Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actress

Lena Dunham may be the creator, writer, star and often director of the new HBO comedy “Girls” but what happens while she’s performing a scene can still surprise her.

“Things often are heavier than you thought they’d be, especially when you’re writing comedy,” says Dunham, who first gained widespread attention when she wrote and starred in the award-winning 2010 feature “Tiny Furniture.”

“There are some dramatic fights between Adam Driver, who plays my jerk boyfriend, and me,” she says. “You imagine yourself screaming and, instead, it goes kind of quiet and sad and you are feeling it all and go, ‘Oh my God.’ ”

Dealing with emotional intensity is also at the core of “Girls,” which follows four twentysomething New Yorkers stumbling in adulthood.

As aspiring writer Hannah, who wants to be the voice of her generation, Dunham’s character is broke but ambitious, self-centered but kind, and naive about men but sexually daring.

That last part means Dunham goes fearlessly naked in graphic bedroom scenes that many actresses would refuse to shoot. She says the atmosphere on set keeps it from being awkward.

“I have such great co-stars,” Dunham says. “Everybody that I work with is so sweet and respectful. You keep a sense of humor and you remain excited about what the finished product will be.”

Being able to see the big picture comes from years of writing plays and then helming short films, which is also how Dunham got her acting chops.

“The first film I made I cast myself in a small role, and just kept scootching more and more to the forefront.”

The move was partly inspired by writer-actors such as Woody Allen, Gilda Radner, Amy Sedaris and Louis C.K.

Says Dunham, “I remember being really amazed by ‘Kissing Jessica Stein.’ You can occupy so many different roles in one go.”

Doing just that while shooting the second season of “Girls,” Dunham is fast becoming the voice of a generation that Hannah wants to be.

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