When Lenny Kravitz showed-up in Lee Daniels Precious as the compassionate and level headed Nurse John both film and music fans were taken by surprise. The singer/songwriter delivered a grounded, compelling, performance in the film so when it was announced that he had been cast as Cinna, the equally warmhearted, subliminal revolutionary couture artist in director Gary Ross' adaptation of The Hunger Games it felt like a perfect fit.
In the film, Cinna is the stylist assigned to Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the young, female "tribute" from District 12 who has been selected to fight to the death along with 23 other teenagers in the yearly government enforced Hunger Games. The 75 year old games exist as a reminder of a long past attempt at rebellion against the totalitarian regime who rules over the imagined nation of Panem and warning to never again test the scope of the Capitol's power.
Cinna is responsible for dressing Katniss so that she makes an impression on the citizens of the Capitol in the hopes that those with the means will "sponsor" her in the games - i.e. provide much needed food, water, medicine and weapons to increase her chances of survival. We had the opportunity to speak with Kravitz recently about his move into the acting arena and working on a project that sneaks the metaphorical broccoli to the youth of the world.
SR: I have to tell you, I've been listening to your music since I was a little girl, and then Precious came out, I saw the movie and the credits rolled I was shocked to see your name. I hadn't recognized you.
Lenny Kravitz: "People always tell me that. I saw Quentin Tarantino at an awards show after that, and he was like ‘man, I was watching that 'Precious' movie,’ and he’s like animated, and he’s like ‘I’m watching this character, and I’m like, I know who all the brothers in town are,’ he’s like ‘who the hell is that?’ And I’m like 'did I really look that different?' I look at it and I go okay, I gained a few pounds to thicken up a little, I had a goatee which I don’t normally. I had a beanie on. But did I look that different? But people didn’t know it was me. I think it’s also they didn’t expect it to be me. You know how it is, you can be in a different country and you see a friend from LA, you see them in Prague and its, 'oh wow.' It takes a second because they’re not in the place they should be.' I think it was a case of that as well. People just didn’t expect it. 'That’s not Lenny Kravitz. He’s not an actor. It might look sort of like him but it’s not him, who is it?' I don’t know. But I thought it was a compliment."
SR: It's a huge compliment. I think it’s to your credit because the look—it was a little bit different as you mentioned, you didn't have your usual look -- but it wasn't that different. I think it was because you really disappeared into that character. I just felt like I was watching that guy.
LK: "Well that’s the only reason I’m here, because Gary saw that and that’s why he hired me."
SR: Well they're similar characters in the sense that they are caretakers and very kind.
LK: "Well, the first thing Gary said was that I think that Nurse John and Cinna have similar characteristics although they’re completely different characters. They’re both very nurturing and kind, quiet but effective."
So when you were working on Cinna, how did you develop the character with Ross? Did you guys create a backstory? Do you work that way or are you still discovering your process as an actor?
LK: "I mean I thought about it. You know we didn’t go too deep. Really, most of it happened on set each day before the scene. So this is the scene, this is what’s happening. And I thought I already had a decent sense of who Cinna was. He’s this guy who works for the Capitol but you know, he ain’t really buying it but he’s got to do what he’s got to do within the system. And he meets this girl who really, he sees something in her. She’s the underdog, she’s supposed to be the last person who’s able to win and he admires her bravery for taking the place of her sister. From the day she walks in, he’s got a heart for her. And there’s only so far that he can go, but he’s busting his ass and creating the best pieces for her, to try to help her forge this impression. Because a lot of winning the game is about being likable."
Could you relate to this character in the sense that he’s an artist and you're an artists who communicates through your medium? Because Cinna is a fascinating character in that he's really telling a story with the costumes he creates.
LK: "Yeah. Of course, of course. And also people trying to control your artistry too. Because he’s an artist, and he’s a great designer, but he’s working under the government. Almost kind of like how musicians worked under the kings, whether you were Mozart or whoever, there were court composers and people that wrote for the king, and the king said 'you know, you can’t put that note in because that’s an evil note or whatever.' So yeah, although I have creative control in my music and always have. That was the first thing when I signed, I have to have creative control, and I got that. A lot of musicians don’t have that. But I know what it’s like for people to want to control it, it happens all the time, because for them, you’re all about money."
You're a commodity.
LK: "Yeah. It's like you had that big hit, so they want you to do that again. Well, it’s too late, it’s already been done and now we have to move on to the next thing. Or, the fad right now is—you know—electronic gadgets. Well, I’m not into electronic gadgets. So, you know, people are always trying to control."
What made you want to transition into acting at this time?
LK: "It’s where I started, when I was a kid. My mother was a theater actress and then went to television, with 'The Jeffersons'. So I grew up in theater, I did plays, I did television, I did commercials. I started when I was about seven and I made my first commercial. And I gave it up for music, because when music bit me, that was it, right? But now it’s come back, without me asking, it started with Lee just approaching me and saying I want to work with you. And now I’m loving it. And it’s a good time for me. It also contrasts what my musical life is, which is completely self-indulgent. I play all the instruments, I write it, I produce it, it’s my thing, it’s all about me. As it should be. But this is not about me at all. It’s about the director’s vision. It’s about the character. And I love being in that position, because I’ve always been a musician of my own power, and my own vision and destiny and this is like 'okay, what do you want? I’m here to please you, I’m here to let you mold me' and it’s such a good feeling."
Your daughter, Zoe, worked with Jennifer Lawrence on X-Men: First Class. Have the two of you thought about working together?
LK: I mean, we’re both older than this example, but I love 'Paper Moon'. And, you know, Zoe and I have said, if the right thing came along that was a father daughter story that was interesting, had edge, it would be fun to do. But it would only be if something amazing came along."
There are certainly a lot of film franchises that are appealing to the younger generation at this time, but this is one of the few that really has something to say to them.
LK: "Yes. Which I think has surprised a lot of the people here, who’ve seen it. They’re saying 'oh, we were expecting this blockbuster, action adventurey sci-fi thing.' Like they’re surprised. Gary did an amazing job. Even just talking about the references with him, he was always referencing things that were like high art. Camera work or lighting or this choice of lenses and the way he’s going to paint this thing in the movement. It was all very sophisticated. So he brings this blockbuster, big movie thing to a place where kids can relate to it and where people with a really good eye can relate to it as well. And it’s great storytelling."
Was part of the appeal of this project in particular that it’s communicating something on kind of a larger level? It's not just pure bubble-gum movie stuff, just as your music isn't necessarily just pop music.
LK: "No, it’s a part of popular music, but I never sound like what’s on the radio. Whatever comes out, it’s something that breaks through, and it’s difficult, because I don’t play the game of sounding like what everything else sounds like at that time."
Right, just as this movie...
LK: "Isn't such a pop move?"
Right. I don’t think it is. I mean look, it’s going to be hugely popular, it’s going to be insane, and it’s probably going to be really weird in that way in some senses.
LK: "People are already showing up to my shows, in the arena, with signs that say Cinna. And like after the concert I'm not only signing tour programs but 'Hunger Games' books as well. I mean hey, it’s great to be attached to something like this. It’s only going to enhance what I do. I mean, it’s seeping in. Cinna! Those fans are serious about their story."
They are. But the cool thing about this project, The Hunger Games, is that it’s like sneaking in the broccoli to the kid.
LK: "Yeah, most definitely. I think so, and I think that’s why it’s going to be so appealing to not just kids, but I’m here in LA and I’m seeing friends who are like in their 40s, 50s, 60s—they’re like ‘we can’t wait for this movie!’ And I’m like 'really? You can’t wait? You know about this?' But everyone knows about it. And whether it started with kids and then the parents started reading the books, I don’t know how it worked, but adults find those messages, like you said, they find the broccoli within."
The Hunger Games is in theaters now.
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