How Lena Dunham lost Penny Marshall part: ‘I don’t smile on command’

Welcome to the acting game, Lena Dunham.

The “Girls” creator recalled not getting a role in the 2001 drama “Riding in Cars with Boys” because director Penny Marshall wanted her to smile more.

“When I was 12, I met Penny Marshall in a failed audition for a film, ‘Riding in Cars With Boys.’ And that was really big for me,” Dunham, 36, recently said on SiriusXM’s The Jess Cagle Show.

She continued, “I was treated actually really well. There was no cruelty. The only thing I’ll say is I understand why I didn’t get the role.”

The Golden Globe winner went in to audition for the Drew Barrymore-fronted film and later learned why she didn’t get a callback.

She also noted how the late “A League of Their Own” director “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,’” Dunham said.

However, the “Lenny Letter” writer doesn’t disagree with the “Laverne & Shirley” legend.

Director Penny Marshall talks with Drew Barrymore on the set of the 2001 drama “Riding in Cars with Boys.”
Courtesy Everett Collection

“The thing is, she was right. Would you hire an actor who is like, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t smile on command’? The thing is, I’m with Penny on this one,” she insisted.

At the time, young Dunham was just a girl trying to make her way to Hollywood. She recalled how not getting a second audition was a crushing blow.

“I remember going home and knowing that I had ‘screwed the pooch’ so to speak,” she said. “My mother says that I laid in bed for like a week and moaned ‘my career is over.’ I only ever had one audition and that was it.”

The Oberlin College graduate is also open to reviving her 2012 HBO hit “Girls.” The “Sex and the City”-inspired comedy series ended in 2017 after six seasons.

Penny Marshall found fame on “Laverne & Shirley” before going on to direct films such as “A League of Their Own.” She died in 2018.
Getty Images for Hollywood Film
“I was treated actually really well. There was no cruelty. The only thing I’ll say is I understand why I didn’t get the role,” Dunham said.
Dave Benett/Getty Images

“I look back, and just, like, the sheer gall of me, stepping onto set that first day; 24-year-old me standing in Silvercup Studios, the old ‘Sex and the City’ studios, going, ‘Let’s do this’,” Dunham told the Hollywood Reporter earlier this year.

She explained that the recent HBO Max “SATC” revival series “And Just Like That” could pave the way for “Girls” to return to TV.

“It was such a pleasure to see those women back together and to see them take on middle-age sexuality,” she said. “For me, those are women who can do no wrong.”

“We all recognize it’s not time yet,” the “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” star said. “I want it to be at a moment when the characters’ lives have really changed. Right now, everyone would just be wanting to see Kylo Ren.”