Lena Dunham's Big Dreams Rest On 'Tiny Furniture' The filmmaker was just 23 years old when she won the South by Southwest jury prize for her second film, Tiny Furniture. The comedy stars Dunham and her real-life mom and sister playing fictionalized versions of themselves in their real-life apartment in New York City.

Lena Dunham's Big Dreams Rest On 'Tiny Furniture'

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Lena Dunham, is nominated for Independent Spirit Awards in the categories Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay for her new film "Tiny Furniture." And she just finished shooting a pilot for HBO produced by Judd Apatow. The 24-year-old writer and director stars in her new movie.

When "Tiny Furniture" begins, Dunham's character, Aura, has just graduated college in Ohio and returned back home to live with her mother, an artist, and her younger sister, who's still in high school. Dunham's mother is an artist, and she plays the mother. Dunham's younger sister plays the younger sister. The movie was shot in their real home, a beautiful loft in a hip Manhattan neighborhood.

Aura is going through a difficult transition. She's awkward and lacking in self-confidence. She and her boyfriend from college just broke up. She's no longer a student, but she's not yet independent, and she's still having trouble fitting back in at home.

While her mother and sister are gone for a few days, Aura invites a guy from out of town to stay at her mother's loft. He sleeps in her mother's bed. In this scene, her mother returns home and senses something's gone on in her absence.

(Soundbite of film, "Tiny Furniture")

Ms. LENA DUNHAM (Director, "Tiny Furniture"): (As Aura) Hi, Mommy.

Ms. LAURIE SIMMONS (Actor): (As Siri) Hey.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) I'm so glad you're home.

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) I've been trying to get in touch with you. I left you lots of voicemails and stuff.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) My phone's off. What's up?

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) What's up is I went to pour myself a glass of wine, really tired, want to lie down in my bed. Ten bottles of wine are gone, one left.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) OK. I don't really know what to...

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) And who slept in my bed? Somebody slept in my bed.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) I slept in your bed. My mattress is uncomfortable. So I slept in your bed.

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) Candace told me she saw some guy walking around the loft at around 11 a.m. after you went to work, way after.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) What was Candace doing walking around the loft? Candace should stay in the studio. Candace is a (BEEP) tramp. Yeah.

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) Candace works for me. Candace comes up here to do things. Candace is up and down, up and down.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) OK, well, it makes me uncomfortable that you have to have Candace walking around my space.

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) Candace said the place reeked of pot.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) That was not my fault. There's no way that was my fault. You'd know that there's a kid across the airshaft who smokes a ton of weed and will never wave at Nadine.

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) OK, but you didn't drink the wine. Who drank the wine? This is Charlotte. I think Charlotte is such an incredibly bad influence.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) That's so untrue.

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) She's unsupervised, out of control.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) That's not true. She's with her dad all the time. He takes her to openings all the time.

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) Bob would go to the opening of a (BEEP) envelope, and I'm sure he wishes people think that Charlotte's his date. He's so skeevy.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) You are being very cruel.

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) No.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) Charlotte is my best friend.

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) For two weeks.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) For my whole life Charlotte's been my best friend, and she's also the only person who seems to care that I'm home. All you seem to care about is the wine, and if you care so much, I'll buy you new wine.

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) With what money?

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) I have a job. Did you not hear me last week when I told you that I have a job?

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) I heard you. I heard you.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) I just got out of school. This is a very hard time for me. If you didn't notice, I had my heart broken, OK? And I'm a young, young person who is trying very hard, and I don't know if you know what it's like to have a job. Did you ever have a job that wasn't just taking pictures of stupid, tiny crap?

Ms. SIMMONS: (As Siri) No.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) Yeah, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's a scene from "Tiny Furniture," and the director, writer and star, Lena Dunham, is my guest. Lena Dunham, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Ms. DUNHAM: Thank you very much for having me.

GROSS: Writers are usually in a dangerous position, whether it's a novel, memoir or movie. People you know and love and people you don't necessarily get along with are going to imagine the characters are based on them. And anything unflattering about the character they're going to think is the way you see them, and they're going to be angry with you.

Now, you've actually created, you know, unflattering or at least partially unflattering portrayals of characters that are being played by your family members. So did your mother or sister ever come up to you and say: Is this how you see me? Is this what you think of me?

Ms. DUNHAM: Well, you know, that was a fear of mine, but the ways that I kind of comforted myself with that were before I even showed them the script was, like, in my work, no one ever really gets it worse than me.

And I was, like, so it's like I'm asking you to do this thing, but it's not like I'm asking you to do this thing while I sort of stay out clean. It's sort of like we'll all go down together.

And also, we talk so much in my house. I mean, really, my house is just such a ridiculous, like, you know, cacophony of different people who have been through a lot of therapy that it's sort of like we've there's not that much that we can say to each other, in this form, that we haven't said to each other around the kitchen table. It's such an open dialogue in that way that that - my mom knows pretty well how I see her.

I mean, I always want to say over and over again how impressed I was with how game my mom and sister were to kind of skewer themselves but also how much they really played characters because I could spend two hours telling you the differences between who my mom is as a mother and who this character of Siri is as a mother and, like, you know, choices that I made for dramatic reasons, for cinematic reasons that really diverge from our own lives.

GROSS: Now, your father is not in the film.

Ms. DUNHAM: He's not, no.

GROSS: Because?

Ms. DUNHAM: But my parents are together and married, and I'm really, really close with my dad. There's a few reasons. I mean, the first reason, the kind of, like, basic, logistical reason is that there was no way I was ever going to get him to do it.

He's a really private person in a way. I would say my family is broken down like this: I'm ridiculous in my over-sharing; my mom and sister are very open but a little more judicious than me about the information that they choose to share with other people about themselves; and my father is, like, a decidedly private person.

Like, he literally has a nickname that only his friends and family know and then, like, a world name. Like, he's divided his life in that way, and he makes really kind of complex body artwork and is very careful about sort of not having a complex body persona to go along with it. And I knew that there was just no universe in which this was the kind of project he wanted to be involved with.

GROSS: By complex body artwork, do you mean in part that there's a lot of nudity and phalluses and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNHAM: There is. It's, like, it's really, it's like funny because it's really playful and colorful and sort of seems almost like it comes more from, like, a cartoony tradition than it does a modern art tradition. But then it's really sexually aggressive. It's really explicit. It's really I mean, he's depicting scenes that are, like, not, you know, not savory.

But it's really funny because then people meet him, and he's this, you know, very polite, thoughtful guy in a suit, and it's just not what you it's like sort of like one of these things is not like the other one. You don't quite understand the person you're seeing and the work that you're seeing as being connected.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Lena Dunham. She wrote, directed and stars in the new independent film "Tiny Furniture.

I want to play one more scene from "Tiny Furniture," and this is a scene with a guy that you've met who is on his way, he thinks, to becoming like a comic and maybe having a series. In the meantime, he's been doing short things on YouTube.

You seem to think you're having a relationship with him, and he seems to think that you're not. So he's been crashing in somebody's apartment and very uncomfortable there. Your mother's gone, and your sister are gone. They're looking at colleges. So you've got this beautiful Tribeca loft to yourself.

So you invite him to stay at your place, and he's been sleeping on this air mattress, which he finds very uncomfortable, and you'd be happy to be sleeping with him. So you take this as an opportunity to basically invite him into your bed. So here's the scene.

(Soundbite of film, "Tiny Furniture")

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) You OK down there?

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) I think the mattress is deflating.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) No way.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) It is. It's defective. It's devastating.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) So you're just sinking?

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) I'm sinking slowly. It's a mathematical certainty.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) I don't have anything else for you to sleep on. So maybe you should just get in my bed.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Nah.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) Sorry.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Girls sweat up the bed.

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) I don't sweat up the bed.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Has anyone ever told you that you sweat up a bed?

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) No one's ever said that.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Never ever?

Ms. DUNHAM: (As Aura) Never ever.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) OK.

GROSS: Of course, your mother had just told you that you sweat up the bed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's a very, it's a very kind of like low-self-esteem kind of scene.

Ms. DUNHAM: It is, yeah. I listened to it. I'm, like, especially if you're not seeing it going on, you're like, well, that's pretty depressing. Why is she letting him talk to her that way?

GROSS: Yeah, so why is she?

Ms. DUNHAM: Well, I think I mean, it's a dynamic I've experienced and also a dynamic I've witnessed in a lot of my friends, which is I think you know, it's trite to say, but when you're not sure about who you are, and when you're not sure about what you're worth or what your purpose is, there's a way that you'll let people who you think have a clearer sense of those things - you'll sort of be thankful for any attention that those people will give you.

And it's a mindset that I think is universal but pretty prevalent in a girl of a certain age, you know, in a girl between in her early to mid-20s just because there's a way that you're so desperately looking for somebody to sort of define you, and that's something that you can kind of seek out in male companions.

And I've, you know, been the victim of or the perpetrator of, depending on how you look at it, a lot of kind of ambiguous, platonic friendships in my day. And that was definitely a dynamic that I was looking to explore and sort of the darker underbelly of that.

GROSS: There's a scene, without getting too much into plot detail, because I don't want to give too much away, where your character has humiliating and cold sex with somebody.

Ms. DUNHAM: Yeah.

GROSS: And I should say it's unprotected sex. So she says: You don't have HIV, do you?

Ms. DUNHAM: Which is obviously the best way for everyone listening, the best way to figure out if someone has an STD is to ask them.

GROSS: Yes, exactly. Right, exactly, yeah. So I guess I was wondering: Why would your character not insist on some kind of protection from this person who she really doesn't know very well?

Ms. DUNHAM: Well, I think it's I've thought about that a lot, too, and I think one answer is being afraid that somehow that person, if you even take a moment to, like, say will you use a condom, they'll be reminded of what they're doing and decide they don't actually really want to have sex with you because at that moment, I think she thinks he's doing her a big favor.

She feels like he's more attractive than she is and more accomplished than she is, and she should take what she should get, what she can get. But I also think that there is a lust factor, which sort of people haven't really thought about when they've looked at that scene, which is that, like, she's also attracted to him and wants to have sex with him and is not is taken up in the moment in the same way that a guy might be. And I think that is sort of an angle that, you know, she doesn't know that much about sex, but she's very interested in it.

GROSS: But the first thing you said is basically asking for protection is also asking to be rejected because it just brings you one step closer to being rejected from somebody who probably doesn't care that much about you in the first place.

Ms. DUNHAM: Yeah, well, it's almost like, well, if we have to use a condom, that's a whole ordeal. So maybe we should just, like, go get some ice cream instead, like that feeling that she knows that having sex with her isn't, you know, isn't that high on his list of must-do activities. It's sort of something he's doing because she's made it so available to him. And that's not a way that I live my life, but it's a dynamic that I've seen and understand.

GROSS: Now one more self-esteem question. Your character in "Tiny Furniture" has a YouTube video that was very popular when she was in college. Why don't you describe the video?

Ms. DUNHAM: The video that she has, which is in fact a video that I made when I was in college, is the character, his name is Aura(ph), or me, whose name is Lena because I'm sort of using some material from my own for a change, using some material from my own life, she's wearing a bathing suit and bathing herself in an on-campus fountain at her college. And she kind of goes through all the motions of bathing and then is interrupted by a security guard, who asks her to remove herself from the fountain.

And her body is sort of like a, you know, like a doughy, eating-pizza-at-2-a.m. kind of college body. And so there's something a little jarring, I think, about sort of seeing her in that bikini in that place.

GROSS: And what was your intention when you made the video?

Ms. DUNHAM: You know, I don't think I was that was not one of my most thoughtful pieces of work. It definitely was you know, as far as I could consider it, I'd, you know, taken a gender and women's studies class and was also interested in, you know, "Jackass." So it was sort of like where those two things meet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNHAM: And I made it, I made it, and I kind of put on the Internet. This is all true. And then one day I'd made a Web series that somebody at YouTube had liked and had made a front page, sort of like a spotlighted video. And then somebody made that video a spotlit video on YouTube. And suddenly overnight I was on vacation with my family in Sweden I had like I opened my email box, my email inbox. And I was used to getting, like, one YouTube comment every two months. And I had, like, 5,000 emails. And I looked, and the movie had 1.5 million hits. The video had 1.5 million hits on YouTube and just pages of commentary, basically debating the merits or dis-merits of my physical form.

And I pulled the video from the Internet not because of, really because I was so upset by the fat debate but because I kind of just didn't want I was, like, I don't think this is my best work, and I don't want it to be the thing that people find when they go and look for me, if they do.

GROSS: Like, how connected is your self-esteem to your body image, to your body weight, to what people think of you physically? And, you know, how connected was it to the kinds of insulting comments about you being a little pudgy that you got, you know, from the YouTube video?

Ms. DUNHAM: Well, it's funny because, you know, I always - my joke I always make about myself is that I'm self-involved, but I'm not vain. I don't know. I just that's what I always say to my mom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNHAM: It's like, I've just always been I've just never been overly concerned with those things. I'm, like, always having to be told to brush my hair. I'm always having to be - and I love clothes, like I love fashion. I have a totally bad shopping habit, but it's much more because I like things that are fun and fun to touch and colorful and amuse people rather an idea about trying to look sexy.

But that being said, you know, I'm a young woman living in an age where this is, like, the national obsession. I can't lie about that. And so, you know, it's funny. Like, I recently, just from growing up and stopping certain college eating habits, I lost like 15 pounds.

And it's and you know, I'm still bigger than any other girl you're going to see in a movie or on TV, but it's - it was interesting because I think people reacted to it sort of like: Oh, well, you're going Hollywood.

And that was so - it was sort of just like I'm still young. Like, my body's still growing and changing. Like, I don't even know what height I am yet. Like it was sort of and so I would say my feelings, I would say my self-worth is mostly connected to my feelings of usefulness surrounding my work and that, but that, you know, I'm a heterosexual woman who wants to feel attractive. So I have to reconcile those things every day.

GROSS: My guest is Lena Dunham. She wrote, directed and stars in the new movie "Tiny Furniture." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: My guest is Lena Dunham, and she wrote, directed and stars in the new independent film "Tiny Furniture."

Now, as we mentioned, your mother plays your mother in the movie, and early in the film, you're looking for a light bulb, and in the cabinet where the light bulb is is also your mother's diary from when she was your age.

And you read it, and she doesn't object to you having read it. And I think it's your actual mother's real diary that you use in this. And the parts that you're reading, a lot of it has to do with how much she wanted to be an artist. And she says in the diary, the most security she could have, the thing that would make her most secure, is a good portfolio of her artwork. Did you relate to that?

Ms. DUNHAM: I fully. And finding those diaries of my mother's was a real watershed moment for me because, you know, I've always known her, my entire life she's been someone with - who's sort of been doing the impossible, which is supporting herself in a family in a career doing what she wants to do, sort of that holy grail of having a job that's also sort of some kind of catharsis and self-expression.

I guess it's not what everyone wants from a job, but that was always my hope, maybe because I was raised around it. And so when she would say to me, sort of describe to me her struggles to find herself, it almost felt like a lie. Like it was just so hard for me to imagine.

And every picture I saw of her from when she was my age looked, you know, it just looked like a bunch of, like, beautiful people hanging around a loft in the '70s. And I was sort of like: What problems did you ever have?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNHAM: I mean, it was - and I read the diaries, and it was just incredible. They were, you know, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," kind of just amazing insight, and it was very comforting to me.

GROSS: Were there generational differences that you saw between what she experienced as a young woman in the '70s and what you were experiencing, you know, recently?

Ms. DUNHAM: I think a really fascinating thing to me was the lack of social networking because the fact that she would say, you know, like, and, you know, random boyfriend X didn't call me today. I'm going to have to walk to 14th Street and knock on his door.

And, you know, there was no way to sort of, like, poke someone on the Facebook or send them a text message. Or she's, like, you know, I'm supposed to see my best friend Jane(ph) this afternoon. So I guess I'll swing by where she works and see if she's on this afternoon. That kind of real engagement with other people, it was so kind of crazy for me to realize how much of my life is sort of mediated by these technologies that weren't even a twinkle in her eye.

GROSS: There's a scene in the movie that I found so just hard to imagine. And I'm not saying because there's anything wrong with it. It was just, like, so outside of my realm of experience. And the scene I'm thinking of is when you climb into your mother's bed because you just need some warmth and consolation. And I just, I found that unimaginable.

Ms. DUNHAM: That's so interesting. Well, I've talked to certain people who are, like, you know, I get in bed with my mom every chance I get. And certain people are, like, I've never gotten in my parents' bed once, as long as I can remember.

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. DUNHAM: And I think that was always a thing in my house was if my dad was going away, we'd always go, oh my God, well, can we sleep in your bed? And my sister and I would fight about who could sleep in my mom's bed and if there was enough room for the two of us.

And I haven't slept in bed with my mom now in maybe a year. But that's still a lot. I'm, like, I'm like I'm way over that. I haven't done it in a year. But that still means I was doing it until I was 23, so...

GROSS: And why? What would what did you need from that?

Ms. DUNHAM: I mean, to me it was sort of this I was really scared to sleep as a little kid. I had a terrible, terrible phobia, like, you know, it was, like, a pretty full-time job for my parents to get me into bed.

Once I was asleep, I was fine, but just the process of getting me into bed, and I'd always say: You have to tell me something that I have to look forward to tomorrow. Please, could I I think honestly that it was, you know, a little-kid version of being totally afraid to die.

And I think so for me, sleeping in bed with my mom is - was, because I don't do it anymore - it was sort of a way to sort of, like, squash the kind of like loneliness and anxiety that comes up when you're really, when you're lying in bed, and all you can you have to do is think.

And she was, you know, she was receptive to it. And it's funny because she, it's even though my mom has a different kind of relationship with her parents, I just found her asleep in bed with her mom like two weeks ago.

GROSS: Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNHAM: I did. It was, like, the sweetest thing I've ever seen.

GROSS: Lena Dunham will be back in the second half of the show. She wrote, directed and stars in the new movie "Tiny Furniture." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Lena Dunham, the writer, director and star of the new independent film "Tiny Furniture." It's nominated for Independent Spirit Awards in the categories Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.

Dunham stars as a young woman who's graduated college and moved back home with her mother and sister, where she's having trouble fitting back in. Dunham's mother plays her mother. Her sister plays her sister.

Your movie is kind of a coming-of-age movie, is the coming-of-age of the person who's just graduated from college and is trying to figure out what's next.

Ms. DUNHAM: Yeah.

GROSS: There's a whole genre of coming-of-age movies usually told from a male point of view, often nowadays very obsessed with sex, like how do I get to have sex? How do I get to have sex with like an attractive girl? I'm going to end up drinking a lot and taking a lot of drugs in the process and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNHAM: Yeah. I know and it is the truth where...

GROSS: ...mistreating people. And, so I wonder how you relate to that kind of male point of view, coming-of-age comedy with a lot of excess, beer and drugs and...

Ms. DUNHAM: Yeah. There's, yeah, there's so many of those movies. I mean, the "American Pie" movies, there was the whole franchise of that. "Superbad," which I think is the best version of that because I think that movie is really smart and thoughtful and loving, although people -I'm sure people could level lots of sort of complaints of the behavior it depicts, but I think it's a just a really smart, well-made movie. And those movies are often about, like "Superbad," they're trying to lose their virginity to hot ladies as they are in "American Pie," but it's -and I could say, oh, that's a character goal, that doesn't make sense to me, except in "Tiny Furniture" my character is just like desperately trying to have sex with a brainless attractive man. That's her goal, too.

So it's funny because it's that it's not like I'm necessarily doing something different. It's just that I'm a woman, so it is different. But it's funny. I'm working on a project with Judd Apatow, and people have asked me a lot, they've said oh, this feels like an unlikely pairing, you working with Judd because of the fact that his movies are sort of notoriously from a male perspective, of sort of about schlubby men pursuing attractive women. And it's funny because that's actually a story that makes a lot of sense to me and that's sort of a story that my movie's in some way a warped version of. And so...

GROSS: With you cast as the schlubby man?

Ms. DUNHAM: With me cast as a schlubby man. Like I once made a joke, before I ever worked with - was ever working with Judd, I made a joke that I wanted to make a reverse Apatow movie, where sort of like James Franco falls in love with a fat girl stoner and like has to teach her the meaning of like love and adult responsibility. Sort of like if like "Knocked Up" got switched around; only the cool conceit of "Knocked Up" is that she's pregnant so she has to give him a chance, whereas I don't know how you would do it the other way around because I can't get James Franco pregnant.

But the thing is that there is a way that "Tiny Furniture" is that narrative a little bit of this like girl who doesn't know herself, doesn't know her own body. And I think one of the male characters in "Tiny Furniture," I find them both attractive, really attractive and one of them is a really like kind of conventionally attractive, kind of like male sex object whose not ultimately very good for her but who she pursues blindly anyway.

GROSS: Now, your new movie is called "Tiny Furniture" because the mother in the movie makes her photographs with tiny furniture.

Ms. DUNHAM: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And I think the movie could very well have been called "Tiny Camera" because from what I've read, you used a really tiny camera to shoot this.

Ms. DUNHAM: We did. We used a camera called the Canon 7D, which is a -it's digital still camera but that has a video function. So Jody Lee Lipes is my DP, and he's a writer and director in his own right and just a really - I was a big fan of his before I ever got to work with them. And he, and so he shoots mostly on film but he knew that we didn't have the budget for it and so kind of had the idea to use this camera that was - it was a little bit of an experimental thing to do, our editor Lance Edmonds owns the camera. So we shot and it was - there was something really wonderful about it because I think working, I didn't think about this till later, but working with non-actors, they were, they weren't afraid of this little camera. It looked like something they knew and had seen and understood.

GROSS: Like a step away from using your cell phone to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...to take pictures of people.

Ms. DUNHAM: Exactly. It was a little bit like holding up your iPhone and being like, we're making a movie. Like you're almost tricking people into feeling comfortable with this little thing.

GROSS: So that means that your scenes had to be really short because the camera would only shoot really short scenes.

Ms. DUNHAM: You know, it was actually the camera can record up to 40 minutes of video footage.


Ms. DUNHAM: So we actually - so it is - the scenes didn't have to be short but there were limitations like, for example, the camera doesn't do that well with movement, so like it wasn't, like we were doing a lot of panning or a lot of following characters. We really kind of had to pick a place for the camera to sit and then just allow the scene to unfold in front of it. And ultimately, it made the film feel very photographic in a way that almost mimicked my mom's work in a little way, in a way, which was something I sort of was going for maybe subconsciously and didn't realize until later that we had sort of achieved that.

GROSS: All right. So you're at like a new threshold in your life. You don't know whether your HBO pilot is going to be accepted or not. You don't know if you're new movie "Tiny Furniture" is going to be a hit or not. So just an approximate level of anxiety and stress right now?

Ms. DUNHAM: You know, surprisingly low. That's very - I always like being asked. I'm always like, thank you for asking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNHAM: Thank you for checking in. Because it's, you know, it's low. I've been so excited by getting to travel with the movie and so excited by getting to do the work that I've sort of buried a lot of those fears in that, and sort of like am so amazed. Like, you know, today I was like I get to wake up today and talk to Terry Gross. Like it was this it was every day brings a sort of crazy, like is this really happening, pinch-me-now moment. But there is also, I'm, like there's a way that I can, people, I've gotten a lot of, you know, people's sort of favorite thing to say via email is like, enjoy every moment of it, which was also people's favorite thing to say about high school so that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNHAM: But, you know, I'm sort of doing this weird thing. It's sort of a little bit like being in a movie and directing the movie at the same time. It's like I'm being in it and enjoying every minute of it but I'm also because of, I think because of my parent's careers, because of maybe the way I was raised and also just my general disposition, which is worrywart-ish and pretty hyper analytical, I'm always aware of sort of the ebbs and flows of a creative career so I'm always sort of like planning for disasters before they even happen. So it's this funny balancing act of really appreciating sort of the magic of it all, which for me is not getting old anytime soon while also sort of being aware of the challenges of having - of this particular job.

GROSS: Well, Lena Dunham, thanks so much for talking with us, and good luck.

Ms. DUNHAM: Thank you so much, Terry.

GROSS: Lena Dunham wrote, directed and stars in the new movie "Tiny Furniture." You can watch clips on our website, freshair.npr.org.

Walter Mosley's new novel is about a man in the early stages of dementia. Coming up, Mosley tells us about watching his mother transformed by Alzheimer's disease.

This is FRESH AIR.

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