Lola Kirke just flew back to Los Angeles. She recently wrapped on a new movie opposite Ben Platt, she’s playing a show at The Getty in a few days, and her debut album, Heart Head West, is set to be released in just a few weeks. How is she feeling?
“Oh you know, just like a total fraud,” Kirke says. She’s not immune to imposter syndrome.
An easy conversationalist, the 27-year-old actress-musician speaks with a balance of breezy humor and intelligence, and she’s refreshingly forthcoming about her moments of worry and self-doubt. She sounds like just about the last person you might accuse of being a fraud, but she’s still a little squeamish about self-promoting. Kirke can’t stand braggarts.
“When other people are like, ‘I just did this amazing thing and I’m so proud of myself,’ I’m like, ‘You’re a fucking psychopath,’” she says playfully. “I’m half-jealous of the ease at which they can feel wonderful about themselves, but I’m also like, come on.”
Kirke rose to indie darling status in 2015 after starring as Greta Gerwig’s city girl protege in Mistress America. Wide-eyed in a black beret, Kirke embodied the role flawlessly. Which is probably why she’s been able to carve out a space for herself in Hollywood in the years since, starring as a timid oboist in Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle—a comedy series set inside the New York Philharmonic—as well as movies like the noir thriller Gemini and lesbian romance AWOL.
Her role as Hailey in Mozart in the Jungle, especially, is a good match for Kirke. The show’s fourth and final season, which was released in February, finds Hailey realizing her dream of being a conductor—a fictional development that aligned, fortuitously, with Kirke’s real-life graduation to being the frontman on her own band.
“There’s a lot of stuff I gleaned about how to stand up for myself as a musician and how to communicate more directly as a musician, kind of by faking it till I made it,” she says. Though she’s quick to clarify that being a rockstar couldn’t be further from being a classical conductor: “It’s the difference between being a Russian gymnast and someone that plays—sorry, this is a terrible metaphor—ultimate frisbee in the park,” she laughs.
The album, which will be released August 10th, contains 10 tracks and a sound that flirts with grunge, folk, and country. Growing up, Kirke absorbed a medley of genres, immersed in the music world from a young age by her British rock drummer dad, Simon Kirke. Her oldest sister Domino is also an indie pop singer, and middle sister Jemima has found her artistic outlet as an actress (she played Jessa on Girls) and painter.
“I think a lot of people have to kind of come out as an artist to their family and deal with the rejection for awhile, but I think that there’s also a lot of pressure when that seems to be the only option for your future,” she says. “Basically every single person I know is putting out a record, and with that it’s a major temptation for me to compare and despair.” Is it the same with her acting career? “For whatever reason, I just don’t have as many friends who are actors,” Kirke admits. “Maybe it’s because musicians are so much cooler. Just kidding.”
Harmonizing work as an actor and as a musician isn’t unheard of (see: Childish Gambino, Zooey Deschanel, Ryan Gosling) but it’s not exactly common. And yet for Kirke, making music has proven an essential complement in her career: It allows her to perform an authentic, unfettered version of herself that, while acting, she’s forced to suppress.
“What drew me to music was that in movies, I am constantly trying to convince you that I am someone other than me,” Kirke explains. “Or I am using myself to draw out these other characters. And in music I am using everything I have to show you who I am, in hopes that that shows you who you are too a little bit. I think there’s this difference between being somebody else all the time and being myself all the time that these two different industries hold. And I really like that. So far, I haven’t had anybody tell me what to do as a musician.”
The music video for “Sexy Song,” which Kirke calls the album’s most personal track, exemplifies this freedom. In the video, Kirke twists and contorts her face, tugging on her cheeks and poking a finger up her nose. She’s wearing a nude colored dress and, at first glance, looks naked. Flashes of footage from Kirke’s own iPhone are interwoven throughout: mostly of Kirke peering at herself in a large mirror as she poses and stretches and arches, as if she were performing a private erotic dance.
With the video, she says, she intended to divorce female sexuality and desire from the clichéd forms in which they’re routinely expressed. “I want to be critical of this new language that we are using to express ourselves, the language of the selfie and the language of the emoji,” she says. “I think that now more than ever, because of the internet, we are encouraged to become a cliché because we believe that if we communicate in this very homogenized language that we will ascertain a kind of love and belonging.”
The song and video also serve as a kind of middle finger to the male gaze, something that Kirke was forced to deal with after the release of Gemini this past March. In his review of the film for The New Yorker, critic Anthony Lane didn’t disguise his distaste for the actress’ appearance: “She wears big jeans and a baggy gray top, while sporting the haircut from hell—brown bangs cut straight across, as if by a six-year-old with blunt scissors,” he wrote, adding later that Kirke “requires no disguise; she is sphinxlike enough as it is.” Where many actresses would have ignored or silently tolerated the misogynistic review, Kirke took to Instagram to call out the tenured critic, before penning an aptly reproachful letter to the editor which was published in the magazine the following week.
“My immediate reaction honestly was shame,” Kirke says of her first time reading Lane’s review. “I felt ashamed of myself for not being as beautiful as I maybe could or should’ve been. And then I was like, oh wait, that’s internalized misogyny.” She adds, “I hate cliché so much that I’ll do whatever I have to do to defy it. And if that means risking something, if it’s in the name of something that I really believe is right, which is overturning outdated standards of beauty, then I don’t care.”
In between shows promoting her new album, Kirke is still excited to pursue new acting gigs—as long as they have what she’s looking for. “I guess I’m a lot pickier than I thought, because apparently I turn down a lot of shit,” she says. “I think that I’m looking for roles that challenge me to do things that I’ve never done before, in movies that aren’t pat. I don’t want to make anything that’s pat. I love that word so much. But I don’t want to be anything like it.”
As for music, Kirke plans to continue to fight the feeling of being a fraud—which will only get easier, she thinks. “I really just try and keep my blinders on and stay in my own lane. Unless I want to uplift people or support them. In which case I like to see them. Because that’s what we’re trying to do. Be seen.”