Real Life Girls: Lena Dunham Talks to Her Best Friend, Audrey Gelman 


Photographed Peter Ash Lee
Styled TJ Gustave
Make-up Julie Harris
Hair Sam Leonardi
Shot at Brooklyn Studio

We’ve loved the work of Lena Dunham for awhile now—she was, after all, one of our Young New Yorkers to Watch, back in 2010. And look at her now: her breakthrough feature Tiny Furniture (which she wrote and directed) was infuriatingly good, and now she’s starring in her own HBO show, Girls, about the life of four post-collegiate women in New York City, which has some eerie parallels to Dunham’s own life. We were lucky enough to convince Lena and her best friend Audrey Gelman (who just happened to be one of our Young New Yorkers to Watch in 2011—she’s Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s press secretary) to let us eavesdrop on a little heart-to-heart look at their friendship so far.

Audrey Gelman and I have been best friends for almost eight years, though we have been circling each other for more than a decade. We grew up somewhat parallel on the isle of Manhattan and her reputation preceded her (she let someone pierce her nose at camp, ok?). Not only is Audrey my best friend, she’s a huge inspiration for my work. She’s acted in nearly every film I’ve made, from the time I began in 2006, taking time away from her various ambitious internships (now jobs) in the inscrutable field of politics (her brain and what she does fascinate me endlessly, and my only way of understanding her are The West Wing and The War Room, both of which she got me to watch). My new HBO show Girls is very much a love letter to/group therapy session about female friendship, namely ours. She kindly let me pillage some of our greatest moments and darkest memories, and she also plays a recurring frenemy of my best friend character on the show (too meta!). We are very different in some ways, but there is also no one with a cultural/emotional vocabulary I understand so well. Guys always tell me how hot she is and I’m like “YOU ARE NOT THE FIRST PERSON WHO HAS EVER THOUGHT THIS, OK?” Maybe because she wears glasses sometimes they think it’s a discovery.

Lena Dunham and Audrey Gelman
Lena Dunham and Audrey Gelman Lena Dunham and Audrey Gelman Lena Dunham and Audrey Gelman Lena Dunham and Audrey Gelman Lena Dunham and Audrey Gelman

Lena Dunham and Audrey Gelman

Click to View 6 slides


Lena Asks Audrey

1. What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
I was always inspired by professional women—my mom owns her own business and at an early age I was instilled with a sense of respect for successful and effective ladies. So I knew I wanted to be one of those. If I was normal I probably would have wanted to be something like a unicorn tamer, but I’ve always been a practical dreamer. Read: nerd.

2. What is your biggest fear besides our shared fear of Sadako and the 1,000 Paper Cranes (a non-fiction book about nuclear attack-induced leukemia in Hiroshima)?
I hate surgery of any kind and the idea of undergoing it again in the future terrifies me. I think that’s pretty reasonable.

3. If you lived somewhere besides NYC, where and why?
I definitely want to live in Los Angeles for at least a few years of my life—I resisted visiting LA until I was 21 out of Woody Allen-fueled preconceptions, but immediately fell in love with it. I love the corkscrew turns of the canyons, the art deco apartment buildings haunted by glamorous spirits, the Neutra and Schindler houses, the abundance of doughnut shops, bougainvillea and sage brush, Snoop Dogg and Joan Didion, all that stuff...

4. Do you believe in reincarnation?
I really don’t know enough about reincarnation—is there an episode of Radiolab I can listen to to inform myself? I do feel confident we become our cats.

5. What’s your least favorite part of being female?
The fact that women continue to make 78 cents to every dollar earned by a man. For women of color that gap is much wider—it’s 69 cents for African-American women and 59 cents for Latinas. It’s outrageous to me that wage inequality is still very much a reality in this country.

6. Have you ever thought we would stop being friends?
No. I think our souls are too commingled to ever split. We did have that really bad fight once in your apartment at Oberlin, I think Willie was passed out on the floor outside your room the entire time but managed to sleep through it. [Lena’s note: that fight was awful. You slammed the wall with your fist and I just stuffed my mouth with cheese doodles. Later, you wanted your headband back and said “just ship it to me.”]

7. Who would you invite to your fantasy, living or dead dinner party?
Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Warren, Poly Styrene, John Waters, Bill Maher, Quentin Crisp, Fran Lebowitz, Tracy Morgan, Sally Seton (fictional), Joshua Lyman (fictional), Fox Mulder (fictional), Nan Kempner, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (give him a bib), August Strindberg, Barbara Kopple, Kenneth Anger, Tavi Gevinson all eating crunchy cabbage salad from Souen on plates designed by Judy Chicago.

8. What always makes you laugh?
What makes everybody laugh: videos of people falling, seeing people actually fall.


Audrey Asks Lena

1. If you could switch lives with one person, who would it be?
This is a great question I think about a lot. I like being a twenty-something woman, but it would be really interesting to try another approach to that. So probably some girl in either San Francisco or Boston who has a not-super-serious boyfriend and a business as a seamstress for circus performers and an apartment with a window seat. I invented her but I trust that she’s real and enjoying herself. She smokes and drinks a fair amount but she also rides a bike and is vegetarian, so it all evens out healthwise. I’d also be interested in being a yoga teacher in Boulder or one of Woody Allen’s daughters with Soon-Yi.

2. Name your top eight favorite foods… guilty pleasures or nutritious!
1) Rice pudding 2) Pastrami on rye from 2nd Avenue Deli 3) Cabbage salad at Souen 4) Guacamole 5) Turkey-leg sandwich at Henry Public in Cobble Hill 5) Spicy tuna roll 6) Kombucha 7) Creamed spinach 8) Gluten-free snickerdoodle cookies.

3. What period would you consider the happiest time in your life so far?
I am very much enjoying the current moment. That being said, our first year at Oberlin was amazing. We did so many activities and had bikes from the 80s and the cafeteria was always serving interesting takes on ethnic dishes. We hung out with seniors and it felt like a real accomplishment, and remember the party where someone burned a huge hole in my tote bag? People were not always kind, but we were shockingly resilient. Remember how I got mono and you moved a mini-fridge into my room full of Amish cheese? I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time (but so it goes).

4. What’s the hardest thing about best friendship?
I would say it’s realizing we are separate people. What I want from my life and what you want from yours are very close but not identical, and the job is to support your vision, not my vision of your vision, you know? Loving without judgment or fear or abandonment is, like, the toughest activity known to mankind and I think with best friends that can be even more pronounced because you aren’t my mom, we don’t have kids together—but we do have matching tattoos.

5. What is your favorite adventure that we’ve been on together?
We’ve had some good ones. Our trip to LA last New Year’s Eve was comically ill-fated. From the moment we landed, when we proclaimed we were “winning” at life, things got wonky. Our hotel room made noises, our dates never showed, and we rung in midnight with a shared kiss on the lips. But I also really enjoyed the time you had a root canal so I had to push you through the Cleveland airport in a wheelchair. We were actually treated with so much respect.

6. What is your favorite pair of shoes that you own and why?
My Belgian shoes (a sort of old-fashioned house slipper/loafer with a bow). The Belgian shoe store on 55th Street is timeless and odd and full of one kind of shoe in one thousand candy color combos. It’s a New York fashion institution. Isaac Mizrahi wears almost only this shoe. It looks great walking the dog or watching ABC Family or attending an adult dinner engagement. Mine are turquoise with lime green trim, but you can get more classic or even funkier.

7. Magic power of choice, if given endless options?
Flying, for SURE. Invisibility is too existentially symbolic and confusing. Flying is like taking cabs but better (but windy, you’d need a scarf).

8. Marry, smooch, kill (and why?): Skeet Ulrich, Norman Reedus, Balthazar Getty
Firstly, it says something about our shared aesthetic and frame of reference that you are able to zero in on these specific men for this game. Hunks of the 90s are definitely a genre that is interesting to me, mayhaps because that’s the decade in which I first became aware of lovemaking. This is really hard, but I just need to start by killing Balthazar Getty. It’s not that he isn’t great looking but the other two are just such a big deal to me. Also, all the images of him on yachts with Sienna Miller while still married weren’t big selling points. I know I don’t have the full story, but… Norman Reedus is the one to smooch. What a broody mofo. I saw him outside my therapist’s office once in a slouchy winter cap. Which leaves Skeet, who I marry. He’s a little older now. His heartthrob status has declined, but he still takes care of himself. I hear he’s a country living type. Done and done. You can visit.

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