Playboy: On one episode of Girls a guy tells Hannah’s hot roommate, Marnie, “I want you to know, the first time I fuck you I might scare you a little, because I’m a man and I know how to do things.” No doubt many would-be lotharios have added this come-on to their repertoires—but some of us still want to know what it means.
Dunham: Someone once said something like that to me—with the immediate caveat “I, uh, learned that from my friend who works at Vice magazine.” That made the line a lot less sexy. American men always have to go for the laugh or the excuse. A Frenchman would say that with a straight face. I think the line is meant to be a warning, in the sense of “You can’t have me right now, but when you do, it will take away any sense of you being a modern woman in control.”
Playboy: Last summer The New York Review of Books ran an essay about you that described a now-notorious sex scene in episode two between your character, Hannah, and Adam, the guy she likes, in which his sexual routine seems inspired by a porn scene and Hannah gamely tries to play along. The writer praised the scene’s edgy emotional realism, saying, “So there you go: A dose of porn, judiciously applied by an extremely intelligent director, can save cinematic sex. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it on Girls.” What were you trying to accomplish?
Dunham: My goal is to have a sexual verisimilitude that has heretofore not been seen on television. I did it because I felt that the depictions of sex I had seen on television weren’t totally fair to young women trying to wrap their brains around this stuff. I didn’t do it to be provocative. I did it to be educational. Personally, I’ve been lucky enough not to date the Porn Guy. There have been weirdos, but not him. I think you can identify the porny guys early on, based on their behavior: They try to force you into unnatural cinematic sexual positions, or they just seem to have learned a lot of their moves from people who do sex acts for a living. A quick check of their browser history will reveal all you need to know.
Playboy: Can men just not stop themselves from behaving badly?
Dunham: I never chalk up anything to the gender divide and say, “Well, that’s just a male thing.” I hate the conventional wisdom that men are supposedly complete pieces of shit and it’s our job as women to put up with them. Men are just as sensitive and easily victimized as women are, but there’s not as much of an infrastructure for expressing it. That drives me nuts. We’re all humans and doing human stuff. We’d have a better world if everyone had someone they could pay for talk therapy.
Playboy: How much do you enjoy making viewers uncomfortable?
Dunham: It’s not interesting for me to make art about things we’re all okay with. I make art to explore our darker areas. When what I’m doing begins to feel old and tired and socially acceptable, maybe I’ll move on to other topics. Maybe future interviewers will ask me about “the time you made an action movie” or “the time you explored Renaissance life.” But right now I feel I could say something about women forever. Each stage of being female and human brings new fodder—and there are parallels to be drawn to the male experience.
Playboy: Male writers are often criticized for how they write female roles. How careful do you have to be about writing your men, Adam, Ray, Charlie and the rest?
Dunham: Just as careful as when writing female roles. Saying that women have been written as sassy best friends or slutty girlfriends since the beginning of time so now guys deserve whatever comes to them is not an acceptable excuse—even though it’s amazing to me that Hollywood persists in writing these two-dimensional female characters who don’t really exist. No wonder it’s hard for actresses to find parts that are meaty enough to connect with. It’s important to me to create fully formed characters who don’t feel just like good guys, villains, creeps or sluts. I want it to feel real. I want my male friends to feel just as much of a connection to my work as my female friends do.
Playboy: How do you want Girls to contribute to the ongoing conversation about feminism?
Dunham: On Girls I like being a mouthpiece for the issues I think young females face today. It’s always shocking when people question whether it’s a feminist show. How could a show about women exploring women not be? Feminism isn’t a dirty word. It’s not like we’re a deranged group who think women should take over the planet, raise our young on our own and eliminate men from the picture. Feminism is about women having all the rights that men have.
Playboy: If you woke up tomorrow in the body of a Victoria’s Secret model, what would you do for the rest of the day?
Dunham: I’d be really disoriented and wonder what had happened in the night. Which enemy had dragged me to the doctor? I don’t think I’d like it very much. There would be all kinds of weird challenges to deal with that I don’t have to deal with now. I don’t want to go through life wondering if people are talking to me because I have a big rack. Not being the babest person in the world creates a nice barrier. The people who talk to you are the people who are interested in you. It must be a big burden in some ways to look that way and be in public. That said, I probably would want to see if I could get free food at restaurants. Then I’d call a doctor and see if she could return me to my former situation.
Playboy: What kind of guy has a chance with you?
Dunham: When I was younger I liked men who gave me some guff. I liked badasses with hearts of gold, though they often ended up not having a heart of gold. They were a little like the Adam character on Girls. Now I’m much more into someone who is interesting and open with his emotions, has a really good sense of humor and a passion for what he does, wants to hang out with my parents and doesn’t want to stay out too late. If I can get excited imagining funny things he did as a kid, there’s a pretty good chance I’m in love with him. It’s a sad day when you stop believing in the idea of having a soul mate or having someone who understands you deeply and loves you eternally. I’m a pretty unorthodox girl, but I guess people might be surprised to learn that despite what some of the characters on the show are doing, I remain an eternal romantic with a desire to hear all the things girls like to hear said to them.
Playboy: You recently won two Golden Globe awards. Is there a downside to being critically adored and the object of great expectations in your mid-20s?
Dunham: Well, when you’re 26 you’re an adult, but you’re not exactly an adult. In medieval times I would definitely have been an adult, but I would’ve also been old and gouty and about to fall into a hole. But not now. The harder part is less about being adored; it’s more about being my age, having a real job and people who depend on me—and not being in service to someone else in their work. There’s a reason people are apprentices first: You get the bigger responsibilities when you’re ready for them. I feel I am ready, and fortunately I’m not drawn to behaving badly, which is good because I don’t have the option to disappear like some other 26-year-olds. If I did, you might find me eating a lot of cheesy carbohydrates, watching many episodes of a really shitty television show and sleeping in the afternoon. Of the seven deadly sins, I’m most guilty of gluttony and sloth.
Playboy: What’s your grocery checkout aisle routine?
Dunham: I cannot get out of the market without six trashy magazines and seven packs of gum. I wish I could resist those things. Oh, and sometimes a Cadbury Creme Egg, if it’s in season.