Lena Dunham's first-ever Vogue coverThrough 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.
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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?"
Jenni Konner, an executive producer on the show, is seated in a director's chair nearby. She is Dunham's professional partner, and, in many ways, the other half of her creative mind. Where Dunham is hyperverbal, Konner is wry and laconic, but they share a fast wit and a sense of the Girls comic style. Making a quick pass through a writer's script, Konner might fine-tune its voice, adding an "Honestly" to the start of a line for Shoshanna-Zosia Mamet's chatterbox character-or adjusting the rhythm of a back-and-forth. (Dunham calls her "the queen of recognizing what a scene is missing.") Konner, now in her 40s, also brings the vantage of an older generation to the show. Their dynamic is familial, too; on the set and in life, she and Dunham are nearly inseparable.
"Lena, will you tuck your necklace in, baby?" she says, as they start another take.
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"Sorry, my love," Dunham calls back, pausing to tidy herself up. Her hair, which she cut short after shooting for the second season of Girls finished, has grown out to a trim, breezy bob. She has large and attentive chestnut-colored eyes, a ready smile, and a tendency to gesture with her hands that Saturday Night Live parodied in a Girls takeoff last fall. (The skit added a new girl from Albania-Blerta, played by Tina Fey.) "Hey, Danielle," she says now to a crew member. "Could we get that cat toy for Allison to wave at me at the end?"
"Sure . . ."
"Thanks," she says, tossing the cat toy to Williams after a brief test of its aerodynamic properties. Williams brandishes the toy gleefully, and they pick up in the middle of the scene.
See more of Lena's photo shoot and read her Vogue feature here!
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Celebrity Cameos on Girls and What They Mean