Charles Sykes, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Lena Dunham is deconstructing femininity right across the table.
Having spiffed up for some behind-the-scenes featurettes for her upcoming HBO series, "Girls," Dunham has relaxed into her seat at a Tribeca restaurant not far from where she grew up. Shortly after shedding her overcoat, she pulls off her fake eyelashes, too, apologizing for her manners and lamenting the forthright revelation of a women's "secret" to a member of the opposite sex.
"There's a certain point when I've had them on all day, I just want to be free of them," she says, laughing. "I want to be naked but for my own lashes. It upsets your friends if you pull them out and just hand them to them. They're not exactly sure what's going on."
Inhibition and a comical preference for naturalism run deep in Dunham and her work. She's a self-declared "over-sharer" whose Twitter feed is a steady stream of self-deprecating wit. ("I was lying totally still on the shower floor and really hurt my knee. And that, my friends, is proof I can do anything.")
Her work (two features, a few Web series and now the TV show) is heavily personal, like her breakout film, 2010's "Tiny Furniture," an indie she made for just $25,000 starring herself, her mother (the photographer and artist Laurie Simmons) and her younger sister, Grace. (Her father, the painter Carroll Dunham, typically abstains.)
"In many ways, my work acts as my journal," she says. "When I had a journal as a kid, I was constantly leaving it open, hoping somebody would find it. I just didn't understand the purpose."
Not yet 26, Dunham has already been profiled by the New Yorker, had "Tiny Furniture" released on DVD by the esteemed Criterion Collection and attracted the interest of comedy producer and filmmaker Judd Apatow, executive producer of "Girls." Considering her unblemished good fortune, Apatow has advised Dunham to get a T-shirt that reads "The Inevitable Backlash."
"Girls," which Dunham wrote, stars in and produced, premieres Sunday, April 15, but it's already captured the zeitgeist, sparking a dialogue about 20-something adulthood, femininity and sexuality. The show follows four young women (Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke and Zosia Mamet) in post-collegiate drift, struggling in a difficult New York job market, chafing at conventional ideas of womanhood and dealing with male counterparts on a different wavelength.
"It feels as though it's the right time for this show," she says. "Women want a show like this. This generation wants a show like this — not to overstate our mission."
Dunham is the subject of op-eds (The New York Times) and the topic of considerable blogosphere debate. She's been lauded for inverting the usual representations of female bodies by having no shyness in portraying her, as she terms it, "not exactly model-esque body" in unflattering sex scenes. But one critic suggested Dunham would lose her "narrative propellant" if she dropped 30 pounds.
"If I lost 30 pounds, I'd die," she says. "Not to quibble with him about what overweight means, but I can't even lose 30 pounds!"
Most, though, recognize in Dunham the genuine article: an uncommonly mature storyteller with natural instincts for autobiographical filmmaking and neurotic portraits of her self-absorbed 20-something generation. In a memorable scene in the first episode, Dunham's character, having arrived in New York an aspiring writer, tells her visiting parents that she believes she's the voice of her generation, "or a voice of a generation."
It's particularly fitting because it's both true and a self-parody — a balance of sympathy and critique for Millenials that runs throughout "Girls."
"That's just always what's made the world feel manageable is to be able to share my experiences with like-minded people," she says. "And sometimes I end up sharing them with not like-minded people, too."
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