Lena Dunham lost film role aged 12 after refusing to “smile on command”

Dunham said director Penny Marshall “was right” not to hire her

Lena Dunham failed her audition for the film Riding In Cars With Boys after she refused to smile “on command”.

The actor and writer, best known for HBO series Girls, recalled the audition on SiriusXM’s The Jess Cagle Show, when she was asked if she’d met anyone connected to one of Dunham’s favourite films, A League Of Their Own.

She explained that she previously encountered director Penny Marshall during an audition, aged 12, for her 2001 film Riding In Cars With Boys. Her role, however, was given to someone else after she refused to cooperate during an introductory task.


“I understand why I didn’t get the role,” Dunham said. “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.’”

Looking back on the audition, Dunham supports Marshall’s decision. “The thing is, she was right,” she added. “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. I remember going home and knowing that I had ‘screwed the pooch’ so to speak, and my mother says that I laid in bed and for like a week moaned ‘my career is over.’”

Based on the autobiography by Beverly Donofrio, Riding In Cars With Boys starred Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy and James Woods. It was the last film directed by Marshall, who passed away aged 75 in 2018.

In April this year, Dunham celebrated the 10th anniversary of Girls with an essay on the show’s creation. After it premiered in 2012, the show ran for six seasons and concluded in April 2017.