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Lena Dunham Reveals Big Director Penny Marshall Once Called Her Out In An Audition, But She Was Totally Right

Lena Dunham in Girls
(Image credit: HBO)

Lena Dunham made her big career breakthrough in 2010 starring in, directing and writing her semi-autobiographical movie Tiny Furniture. But many years before that, she auditioned for the final film Penny Marshall directed called Riding in Cars with Boys. However, Dunham had a memorable experience where Marshall called her out during the audition, and looking back, she totally agrees with the filmmaker.

Sometimes brutal honesty is best to come from the director compared to the actor who's auditioning. On a recent episode of SiriusXM’s The Jess Cagle Show, Lena Dunham spoke about her failed audition for 2001's Riding in Cars with Boys and how the film’s director, Penny Marshall, called her out in the most honest way. As Dunham recalled:

When I was 12, I met Penny Marshall on a failed audition for her movie Riding in Cars with Boys. And that was very big for me… I understand why I didn't get the role. Because she asked all the young actors to say our name, our height, where we were from, and smile. And I said, 'I'm Lena, I'm from New York, and I don't smile on command.' And Penny Marshall said, 'It's called acting, honey.’

The Big director definitely had a point about that. But Lena Dunham certainly isn't the only actress to have an epic audition fail. Jake Gyllenhaal failed his audition as Frodo in The Lord of the Rings by not delivering his lines in a British accent as was expected. Fifty Shades of Grey actor Jamie Dornan literally threw up during his audition for Rock of Ages, thinking whiskey would be the key to singing “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” No doubt these audition stories were frustrating in the moment for the actors, but swinging and a missing in the acting world can also provide good learning experiences, as well as funny stories, depending on your sense of humor at the moment.

While Penny Marshall’s comment to the up-and-coming New Yorker actress may have stung at the time, luckily Lena Dunham has no hard feelings for the Awakenings director as she realized there was truth to her criticism. She explained:

She was right. Would you hire an actor who is like ‘I’m sorry I can’t smile?’

Lena Dunham could definitely relate to Penny Marshall as she got older, having created a number of short films and web series during her Oberlin College years. She eventually scored her own HBO series Girls, which won two Golden Globes and received several Emmy nominations. So even if Riding in Cars with Boys wasn’t this comedic star’s film acting debut, it proved she didn’t need that movie to get her where she is right now. It also didn’t stop her from watching Marshall’s A League of Their Own on repeat multiple times. She even told The Jess Cagle Show that she would rent that movie so many times at Blockbuster that the tape actually broke! Now that’s a dedicated Marshall fan.

If there’s anything that we can learn from the 36-year-old’s experiences with early auditions, it's that a director’s criticism is (usually) not intended to put you down. It’s about taking that piece of criticism and using it to better yourself for future auditions. Lena Dunham continues to bring new work to audiences as she directed, wrote, co-produced and acted in her newest film Sharp Stick, which dealt with the themes of infertility. If you want to find out more about new movies the Independent Spirit Award winner is releasing in the future, keep up with CinemaBlend’s new movie releases

Carly Levy
Entertainment Writer

Just your average South Floridian cinephile who believes the pen is mightier than the sword.