Jenni Konner on Building a Campsite of Chaos and Comedy
By Marissa Blanchard
The executive producer, and director of the first two episodes, explains how she set the stage for a dynamic ensemble cast.
HBO: What was the most important to establish as director and co-writer of the first two episodes?
Jenni Konner: Kathryn’s character is hard to like, but very relatable to a lot of people — which is what we [Konner, and executive producer Lena Dunham] always try to do. You can go about your life ignoring everything that wasn’t working for you until you get to this enclosed environment. Even though there’s this whole wide world of nature, they are stuck together. If you are mad at a friend, you don’t call them for three days. If you are mad at a friend on a camping trip, you have a huge fight in the woods. This claustrophobic environment was very much the idea. In Girls they aren’t all together until Episode 4, and in the whole series they are all together just about 10 times. This is the opposite of that.
HBO: What was the most important characteristic you considered while writing Kathryn?
Konner: Lena brought her personal experience with chronic pain to Kathryn. She always makes the work very personal. It’s something that’s very difficult for her, but being Lena, she can find comedy in it. Throughout the show you really get to understand why Kathryn is the way she is, and that was a real priority for us — creating a character that feels really alone with her pain. She has this tiny community of people on the internet, but aside from that she feels really lonely and misunderstood. You don’t have to have chronic pain to understand alienation.
HBO: Did you write the role with Jennifer Garner in mind?
Konner: We wrote it and the idea was that she’s a very hard character to like. If you start with maybe the most likeable actor in Hollywood it gives you a little more room. She [Garner] is so grounded, we were able to go a little further with her character.
HBO: What makes Jandice the perfect opposition for Kathryn?
Konner: With Kathryn, everything she does is planned and thought out — she’s super controlling. When a person shows up who is living moment to moment, it’s really threatening to Kathryn. Jandice is someone who probably hasn’t had many female friendships in her life, so she’s not great at connecting. For some reason she’s determined to connect with Kathryn.
HBO: One departure from the British original is the addition of George and Nina-Joy, played by real-life couple Brett Gelman and Janicza Bravo. How did they come to be a part of the story?
Konner: We knew them as creators and as a couple, and had seen Janicza’s great movie Lemon. We were looking to add more fun — three couples just didn’t seem like enough. We wanted more story to tell.
HBO: How does filming outside and in the elements compare to your experiences with the the city landscape of Girls?
Konner: You are struggling with the light at all times — and it’s not a very forgiving light. We had rattlesnakes and bad weather and freezing cold nights. Jen Garner loved it — she never went back to her trailer. She was so happy to be out in the woods, and I was like, “Get me to a hotel right now.” Production can be challenging, but we weren’t making The Revenant.
HBO: You wear a number of hats on this show. What was the most challenging or rewarding part of the producing, writing and directing process?
Konner: I didn’t direct for the first time until much later in Girls, because I already got to do all the things I liked best about directing — working with the actors, coming in and giving notes and punch-ups. Once I started directing I realized how different it really was. That’s been the most rewarding thing for me lately, but honestly making a show is the greatest job in the world.