Lola Kirke isn’t one to shy from what she believes in—whether that be performing with an open heart in hopes that she might ignite a spark in someone watching or shirking Hollywood norms on the red carpet. She’s an artist through and through, and as she puts it, “It’s life-affirming when you are inspired, and I guess who am I to dare to try to inspire anyone, but I’m going to try, because why not?”
STEPHANIE JANSSEN: One of the things that is so striking about you is that you seem to have always known that you wanted to be an actress. What first drew you to acting?
LOLA KIRKE: I always get a tinge of embarrassment whenever someone says that they want to be an actor or that they are an actor. It’s something I’ve felt my entire life even though I have like a great, great respect for acting. But what is it that’s so embarrassing when someone declares that they want to be an actor? I guess it’s this idea that it’s like an admission of narcissism that someone thinks that they’re so interesting that they should be watched.
And I know that acting is so much more than that, but I think that we live in a society where we’re kind of trained to be self-deprecating when actually it’s like beautiful to think that you should be a vehicle for this human exchange that we get from being an artist.
As a young kid for whatever reason I felt that I should be watched, and that maybe through me there could be some key to understanding pain and suffering. I mean, I was 10 but I was really sensitive, and there was a lot of shit going on. So I think it was an escape, and maybe it was like, you know, I just wanted to be seen.
SJ: And now as you’ve been building your career, what is it about it that you love?
LK: I think my reason is constantly evolving, you know? But I think the most recent reason to want to be an actor is something that I’ve totally lifted from an interview I read with Frances McDormand where she talks about wanting to be part of the human exchange. There is something so valuable about how arts are a way of communicating, and even if you’re not an artist or you have no creative drive I think that whether it’s a big blockbuster Hollywood movie or an obscure painting there’s something that like, ignites you when you see these things. And I want to make people feel ignited too because I know how much pleasure I get from it when it happens to me.
SJ: What gave you the courage to pursue a career as an actress?
LK: When you’re 10 you think that you’ll survive anything, right? I mean I believed I was invincible to natural disasters and all sorts of things. So of course I believed that I could prevail as an actor as well, but there were other people like, really amazing teachers that I was privileged enough to have who said, “You’re going to be really good at this,” or “You can do this.” And that’s so important.
But when you’re an artist there’s a fine line between needing external affirmation in a way to have a viable career, but also that affirmation can hinder you in a lot of ways too. So my answer is other people’s belief in me emboldened me to pursue this path but now other people’s belief in me can be a hindrance as well. It’s tricky.
SJ: Where did you grow up?
LK: I grew up in lower Manhattan, I went to school in Brooklyn.
SJ: And you live in L.A. now? How did growing up in New York affect you as an artist?
LK: I’ve been going back and forth between New York and L.A., and I’ve been trying to kind of pinpoint that incommunicable difference between the two cities.
I guess what I notice is the way that rhythm manifests itself. Like, in L.A. you can very much live at your own rhythm. You’re in your car; you’re in your house. You really don’t have to interact with anybody ever, and in New York you’re constantly forced into other people’s rhythms, and there’s an adaptability that’s really necessary for survival here—a sensitivity and toughness that you have to develop when you grow up here.
I really hope that I can have a sensitivity and a toughness and adaptability in all of my creative work because I think that those qualities really lend themselves to being generous and expansive, and that’s what I hope to be as an actor and a musician and whatever else I am lucky enough to pursue.
SJ: Who are your artistic influences? Who are the people you look up to that have impacted how you’re shaping your career?
LK: Greta Gerwig is a tremendous influence to me. I think that as a writer, as an actor, and now as a director she has only made great work. Whatever it is, I am so inspired by her. I really love Debra Winger as an actress. I’m a big Julie Christie fan, and Sandy Dennis is one of my favorite actresses of all time. Kim Stanley.
SJ: Were there things about the film industry that surprised you once you started working?
LK: Well, yeah, a few things, like how little of a film set is actually about about acting. It’s about lighting, it’s about set design, it’s about camera … and there’s a ridiculous amount of jobs and other arts that go into making a film happen. And that means as an actor you’re probably not going to have rehearsal. You have to do a lot of your work on your own, and a lot of your work kind of on the fly. I came from a theater background, which is very different, so that was surprising.
SJ: You seem to be very thoughtful about how you use your position to influence culture in a good way. What message do you always hope to put out into the world?
SJ: Can you share a little bit of what the struggle of making it in the industry is like in general?
LK: Well, to be honest I was really lucky. I don’t have a sleeping in my car story, you know, and I started working pretty soon. I thought that I was set at first, but sometimes I look at careers and feel terrified that mine will never actually get there. I think that struggle may always exist for everyone in this business. I don’t know that you ever feel completely like you can relax. Maybe you do. My struggle is beginning so I’ll let you know.
SJ: And you have new music you’ve been working on as well?
LK: Yes, I’ve been finalizing my record … it’s a full-length EP and I wrote all the songs except one that’s a cover of a Jim Ford song.
SJ: How does your music differ from your acting?
LK: The music is personal to me. I feel like I’m already playing other characters in my other job, or other love, whatever it is. So my music is just me being me.
SJ: What pushed you to find music as an outlet?
LK: Heartbreak, honestly. I spent a lot of time growing up around boys playing music, and it always looked so fun but seemed exclusive. I think I kind of subscribed to the idea that I should dumb myself down so that I could win the love and attention of men or whatever, and that meant not playing music. And then that got debunked so I started playing.
SJ: That’s awesome. Along those same lines, you are a feminist and in a lot of ways you really stick it to the man on beauty standards and expectations of women being objectified and sexualized to look a certain way. But at the same time, you posed for Playboy, which has been a historical vehicle that sexualized women and perpetuated a specific look. How do you reconcile both of those things and maintain your message?
LK: First of all I think that part of being a feminist means that you get to present yourself in whichever way you want to. So for me being a feminist means shaving my legs if I want to or not if I want to, you know?
And as much as Playboy has put forward standards of beauty that are problematic, I also have always found the ’70s issues of Playboy, which are the ones which we were really referencing in my shoot, to be really exciting. I like those images a lot. There are other representations of women that I have seen as just exploitation, but I think the way that women were represented in those issues wasn’t wholly exploitative.
I think that there’s something about someone who, like me, doesn’t strive to meet typical standards of beauty, saying hey, I can be in Playboy too … like, you don’t have to just be, you know, a “Bunny”. I can be dynamic and be in Playboy.
And also, I mean, Playboy is different; well I don’t know what’s happening with it now, but they had a different set of values when I did it, they weren’t showing nudity in the issue that I did, and that was interesting to me. I also got to work with a female photographer on this and our intention was strong. So that’s how I reconcile it: I wanted to be in Playboy so I was.