Penny Marshall Turned Down Lena Dunham for Not Smiling ‘on Command’ in Audition

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Lena Dunham was in a whole league of her own as an aspiring tween star.

The “Girls” creator and “A League of Their Own” enthusiast revealed that she met director Penny Marshall while auditioning for 2001 film “Riding in Cars With Boys.” Yet the audition soon went off the rails and didn’t warrant a callback.

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“When I was 12, I met Penny Marshall in a failed audition for a film, ‘Riding in Cars With Boys.’ And that was really big for me,” Dunham detailed on SiriusXM’s “The Jess Cagle Show.” “I was treated actually really well. There was no cruelty. The only thing I’ll say is I understand why I didn’t get the role.”

Dunham continued, “She asked all the young actors to say our name, our height, where we were from, and smile. And I said, ‘I’m Lena, I’m from New York, and I don’t smile on command.’ And Penny Marshall said, ‘It’s called acting, honey.'”

Dunham, whose sophomore film “Sharp Stick” debuted at 2022 Sundance, could relate to Marshall in hindsight.

“The thing is, she was right,” Dunham said. “Would you hire an actor who is like ‘I’m sorry, I can’t smile on command’? The thing is, I’m with Penny on this one.”

But at the time, Dunham was convinced losing out on the Marshall film was an insurmountable blow to her budding career.

“I remember going home and knowing that I had ‘screwed the pooch’ so to speak,” Dunham explained. “My mother says that I laid in bed for like a week and moaned ‘my career is over.’ I only ever had one audition and that was it.”

“Riding in Cars With Boys” starred Drew Barrymore in a memoir adaptation of a teen mother turned professor. Lorraine Bracco, Brittany Murphy, Steve Zahn, and James Woods also starred in director Marshall’s final film before her 2018 death.

Marshall helmed legendary WWII-set baseball comedy “A League of Their Own,” which is still Dunham’s most-watched movie to this day.

“That’s why I’m so excited about the show,” Dunham dished. “I got in trouble because I kept renting the movie over and over from Blockbuster as a kid. And then I would watch it like six times each time I rented it, so I broke the tape.”

“A League of Their Own” is reimagined as a TV series for Amazon Prime Video starring Abbi Jacobson. Meanwhile, Dunham is digging into another beloved childhood classic: “Catherine Called Birdy,” which she adapted also for the Amazon streamer. The medieval coming of age story “Catherine Called Birdy” will make its world premiere at 2022 TIFF before debuting in theaters September 23 and on Prime Video October 7.

Dunham previously deemed “Catherine Called Birdy” the “most ambitious project” of her career to date.

“I wanted to highlight this girl who was living in the wrong time,” Dunham told Teen Vogue. “If she was living in 2022, she would be a pretty classic tomboy or able to explore the gender binary. She’d be able to play all the sports she wanted. All of her dreams, which in 1290 are to go to a hanging and run around without a skirt on, would be achievable. But there are still as we know, huge challenges to being a woman in this day and age, and a teenage girl.”

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