Girls producer Jenni Konner: “In season 3 the stakes are higher”

As the third series of hit HBO comedy Girls premieres on Sky Atlantic, Ellie Walker-Arnott sits down with the Girls producer and writer to talk real sex, backlash and working with the "delightful" Lena Dunham

Chances are you’re familiar with two thirds of Girls’ creative team: Lena Dunham, who also stars as Hannah Horvath, and Judd Apatow, whose CV features Bridesmaids, Knocked Up and Superbad. But you probably don’t know Jenni Konner.


And it’s time you did. Konner has been Girl’s executive producer from the get go, but that’s not where her talent ends. She’s also penned six episodes of the hit dramedy, including On All Fours, that controversial one with the q-tip and the horribly uncomfortable sex scene from series two.

Incidentally, she’s also funny, humble when it comes to her success and rather lovely to talk to…

Girls season three opens with Hannah living with Adam and attempting domestic bliss – “We get to see Hannah and Adam in a good place. We’ve seen a lot of bad timing on their part but this time we get to actually see them make a go of it” – while Marnie copes with her break up with Charlie, Shoshanna embraces single life and Jessa wreaks havoc in rehab.

“I like [the episodes] and I hope for the best but I mean, I really never know what’s coming,” says Konner. “The main theme [of season three] is the girls actively trying to get it together. They haven’t done that before. They haven’t all said, ‘This is my life. I need to take it seriously. I need to get serious about it.’ Before, I think even if they said it they didn’t quite mean it and now they are really trying. The stakes are higher.”

But whatever happens to the shambolic twentysomethings, when it comes to hit HBO series Girls you can count on one thing: there will be lots of sex. In fact the show has become known for its unabashed attitudes to nudity and drama between – or, more often, on top of – the sheets.

“We keep going after a lot of [shows] would cut. We follow people into the bathroom, we follow people into the bedroom,” says Konner. Not that it’s always gone down that well. Perhaps because we are so used to seeing airbrushed sex on the box…

“I think that’s why there is negative reaction around it because I think it touches this real place in people that makes them uncomfortable, if they’re not comfortable during sex or just with sexuality.”

“But the idea that a real looking woman would make them angry is so bananas,” says Konner, who has recently found herself defending Dunham’s nudity in the show, when a US critic said he didn’t ‘get the purpose’ of the show’s nudity.   

It’s not all anger though – there’s a whole lot of love out there too.  “A woman came up to me and said ‘Because of your show I don’t suck my stomach in during sex anymore’ and that was like the nicest thing I’d ever heard,” says Konner. “I think that it’s really important for women to be able to see people who look like them on television.”

And for Konner, or Dunham, it’s never been about gratuitous nudity, or sex scenes for sex scenes’ sake. On All Fours “was about seeing Adam act out and be his darkest self,” says Konner.  “Even though in the early seasons we saw him with Hannah doing a lot of role play and stuff like that it was always fairly light and comedic. But this was him getting really dark with this girl we didn’t know very well so that was like a very plot heavy moment.”

The episode, which was penned by Konner herself, certainly sparked some strong reactions: “I was completely surprised. I had no idea. To me it seemed like an upsetting sex scene but definitely consensual so I was really surprised when people thought it was ambiguous.”

Viewer’s reactions aside, you’d think those awkward, prolonged sex scenes would be uncomfortable to film, but Konner reckons they are actually a piece of cake. “They are the easiest thing in the world to film. They go in like five seconds because no one wants to be there so when we have a sex scene I’m like, ‘We’ll get out early today!’”

When it comes to writing scripts though, it must be difficult to dredge up your own past, like Lena does – that q-tip moment (which I’m worried will be burned onto my brain forevermore), was grounded in fact. “She came into work one day having stabbed her ear. That is a true story, unfortunately.” So does Konner mine her memories for plot twists too?

“Yeah I use my own. All the writers use their own experiences. We were all twenty! So we all have stories that are similar to those,” she says. “I have this friend Goldie and she recognised when Shoshanna got her rocking chair. She had been on a road trip and got a rocking chair. Those very tiny details sometimes, but for the most part everything gets really mutated so it’s hard to see what is specific.”

Konner couldn’t be more complimentary when she talks about writing and working with Lena. “When I met her I couldn’t believe that she was, like, even a million times more delightful than I had imagined!”

“She’s kind to everybody, she has boundless energy, she’d never ask someone to do something she wouldn’t do. I mean, we’re living the dream over there.”

Girls season three starts tonight at 10:00pm on Sky Atlantic