resonated with Judd Apatow, the producer and director behind The Forty Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up.
He hired Dunham to craft an HBO show about four women, just out of college, living in Brooklyn and stumbling through young adulthood in a post-boom economy.
On one episode of Girls, Dunham’s character finds out she has HPV and goes on a search to find out who gave it to her. On another, she loses a job after her boss sexually harasses her and she offers to sleep with him. (He explains that he loves his wife and merely wanted to fondle her.)
Again the critics swooned, finding in Dunham’s character a female lead who actually rings true, a representation of all sorts of women who are struggling to figure out what to do with their lives and coming up short with men.
“It’s so trite,” Dunham says, “but I think so much of my worldview was formed by feeling isolated. If you go to school in New York, if you go to Saint Ann’s or Dalton, because there aren’t kids being shoved into lockers in the same way, you’re expected not to have that isolating adolescence. But from kindergarten onward, I was like, I don’t know what to do with people. First I was a tiny little kid and I didn’t have friends, and then I was a chubby teenager and I didn’t have friends. It was just this sensation that I didn’t know how to connect.”
From time to time Dunham runs into former Saint Ann’s classmates and the image she has of herself as the freak who sat alone in the corner is rarely the one they reflect back to her. Still, she says, “I think we can all agree with the idea that the beautiful girls that get all the boys get written about. They don’t usually write.”
Some of them, of course, wind up in Hollywood. But Dunham is increasingly fine with the fact that she’s different from them. “Now, meeting actresses who such a big part of their job is about what they look like, I feel so lucky to be freed from that prison. I ate cake for breakfast on the day of the Emmys, I ate cake for dinner, my workout didn’t require Spanx, and I still feel like I looked better than people expected me to. It was amazing. I could feel the envy of every woman in the Sunset Tower.”
And on some level she no doubt is.
Makeup Matin for laura mercier Hair Rheanne White Manicure Casey Herman for chanel (kate ryan inc.) photo assisstants nikki tappa and rafael rios studio manager seth goldfarb production lindsey steinberg (c/o art partner) Retouching view imaging