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Awkward and ascending: Actor Lola Kirke talks to Pip Usher about auditions, America and her next act.

“I often play the subtle, intelligent, awkward babe,” says Lola Kirke, slouching in a chair at the home that she shares with her boyfriend in East LA. Run through her current roll call of film credits and you’ll realize she’s not far off. First, there was Lola’s breakout lead role in Mistress America as Tracy Fishco, a beret-wearing college freshman. Then there is AWOL, a lesbian love story set in a small Pennsylvania town. With her flat, husky voice and melancholy gaze, the 26-year-old actor seems tailor-made to portray the angst-ridden experiences of growing up, falling in love and trying to figure out one’s identity in a world that’s not always receptive. “I want to play all kinds of people,” says Lola. “But maybe that’s what I have to contribute to the world right now.”

Alongside her aptitude for awkwardness is a worldliness at odds with the naïveté of her on-screen characters. Lola’s family left southwest London when she was five years old and moved to New York City. Her father, Simon, was the drummer for rock band Bad Company while her mother, Lorraine, owned a much-adored vintage clothing boutique in Manhattan’s West Village. Eldest sister Domino is a musician and doula recently married to Gossip Girl star Penn Badgley, while middle child Jemima is a painter and actor most famous for playing wild child Jessa in Girls. Cousins in London include Charlotte Olympia, the fashion designer, and Alice Dellal, the model. The family’s bohemian credentials are supported by substantial wealth: Lola’s maternal grandfather was property tycoon Jack Dellal.

Growing up in a “dramatic and chaotic” household, Lola says much of the mayhem revolved around her older sisters as they battled through their teenage years. (Jemima has spoken candidly about her destructive relationship with drugs and alcohol.) “My ‘perfection’ or ‘goodness’ was a reaction to [my sisters’] trouble. I couldn’t have existed without it,” she shrugs. “But I’m grateful that I got to watch them go through the things that they went through. It helped me make choices with my life.”

Decades later, the implications of Lola’s status as the youngest sibling came up while working with a voice teacher to fix her lisp. “She said, ‘Did you have to be charming and disarming as a kid?’” Lola remembers, joking that the teacher must have been a psychic medium to get into her head like that. “She told me to say the word ‘sister.’ Under the guise of making me practice words with ‘s’ in them, she struck at the root of why my lisp existed in the first place.”

Although Lola had pursued acting since childhood—“I would go to one audition a year when I was younger and delusionally think that would lead to immediate success”—it wasn’t until she graduated from private liberal arts enclave Bard College that acting amped up into a full-time career. She had had a “psychic understanding” that she would work with American filmmaker Noah Baumbach when she first met him, at age 14, at an audition for his film Margot at the Wedding. While she wasn’t offered that part her chance to collaborate with Baumbach finally came a decade later in the shape of screwball comedy Mistress America.

“I auditioned eight times for that movie. It was such an intense, long, drawn-out process,” she says of the three-month-long tryout. When Noah and his co-creator, actor Greta Gerwig, eventually offered Lola the part of Tracy, her elation was mixed with sheer relief that the auditioning was over. “They had me come for a meeting at DreamWorks. The movie isn’t even made by DreamWorks—I think they were probably just trying to seem fancy. We sat at the end of a long table and Noah talked about it for a while until they said, ‘We want to make this movie with you,’” she recalls. “I couldn’t believe it, but I also felt like… fucking finally.”

Lola, who had only had bit parts in two movies before being cast in Mistress America, played the lead alongside Gerwig. Lola plays Tracy, an awkward college student struggling to fit into her new life in New York City, while Gerwig plays Brooke, her soon-to-be stepsister. The two have a short-lived friendship—Tracy is entranced by Brooke’s frenetic brand of mad-cap charm, her hustler’s instincts and the chameleonlike quality in which she relentlessly reinvents herself. But Tracy can also see the charisma that’s carried Brooke through life now transmuting into something tragic.

  • Words:
    Pip Usher
  • Photography:
    Katie McCurdy
  • Styling:
    Susan Winget
  • Makeup:
    Sarah Uslan
  • Hair:
    Terri Walker

Lola has several films slated for release in 2017, including Gemini, American Made and Untogether (in which she appears alongside her real-life sister Jemima). Opposite: Lola wears a coat by Creatures of the Wind.

Offscreen, Lola was growing up fast, shooting 17 hours a day, six days a week, for three-and-a-half months. “It was such an intense time for me personally, but also an amazing and confusing and big moment in my life, creatively and professionally,” she says. “I felt a lot of pressure, but it was also incredible to be taken seriously by two people that I really respect.”

As we discuss Mistress America, Lola is struck with nostalgia as she tries to recall exactly how it all unfolded. (“Oh my God, I hate that I can’t remember this exactly as it was,” she wails at one point.) For her, this film will forever encapsulate a moment in which her life suddenly sped up. In the years since its release, she has moved to Los Angeles, bought her home, signed up for method acting classes and continued to nab leading roles in indie films, as well as in the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle. Along with it has come media hype declaring her to be the next big thing. But Lola, for all her talk of psychic understanding, is a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, self-deprecating and slightly tough. She doesn’t seem one to get too impressed with her own successes.

“I still feel very lucky to get a job,” she says. “It’s all about how much money you can make the studio. And if you’re not making a studio movie, then it’s all about how many eyeballs you can get on an independent film. The emphasis on money is nauseating, honestly. So, as a result, you see a lot of the same faces. But,” she continues cheerily, “someone told me that rejection is protection. I like to believe that I’m wherever I’m meant to be.”

Her upcoming films look set to further cement her status—Gemini, a thriller also starring Zoë Kravitz that was snapped up after its premiere at the South by Southwest film festival, and Untogether, which pairs Lola with her sister Jemima. “It’s a modern version of A Streetcar Named Desire,” says Lola of the film’s story line, which follows a woman with extreme writer’s block as she moves in with her younger sister and her boyfriend. Lola readily admits that working with a family member was as emotionally strenuous as you would imagine. “It was a lot, and I wish I’d been more open to the alotness of it. It was really difficult at the time,” she says. The experience hasn’t put her off doing it again: She hopes that she and Jemima will star together in a bona fide theater production of Streetcar one day.

Lola stars alongside Gael García Bernal in Mozart in the Jungle, an Amazon web series created by Roman Coppola. The show will return for a fourth season later this year.

Lola Kirke talks to Pip Usher, Kinfolk

Lola is determined to keep seeking out creative risks, even if they prove heavy and hard. It is, she believes, the best way to stop the art from falling out of her craft. “I’m very good at being told what to do. In fact, I love being told what to do. But I realize how utterly uncreative that is and I’d rather not do it anymore. It means taking more risks and making myself more vulnerable,” she says. “I want to know how to be the most ‘me’ that I can be. I ask myself how I can embody my roles as personally as I can.”

In AWOL, Lola plays Joey, a high school graduate who falls in love with an older, married woman with two kids. It’s another coming-of-age story, albeit one set in an economically depressed rural community, and for Lola it offered a vehicle through which to explore her fascination with the many iterations of American identity. “I’m the only one in my family with an American accent, and I’ve always had a preoccupation with America,” she explains.

Recently, she’s been depressed by what she’s uncovered. As her country reveals new sides to its character, Lola finds herself longing for an America of the past—one that she never knew; one she thinks looked easier and felt simpler. She laments the pervasiveness and artificiality of social media—that what’s considered “cool” has shifted away from anti-establishment, countercultural movements and has instead been co-opted by corporate interests. It’s a symbolic shift away from the values she holds dear. “‘Cool’ now belongs to the realm of Urban Outfitters or Nylon—to corporate empires that prey on what’s cool and turn it into an instrument of consumption,” she says.

Lola prefers to take a more old-school countercultural stance. This year, she was photographed with armpit hair on the red carpet at the Golden Globes. She had adorned her floral pink ball gown with a pin that read “Fuck Paul Ryan”—a response to the Republican politician’s efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. When asked by Elle.com why she’d chosen the accessory, she explained: “As a person with a platform, no matter what size it is, I think it’s important to share your views and elevate people who might agree with you, who maybe won’t feel like they can have the same voice. My body my choice, your body your choice.”

It is in this vein that Lola released a country-inspired EP last fall. As a teenager, she used singing and playing the guitar as an outlet when she was feeling low; last year, in a low bout, she took it up again with more seriousness. “I love playing guitar, I love playing bass, and just getting to a place with both those instruments where they’re starting to feel like part of my body,” she says.

This burgeoning side gig has finally led Lola to launch an Instagram account after spurning the platform for years. Not surprisingly, her Instagram shows off her irony-laced brand of wit rather than promoting some heavily filtered lifestyle. “You know you’ve hit the big time when your concerts are advertised on health food store bulletin boards across Northern California,” she writes in one caption underneath an image of a new-age poster for devotional chanting with her face photoshopped on top.

It’s late in LA and Lola is starting to yawn. She’s been singing all day and her low voice is starting to veer into raspy territory, a sign she needs to rest up for a show in a few days. Before we finish, I ask what have been the most defining moments of her life so far. “No moment is better than another,” she replies, “though there were some that I liked more than others.”

Lola inherited an innate sense of style from her mother, Lorraine, who owned Geminola–a legendary vintage clothing boutique in Manhattan.

  • Words:
    Pip Usher
  • Photography:
    Katie McCurdy
  • Styling:
    Susan Winget
  • Makeup:
    Sarah Uslan
  • Hair:
    Terri Walker

Lola inherited an innate sense of style from her mother, Lorraine, who owned Geminola–a legendary vintage clothing boutique in Manhattan.

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