In a movie where almost everyone is dressed in outrageous costumes, you'd expect someone like Lenny Kravitz to fit right in — after all, the man has rocked some remarkable stagewear as one of music's best-known stars. But in The Hunger Games, Kravitz is restrained in both look and manner, with only a dash of flash in his golden eyelashes as Cinna, the stylist to teenage Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Kravitz recently sat down with Vulture to discuss how he approached the role, the big movie that got away, and his new fans in a very youthful demographic.
As a rock star, you're usually the center of attention. What's it like to then take on a supporting role in a film like this?
I love it. You know, I don’t have any ego about it at all, and it’s kind of why I’m doing this. I like collaborating. When I make music, I write the music, I produce the music, I play all the instruments — I’m in the studio by myself and it’s my world. It’s very self-indulgent, but to do a movie, it’s not about me at all. It’s about the director’s vision, it’s about a character, and something about that really turns me on. And then I’m collaborating with these great actors, I’m there with Woody Harrelson and Wes [Bentley], and Jennifer [Lawrence] and Elizabeth [Banks] and Stanley Tucci. It's just great.
Not to mention everyone you worked with on Precious, your film debut. I’m sure over your career you’ve been offered a whole lot of movies, but to pick those two, you've got a great batting average so far.
That’s what Woody said! He’s like, “Man, you’re batting a thousand, dude. You’re two for two, man!” And, you know, I met [Precious director] Lee Daniels through Julian Schnabel, who’s an old friend, and Lee said, “I want to work with you.” We were supposed to make another movie, but it didn’t end up happening — he had this movie that he wanted me to be the lead of. And if you know Lee’s work, it’s very intense, and this made Precious look like Mary Popppins. This was like, hard.
Which project was this?
It was called Iced. It’s this really great character. [Kravitz would have played a drug-addicted musician in the movie.] Anyway, maybe it’ll happen in the future, but since that didn't happen, he called me when I was on tour and said, “I have this movie Precious. You know, if you can come in for a day off of the tour, we’ll work you all day and knock out all the scenes.” And so I showed up and did it, and I had no idea that it would become Precious, like this thing, that little indie film that just busted out as they do every year or so. And [Hunger Games director] Gary Ross saw that and found that Nurse John had similar qualities and characteristics to Cinna — both being very sympathetic characters, nurturing, and more subdued characters in the middle of this grandiose world.
Was there always the decision to keep Cinna more subdued? Many people were picturing a more flamboyant character.
You know, every kid I knew — a godchild, a daughter or son of a friend — they all knew the book. They’re like, “Who’re you playing?” I said, “I’m playing Cinna.” And it’s funny, most of them said, “Oh, you’re playing the gay guy,” or “You’re playing the really flamboyant guy.” And in my head, I thought, Well, how far do we go with this? I didn’t know what kind of movie it was going to be. So first thing that pops in my head is, like, Chris Tucker in Fifth Element: some outrageous costumes, and this queen just marching up and down. I was like, "Okay, that’d be fun to go there, but I don’t know ..." So I called Gary, I was like, how far do you want to go with this? And we discussed and discussed it.
And how did you come to a conclusion?
Personally, I was inspired by, say, Tom Ford or Yves St. Laurent, two great designers who play it kind of in the middle, and they both dress kind of more classically than a John Galliano or somebody that has a more colorful personality. We thought that would be great for Cinna, and then just let him have his gold eyes. That’s his Capitol vibe, and his bit of glam, but otherwise he’s going to be a little more pulled together. I thought it was a good choice because it contrasted with the other characters; I mean, you look at Elizabeth’s character, and she’s just like Vivienne Westwood meets kabuki meets Joel Grey from Cabaret. So I like that we pulled Cinna back down a little bit and he’s just kind of down the middle. He’s just Cinna. Whatever he is.
Is Cinna gay? Or is that kind of an open question?
I have no idea. The beauty is, it doesn’t even matter: Here we are in this Capitol, and everybody’s outrageous. I mean, who knows what everybody’s doing? Or they’re all doing everything. So that was the beauty of it, and the book doesn’t state what he is or what he’s doing. I was very inspired by this friend of mine I grew up with, a person who is a dancer and performer and he happens to be bisexual. I based a lot of the vibe on this friend of mine, my speech patterns, and the way I kind of sauntered in and out of a scene.
Have you been offered a lot of starring roles in the past?
I was offered all kinds of things, but most of these offers came in when I had the dreadlocks because I had them for so many years. So they were basically casting me as this dreadlocked, tattooed, ear- and nose-ringed character. No one was using their imagination, and nobody asked me if I’d ever cut my hair, so it was always these stereotypical sort of roles and I was like, “Eh.” So Precious came as a fluke which then opened the door, and now here I am and all these great things are starting to come my way. And now people are kind of like, "Oh, he’s kind of serious about doing this." Like maybe they thought I did a one-off and that’s it. So it's great, and now I have something else to do.
And you just had one of your songs covered on Glee. Did you watch that?
I did, I was really pleased with that. I thought it was a really good performance, too. After that, with all my godkids, nieces, and nephews, now they think I’m cool! I mean, forget the Lenny Kravitz music thing: I was on Glee, I was on The Simpsons, now I’m in The Hunger Games. I’m getting my kid cred!