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Girls forced to move in different direction

Departure of cast member leads to fresh perspective on award-winning series

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TORONTO -- Girls showrunner Jenni Konner says the sudden departure of cast member Christopher Abbott from the HBO dramedy in April came as a shock and forced them to "rethink a lot" for the next season -- but it also resulted in even better stories.

Abbott played Charlie, love interest to Marnie (Allison Williams), on the Golden Globe- and-Emmy-winning series that wrapped its second season in March. On July 4, the first season debuts with back-to-back episodes (uncut and uncensored) on CosmoTV at 8 p.m., marking the first time it's airing in Canada outside of pay TV.

Konner says Abbott's abrupt exit meant the creative team had to double their efforts for the next season, which was already in development.

"We really had to think on our feet," she says in a telephone interview this week during a break from shooting. "We were surprised and we had gone down on a road creatively with him that we thought we were going to stay on, and we didn't.

"But like many things like that, I'm sort of happier with what we wound up doing than what we were planning to do when we had him... Sometimes those critical moments make you have a fresher perspective."

"It was a bit of a headache, but I have to say, when I look back I think: 'Oh, we're so lucky that headache happened,"' adds Konner, who is also an executive producer and writer on the series about four young women navigating post-collegiate life in New York City.

Konner wouldn't get into why Abbott left but says, "Honestly, there are no hard feelings."

"He's a really talented actor. We had a really good time with him. He wants to do something different creatively and I feel fine about that."

Guest stars lined up for season 3 include Rita Wilson, Patti LuPone, Amy Morton, Deirdre Lovejoy and Richard E. Grant.

Konner said they're shooting episode 9 for the new season, and while she can't reveal much about the new instalments, she did offer this: "I would just say we get to spend a little more time with people alone, and that's really fun."

Series star Lena Dunham is also the creator, director, producer and writer of the series known for its frank and unvarnished portrayal of the characters' lives.

Konner said she became "an obsessive fan" of Dunham's after seeing her indie film Tiny Furniture and didn't hesitate when asked to be a showrunner on Girls. Veteran producer Judd Apatow also came onboard after seeing the same film and loving it.

Girls is a lightning rod for online debate over its content and Konner said she's thrilled with such heated discussions because it means the show is "really truthful."

"I think the reason it's touching a nerve with people, positively and negatively, is that a lot of people have this kind of experience in their 20s," said Konner, whose other writing credits include Apatow's short-lived Freaks and Geeks followup, Undeclared.

"Not obviously the same details, but you're really trying to figure out who you are and what you mean in the world, and you're generally making a ton of mistakes along the way. And I think that's a common experience."

Konner said she usually writes about three episodes per season and admitted there's "lots" of her real life in the stories. One instalment that has particular meaning for her is in the upcoming season and features a beach and a heavy female friendship theme.

She and Dunham are also writing a pilot for a half-hour comedy series based on the life of Bergdorf Goodman's veteran personal shopper Betty Halbreich.

"She reinvented herself in the '70s," said Konner. "We're not sure exactly what the story is yet, of the pilot, but it'll be about this 86-year-old woman who's amazing. If you just read anything about her, you'll fall in love with her."


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 C6

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