PASADENA, Calif. — After scoring critical acclaim with her 2010 indie film, “Tiny Furniture,” Lena Dunham has turned her attention to the small screen and her new HBO series, “Girls,” which premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m.
Documenting the trials and tribulations of four 20-something women in New York, Dunham, 25, created and writes, directs, and stars in “Girls” as the confused but comical Hannah Horvath. Dunham and Judd Apatow, a “Girls” executive producer, chatted with reporters recently at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
Q. How close did you get to the Hannah character in real life?
Dunham: It’s closely based on my own experience of getting out of college and not having a sense of whether I would ever get to do the thing I wanted to do, and I was really miserable. I was working in a baby clothes store and just excited that I got free cookies in the afternoon. It was a really confusing, frustrating time, and I saw a lot of my friends going through the same thing, and it didn’t feel like it was being reflected back at us. And I’ve always been someone who feels better if I see what I’m going through in a movie.
Q. You give a nod to “Sex and the City” in the first episode. Were you a fan?
Dunham: I did grow up watching “Sex and the City.” I don’t think I thought I would make a “Sex and the City” show. I think I thought I would move back to New York and have a really elegant boyfriend and a really incredible shoe closet, and that was not the reality that I was greeted with.
Q. Some people might look at these characters and think they need to grow up. How do you make it so that viewers can feel that they’re moving in some sort of direction?
Dunham: I think we’ve all been really conscious of making sure that it’s clear that they’re trying their hardest and that they make mistakes, but they’re also working toward something. It’s a “two-steps-forward, one-step-back” situation. They do need to grow up. That’s what the show is about.
Apatow: I think all along we’ve thought that it’s important that you realize that it’s OK to be annoyed by them, that they’re making terrible mistakes. There’s a sense of self-entitlement. They’re immature, and it is every disaster that happens before you figure out your life.
Q. What comic sensibilities did you each bring to this project?
Apatow: I loved “Tiny Furniture.” I just saw the movie, and then I saw in the credits, “Oh, [Lena] did all of this, and that’s her family?” I’m a big fan of doing personal storytelling, so when we started this show the only thing that I preached, having worked on “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Freaks and Geeks,” was we only have 27 minutes, and we have to tell these stories. It’s a little more compact, and we have to get to it and have some fun along the way.
Dunham: I think you would be surprised to learn that a lot of what Judd brought to the show was . . . what people might think of as the most feminine content. And I feel like I just brought my desire to share my shame with the world and be comforted by how these personal experiences can feel really universal. And I love flawed female characters duking it out.
Interview has been edited and condensed. Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.