April 15th marks the much-anticipated debut of GIRLS, a new show conceived by triple-threat Lena Dunham (she’s the writer, director and producer). Dubbed “a voice of a generation,” GIRLS portrays an intricate tale of authentic situations that penetrate a foursome of best girlfriends living in New York City (or trying to) post-graduation. The legendary and equally hilarious Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) serves as the show’s executive producer and it was Dunham’s newcomer status (and all-around green approach) to television that had him dive head-first back into the small screen–a world he left behind in 2001 with Undeclared. Here, Life+Times chats with Mr. Apatow about his admiration for the new girl on the block, Ms. Lena Dunham.
Life+Times: I consider myself lucky. HBO sent me the first three episodes of GIRLS. You should be a very proud man.
Judd Apatow: You know, we’re really proud of it. Lena has such a strong voice and a unique sensibility. My job has been about how to educate her on TV, as she hasn’t made a show before. It’s my job to tell her what can be accomplished in 30 minutes. But, she has a very passionate idea of what she wants the final outcome to be.
L+T: What was your first encounter like with Lena?
JA: Two years ago, someone slipped me a DVD of her movie called Tiny Furniture without having any idea what it was about. And after watching it, I was shocked when I learned that the director was both the writer and the star. I also didn’t know it was made for $45,000. It blew my mind what she had accomplished. It blew my mind. And then I sent her an e-mail telling her how amazing I thought it was, and I said something like, “If you ever want to make a lot of money and let me ruin your career–give me a call.” And coincidentally, she was just negotiating a deal for an HBO show and then they asked me to jump onboard. I hadn’t done TV since 2001 after Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared were cancelled. I could never seem to figure out how to keep a show on the air for half a season (laughs) so I changed my focus to film.
L+T: Are you happy being back in television?
JA: To be honest, the only reason I’m back in TV is because Lena wanted to work in TV… and I wanted to work with Lena.
L+T: As a guy in my 20’s living in NYC, I think just because the show is called GIRLS doesn’t mean it isn’t relatable to the opposite sex. I, for one, can certainly relate.
JA: I definitely agree. It’s about that moment when you graduate from college and you haven’t figured out what kind of person you want to be in a relationship with and you make a ton of mistakes. This show is about experimenting and making a lot of bad decisions when you’re young.
L+T: I also find so many of the situations that took place were so real in a personal way. What makes GIRLS interesting to you as a producer?
JA: Well, for me, it’s about trying to help Lena get her ideas out of her mind and onto the screen without being watered down. She can be distracted by the world, by criticisms, people working on the show, her own neuroses–anything can set someone off their course as an artist. What I like to do is try to work with Lena so she feels like she is getting to express herself authentically. I have ideas that I pitch to her, but we have an agreement that she has final say over everything. And that makes it enjoyable for me.
L+T: What do you think you’ve learned from Lena during this process?
JA: It’s inspiring to work with someone who isn’t burnt out–only because she hasn’t done a lot. She doesn’t know what she should be afraid to do. She’s a risk taker because she hasn’t gotten hammered yet–and that’s a very special space as you have so much energy and ambition…but nobody has crushed your spirit yet. It reminds me that I always need to be brave and as honest as I can be in my work.
L+T: It’s also about time someone like her came along. She’s a real girl going through real things that real people can relate to. Her depiction of herself is very authentic.
JA: A lot of people tell stories about what happened during earlier stages of their lives. She’s writing about her life in real time. And that’s pretty powerful. She’s not having a hard time remembering about past experiences–she’s living them as we speak.