Lola Kirke cares. This is the immediate impression one receives talking to the 26-year-old multi-hyphenate. She cares about upending the “vapid culture” of celebrity. She cares about using her platform to funnel goodness into the world. She cares about making movies with her friend and collaborator Zia Anger. She cares about her music (which she describes as “country-inspired rock and folk”). She cares about being serious and silly, often at the same time.
Most recently, you can see her particular brand of giving a damn in Gemini, a slick, jazzy caper about a personal assistant who transforms into an amateur detective after discovering a dead body. Set in the heart of Hollywood, the film is essentially a contemporary, female-driven take on The Fugitive: The story of a woman tasked with proving her innocence.
The film made its world premiere at SXSW, where Kirke is also doing a set. When she sat down with Vogue in Austin, Kirke opened up about how she navigates Los Angeles, her reluctance to call herself an artist, and why, in 2017, celebrities have a responsibility to speak up about politics.
Considering Gemini is so deeply rooted in Los Angeles, what did you make of the city after graduating from Bard in 2012 and living in New York?
When I first started going out there for work, I was like, “What the fuck is this stupid town?” But I think when I moved to [Los Angeles], I was just excited that it was sunny all the time. Then when it rained for like a week, I was just miserably depressed. What I realized is that L.A. is one rhythm, and it’s your rhythm. You’re in your car, it’s your house, it’s one weather.
You can make it as busy or as not busy as you want.
Exactly. But what I love about New York is how demanding it is of you. You are constantly being asked to adapt—or forced to adapt—to all these different rhythms that are going on around you. As an artist—and I’m not saying myself as an artist, but in general for artists—it’s really important to know what rhythm is and to experience different rhythms and experience a variety of things. In that way, I lean towards the reality of New York more than L.A. But, whatever, I also really fucking love doing things on my terms.
You’re doing a lot these days. Do you have a personal assistant?
No, I fucking wish I had a personal assistant. Full disclosure: I had a personal assistant for a week and it was amazing, but I’m a control freak and deep type-A personality, so I actually spent so much time designing the schedule of my personal assistant that I may as well have done it myself.
Do you often think about career goals and such?
I think that it’s hard not to. I just want to make really good work, and I want to do the best work that I can possibly do as an actor. I think I spent a long time being really embarrassed that I was an actor, which is weird because . . .
I still sense some of that.
A little, yeah. Earlier you didn’t want to categorize yourself as an artist.
Because it’s weird! I don’t like the “as a [blank]” way of introducing a sentence.
Too self-aggrandizing . . .
Right. I think there’s some trepidation about defining myself as an artist. You have to be accountable as an artist. You can’t just say, “I’m a fucking artist.” But I think as an actor, I’m just beginning to feel excited. Like it’s a really worthy contribution to the world.
Do you find the self-promotional part of this to be difficult?
Yes and no, but it’s so normalized, right? I mean, on Instagram everybody is selling themselves all the time. I don’t mind talking about myself. I’ve been in therapy since I was ten years old, so I’m kind of used to it.
Ten! As a public figure, do you think you have a responsibility to talk publicly about politics?
I mean, in this fucking day and age, yeah, I do. For me, it’s really important to elevate voices and causes that don’t get as much attention with whatever attention I get. I totally understand why some people won’t do that; I definitely think that there are certain celebrities who really could offer more help to grassroots movements with their power—and don’t.
People with a huge platform.
Yeah, like Taylor fucking Swift, who may as well have voted for Trump, as far as I’m concerned, by not doing anything.
I’m still baffled about Tom Brady, too.
I think that the age of celebrity is so confusing and weird, and everyone is a celebrity, and everyone has this weird power that they got because they know how to take a picture of themselves.
Are you good at that, by the way?
Eh. After like 40 tries, yeah, I’ll get one or two good ones. I think it’s a vapid culture, but we can do something profound with these outlets and platforms. You can imbue everything you’re doing with meaning. I believe that life is meaningful and I believe there are things that are important that are not getting the attention that they deserve.
It’s pretty clear right now that there’s a lot surrounding reproductive rights that is pretty insane. Environmental issues . . . I don’t even know where to begin on that one. Basically, human rights at large are in jeopardy, and as somebody that is part of celebrity culture, I would rather not be an agent in detracting from that attention. I would rather not be part of the smokescreen that makes everybody think, “Eh, it’s fine,” because it’s not fine.
I feel a lot of gratitude, and gratitude to me is the shortcut to happiness.
Oh, good line. Is that yours?
[Laughs] Yep. I’m kind of like a poet. I’m kind of a big deal.
Lola Kirke’s Concrete ‘Jungle’
As Mozart in the Jungle continues to hit the right notes with fans and critics, its 26-year-old star Lola Kirke takes Billboard to her real-life Big Apple haunts.
The Manhattan native and current Los Angeles resident, photographed Dec. 28, 2016, in New York, is the daughter of 67-year-old drummer Simon Kirke (Free, Bad Company) and younger sister of Girls star Jemima Kirke, 31.
Lola Kirke as Hailey Rutledge in Mozart. The show’s symphony scenes are filmed at the State University of New York in Purchase.
A1 Record Shop, 439 E. Sixth St.
Growing up in the West Village, Kirke frequented Bleecker Bob’s and Bleecker Street Records, but A1 — its ceiling quilted with album covers — is her go-to “for vinyl LPs,” she says. “I don’t buy CDs, but does anyone anymore?”
Kirke once ran into Mozart co-star Gael Garcia Bernal in Alphabet City while she was jogging: “I see this gaggle of dudes kicking a soccer ball around in the middle of the street, and I get closer, and it’s Gael,” she says. “He’s kind to everyone, and so brave with his choices.”
TR Crandall Guitars, 179 E. Third St.
The specialty shop is co-owned by Kirke’s pal Alex Whitman. “I feel like an idiot every time I go there … I never know what I’m looking at,” says Kirke, who started playing guitar at age 20.
C’mon Everybody, 325 Franklin Ave.
Kirke used to attend music shows “wherever young assholes go” in New York. This Bed-Stuy cocktail lounge, with a performance space that nods to ’70s Manhattan, is her current must-visit.
Kirke admits she only recently fell in love with the uptown performing-arts complex that features prominently on the show. “This past season of Mozart gave me a great window into opera,” she says. “I’ve been enjoying listening to it, especially with breakfast. It’s very decadent.”
In our Jan/Feb issue, Mozart in the Jungle star Lola Kirke poses in tennis whites and sounds off on the perks and perils of personal branding. Below, we’re proud to offer more of Kirke’s unfiltered insights, covering her career (both in TV and music), feminism, social media and more. Enjoy.
ON LIVING THE BRAND
If you’re in the spotlight as a young person now, you have to figure out your brand. Are you just an actor? Are you an actor and an activist? Are you an actor and an activist and a musician? ‘And’ ad nauseam. I feel like I’m still finding my voice. I wish I could say, ‘This is my cause. This is my purpose on earth,’ but at the moment the world is such a mess; anything can be your cause. I don’t feel pressure to present feminism as part of my brand, because it just is. If I say that, though, it sounds like it’s part of what I’m selling, and that gets a little complicated. But there is a commercial side to being an artist, and I’m lucky that people are buying it, at least to some degree. Being politically active is fucking cool. There’s space to be so many different things. Just give a damn.
ON THE NEW SEASON OF MOZART IN THE JUNGLE
I feel grateful to play a character who is walking on path parallel to mine as a young woman and a young creative professional. Being a classical musician in an orchestra shares a lot of same properties of being an actress, in the sense that you are performing other people’s work instead of creating your own. You are relying on other people to notice you and recognize you and give you a job. You are functioning in a much larger machine that you’re a part of, that you’re not necessarily at the helm of.
ON HER BURGEONING MUSIC CAREER
I relate to that dilemma of being passionate about something from a young age and forming an identity about that one thing. It’s nice to know what you want to do early on, but I think that it’s also really limiting. Being open to the idea that you have a lot of possibilities has been important for me. I mean, playing music has always been a part of me. So to elevate it out of the realm of hobby and make it like slightly more professional is empowering. The thread of my work and my music is about self-doubt, love or whatever else. To make art, or to make sounds in this world, is a political act, and it feels good to ally with other women and other non-gender binary voices who are doing the same.
I just got Instagram and it blows my mind. I had an account a couple of years ago and in the time that I’ve been off, it’s transformed from a tool to just show people pretty pictures and gloat about your life into this mechanism for personal branding. There are people who I have no idea who they really are, but I know what they look like from every angle—and so do 100,000 other people.
ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS
There are so many things that do not sit right with me—women’s issues, which bleed into health issues, which then bleed into foreign policy issues. This is a really interesting time to be human, and I think it’s wonderful time to be a woman in how there are so many opportunities. Yes, women are on the spectrum of minorities in this world, but it’s important to be part of the energy seeking to change that. There’s so much creative potential in this transformation women are experiencing as a group. I’m fascinated by it.
ON CHANGING HER BODY FOR ROLES
I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with directors and networks like Amazon that privilege my individuality as a woman and my choices for my own body. I’ve never really been asked to alter my appearance—and that’s probably not going to be the reality for my career. Your art does not get to be your own in this industry, whether you’re an actor or director or any other kind of filmmaker. There are scenarios where I could see changing the way my body looks, like becoming stronger or becoming leaner, that would be necessary telling a story about a certain character. If I’m playing a person in the Army, they’re not going to have a soft tummy like I do. So far, I’ve felt wanted for who I am. And that’s pretty special.