Lenny Kravitz has caught the acting bug—believe that. But don’t think for a second that the rocker is giving up the stage and his signature melding of soul, R&B, funk, reggae, hard rock, psychedelic, folk and, yes, rock tunes. While he’s weaving in and out of costarring in some of the most talked about, nominated tentpole films—The Butler, Precious, The Hunger Games series—he’s gearing up for a return to music next year.
We’ll see him next reprising his role of Cinna in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which previewers are saying could end up being the biggest film opening ever. So far we’ve seen Kravitz play the back in film. He’s had memorable smaller parts on screen, but 2014 could very well end up being a breakout year. He and veteran actor Christopher Walken will co-star together in Little Rootie Tootie (they begin shooting at the top of the year in New York), Kravitz’s first leading role.
We chat with the musician about his acting career, his daughter Zoë, and which of his films his mother (the late actress Roxie Roker) would love best.
EBONY: What is it you get from acting that you don’t get from rocking out?
Lenny Kravitz: When I’m in the studio, I write the music, I play the different instruments, I produce it, I arrange it, and it’s a self-indulgent exercise. It’s the way I make my music. And when I’m acting, I get to leave myself behind, which is a relief. I get to collaborate with a director; I respect the director’s medium and all the actors and actresses. So at the end of the day, it’s about a character and it’s about a director’s vision. It’s a really good balance for being so intense and alone in my personal process of making music.
EBONY: Every project that you’ve said yes to has been a talker project: Academy Award nominations or record-breaking films. You pick very, very well.
LK: It’s a blessing. I try to pick projects that I’m just naturally attracted to, great stories, directors. And all of the films I’ve done thus far—Precious and The Butler and the two Hunger Games—have turned out to be really exceptional films.
EBONY: Did it surprise you that you started gravitating towards acting, or was that part of the plan all along?
LK: No, it was not the plan. But I was an actor when I was a teenager and it could have been the direction that I headed in. But music and my relationship with music is quite deep, and it really is the nucleus of my creativity. So I gave up acting so I could pursue music fully, and I never thought about really going back. And then [director] Lee Daniels met me and wanted to work with me, and that’s how it started.
EBONY: Acting comes by you naturally. Did your mom give you any advice when you were younger? Anything that stays with you now?
LK: Not so much. She’d give me basic pointers and things, and we’d read scripts together, but not a lot in the sense of technique or anything. She kind of let me just find my own way.
EBONY: What do you think she would think about the projects you’ve been in so far?
LK: I think she’d be quite proud. Especially of The Butler, just that film in general and what that film stands for.
EBONY: And now your daughter Zoë is following in your mom and your footsteps. What does that feel like, to see her getting accolades and attention?
LK: I couldn’t be more proud. And the thing I’m proud of most is that she’s just being who she is, who she was created to be. She’s quite an individual, and she definitely marches to her own beat, you know?
EBONY: Wonder where she gets that from!
LK: Yeah! But the beautiful thing is, she does it her way. Uncompromising. For a person so young, she really knows who she is. And that’s really important. It takes some of us a long time to start to figure out who we really are, so I really admire that about her. She has a great work ethic, she works really hard, she’s very responsible, and she’s a great person. If she wasn’t my daughter, she’d be one of my best friends.
EBONY: Will we ever see the two of you act together?
LK: I don’t know. It would have to be something really that worked and was exceptional. We’re not going to do it just to do it.
EBONY: How does all of this early film success change your process moving forward? The challenge now is picking projects that hold up to what you’ve done so far.
LK: Just because I do what I do and I’ve had all these years of being “Lenny Kravitz” in the music world, I wanted to approach acting in a way where I’m not going to come out and just star in movies, and think that I can just come and do that. Because I want to give it the respect it deserves. I want to start at a pace where I could learn and just work and do it in between my tours. And so I’ve done that now for these four films. And now I’m really blessed to have my first co-lead. I’m doing a film with Christopher Walken in January. It’s a father-and-son story, to put it simply, and a very sort of intense, quirky story. So that’s been really incredible, working opposite Christopher Walken.
EBONY: Does that mean that you’re putting making new music on hold?
LK: Not at all. I just finished my new album. It’s mixed and mastered, done, ready to go. That will be coming out next year, and I will be doing a world tour. I’m really excited about the new music. The new album, I think it’s my best work. It’s really strong and it feels really good, so I’m really excited to get back on the road.
EBONY: What inspired this new album?
LK: It came out on its own. I really stay out of the way. It just came out, and it’s a really stripped-down sort of minimal guitar, bass and drums, some horns and saxophones here and there. It’s really big sounding. It has a classic rock sound, yet it sounds like today. So it goes forward, it goes backwards, it goes to the middle. It’s kind of everywhere. It’s a feel-good album, you know, it’s very up.
EBONY: After you kind of leave a soundstage and step into a studio, are the two worlds separate for you? Or are there things that you’ve been able to take with you in the studio that you’ve picked up from acting?
LK: I don’t know. I don’t think so, because what I do onstage as a musician is so raw and natural, like I don’t even think. It’s something that works on automatic. You know? It’s just what I do.