FEA­TURES GIRL TALK

The HBO se­ries cap­tured what it’s like to work, nav­i­gate friend­ships and hook up as a twen­tysome­thing. In hon­our of its fi­nal sea­son, the stars sit for the ul­ti­mate exit in­ter­view. Styled by Jil­lian Dav­i­son. Pho­tographed by Emma Sum­mer­ton.

VOGUE Australia - - News -

In hon­our of the fi­nal sea­son of Girls, the stars of the show sit for the ul­ti­mate exit in­ter­view.

When Girls pre­miered on HBO, the world was a dif­fer­ent place. Sure, sin­gle-gal shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Mur­phy Brown had laid the ground­work for then 25-year-old Lena Dun­ham’s cre­ation. But Dun­ham made clear in the first episode that nei­ther her char­ac­ter, Hannah, nor Jessa ( Jemima Kirke) nor Marnie (Al­li­son Williams) nor Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) would be a Sex and the City fan­tasy. When chirpy Shoshanna tells Jessa: “You’re def­i­nitely like a Car­rie, but with like, some Sa­man­tha as­pects and Char­lotte hair,” Jessa shoots her a look that just says: “No.” This show would be dif­fer­ent. Girls is fiction, ob­vi­ously. But it has been com­mit­ted to por­tray­ing life, for the most part, as it is. The char­ac­ters look like peo­ple, not ac­tors who spend ev­ery wak­ing se­cond work­ing out or tan­ning. The apart­ments they in­habit are dim and cramped. Their panic about work, money and love is re­lat­able, the sex they have is awk­ward and they go to the bath­room, a lot. At times watch­ing the char­ac­ters flail around can get un­com­fort­able, but then they reel you back in with a spot-on joke. “No­body tells you how bad it’s go­ing to be in the real world,” moans Shoshanna in sea­son four. “Yeah, they do,” Marnie snaps. “It’s pretty much all they ever tell you.”

It is a com­edy, af­ter all. But from the start Girls in­ten­tion­ally pushed but­tons. There’s nu­dity, which Dun­ham has ex­plained is her way of try­ing to nor­malise real women’s bod­ies, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, and a char­ac­ter who is “su­per chill”, as the web­site Jezebel put it, about get­ting an abor­tion. Be­cause of that, con­ser­va­tive crit­ics be­gan to rage against it al­most im­me­di­ately. “If, as [Dun­ham’s] char­ac­ter sug­gests in the show’s first episode, she is the voice of her gen­er­a­tion, then one could se­ri­ously ar­gue that we’re doomed,” the Na­tional Re­view warned in 2013. In hind­sight it seems that per­haps its de­trac­tors saw be­fore any­one else what a force Girls would be and how it would per­me­ate our cul­ture. The in­ter­net roiled with Girls think pieces and in­ter­views with the in­tel­li­gent cast, all of whom made a point of iden­ti­fy­ing as fem­i­nists and en­cour­aged oth­ers to do so. Trav­el­ling to Texas with Dun­ham in 2014 for a pro­file, I was star­tled by the size of the crowds at events for her book, Not That Kind of Girl, which she held in con­junc­tion with Planned Par­ent­hood, a favoured cause. Since then Dun­ham has fur­ther im­mersed her­self in pol­i­tics; she was one of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s most vo­cal cam­paign sur­ro­gates. Mean­while, Kirke ad­vo­cated for the Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights, can­didly shar­ing her own abor­tion story; Mamet wrote about her strug­gles with an eat­ing dis­or­der in Glam­our; and, as an am­bas­sador to Hori­zons Na­tional, Williams fo­cused on clos­ing the ed­u­ca­tion gap. Last year all four women re­leased a pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ment urg­ing sup­port for sex­ual-as­sault sur­vivors.

Girls isn’t go­ing to go out lightly in its last sea­son. And the show’s legacy will be felt long af­ter it goes off the air. Dun­ham and Girls’ ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Jenni Kon­ner, who in­ter­views the cast be­low, have made it their mis­sion to deepen the bench of women sto­ry­tellers by found­ing a news­let­ter, Lenny Let­ter, and a pro­duc­tion com­pany, A Ca­sual Ro­mance Pro­duc­tions.

With that, Jenni, take it away. Jes­sica Pressler

Jenni Kon­ner: “Here’s the idea: When you leave a job, they do some­thing called an exit in­ter­view. I want to ask you ques­tions from an ac­tual exit in­ter­view and the com­pany we’re go­ing to talk about is Girls. So. Hi, guys. Wel­come.” Lena Dun­ham: “Hi, Jen­nifer.” Jenni: “I’m go­ing to start with Jemima. What was the most sat­is­fy­ing thing about your job, and the least sat­is­fy­ing?” Jemima Kirke: “Okay, thank you. The least and the most sat­is­fy­ing thing about my job was my re­la­tion­ship with Lena. [Laugh­ter.] In a good way. It def­i­nitely caused us to get closer [af­ter 15 years of friend­ship], and it caused us to fight. And then at the end of it, you know, [our re­la­tion­ship] was nicer.” Jenni: “Every­one, take your cue from Jemima and be bru­tally hon­est. [Laugh­ter.] All right. Al­li­son?” Al­li­son Williams: “I started play­ing one per­son, then she evolved so much. I got to ex­er­cise all kinds of muscles. The least sat­is­fy­ing? I al­ways wanted to be in the show more. [Laugh­ter.] That was my MO ev­ery year. I wanted to be a piece of fur­ni­ture in Hannah’s apart­ment, if that’s what it took.” Jenni: “Jemima just said: ‘That’s so typ­i­cal.’ And I was about to say: ‘That’s so on-brand.’” AW: “Lis­ten, I’m con­sis­tent.” Jenni: “You are noth­ing if not con­sis­tent. Zosia?” Zosia Mamet: “The most sat­is­fy­ing part was get­ting to play a per­son who was so in­trin­si­cally op­po­site of me in, like, ev­ery atom of my be­ing. The dis­sat­is­fy­ing thing was that I came to know this hu­man that I cre­ated. And love her. And now I miss her.” LD: “I think the most sat­is­fy­ing part was learn­ing to trea­sure col­lab­o­ra­tion. When I went into the job, I had fear about let­ting other peo­ple into my process. So whether it was be­com­ing part­ners with you, Jenni, and re­al­is­ing that I had a life­long cre­ative part­ner, which isn’t some­thing that I ever ex­pected to have in my life based on be­ing raised by par­ents who went into a stu­dio alone and acted like art was a soli­tary ac­tiv­ity. Or build­ing my re­la­tion­ships with Al­li­son and Zosia and learn­ing to lis­ten when they had a note and not be­come de­fen­sive. Or the hard­est, learn­ing to lis­ten to Jemima, be­cause I al­ways felt like she was, like, six steps from mur­der­ing me and I had to pro­tect my­self. But all of that helped me learn the sat­is­fy­ing thing of open­ing up and un­der­stand­ing that other peo­ple’s con­cepts of their char­ac­ters, their ideas, are just as valu­able as mine.” Jenni: “And least sat­is­fy­ing?” LD: “Some­times I would get very lonely, be­cause I wanted to be a part of the group, but there was also the el­e­ment of, like, hav­ing to boss peo­ple around. And we would be do­ing all this as a team, [but] if we got crit­i­cism, I felt like it would all come down on me in this shit-storm tor­rent. Even though I was sur­rounded by love, there were times where I felt very ‘by my­self ’ in the process.” Jenni: “I’m just gonna say, the hard­est part of my job was just try­ing to get you guys not to get haircuts and tat­toos! [Laugh­ter.] What would you change about the job?” JK: “Ugh, I think sea­son two.” LD: “That was the sea­son where you said I had to get out of your dress­ing room or you were gonna punch me, Jem.” JK: “Sea­son two was kind of trau­matic for me.” LD: “I think it’s time for us to dis­close to the world that, like, three days be­fore sea­son two, Jemima tried to quit.” [Laugh­ter.] JK: “Yeah. My sense of who I was and what I wanted was re­ally thin. I re­ally wasn’t sure what the fuck I was do­ing.” LD: “I re­mem­ber be­ing in a cab. And Jemima called me. She was like: ‘I have to tell you some­thing. It’s not a big deal. I don’t want you to freak out. I want to quit the show.’” [Laugh­ter.] Jenni: “Zosia, what would you change?” ZM: “Oh, fuck. That’s so hard. So much of my day-to-day work on the show was my at­tempt to try and find Shoshanna. I think I had a lot of anx­i­ety that I wouldn’t hit her tone right.” Jenni: “But you in­vented her tone.” ZM: “It was such a sur­prise to me that that [char­ac­ter] came out of me. I was so all-en­com­passed in get­ting it right that I think I lost some of the ‘rel­ish­ing the mo­ment’ of be­ing in the scenes.”

Jenni: “Al­li­son?” AW: “What would I change? The en­tire show was a real ex­er­cise in trust and lack of con­trol for me. And so three sea­sons ago, I prob­a­bly would have said I wish I had been a writer and pro­ducer on the show. [Laugh­ter.] Have some el­e­ment of con­trol. But now I know that it would have driven me to an early in­sane asy­lum. I don’t have the skill that Lena does, which is to be able to ex­tri­cate my­self from my own body as I’m writ­ing my char­ac­ter.” Jenni: “Okay, Lena? What would you change?” LD: “Mak­ing my deal with HBO as a 23-year-old wo­man, I felt that I had so much to prove. I felt like I had to be the per­son who an­swered emails the fastest, stayed up the lat­est, worked the hard­est. As much as I loved my job, I re­ally, like, in­jured my­self in some ways. If I had felt like: ‘You’re wor­thy of eight hours of sleep, not four; you’re wor­thy of turn­ing your phone off on a Satur­day’, I don’t think it would have changed the out­come of the show. [But] I could have worked with a sense of joy and ex­cite­ment, rather than guilt and anx­i­ety of be­ing ‘found out.’ The ad­vice I would give any wo­man go­ing into a job if she has a sense of im­pos­tor syn­drome would be: there will be noth­ing if you don’t look out for you. And I can’t wait, on my next project, to go into it with the strength that comes from, like, valu­ing your own body and your own men­tal health.” Jenni: “What do you think it takes to suc­ceed at this com­pany?” JK: “Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ob­vi­ously. It is a workspace, but it’s cre­ative. Like, we’re all putting so much of our­selves into this. And feel­ings do get hurt. You need com­mu­ni­ca­tion.” ZM: “In or­der to suc­ceed, all you had to do was re­ally show up pre­pared, and ready to be open and a part of the team.” LD: “Gotta show up to play.” AW: “And a will­ing­ness to thrust your ego aside and say yes. You guys said: ‘Jump’ and I would say: ‘How high?’” LD: “What it takes to suc­ceed at the com­pany? Brav­ery. Not just the brav­ery to do a scene that might be un­com­fort­able or to take your clothes off. But also the brav­ery to be like: ‘I have a ques­tion.’ To ad­mit when you’re not sure about some­thing, so that we can come to­gether and make it bet­ter.” Jenni: “Al, did your job du­ties turn out to be as you ex­pected?” AW: “I as­so­ci­ated sets with a high-drama at­mos­phere. To my enor­mous re­lief, the cast was the source of al­most zero drama, with the ex­cep­tion of one very abrupt de­par­ture [of ac­tor Christopher Ab­bott, who played Williams’s boyfriend Char­lie].” Jenni: “But we’ve healed. We’ve all healed.” LD: “I text him all the time. And he texts back! Yeah. I feel the same thing as Al. I re­mem­ber telling peo­ple we were do­ing the show, and they were like: ‘Who’s on it?’ And I was like: ‘It’s all of our first job, and we’re all 24.’ And every­one was like: ‘Good luck.’ [Laugh­ter.] And I thought, at a cer­tain point in the se­cond sea­son, I was gonna have to sit you girls down and be like: ‘Lis­ten, bitches. You’re lucky to have a job. So get it to­gether and cut out this be­hav­iour!’ Like: ‘If you’re spot­ted out with Jared Leto one more time, this is done.’ [Laugh­ter.] And then every­one was just nice. Jemima and I fought some­times be­cause we’ve been close since we were 11, and that’s one of the things you do when you’re fam­ily.” Jenni: “Okay. Next ques­tion: Were you happy with your pay, ben­e­fits and other in­cen­tives?” [Laugh­ter.] ZM: “This might be too dark. But be­ing sort of an or­phan child, with­out, like, parental fig­ures, it was in­cred­i­bly pleas­ant to be sur­rounded by hu­man be­ings whose job on a daily ba­sis was to take care of me. I was eat­ing up that parental sub­sti­tu­tion love.” JK: “Ben­e­fits of be­ing on the job? I’m not mad about a good ta­ble at a restau­rant. Do you know I ac­tu­ally [pre­tended to be] my own pub­li­cist when I didn’t have one?” LD: “She did. And she would call for reser­va­tions and clothes.” JK: “I was just like: ‘Hey, I’m a pub­li­cist. I’m call­ing on be­half of one Jemima Kirke on HBO’s Girls.’” [Laugh­ter.] Jenni: “Al­li­son?” AW: “Well, we were very well com­pen­sated, which was a real priv­i­lege. Putting aside the fact that it’s nice to be well paid … it al­lowed me to be se­lec­tive [with other projects] and thus much more cre­atively ful­filled.” LD: “There are a lot of shows where the dudes make a lot more fuck­ing money than the girls. And we were on a show where the girls were the thing.” Jenni: “And they got paid for be­ing the thing. What do you think your favourite me­mory will be at this com­pany? Jemima?” JK: “My best day was the day that I ex­pe­ri­enced what it’s like to be picked up [in the air] by Adam Driver.” [Laugh­ter.] LD: “I like it too. Adam Driver cra­dled me like a moth­er­fuck­ing baby for, like, eight takes, and I won’t lie, it felt good.” JK: “You know the big thing that you jump over in gym­nas­tics?” Jenni: “The vault.” JK: “That’s Adam Driver. [Laugh­ter.] Like, you can just run and jump on it. It doesn’t move, and it sup­ports you fully.” LD: “It’s like a hot-ass fu­ture-Os­car-win­ning vault. I’m glad we live in a world where women can re­duce men to vaults … I also didn’t mind be­ing laid across, like, a satiny bed by Pa­trick Wilson while he stared at me like I was like a queen from heaven. Like, I’m not im­mune to that shit. But my best me­mory – I hope this isn’t too per­sonal, Jenni – it was on our last episode. You and I got in a small ar­gu­ment. Went in a room. And we man­aged to cry, apol­o­gise and work it out within three min­utes, then go back to work.” Jenni: “And then every­one out­side was like: ‘We heard you got in a huge fight.’” LD: “Huge fight! But I was so proud. I saw the seven years of hard work we put into [per­fect­ing our com­mu­ni­ca­tion] be­cause we fuck­ing su­per-pro­cessed.” ZM: “Not to be dark and Wed­nes­day Ad­dams again, but my last day, which was also Jemima’s last day, hit so hard: the tidal wave of true sad­ness. But in the weird­est way, it’s such a happy me­mory. Be­fore the age of 30, I got to spend six years on such a joy­ous ex­pe­ri­ence that it caused that type of grief at its funeral.” LD: “If you’re sad, Zosia’s an amaz­ing per­son to text for a quote. I was hav­ing is­sues with the loss of a re­la­tion­ship, and she texted me: ‘We may be soul­mates for life, or only a train ride. But it just changes your life no mat­ter what.’ Zosia is Oprah.” Jenni: “Would you work for this com­pany in the fu­ture?” JK: “That’s like if some­one asked me: ‘Would you like to go back to col­lege?’ Of course I would. ’Cause I would fi­nally do it right. So yes, I would do it all over again.” AW: “I would 100 per cent come back, be­cause, one, I’m spoiled by the scripts. To start your ca­reer with these scripts is a weird al­ba­tross. Ev­ery time I read a script by any­one else, I’m like: ‘Oh, come on. This is not good.’ I will al­ways trust your judge­ment as a show-run­ning op­er­a­tion.” ZM: “So of­ten you work on an­other project and there’s that feel­ing of, like: ‘I think it’s gonna be good, and I hope that they want to cut to­gether my scene in a pleas­ant way.’ But there isn’t just in­nate, in­trin­sic trust that ex­ists of, like: ‘Oh, no mat­ter what hap­pens on set, even if we all vom­ited, we would still make a good show.’” LD: “And some­times we did vomit.” ZM: “We were al­lowed to grow. Not only as our­selves, but as char­ac­ters. And if I got to do that for the rest of my life, I would die a happy wo­man.” Jenni Kon­ner is an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of HBO’s Girls and co-founder of Lenny Let­ter.

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