Two years ago, Lena Dunham came to SXSW with a $25,000 film, Tiny Furniture, that was mostly shot in her parents’ New York apartment. It won the Grand Jury prize. Now, Dunham has triumphantly returned to Austin with Judd Apatow in tow to promote her new HBO show, Girls, that she created, wrote, produced, and stars in.

Oh, and she’s only 25 years old.

Dunham’s unheard-of success story causes independent filmmakers to salivate (or perhaps secretly throw up). HBO loved Tiny Furniture so much that the network gave her a series. Judd Apatow loved Tiny Furniture so much that he decided to lend his talent to Girls by executive producing it. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Dunham’s new comedy series is in many ways an extension of her first film. It follows four girls navigating post-collegiate life in New York City. “They just get in all kinds of trouble,” Dunham said. She’s interested in exploring the lives of strong young women, navigating their complex emotional landscapes.

Dunham’s character on the show is warm, smart, unglamorous, witty, and caring — much like Dunham herself. However, both Tiny Furniture and Girls are daring, especially in their explorations of female sexuality. Rarely is this topic portrayed so frankly, examining women not on the extremes — neither skinny nor fat, neither confident nor unsure.

Dunham said she was surprised to find that the most hostile reactions to her work have come from women, some of whom told her to “put your pants on.” However, Judd Apatow offered an astute explanation for this phenomenon: “It’s like when I see Shame and I’m like… get your dick in your pants.” He then added, “Jason Segel is my dick doppelganger.”

Apatow jumped on board because he “felt a kindred spirit to what [Dunham] was trying to do.” The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Updirector is no stranger to TV. Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared are comedy classics. “I was a voice for guys who don’t have sex with Allison Williams well,” he concluded of his work.

The first three episodes of Girls played at SXSW on Monday, and if the audience response is any indication, Dunham has a long career ahead of her. “I thought [right after I graduated] that maybe I could be a video teacher at an all-women’s college and make a film every five years from money that the government paid me to take care of foster children,” Dunham said.

But now she’s on top of the world.


**Girls premiers on HBO April 15.

**Tiny Furniture is currently on Netflix instant.