Hollywood's gone mad for Zoe Kravitz.
The 26-year-old daughter of rocker Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet started her show biz career early on, breaking through in Hollywood while in her teens and also establishing a successful sideline as a high fashion model for the likes of Vera Wang and Swarovski.
In recent years Kravitz's career has only continued to gather heat -- particularly in genre films including "X-Men: First Class" and the "Divergent" films -- and in 2015 she blows up big with roles in a slew of top-flight fare, not the least of which is her turn as Toast the Knowing, one of the five fugitive wives of the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) being escorted across the post-apocalyptic landscape of "Mad Max: Fury Road."
Kravitz joined Spinoff Online for a conversation about how she found her way to the long in-the-works fourth installment in the adventures of the Road Warrior, surviving stunts, skimpy costumes and surprisingly chilly locations, her packed pending film slate and her take on the genius of director George Miller.
Spinoff Online: Were you a fan of the Mad Max movies before you got involved?
Zoe Kravitz: You know, I had heard of "Mad Max," and it's something that's such a thing in pop culture. So I had heard it referenced, and I had seen even photo shoots and styles and things, like it's "very 'Mad Max,'" you know. But I hadn't seen the films. And then after my first audition, when I asked to be called back, I was like, okay. I need to see what this is about. And I watched all of them, and I was like, "Oh my God!" I'm kind of happy I hadn't seen them before because I think I would have been so nervous because I would have wanted it that much more.
You've done your share of these big, epic, genre movies. Is that a territory that you like as an audience member, or are they just plain fun to make?
It's both! I'm a very character- and story-driven actor, and I think even in the big budget action films that I've been in, they're all really, really intriguing to me. Their messages are all really intriguing. I haven't done a film that's just explosions and pretty girls and robots. Every film that I've done, big, small, has a really, really interesting message to me.
What was going through your head when they showed you what your costume was going to look like?
Well, I thought [the location] was going to be hot -- which it was not -- so I was kind of like, "This is going to be great. It's like a T-shirt and underwear. This is chill and takes three seconds to get dressed in the morning." It's not like -- Charlize [Theron] had that corset, and it took so long. When she had to go to the bathroom, it was like having to take all these layers off, you know. So I was excited at first. But then, when it was very cold, I was not happy. I was like, "I wish I had a jacket. I wish my character packed a jacket."
For all of you ladies playing the Brides, was participating in the stunt realm harder because you had so much exposure on your arms and legs?
Surprisingly, no. Like the stunts that we had to do weren't... no. It worked out. We're all tough cookies, you know what I mean? We were ready to get scraped up a little bit. And I think being in the desert for that long and being in that world for so long, there was a point where it felt natural. It wasn't like, "Oh my God. I'm scared I'm going to get dirty or scratched!" You were like, "I might bleed a little bit, but that's going to be fine."
Did you become a bit of an adrenalin junkie from the action sequences you had in the movie, or did you come in liking that kind of thing?
I do like that stuff, yeah. It's kind of funny: after we wrapped, you're kind of like, "I didn't see anything explode today. That feels weird." [Laughs]. And I'm finally back in New York, I'm like in a taxi and I'm like, "So is anything going to flip over and light on fire or what?"
Your character was the feistier one among the Brides. What was fun about her and exciting about walking around in her shoes?
Yeah, I did like that she was kind of, like you said, feisty. I think she understands the world the most. These girls have been sheltered and taken care of. I think she understands it's a kill-or-be-killed world, and she's ready for that. I think she would leave the girls if she had to. She chopped her hair off. She is a true member of the Wasteland. And it was fun to play because -- it was fun to find ways to do that because there's so little dialogue in the film. So cinematic, and you had to have those things come across in different ways. Even like the way we sit: I always tried to make myself a little bit separate. You have to find ways to do that, to try and get your character across.
Did you have to do the hair chop, or were you already there?
It was not already there. I had quite long hair, actually, at the time, and I had had short hair when I was like 17 or something. And George saw some picture [from that time] -- it was a really punky haircut, and he was like, "I really like this! Could you do it again?" And I was kind of like, "Oh, man. I'd just grown my hair out."
But once we actually talked about the character a little bit more, and we kind of built it into her backstory, the idea that she cut her hair off to try and look less feminine, so that she wouldn't be desirable to Immortan Joe. And once we had that concept, I was all in. I loved that about her. And I like the haircut. And then it was easy to take care of because there's sand everywhere. I didn't have to like deal with that.
Things are finally changing as far as female balance in movies like these. This one really goes a long way in that direction. Tell me about that experience, as opposed to films where there are not a lot of women in the cast.
Well, every film where you have strong female characters, it's rare and lovely. And you get to work with someone like Charlize, who's just so inspiring. But it's been interesting because I think doing press for the film now, we're realizing that this is such a feminist film in so many ways. But to be completely honest with you, when we were kind of getting ready and we were shooting, it felt so natural.
And I think as women, all the women in this film are very, very strong women. And I think as strong women, it made so much sense to us, that it didn't seem like a take on an action film or a version or a gimmick or an idea. It was like, yeah, yeah. Women are capable and should be doing these things. And if I was in this situation, this is what I would do. So it's interesting to just make it because it makes sense, and then see in retrospect that it's pushing the limits a little bit.
It's interesting to see them coming from a place of helplessness -- although it's refreshing we don't see that victimization explicitly depicted -- and everybody's finding who they are because they have. Was that a part of the intrigue for you?
Yeah, I feel like everyone takes really interesting journeys. It's like the wives, basically, rise to the occasion and kind of find their power. And then the audience, obviously, does assume that we are these kind of damsels in distress or something and that will be it. And then even with Furiosa and Max, who are very, very intense and harsh, it's kind of like the opposite for them. They become softer and you see the softer sides of them. So I love that George wrote these characters that evolve into basically the opposite of what the audience would assume right away.
You have this terrific family legacy in the entertainment industry. Was that path a natural one for you, or did you have to decide to pursue this? Did you go back and forth?
No. I didn't go back and forth. I had always been a performer, like even before I had understood my family's position in the industry. When you're like, four, five, six, you don't really know what that means. But I knew that I wanted everyone to come into the living room and watch me sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." And I was always interested in theater. I was kind of a theater geek, like musical theater. And I was always in every drama club in every school I went to.
And it was basically like, when it got to that time, like, "Oh, this is time for you to decide what you want to do in life," it's all I knew. It's all I knew. Like, it wasn't an option. I couldn't all of a sudden find an interest in something I hadn't done before. I had spent all my time performing. So it was kind of like, "Hope this works out, because I don't know what I'm going to do if it doesn't!"
Did your parents give you room to decide that for yourself?
They kind of let me find my own way. I wanted to start acting quite young, and they wanted me to kind of wait before I stepped into any kind of public spotlight because they wanted me to have the freedom to develop. But I'm so happy that they did. But again, they, obviously, knew me, my whole life, and I think it was so obviously who I was, that it was kind of like -- I remember them saying, "Ah, she's got the bug." Like that's it. We can't do anything about it.
You've got a ton of interesting projects on your slate. Tell me what got you excited about them.
"Good Kill" is coming out very soon, which I'm very excited about. Working with Ethan [Hawke], which was incredible, and Andrew Niccol is so powerful. We just went to Tribeca, and we went to Venice a while ago, and it's just a very important film for people to see. It's hard to watch, you know, and it's something that educated me, making the film. I think it's a film that people leave asking a lot of questions.
And I have a film called "The Road Within" that just came out which I'm really excited about where I played an anorexic, and it was a really intense transformation for me. And this film called "Dope," which is coming out in June and which I'm really excited about. That's just been such a wild ride because it was like this little indie that could. We made it last summer, and it was kind of like a passion project for me. I just thought the script was really intelligent and really funny. And when we got into Sundance, I was surprised at the reaction, and from everyone at Cannes. It's just like the little indie that could, and I'm really, really proud of that film.
Did you have a good enough time working in the "X-Men" universe that you wish they could figure out a way to bring you back?
I had a great time shooting that film ["X-Men: First Class"] -- but I've managed okay! [Laughs]
Tell me about the kinds of roles you're sill looking for an opportunity to play.
I really want to do a comedy. And I want to do a comedy where the women are what's funny because I think with comedies, oftentimes, the women play the girlfriend of the funny guy or this or that. That's why "Bridesmaids" was such a breakthrough. So I really would like to be in something or write something. I'm working on writing some stuff myself where the women are the comic relief.
Do you have other elements of your creative side in play?
I do music. I have a band, so a lot of time goes to that. My band's called Lolawolf. And I've been doing that like whenever I'm not filming, I'm basically touring or recording. And I've written a few things, and I plan on trying to produce. And I would like to direct one day, but I'm going to take my time with that. But I definitely think we're at a time right now, especially women, where we need to start writing our own stuff.
And as you've been coming into your own, what were some of the things you've been told along the way that you've discovered, yeah, that's true -- good or bad, you were first like, "I don't know," but as you get older, "Oh, yeah, that's totally true"?
I feel like the only thing that's been negative is I guess when you work a certain amount and you're in the spotlight, there's like the loss of anonymity and your privacy is gone. So that has been an interesting learning curve, and it's one of those things where it's like, you understand it, but it's hard to really understand what it means until it's happening to you. And times are changing now with Instagram and the Internet. Everyone's a journalist or photographer now.
So that's been a weird part of it, but besides that, I'm just like, every time on a movie set, I'm like, "I can't believe I'm getting paid to do this!" Because I would just do it. I don't want them to know that [Laughs], but I just love it so much. And I cannot believe -- I have to pinch myself all the time that I'm working, and I'm able to pay my rent. And I'm doing something that I love so, so much, and I'm really, really blessed for that.
Was there a day or sequence on this film where at the end your heart was pumping -- like, "Wow, I just totally did that and that was insane?"
Yeah, there's a few things! Surprising -- there was a scene like the roof comes off the truck, and that was like -- it's all real. So we were really just driving, and they're like, "The roof's going to come off." And we're like, "Okay." And the roof comes off, and it's like, really ripped off. It's not like kind of coming off and coming off slowly. It's just like, ripped off. Or there's also a part where a harpoon comes through the door. And that harpoon really shot through. And they were just like, "Zoe, just make sure not to move your head. Action." And I'm like, "Oh my God. Oh my God. Are you ser-- okay." And it really did come right through. If you see my face, I'm really scared when that comes through. So those were a few moments where I was like, "All right -- I'm alive."
Tell me about working with George Miller, a filmmaker who's made every type of movie and made them all really well.
I mean, he's such an interesting man. I looked up his filmography after I got the role. And I was like, "Isn't he such an interesting guy"? I mean, "Babe" and "Witches of Eastwick" and "Happy Feet" and then "Mad Max." It's like "Your brain is just so interesting." And then meeting him, I guess maybe because it's such a punk rock, chaotic world he's created, you might expect someone kind of like that or a control freak. And he's just like the quietest, loveliest man. And it's all in here. It's in here [taps her temple].
So watching him work is so interesting because he really is the calm in the middle of this crazy storm. And he knows exactly what he wants, and the amount of care and detail. And that's why I think he is so successful and so good: because it's meticulous. I mean, he edits these films and makes sure every moment is what he wants it to be and every character is as deep as he wants it to be.
And the amount of backstory that we did -- they keep on asking us what was the physical preparation for such a crazy action film? We did none. It was all about character and about developing who these people were and what their journey was about. We did a month of that. We had Eve Ensler come out and talk to us about human trafficking and the women who had been raped in the Congo and had us do all these exercises. And he really wanted us to understand what all these people had been through. So I mean, it's an action film, and that's what he had us do. That's why he's so good.
Did he give you a key for your performance, given you all didn't have a lot of dialogue?
That's why all that prep work was there. I think by the time we shot, he knew that we all knew our characters so well, that he trusted us so much. He was like, "You did the work. It's going to show up now. You know who these people are."
"Mad Max: Fury Road" drives into theaters May 14.