This interview contains plot details for the series finale of “Girls,” which aired Sunday night.
“Girls” ended tonight with “Latching,” an episode that skipped five months into the future to show us Hannah (Lena Dunham) with her newborn baby boy, Grover. In addition to a magnificent deployment of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” the episode (which is discussed further in this critical dialogue) offers up a glimpse of what growing up might look like for these characters — specifically Hannah and Marnie (Allison Williams), who are living together upstate and working on breastfeeding habits. It’s hard to imagine a more different setting from the first episode of “Girls,” which framed Hannah in a very different light. “Latching” was co-written by Dunham, Konner, and Judd Apatow, all executive producers on the show, and directed by Konner. Variety spoke to Konner and Dunham about six seasons of working together, choosing how to bid farewell to Hannah, and the special and deeply appreciated talents of Becky Ann Baker, the actress who has played Hannah’s mom Loreen for the show’s entire run.
Jenni, you directed this episode and Lena, you were playing being a new mother with this infant. Tell me about that experience, having a baby on set — I know you have had a baby on set before.
Jenni Konner: We’ve never had two. We’ve never had twin infants on set in all kinds of different roles.
Lena Dunham: Yeah, you have to have twins because babies can work for approximately two minutes at a time.
Konner: Yeah. Two minutes at a time. I think it’s 20 minutes total a day.
Dunham: Jenni is a full baby whisperer, so I have to say she was like — I don’t imagine that when Scorsese has an infant, he’s like rocking it between takes. We’d always be like, do we need the baby wrangler to come in? Jenni was like, I’ve got this. She was fully holding the baby and when she wasn’t holding the baby, Allison (Williams) and I had a baby each. It was a very baby-amenable cast type of thing. There was a lot I had to ask Jenni because I haven’t had a child.
Konner: There were plenty of parents around to ask things of.
Dunham: I had a really amazing conversation — one of our writers, Murray Miller, had a baby while we were shooting. I got on the phone with his wife and we talked for an hour and a half. I literally said like, What does your body feel like right now? What is stressing you out the most? Are you sleeping well? I just had to ask her every single question that seemed applicable. Then it was probably the most actressy thing I’ve ever done, is ask that many body questions.
The pregnancy and childbirth story is so suited to “Girls,” which is so about having a body that feels weird in this world. This whole season has been building to this baby. Why was this pregnancy plotline important to you both?
Dunham: It’s funny, I’ve heard a few people have an issue with the idea like, Why did it take a baby for Hannah to finally grow up? I was like, “It takes a baby for a lot of people to grow up.” It takes having someone who depends on you and who needs you — whose needs you have to place before your own — to really understand what’s important. I love that you pointed out the physical aspect of it because that is so … Jenni was so careful in the finale, about when she would stand there with hair and makeup while they painted these little stretch marks on me, or fit the the prosthetic lactation nipples.
I remember the first day I walked onto the set with that prosthetic to do my sex scene with Adam [Driver]. I was in front of the crew, who — I could get naked in front of them any time of the day — and I literally started to tear up, because I felt so different and so embarrassed. It was a really, really powerful thing, because my body felt so out of control. This is personal, but that I think is important, which is like — I have been public about the fact that I was dealing with uterine and gynecological health issues this year, and something I really try to tap into was the feeling of — I know this is different than having a child, because a child is joy and a child provides you with something — but the feeling of your body feeling alien to you, or losing control of it, was very present for me. That is probably the first time I’ve ever … I’ve never been, like, method-y, or thought about my grandma dying. That was the first time that my own life and my acting life have had such a close, inter-linking thing.
Even the breastfeeding plotline is about this physicality.
Dunham: Yeah. We weren’t, as you know, as I’m sure you can tell, we weren’t trying to come down on pro or against breastfeeding or what’s better or what’s not. It was more about Hannah’s expectation of herself, and of her child, and the way in which she would feel so disconnected if that didn’t work out instantly for her.
It surprised me that Marnie showed up at the beginning of the episode wanting to be her live-in best friend. Tell me about this being where you leave her.
Konner: Well, we leave here there, but I don’t think she’s staying for long.
Dunham: No. We try to kind of imply in that final conversation, that she understands that this can’t be her life forever. She does, in episode seven, she basically surrenders and says, I have nothing. I’ve caused this. She doesn’t have a marriage, she’s doesn’t have an apartment, she’s living with her mother.
She’s actually in a prime place. Marnie has always been a little bit of an ambulance chaser — someone who made herself feel useful by controlling other people. That’s the negative spin. The positive spin is that the central love story of this show, in many ways, has been Marnie and Hannah. That Marnie loves Hannah enough to feel that being there for her is part of her job on this planet.
That scene, where she’s I guess FaceTiming?
Dunham: Her sensual FaceTime with Brad Morris.
Which is not masturbating. She wants to be very clear.
Konner: Yeah. She’s lying, but yeah. Just to be very clear.
Dunham: She’s not jerking off. I laughed so hard when Jenni wrote in Loreen (Becky Ann Baker) using the term “jerking off.” For some reason women saying “jerking off” is so funny, and a woman in her 60s saying “jerking off” is even funnier. Then Jenni was like, “Let’s make her look like really like just showered.” She’s like, me? I wasn’t jerking off. I don’t know why, I was watching and it was just f—king slaying me so hard.
Loreen has changed a lot, too, from the first episode to this one. She’s tough as nails in the finale.
Konner: Well, she’s always been very tough, but I think the divorce really broke her, and she’s just creeping her way out. I think in a lot of ways, she and Marnie are sort of in the same place — and they’ve finally taken responsibility for what’s happened to them, and they’re trying to figure out who they are. In my opinion, I think Becky Ann should win an Emmy this year. I think her performance in these episodes is so moving and so beautiful. I have to tell you, I learned so much from her about the craft just watching her and talking to her. Directing her is beyond a pleasure.
Lena, what has it been like for you to say goodbye to your character’s mom, your acting mom?
Dunham: Oh, don’t say that. It was really emotional. I’ve said this before — I’ve learned more about acting from Becky than I have from anybody else on the planet. I don’t think she knows that she has fully been my teacher. From the first day we went on set together, I just saw how carefully she modulated her performance, how thoughtful she was, how amazing she was.
She was just a f—king super highly honed machine and I was always watching her and when I was directing her, I was watching her, and when I was acting with her, I was watching her. She’s just unlike anyone else. Saying goodbye to her didn’t just feel like saying goodbye to a friend or a scene partner. It felt like the end of graduate school or something.
Actually, the night before they wrapped, Becky, Alison, and I all took a yoga class together, and it was somehow this incredible — it was in a weird corporate conference room at a hotel. By the end of it, Becky and I looked at each other and we were just … I don’t even know if I’ve told you this, Jenni. We were just both crying.
Konner: I would put her in anything in the world any day of the life.
So talk about how you decided who Hannah’s baby was going to be. Why a mixed-race baby? Why “Grover”?
Konner: Well, the Grover thing happened because Lena came in one day and said, “I think his name is Grover.” We were all like, great. That seems to work. He will be the only Grover in his class, but it’s also not as wild as like a celebrity baby name. Somewhere it’s sort of traditional in some way. Then we wanted to connect Riz [Ahmed] to that name, and have it be that character have a part that would continue on with him in the baby’s life, even though he decided he didn’t want to be a part of the baby’s life. We gave him the line to think of Grover — and even though I think Grover Cleveland is more the famous Grover, I think Riz’s character, as Lena pointed out, probably was thinking of the “Sesame Street” Grover.
Dunham: Also and in terms of the why a mixed-race thing, not to be coy, but it’s like that, because it was Riz and my baby.
Konner: Yeah, it was the casting of the father.
Dunham: We saw him on “The Night Of” and we just fell so deeply in love with him. We just felt like, that is the face of a person who … we needed someone who could sell the idea that you would be happy to keep this person’s child because he’s beautiful, he’s lovely, he has a great energy.
Konner: He’s positive.
Dunham: I remember something Riz sold me amazingly on “Night Of” was like, even as his character did these horrific things, he had this angelic look to him where you were just like praying for him at every moment. There was something about his face that really, I think, spoke to us — and felt like those same qualities were going to be really amazing in the person who ended up being the dad of Hannah’s baby. Then he became the Internet’s number one crush and the rest is history.
I told Jenni the other night that I tried to Google him — I tried to Google something about him, because he’d done a performance and I wanted to see it. The first headline was like, “See Riz Ahmed make love to the red carpet.” I texted him. I was like, heard you were making love to the red carpet. He was like, so embarrassed they caught me doing that!
You get to text the internet’s crush!
Dunham: Oh yeah. It’s the Internet’s most hated side bitch texting the Internet’s favorite crush.
So why does Hannah have a boy?
Konner: I just felt like it was like one step weirdly more alienating for Hannah.
Dunham: I don’t think I’ve ever said this to you Jenni…
Konner: Yeah. I think I’ve never said what I just said to you.
Dunham: No. What you said is exactly right. I also think that we probably both think this — which is, there is a part of me that always thinks Hannah has had a pretty toxic relationship to masculinity. Her male relationships. All her relationships are complicated, but her male relationships are super complicated — and she clearly had a very complicated thing with her dad because of the secrets that she knew about him and she keeps. And there is a way in which I hope that her having Grover is going to help her to unify her perspective, in a way, and become a little bit more aligned with the idea that there can be men in your life who are beautiful and safe and necessary and right.
Like Jenni. I see Jenni’s relationship with her son and I always thought when I was younger — literally there’s a line in the show where Hannah is like, If I don’t have a girl or the gayest boy in this world, I’m going to shoot myself in the head. That was how I always felt. I was like, I want a kid, but if I can’t guarantee it’s female, then what’s the f—king point?
Now that I see Jenni’s relationship with her son and becomes so close with him myself, it’s totally opened up this other thing for me. I come from a family of all women and it’s like, not to overstate it, but it’s like it’s a very emotional thing to me to see what that relationship looks like.
Konner: Well, that’s like — my thing is I’m always like, oh white men are ruining everything, and Max’s dad is like… don’t say that in front of your son.
Dunham: Yeah, he’s like, you have a nice 10-year-old white man living at your house.