Originally written for Little White Lies in March 2012. Read the original article here.
Having made waves in 2009 with his brief but memorable performance as a kindly nurse in Lee Daniels’ Precious, The Hunger Games marks Lenny Kravitz’s first major film role and the start of what looks set to be a fruitful new career venture for the American musician.
Decked out in an assortment of bling in a Soho hotel, even offstage Kravitz epitomises the rock star image. With a hectic touring schedule underway and the small matter of appearing in what’s being widely tipped as the next big Hollywood franchise, you’d forgive him for showing signs of fatigue. But he seemed surprisingly fresh and focused when I shared a sofa with him recently to discuss the daunting prospect of tackling a popular literary franchise, his love of Kubrick and Woody Allen, and his YouTube immortalisation.
Before you took on your role in Precious you said that you’d had roles offered to you but none had really appealed. What drew you to The Hunger Games?
Well, I got the phone call from Gary Ross, the director. I hadn’t read the book and I was in the Bahamas recording Black and White America and he said ‘I saw you in Precious, and I liked the way you played the role. There’s this character called Cinna. He’s this very compassionate, very chilled guy and I think the character you played, Nurse John, and Cinna have very similar qualities and I’d love you to play this role.’ And that was it. If I wanted it I could have it.
There was no audition?
No, all I had to do was tell him I wanted the role and that was it. So I was like ‘wow,’ but it was like ‘wait a minute, let me read the book.’ And obviously there were no bookshops nearby, so I had to download the book and I read it in a day. And the book kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. It was late at night, I had been recording all day and my eyes were tired and I just kept reading. So, I loved the book and accepted the role and it ended up being a good decision. It was a great experience working with Gary.
How was the atmosphere on set?
Because we’d have assumed there was a great amount of pressure and expectation, what with this being tipped to be the next big franchise.
But, y’know, I’m new to making films and you hear stories about difficult sets, divas, difficult actors and whatever. And there was none of that. Everybody, and it’s quite an ensemble cast – you’ve got big stars and very talented people – everybody was chilled. Everyone was mellow. And I asked people on the set ‘is this normal?’ And everybody told me it wasn’t. It was exceptional.
How did it compare to your experience on Precious?
Well that was great too. Lee Daniels is absolutely amazing. He’s wild. He’s spontaneous. He’s a very deep soul, as you can see with the movie. But I was only on the set for two days, so I didn’t get to experience being on the set for a couple of weeks until I did The Hunger Games, but that was great too, yeah.
You mentioned after Precious that you’d be working with Lee Daniels again. Is that still on the cards?
We’re supposed to be doing something later in the year. He just wrapped a film with Nicole Kidman and John Cusack called The Paperboy. So there’s a project and I can’t really say much about it, but I’m looking forward to it.
Cinna is a much-loved character and after you were cast it was difficult to go on YouTube and find an interview or a music video of yours where someone hadn’t written ‘Cinna’ or a similar sort of comment.
The fans seem really excited that you’ve been cast in the role. Do you feel a fairly large sense of responsibility to them in that sense?
Well I didn’t realise what I was getting myself in to! Then you start looking at websites and stuff after I’d taken the role and, I mean, even when it came to announcing who was playing who, if they weren’t in to it you knew about it. ‘Why cast this guy? Why do it this way?’ And I realised just how serious these people were about this book. [Laughs]. But at the end of the day, it’s Gary Ross’ vision. Yes, it’s the book, it’s Suzanne Collins’ story, but Gary Ross is the director. I’m just there to bring out what he’s trying to bring out and I have to trust him, and I did and do. But I think people are going to be in to it. I think the fans are gonna love it. And Jennifer Lawrence is… unbelievable.
What was it like working with her?
She’s so much fun. She’s an amazing actress, perhaps better than people might think. I mean, they know she’s amazing and she was obviously nominated for Best Actress for Winter’s Bone, but she’s really something else. And most of my scenes are with her, which was good for me, but when you’re doing a scene with her she’s just there. She’s living that truth. But then the minute that scene’s done, she’s just joking around. She’s really fun to work with.
A lot of people have been talking about the fashion element of your character. That seems to be fairly fitting for you, given your image.
Well obviously when I read the book I realised that he was a stylist and that’s not a far push for me, yeah. I like clothes. I like design.
Was there much going on in terms of green gowns and the like for fire effects and suchlike?
Oh, the fire outfit? Yeah, they’re adding effects for that obviously, but they didn’t have to do green screen. But they’re definitely adding some elements to it for the Girl on Fire, which is going to be quite spectacular.
Moving on to a slightly different tangent. You’ve made the leap from music to acting. A lot of actors tend to make the leap to directing. Have you got any aspirations to make a film yourself?
I do. I always have. I always knew that one day I’d direct a film or be directing films, but what I’m doing right now, I really respect the art form. And when I get in to something, just like design – I’ve had a company for 15 years that started very small, slowly began taking on projects. And now I’m working with Phillipe Starck. I’m doing a skyscraper in Miami. I’m doing hotels. But I’m in to taking the time and really honing my skills. It’s the same thing with the acting really. I’m getting these roles where I don’t have to carry the film and I’m getting to hone my craft. I’m learning. I’m watching. So I give it the respect it deserves, but, yes, I will be doing my own films at some point in the next couple of years.
Do you have any specific influences? What kind of things do you enjoy watching?
I’m a Woody Allen fanatic. I mean, Manhattan is my favourite film. I love Scorsese. I love Fellini. I just love good films.
Moving on to a slightly different subject…
Kubrick! Sorry to interrupt. I love Kubrick.
No, we can talk about Kubrick. Is it too much of a stretch to pick a favourite Kubrick film?
That’s a hard one. Just generally, it’d be Clockwork, right? Just because. But then, of course, you’ve got Dr. Strangelove. Barry Lyndon is like a painting. Every shot in that movie is just a monumental painting and I guess every film he’s done – The Shining, 2001 – they’re all like that I guess. But I’d say my favourites are A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon and Dr. Strangelove.
Visually, are those the sorts of thing you’d draw your influence from if you were directing?
Yeah. I like things where it’s not just the dialogue. It’s not just the set. It’s not just the light. It’s not just the script. It’s not just the actors. It’s not just the shot. It’s all of it. You can break it down in to each element and have a deep conversations about that shot, that dialogue… Like Tarantino, y’know? He’s lyrical. When I met him I told him ‘I can watch your movies without the picture and it’s like listening to a Led Zeppelin album.’ They’re just lyrical. And the dialogue is rich. I’d love to work with him. He’s amazing.
Is there any chance of that happening, do you reckon?
One day maybe. I mean, we talked. I met him backstage at an award thing and he’s very energetic. He’s like [in a surprisingly good Tarantino impression] ‘Kravitz, I gotta tell you something, man. I was watching Precious and I was like ‘who is that bad, sexy motherfucker up there?’ I couldn’t figure it out and at the end I realised it was you, man.’ And that’s actually what he said. [Laughs]. But, you know, he’s just amazing. I’ve been watching Inglourious Basterds over and over recently. The dialogue and everything in that movie, it’s amazing.
Fingers crossed one day we’ll see that happen.
Moving on to something else entirely, there’s a video on YouTube that I’ve got to ask you about. It’s the one where you encounter a choir in New Orleans playing a cover of ‘Fly Away’ and you end up joining in.
What happened there?
Exactly what you saw. There was no set-up. I was shocked.
And you’d literally just turned up there?
I was having a drink on a terrace and I was like ‘do I hear my song?’ But it wasn’t the record. It could have been the record coming out of somebody’s building. It sounded like my song but I couldn’t identify it. It was far away. So we began walking, following the sound, and we ended up in front of this group and I was like ‘what is this?’ And then, yeah, I saw this choir. What’s the chance of that happening right?
It must have been a bit surreal.
But everyone seemed very chilled, it wasn’t as though people were shouting and screaming and going crazy because you were there. It seemed very normal.
I mean from my point of view it was weird, but from their point of view it must have been even stranger, right? That the person who wrote the song just showed up? It was a trip. And then I just had to jam with them.
You’ve sort of covered it already, but what do you love about movies?
I learn a lot from movies. When I watch these characters, I always put myself in the position of the character and end up learning something. I love the storytelling. And then, like I said, if it’s something that ends up being a great film because of great shots or great music, when you get all of it, it’s wonderful.
What was I watching that other day? The Graduate. I was watching The Graduate. Oh my God. It’s just a great film.
I absolutely love films. And I’ll watch old films over and over. We’ve all got our favourites, right? I watched Harold and Maudeagain the other week, which is one of my favourite movies of all time. You notice something new each time, just like when you listen to good music. I could listen to a great Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix album and I could have heard it 5,000 times, but every time I listen to it I hear something I didn’t hear the first time. That just shows you how complex it is. It’s the same with a great film. There are so many layers. I like things with a lot of layers.