Zoë Kravitz Lives Life on Her Own Terms
The actor, musician, writer and (now) director has stopped reading the comments and tuning into herself.
by : Jessica Herndon- Apr 8th, 2022
I didn’t anticipate Zoë Kravitz being so open about her family early on in our conversation—especially considering that she is in her own lane and this is 100 percent her moment. But I quickly realize that this is a woman who possesses acute self-awareness. It’s nearly impossible to think of a scenario in which the daughter of iconic rock star Lenny Kravitz and actor and eternal beauty Lisa Bonet wouldn’t keep it real—particularly when it comes to owning who she is.
When she was in her early 20s, she was self-conscious about her last name and what came with it. “People would always assume that if I got a job, it was because of that,” says Kravitz, who is now 33, shortly after we meet at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “That was hard. But I was incredibly privileged. I got an agent easily. I’m not going to pretend that it didn’t help me get into the room. But I had to remember that I worked hard and as a child I was putting on performances in my grandparents’ house. And it had nothing to do with who my family was; it was because I loved it.” Over time, she says, embracing her unique path has been about wanting to prove to not only the world but also herself that she “deserve[s] to take up space in the industry.” “I’m proud of where I come from. Now it’s nice to be in a place where I feel like when people ask me about my parents, I’m not like, ‘Let’s not talk about that.’ I’m like, ‘They’re awesome. I’m grateful to be their child. And I’m also my own human being.’”
This vantage point is very Kravitz: genuine, unapologetic and not here for anyone’s idea of who she should be—even if she’s still trying to figure out who that is. “There’s a lot of beauty in surrendering to the fact that you have no idea what’s going on,” she says with a smile. While this may be true, there aren’t many of us who make uncertainty look so cool. When she arrives for our interview, Kravitz is dressed in a grey The Row T-shirt, black jeans, an oversized black blazer from designer boutique Egg in London, England, and Soda platform wedge sandals. Her thin braids hang over her shoulders, and she is makeup-free except for a hint of glittery bronze eyeshadow. In her hand is a black Saint Laurent Hobo bag. She’s been a face of Saint Laurent since 2017. “It’s badass stuff,” she says of the brand’s pieces. “I’ve always felt very in touch with my masculine side, and that’s something that the brand has always embraced. So, to me, that’s really cool and sexy.”
“I’m proud of where I come from. Now it’s nice to be in a place where I feel like when people ask me about my parents, I’m not like, ‘Let’s not talk about that.’ I’m like, ‘They’re awesome. I’m grateful to be their child. And I’m also my own human being.’”
It’s been a little under seven years since Kravitz and I last sat down for an interview, but the actor is just as I remember. She talks particularly fast when she gets excited. “Is that Larry David?” she blurts out while eyeing a fellow diner. “That looks like Larry David, but it’s not Larry David. Do you see what I’m talking about? I would die if that were him. I’m obsessed.” She’s just as sweet, stylish, mellow and motivated—only now there’s more grit behind those pretty brown eyes. In 2019, in a custom Alexander Wang gown, she wed actor Karl Glusman at her father’s Parisian townhouse. Eighteen months later, she filed for divorce. Although a chapter of her romantic life was closing, her career was heating up.
She’d emerged as an actor with supporting roles in blockbusters like 2011’s X-Men: First Class, 2014’s Divergent and 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road after taking acting classes at the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Purchase College in New York. But she later earned acclaim for her role in HBO’s Big Little Lies, in which she starred alongside Oscar winners Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern. Her turn as record-store owner Rob in Hulu’s 2020 series High Fidelity continued to stretch her range, as she was not only the show’s lead but also one of its executive producers and writers. The series was cancelled after one season, which led Kravitz to call out Hulu for the lack of diversity in its programming. “It’s cool. At least Hulu has a ton of other shows starring women of colour we can watch. Oh wait,” she wrote in an Instagram comment. “They didn’t realize what that show was and what it could do,” says Kravitz now between sips of Aperol spritz. “The amount of letters, DMs, people on the street and women that look like us…like, that love for the show, it meant something to people. It was a big mistake [to cancel it].”
Despite that setback, Kravitz’s career hasn’t slowed down. Most recently, she stars as Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman) opposite Robert Pattinson in The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves. When her agent called her about the role in late 2019, Kravitz remembers, she said to herself, “Okay, don’t get excited.” “One thing I’ve had to learn from an early age is that when you get attached, it’s hard, and most of the time you don’t get the part,” she adds. “So my instinct is always to say [to myself], ‘It’s not mine.’” Kravitz’s nerves at her audition added to her cynicism. “[Matt] gave me a motorcycle helmet and was like, ‘Walk in, take it off and start the scene.’ I was like, ‘This is how I don’t get the part.’ I don’t get the part because the helmet gets stuck on my head and I don’t look cool. I’ll get my lines, but I will fuck up this helmet moment.”
She didn’t. When Kravitz got the role, Reeves simply said, “You’re her.” When she arrived for her audition, he says, “Zoë had her game face on. But you can only prepare so much, and then you just have to go—and she had it.” During filming, he says, “there was never a moment where she was guarded or insecure. She has good instincts. She’s incredibly smart, very funny, honest and unpretentious, and she had great ideas about character evolution. She is a great creative partner.”
Stepping into those iconic Catwoman boots, previously worn by Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry and Anne Hathaway, was “crazy,” says Kravitz. “The fandom is wild. When the announcement came out, I got more phone calls than I’d gotten on any birthday.” Also crazy was the shape she had to be in for the role: After eight-hour days on-set, she’d work out at home for three hours. “Obviously, you want to look good in a catsuit, but I also wanted it to be realistic that I’m able to do anything in this film,” she says. “So I had to be strong. I got stronger than I’d ever been. It felt good to see what I was capable of. I felt confident—and I could kick some ass.”
Shortly after production for The Batman started, filming halted due to the pandemic, stranding her in London for three months. Kravitz’s home in Brooklyn was under renovation, so when she finally returned to the U.S. in June 2020, she headed straight to upstate New York with her husband and dog. She says the isolation afforded her some time for self-reflection. “My life changed after that,” says Kravitz, whose divorce from Glusman was finalized in August 2021. “Having that time was a gift.” I ask if there were things that she may have ignored in her relationship that came to light during that quiet time in seclusion upstate. “I don’t really want to go into that,” she says. “Karl’s an incredible human being. It really is less about him and more about me learning how to ask myself questions about who I am and still learning who I am and that being okay. That’s the journey I’m on right now.”
So far, her 30s have been what Kravitz calls “the sweet spot.” She’s relieved that her 20s are over. “I never want to go back; I was a mess,” she admits. “I wasn’t making choices based on what felt good to me. Now I’m in an era of ‘What do I actually want?’ [I’m in a place] where I’m taking a minute to say ‘Maybe I should do this differently’ and seeing what that feels like.” Her pause from Instagram in late 2021 felt like a necessary shift after trolls came for her on the platform, saying she’d shown too much flesh at the 2021 Met Gala, to which she’d worn a metal mesh Saint Laurent gown. “Being uncomfortable with the human body is colonization/brainwashing. It’s just a body. We all got [one],” Kravitz replied to one commenter. “The fact that people don’t think what they say affects a celebrity because [they’re] not a person to them is crazy,” she tells me.
“I’m a human being. I want to fucking defend myself.” Nearly a week after the event, she erased all her Instagram posts and then posted only once for the remainder of the year. “The fact that I was like, ‘Should I not have worn that?’…. No, I do what I want to do, and I make what I want to make, and if I start being afraid of what other people are going to say or think, I’m no longer doing my job as an artist. I’m not experiencing the world and putting that into art. I’m walking on eggshells. Fuck that. So, I needed to take a minute.”
Kravitz is determined to follow her own timetable. It’s inspiring, especially considering all the reminders women get about their biological clock. “We all go from being the baby, where you’re like, ‘I have so much time,’ and then all of a sudden your gynecologist is like, ‘Want to freeze your eggs?’ And I’m like, ‘I hadn’t even thought about that.’ But I don’t feel pressured to have kids by a certain time—if I ever have kids. This idea of, like, you’re 30, you’re a grown-up, so now you’re supposed to have kids and stop having fun because that’s for children…. I bought into that for a second. It was like, ‘I don’t go out anymore; I just make roast chickens.’ But I still want to go on adventures, have fun nights and see the sun rise. [Learning] that there’s no finish line that I have to get to by a certain time has been an interesting journey. I hope I’m always playful and mischievous, even when I’m 70 years old. The point of being alive is to experience life and play with it. There’s still so much fun to be had.”
“I do what I want to do, and I make what I want to make, and if I start being afraid of what other people are going to say or think, I’m no longer doing my job as an artist. I’m not experiencing the world and putting that into art. I’m walking on eggshells. Fuck that.”
Kravitz’s desire to live whimsically was behind her move to New York from Miami when she was 15. “I went to a private school that had a lot of rich white kids who were just partying on their boats, and I was getting stoned and listening to the Beatles,” she says of her time in Florida, where she lived with her dad after spending most of her childhood with her mom in California. “I felt isolated. I just wanted to be around artists. So I said to my dad: ‘I have to get out of here. I’m not happy.’” In New York, Kravitz says, “I found my people, whom I’m still good friends with. We would hang out in Central Park and smoke weed and they would play acoustic guitar. It was an art community.” They’re the people she keeps close, the ones she calls on when things get rough.
“I have incredible friends, and I have great relationships with my parents, so I always have a place to go with my emotions,” she says, before listing Donald Glover, Ramy Youssef and Alicia Keys as some of her closest confidants. “Something we talk about is understanding the pure value of who we are as women,” says Keys of her chats with Kravitz. “We remind each other that we are special, powerful and important. Her trajectory is incomparable, and it’s effortless in this beautiful way. She’s the complete embodiment of creative freedom. Whatever she does is natural, honest, pure. She’s the definition of a true artist.”
Kravitz admits that she has to stop and assess her emotions from time to time. “[There are] moments when I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ve been smoking and drinking maybe a little more than I should—let’s look at what’s going on.’ And then I’m like, ‘I should call a therapist.’ And sometimes you need to dance it out. I think all of these [strategies] are okay for a short amount of time.” Writing also helps Kravitz process her feelings. Currently, she’s writing and recording her upcoming solo album with friend Jack Antonoff, mostly at Electric Lady Studios in New York. “It feels vulnerable, and it’s a little scary, but making music makes me happy,” she says of the tracks, which explore love and loss as well as other themes she’s still discovering.
Her MGM-acquired film Pussy Island, which she spent five years writing with pal E. T. Feigenbaum, is also bringing her all kinds of satisfaction. A thriller about a cocktail waitress who sets her sights on a mysterious tech mogul, the film was originally inspired by “the lack of conversation around the way women are treated in the entertainment industry,” explains Kravitz. “I started writing it pre Me Too, pre-Harvey [Weinstein]. Then the world started to have the conversation, so [the script] changed a lot. It became more about a power struggle and what that power struggle means. I rewrote it a million times. Now we’re like, ‘Holy shit—we’re doing this!’” The film, which is being shot this summer, will mark Kravitz’s directorial debut. “I have moments of being nervous,” she says. “But I know the story so well, and I’m trying to focus less on ‘Am I going to do a good job?’ and more on ‘What is my intention?’” Steven Soderbergh, who directed Kravitz in the new thriller Kimi, out now on HBO Max, says he has “every belief that she’s going to deliver something really distinctive” with Pussy Island. “She has a highly developed sense of equilibrium and is very inquisitive. It’s a pretty compelling combination.”
Channing Tatum plays the billionaire lead in the film. Kravitz had never met Tatum before casting him, but she remembers thinking he would be “brave enough” to take on the material. “Looking at his work and hearing him speak about Magic Mike and the live show, I was like, ‘I think he’s a feminist.’ And I don’t think we’ve ever seen him play someone dark. I’m excited to see him do that.”
When I mention the ear-to-ear smile we’ve seen on Kravitz in paparazzi pictures where she’s holding hands with Tatum, she says, “I’m happy.” She leaves it at that when it comes to their rumoured relationship. When I ask Soderbergh, who directed Tatum in Magic Mike, to predict how the actor and Kravitz will vibe on-set, he says, “I’m assuming they’re going to have fun, but if you’re in any sort of a couple and you go into an endeavour like this, all bets are off.”
Does Kravitz still feel optimistic about love? “I feel optimistic about life, and I think that goes hand in hand with it,” she says. “[With] all my relationships—friendships, romantic relationships, family—it’s [about] learning how to show up honestly. Sometimes we can’t show up, and that’s okay as long as we know how to communicate that we love those people.”
Kravitz spots a couple dressed all in black across the restaurant. Their looks are punctuated by large black top hats, à la Slash, the Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist. We watch them for a moment as they settle in at their table, gloriously standing out against the refined restaurant’s floral art deco decor. “See, they’re not reading the comments,” says Kravitz. “They are doing whatever they want. I really want to live like that.”
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