The return of the Golden Globe winning series Girls might as well be a holiday for the hordes of young women who see themselves reflected in Lena Dunham's dynamic and flawed characters – and Judd Apatow, co-executive producer of the HBO hit, couldn't be happier to be part of it. While the beloved filmmaker and author earned his stripes writing, helming and producing “bromance” movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Step Brothers, he is just as comfortable working on female-oriented projects, celebrating the talents of comedians like Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Amy Schumer (Trainwreck) and Lena. Judd, who tells us that "men and women are equally talented and funny," is also married to one of Hollywood's most hilarious actresses, Leslie Mann. The other bonus of working with the ladies? "Women’s projects make money.”
We chatted with the 48-year-old about Girls’ fifth season (premieres on Feb. 21, HBO), how wife Leslie inspires him to find good scripts for women and the movement to break down Hollywood’s gender barriers.
What initially attracted to you to work with a young Lena Dunham on Girls? I just saw her movie, Tiny Furniture, and thought it brilliant and wanted to be helpful and I felt it would be fun to do something with her. And it really has been one of my most positive experiences. We’ve never had a moment of even slight tension. The only tension I’ve had, I took her to see The Who, and she started texting in the middle of it. [Laughs] And I just lost my mind.
What can we expect this season for Lena’s Hannah and her girlfriends as they grow out of their twenties? It’s a great season...and, a lot of things happen that are not expected, some good surprises that will make you happy and maybe trouble you a bit. It’s always been about girls in their twenties and what you learn and go through at that age. Personally, in this, the last but one season, the show gets stronger. Lena’s evolving into an incredible storyteller and filmmaker but it’s been such a herculean effort (writing, directing, acting, producing), that I’m surprised she hasn’t wound up in rehab for exhaustion.
What will be the legacy of Girls? Lena has had the courage to frankly discuss sexuality in Girls and that’s been groundbreaking. Then all these other things started happening: Lena’s involvement in politics, campaigning with Hillary Clinton, and all the social issues that get talked about in the series that she brings up. We didn’t anticipate all of that.
What message has she been sending to young women? She’s also saying to women, 'you can write, you can direct.' Ten years ago there weren’t young women doing that for others to look up to. Now my daughter, who’s 18, can say, “Wow that’s a career I can have.” And that’s changing Hollywood, now there’s a whole new generation who are growing up on Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer who are saying there should be more equality, it shouldn’t be 95% men. And then there’s people like Jennifer Lawrence who highlighted Hollywood’s wage inequality in Lena’s feminist newsletter, The Lenny Letter.
Why are you drawn to finding great female voices out there? It’s hard to say if I’m consciously seeking that out because in my head, I’m seeking out talented and nice people to collaborate with. When Leslie [Mann] and I got married, we’d talk about how bad the scripts were [for women], and we could tell that a lot of female characters were written just to service the male parts of the story, and the female parts were really under-developed. So I made an effort in my own writing to go deeper and make stronger choices. But I don’t know if I had any conscious thought about helping the cause, or if I have some intention to change the world.
How do you react to any backlash to all-female casts doing remakes of box office hits? You hear Paul Feig’s making a Ghostbusters movie with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, and that sounds like the best movie ever. And the complainers might be 28 nerds in their parents’ basements, and that’s not that many. Most people are thrilled that they’re getting these women together, and it should all even out.