chat room

Girls’ Jenni Konner on How Hannah Got Her Groove Back, Writing the Show’s Sex Scenes, and That Big Fight

Photo: Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic

After a season of near-unanimous praise, Girls ended Sunday night on a freeze-frame of Hannah Horvath mid-jog, in an homage to the classic Mary Tyler Moore Show shot. The Vulture TV Podcast spoke with Girls showrunner Jenni Konner on Monday to talk about why they chose to close the season that way, the TV fight of the year, and how Hannah got her groove back.

Gazelle Emami: I wanted to start talking about that final scene, the freeze-frame moment on Hannah. It was such a refreshing little surprise that had a Mary Tyler Moore feel to it.
Yes, definitely. Definitely Mary Tyler Moore.

GE: Can you talk a little bit about that decision?
You know, we made that decision in editing. Our brilliant editor fought me a little bit, but I convinced him that it was just this sweet, kind of ‘70s way to end it, and I was trying to end it very optimistically. And, truthfully, there was no good way out of that scene that I could find.

GE: So in filming it, was it just going to be her running off?
I was going to cut it as she was running towards camera. We wanted it to be more direct, and that didn’t quite work, so the freeze-frame came [from] wanting to have that moment that we didn’t quite have, which is her directly face-on.

GE: Everyone’s been talking about how great this season is, and there is something that feels a little different.
Everyone is responding in this way, like “This is the best season ever!” Which is so nice but it wasn’t something we had anticipated. I do think it’s an amazing season, but [we weren’t] aware that we did anything that different. But it seems to feel different to everybody. (Laughs.)

Matt Zoller Seitz: It felt different to me but it wasn’t so much the style or the tone or anything like that. It was more that I felt like the show was dealing directly with certain inevitable facts about these characters, namely that they’re not all going to be friends forever.
Knowing how it’s going to end and working towards an ending gives us a lot of confidence in the choices we make for the characters. But it also gives us, it’s a “Speak now or forever hold your peace” kind of feeling, too. So it’s sort of our last shot to give these characters voices and we’re [trying to] really honor them and be really honest with the characters. It’s not just a season, like “Oh, this is the season that Hannah goes to graduate school!” Now we’re heading towards an end and that feels different.

GE: So, in part, did it just make sense in the long-arc narrative to separate them and give them their own stories?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, there’s been a lot of that back and forth over the seasons. Even in the first season, we start Hannah as a mess and Marnie’s the together one. And then they both cross each other on the way up and down. Marnie’s more of the mess by the end and Hannah’s getting her act together. I think that’s almost been a slightly steady path of both of theirs in some ways. We always have breakups and coming back together in the friendships, but I do think that it’s not inevitable you will spend your life with these same people that you met at college. And there’s this thing where you get out of college and you look around at your friends and you say, “You know, it’s hard to be a friend and be an adult in the world and have a job and have responsibilities and still make a lot of time for people.” And you have to be kind of precious about that time. Part of that is realizing who you want to spend time with and if you still want to spend time with that person.

GE: And while this season we definitely see them drifting apart, there’s also this sense that they care about each other really deeply, too.
With Adam and Jessa, they can’t exist right now without Hannah being part of it. They haven’t figured out a way to excise Hannah from their relationship yet.

MZS: I also get a sense of this encroaching fear of somehow the characters being disappointments to themselves. Like, are you going to achieve your dreams?
As they get older, they’re having to face reality more. When the show started, they were like, “We’re just out of college!” And then they had to start to accept that now they’re like, “We’re not just out of college anymore. Now we’re in our lives. These are our lives that we’re in right now and so what will we make of them?” The stakes are higher.

MZS: Can you talk a little bit about the staging of the argument that becomes a destruction derby?
First of all, that was a really fun scene to shoot, as you might imagine. And we rehearsed it many, many, many times. We rehearsed it first without props and then with props, and I took a little bit of license with how easily things broke in that apartment. (Laughs.)

GE: Did you have to do a lot of takes of breaking the same things?
We shot it all in a piece and we didn’t know when we got to editing if we were going to cut back and forth or if we would just use that coverage that almost is like someone’s filming it with an iPhone. And we wound up just sticking with that, which is actually the way me and the DP, Tim Ives, did it first. Often how he blocks scenes is by taking photos of stand-ins in the scenes. But this time, because we were rehearsing, we shot it. And one of the things I would do when I would shoot it is go back and forth so that I could see both of them, and that became the style that I fell in love with.

MZS: Could you talk about the decision of what to destroy and not to destroy? Because I know these are actors who go with the flow and they’re in the moment, but isn’t there a danger that somebody might hurl an object that’s not breakable?
There was no flow in this. This is all very, very intentional. We just used everything in the apartment that already existed where it was. And then we just would say, “Okay, well then I think you’re going to break this.” And so then we would have props build something like that. As we structured the fight, it was like, “Should I pick up this and throw it here?” It was pretty deeply scripted based on that apartment. And we knew that she would tip over the bookshelf, so we added a wire to the bookshelf.

MZS: There’s an incredible sense of impending violence. I don’t just mean the violence of them breaking things and yelling at each other, but that this thing could escalate into actual domestic violence of them hitting each other. I was really concerned, like “Oh my God, is this show suddenly going to take a right turn into tragedy?” or something. And how do you keep right on that edge, where it’s menacing and then it’s funny?
Yeah, that was part of the thing with all the rehearsals, was figuring out a way where he’s going to pick her up and she’s going to be bicycling her legs because she can’t run. My big concern was making it never feel like Adam was scarier than she was. The way I felt we could keep it from shifting into domestic violence was truly just making her more reckless, or as reckless, as he was.

GE: You get that across well also just by having Adam say, “I’m sorry I scared you.” And she sneers, “You didn’t scare me.”
And we saw on her face he did scare her. But she will never cop to that in a million years.

MZS: Him sticking his face through the hole in the bathroom door like it’s the frickin’ Shining.
We actually thought of one shot where we had her point of view of him punching through the door. But that was a little on the nose. But we thought a lot about The Shining in that scene and then in the lift above in the final shot, we thought a lot about Taxi Driver.

GE: So this was your directorial debut, correct?
It was! It was incredible. We have so many insanely talented directors on our show, and I’ve just been sitting next to them for five years, and I’ve learned a lot through that, and I also feel comfortable asking for a lot of help when I don’t know stuff. And so I got to ask Lena or Richard Shepard or Jesse Peretz or Jamie Babbit anything I wanted. And I knew it was the last episode so I had all season to think about it. Lena and Judd and I wrote that together and so we all spent time also thinking about it visually. That’s why we wrote the fight scene so specifically.

GE: Was there something about this episode that particularly made you want to direct it?
That fight scene was something I really wanted a piece of, and I also wanted to figure out a way to make the Moth work. That was a challenge for me, figuring out that push-in. I remember on the day I was so certain of it that I didn’t get any coverage because I loved the way it looked. I planned to get coverage of that scene in more a normal shooting way, but I didn’t because Lena’s performance was so amazing. It was so incredible, the extras kept applauding afterwards. I was like, “You can’t do that!” (Laughs.) People were just really moved by her and she did such a beautiful performance and it felt like, “Oh, I don’t want to break this up for one second.”

GE: This has been the season of the resurgence of Hannah hate.
I don’t know, is that resurgence? That seems to be a kind of standard.

GE: I think it’s been a little stronger this season. The blow job set people off again. They didn’t know how to deal with that.
The thing about Hannah is she will always go for the sex. She will just always go for it. That’s like her first move. Like she did it with the yoga teacher, she did it with Jenny Slate. It’s just where she thinks connection goes.

GE: But then you get to this Moth scene and you’re wondering, “What is she going to say? How is this going to go for her?” How did you plot out Hannah’s development this season? Everyone else has these big moments, whereas Hannah gets hers at the very end.
It’s funny. Like I said, it’s very hard for me to gauge when the hate is up or down, or where it is. And it’s impossible for me to know people will respond to as horrible. To me, she’s made, like, 14 other horrible choices this season. But we were just excited about the idea of the story being, “How do we get Hannah back to writing if she’s taking off writing?” and starting her in this relationship that feels really safe and comfortable for us. Like, “Oh, well that’s nice. Hannah’s just trying to be in a normal thing.” But her realizing that she can’t be with Fran is sort of the beginning of the return of Hannah. How Hannah got her groove back.

MZS: Also that moment reminds me as a viewer that there is something special about her as a writer. There’s actual potential there. She’s not delusional, she’s not somebody who has talent and wastes it.
It’s a very tough balance, when you show the artist at work. We work with Jack Antonoff and other people to make Marnie and Desi’s music kind of catchy and appealing, but also make you want to die and cringe. And that’s a fine line. We’re always locking in performance and everything, and I always think it’s hard with Hannah. We haven’t shown her yet have work that you can totally get behind. And I think because this is a spoken-word thing, it gave her more freedom, and she was doing it without notes. And it was also a story we knew already, basically. We didn’t know the ending but we know what happened with Adam and Jessa. Feel however you want about Hannah, it’s hard not to feel for her in that situation.

GE: Early in the season when we first start seeing Jessa and Adam drawn to one another, Jessa says something like, “I’ve wanted this for a long time” to Adam. In your head, when did this start? When was she first attracted to Adam?
I honestly think it was AA. In some ways, I think she’s always loved him. But them going to AA together was the beginning of their connection.

GE: Another character I was pleasantly surprised by this season was Elijah’s story with Dill. We don’t often get to see these stories of gay heartbreak.
Yeah, so heartbreaking. Andrew’s so talented and he’s so funny, and he can sing any song in the world, and dance, and do all of that. But it was like, it was time. We have the four girls that we address before anybody, but I was really glad we eventually get around to the boys and gave them their due. And so it was really nice for Andrew to show his chops and for us to show him get creamed like the rest of the people. We hadn’t seen him be emotionally vulnerable yet.

MZS: When you’re shooting the show, do you ever have moments where you think, “This is going to get us in trouble with this group or that group. Are we going too far here? Is it too unpleasant? Is it too uncomfortable? Are the characters too unlikable? Are they too shallow? Too this, too that?”
Every time I’ve thought that, I’ve been wrong, and the things that people responded really strongly to, I wouldn’t have seen it coming. For example: the Ray thing. In no way did I think that was going to be considered, and didn’t even know until this minute with you guys. Lena and I have this feminist magazine now, this newsletter called Lenny Letter, and we interviewed Gwyneth Paltrow for it — that’s going to publish in a few weeks. She was saying she always knows that if she puts in “vagina steaming” that that’s gonna have a strong reaction. She’ll be able to tell. I’m always wrong.

Especially with the Shiri Appleby episode where she crawls across the floor, that’s definitely a very upsetting sex scene, but I was very surprised to hear people say “Is it rape?” I was like “No! It’s consensual. It just sucks.” That was a place where it never even occurred to me. We’re pretty in touch with rape culture, so it was surprising that that come out of it.

GE: How do you think about the sex scenes on the show?
We always have faced every sex scene as deeply character-driven. It needs to tell us something about the character. When you open the scene with Desi motorboating Marnie, even in the description of that scene, it says “She’s freer than we’ve ever seen her.” That’s supposed to show us, this isn’t Marnie how she used to be now, you guys, this is a new Marnie. Every time we’ve done a sex scene, it’s about something, and it’s often about humiliations or a big, strong comedy moment, but it always develops the characters. We don’t do any sex for sex’s sake. If we did, they would probably be sexier scenes. We don’t write especially sexy sex scenes. Although a lot of people said that the Elijah/Dill sex scene was very sexy to them, so I was pleased to hear that.

GE: Oh yeah, that was a very sexy sex scene.
That’s in our top five, I would say.

GE: In terms of things you didn’t expect to blow up, the Marnie episode — that became an instant classic.
I swear to God I didn’t see that coming. It’s funny because Lena and I do this thing where we, when we have sex in an unconventional position or are picking the position, we usually will take a picture of ourselves in the writers’ room doing that position so we can show the actors to make everyone really comfortable. We’ll just send it to Allison [Williams] and be like, “This is what it’s gonna look like.”

GE: Going into season six, are you writing that currently?
Just today we had our first four scripts table-read and it was very bittersweet. Everyone was there and it was great to see everybody, and heartbreaking. We’re ready but we’re very sad.

GE: Anything you can tell us in terms of the themes that might influence the season?
No, I’m not telling you anything. (Laughs.)

Jenni Konner on How Hannah Got Her Groove Back