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Q&A: Jenna Lyons on Her Girls Cameo, Befriending Lena Dunham, and More

Photo: Michael Loccisano/2014 Getty Images

Tonight Jenna Lyons will make her acting debut on Girls. Luckily, the role won’t be too much of a stretch: She plays a no-nonsense GQ editor who was, according to Dunham, inspired by Lyons in real life. The Cut spoke with J.Crew’s creative director at the Condé Nast Traveler magazine relaunch party hosted by Anna Wintour and Christy Turlington on Thursday night, where she told us how she landed the role, what Lena’s like on set, and how she really feels about fedoras.

So I’ve had the privilege of already watching your episode.
I haven’t seen it!

It’s good. Are you in a bunch?
I’m in three. I have no idea to what extent because I haven’t seen any of them, so I don’t know whether I got cut. I was probably the most excited I’ve ever been in my life to be included in the trailer. That was so exciting. I was so honored, it was crazy! The whole experience was incredible.

Have you always wanted to act?
Oh god, no. Not at all.

So how did it come about?
I’m probably Lena Dunham’s biggest fan, from the moment I saw Tiny Furniture, and I followed her. She is probably one of the most groundbreaking women of today. What’s so interesting and incredible is that the girl is 27 years old. She’s in her third season of an award-winning show. I’m feeling really not so great about myself!

I know, and of course that’s on top of films under her belt.
I know. Her start in life had a few things going — obviously her mom, Laurie [Simmons], is incredible. She talks about Lena like she’s an adult, and I think she’s always talked to her like an adult. And her father [Carroll Dunham]. They’re pretty incredible parents. The whole family is amazing. Her sister — they’re all incredible. And what’s interesting to me is that you often get a sense of somebody and you don’t really know if the person that you’re seeing is the person that they are. What’s amazing about Lena is I feel like her enthusiasm and her warmth is so genuine and not at all manufactured. Her passion for what she’s doing, her passion and interest in what other people are doing and what their lives are, is genuine. 

So did she reach out to you or did you reach out to her for this part?
We had met probably about two years ago, at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards, and in her speech she said, “Thank you so much, Jenna Lyons, for making me wear shorts, although it’s not going very well.” At the end of the night after the dinner, I went up to her and I said, “Sorry!” And then we started to talk and we started a text friendship and started to hang out a little bit when I’d see her at events.

That’s awesome.
So she texted me when I was in Barcelona and said, I’m working on a character and it’s kind of modeled after you, and we’re trying to get you to play it, would you do it? And I literally wrote back expletive yes! Without even thinking about it. After I sent that I thought, Oh gosh, maybe I should have asked what my role is? Needless to say, she sent me the script and I was so excited. To see my name on it? It was incredible, absolutely incredible.

The episode is very cool.
I think what’s even more incredible, and what you can’t possibly even imagine, is there’s the script and the dialogue, but I have never seen [it] before and I have no experience with being on a set, but Lena doesn’t say the same thing twice. She comes in and every time her take is completely different. One minute she’s coming in and she’s talking about chinchillas, the next minute she’s talking about the Shackeltons. Every time her references are deep and wide and vast, and they are on rapid fire. Never does she come in and do the take exactly the same. Every single time she includes some new element, and Jenni Konner, her partner, comes in and says, “Let’s go with that.” I can honestly say it was one of the most dynamic, creative, interesting, inspiring experiences I’ve ever had.

She obviously is a natural when it comes to improv, but sometimes writers like to do everything by the script.
And not only is it not scripted, but the minute before, she comes in and does that script three different ways. She was the director, she was the boss, she was the writer, she was the friend, and she juggles that incredibly seamlessly. Not only that, one day she had an absolute terrible case of strep throat, and you forget [how] intense and challenging it is. At one point during one of the takes, she had her head on her hands and she was so exhausted, but she never made any of us feel it. I went over to her and said, “Are you okay?” and she perked up. She wanted to make sure I was okay! I’m like, I’m good, I can take care of myself. She just cares so much about the crew, and they all love her. The energy on the set is fun; it’s like preschool for really, really smart kids!

So now you’re going to be on IMDb.
Right, right.

You will be! You’d be surprised.
No way. That’s so funny.

There’s a anti-fedora-hat joke in one of your episodes. What are your true feelings on fedoras?
I mean, my true opinion of any article of clothing is: If you wear it well, go for it. I am not at all opposed — in fact, I love the fedora. Anything can go wrong, but anything can go right.

It’s the whole idea: You can’t let it wear you, you have to wear it?
Yes, Birkenstocks are a perfect example. They can go a lot of different ways. People look at them and go, Damn, that’s cool, or Damn, that’s not so cuteIt’s really what you put with it. Did you see that story on Karlie Kloss? She’s wearing these cool Adidas flip-flops and I’m like, Why didn’t I think of that? It’s so genius. 

She can wear anything.
She can wear a bag.

One more Girls question: Were you at all worried that they would be like, In this scene, you take off your clothes?
I did actually see the script beforehand. I may have been a little bold in my reply with the “yes” [that] I would do it right away, but I did actually see the script. Again, Lena is incredibly respectful of others. I know she would never have asked me to do something like that because she’s just not that kind of person — she’s not provocative in that way. She’s provocative about subjects she feels she can talk about, but she’s not looking to force anyone into a provocative conversation. She’s looking to make people see things from an interesting lens or to challenge what you might think is acceptable.

So it’s not just for the shock factor.
Yeah, not at all. If anything, it’s just the opposite. I think what she’s looking to do is desensitize, in a way. Beauty is not just one thing. She’s beautiful, I mean, I am so thrilled with all the hullabaloo with the airbrushing and I just looked at the picture on the cover of Vogue and thought she looked incredible and stunning, and she looked like her. That’s a face she would make, and it had irony and wit and charm and beauty in it, all the things that she is. I was so happy with that photo.

Q&A: Jenna Lyons on Her Girls Cameo, Fedoras