by Bennett Marcus, Vanity Fair
Lena Dunham (L) and Laurie Simmons attend HBO's Girls season two premiere at New York University's Skirball Center; photo by WWD/Steve Eichner
Robert De Niro presented artist Joyce Pensato with the second annual Robert De Niro Sr. prize on Tuesday evening. The prize, named for the actor's father, who was an artist, recognizes mid-career American painters. The Tribeca Film Institute hosted, and Jane Rosenthal said that the prize is a logical extension of the organization's ongoing involvement with artists. "We've always given away an artist prize as well as a cash prize at the [Tribeca] film festival, and it just felt natural to be able to recognize Bob Sr. and recognize mid-career artists," she told VF Daily.
A number of art-world figures were present at the intimate reception at the Greenwich Hotel, including Lena Dunham's mother, Laurie Simmons, who spoke to VF Daily about her daughter's early attempts at humor, the acting chops of her newly adopted dog, and watching those nude scenes in Girls.
VF Daily: Did you ever get to meet Robert De Niro Sr.? He died in 1993.
Laurie Simmons: I never did.
Do you know Robert De Niro Jr.?
Jane Rosenthal is a really, really old friend, so. I made an award for the first Tribeca Film Festival, and I've kind of . . . She's my buddy.
I see. You and your daughter adopted a dog, she told us at the premiere of Girls.
That's her dog. I just went with her to pick it up. [Laughs.]
How's the dog doing?
He's great. He, um, had a certain act to figure out how to get him out of the shelter.
He didn't want to leave?
No, he figured out how to get himself out of the shelter by being a really mild-mannered pup, but he's revealed a completely different personality, which leads me to believe he's totally brilliant. He's, like, one little wild-ass pup, I've got to tell you.
Oh, that is funny!
But according to the shelter, he hadn't barked for two weeks. [Laughs.]
Maybe he just feels free now that he's got his soul mate.
I think Lena's his soul mate, yeah.
Is she going to get him some obedience training?
I think she's going to think about it, but I think they're pretty in love.
That's good. I have to ask you--she has become so successful in both Hollywood and in publishing--she's written for The New Yorker, has a book deal. Did you know while she was growing up that she was so smart and talented? Is any of this a surprise to you, her level of success at a young age?
She definitely had special needs. [Laughs.] But I thought she was a pretty exceptional kid. Then I would tell myself, Well, isn't that what every mother thinks about their exceptional child? But she was just a really cool kid, and the fact that she didn't have very many friends, which she always admits to, gave her a lot of time to explore reading and writing and playacting. She was busy; she was a busy kid.
Do you watch Girls?
And what do you think?
I love it.
It's very funny.
I was in it last week. [Simmons interviewed Marnie for a job and told her she'd never make it in the art world.]
Right! What was it like having your daughter direct you? Was it weird?
I was used to that from Tiny Furniture. She had already bossed me around a lot. She kind of uses a shorthand with me that's like, "Mom, that sucks. Mom, be quiet. Mom, scream." You know, she just kind of shouts commands at me that she really wouldn't dare to do with any other actor. So that's O.K., she has a shorthand with me.
Lena told me that she's not concerned about her father watching her nude scenes because "my dad paints penises for a job, so I've had to look at his art my whole life. So he can look at this."
She may not mind, but her father definitely has difficulty watching the show. As does her mom.
Do you avert your eyes sometimes while watching?
Yeah, I kind of close my eyes and squinch up my face. But, I mean, because we're her parents, it would be crazy to say that it's cool with us. But the rest of it I really love. Really love. [Laughs.]
Is she funny in person? Like, around the house?
Yeah, she's funny. I mean, she practiced being funny for a long time, and for a long time the jokes were, like, really falling flat, and then all of a sudden she seemed to blossom into a full-blown comedian. But it seemed like she was trying a lot of stuff, and we would all say, "Um, Lena, that's just not funny." To be perfectly honest.
Do you have any more appearances coming up on the show this season?
Well, Marnie didn't get the job.
Right, you didn't hire her, and told her you didn't like her dress.
I was mean. So mean!
Was it hard to say those words, be so mean?
No. It's really fun to play that character, because I've cowered in my boots in front of that character for so many years. I couldn't believe I got a chance to do it. [Laughs.] That's the artist's revenge in me.
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