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The breakthrough: Lola Kirke, star of 'Mistress America'

Actress Lola Kirke talks about her new film "Mistress America" and about how you don't change Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach's dialogue.

Where you know her: She was one of the leads of the Amazon ensemble show “Mozart in the Jungle,” in which she played a young oboist who finds herself involved in a major New York orchestra. She also played the desperate woman Rosamund Pike’s Amy meets while holed up in a middle-of-nowhere motel in "Gone Girl." Her father is Simon Kirke, former drummer of Free and Bad Company, and one of her sisters is “Girl”’s Jemima Kirke.

Where she is now: Playing co-lead in Noah Baumbach’s “Mistress America” as an impressionable freshman English major who falls under the sway of a 30-something New Yorker (Greta Gerwig, who also cowrote with Baumbach). Things take a turn when Kirke’s character writes a short story inspired by her new pal.

Where she’s going: She’ll be in “Mena,” alongside Tom Cruise and directed by “Edge of Tomorrow”’s Doug Liman, plus “Fallen,” directed by “Shine”’s Scott Hicks.

Her first movie as lead: “I was very inexperienced. [Baumbach] had to lay down the law with me a couple of times. I’m very grateful for that. I will never do certain things on set again. Like text. If I’m in my trailer — and there were no trailers on this — I’d do it. And you don’t show up late. There were some moments of deep fear.”

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The mistaken belief some have about how Baumbach and Gerwig’s films are made: “Everyone thinks there’s improv, or they ask questions about how much of the movie was improvised. None. The dialogue is very precise. That’s a real pleasure as an actor, especially coming from a stage background. I’m used to learning words. And now that training has slipped away from me. I’ll be on set and the line will be ‘The chair is orange,’ and I’ll be like, “Uhhh…the couch was a zebra.” Directors want you to make [the lines] your own all the time. And Noah and Greta don’t. That’s because they work very hard. My job as an actor is to help them tell their story, and make it my own, but in a different way.”

And if you try to change their dialogue?: “They wouldn’t let you.”

The musicality of their language: “I love the rhythms. It’s akin to songwriting. You take out an ‘um’ and the song is different. It reminds me a lot of Annie Baker [of the play “The Flick”]. She’s very interested in the pause and the ‘likes’ and the ‘um’s. They have a similar thing going.”

Don’t play comedies like they’re comedies: “I don’t like going into something and thinking it’s a comedy. I remember going into an audition for some big movie, and they were like, ‘Great! Now can you do that a little more mainstream? That was a little indie.’ I don’t want to tailor my performance to genre. That’s not how life goes.”

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The way “Mistress America” explores how using people for fiction can upset them: “I’m like, ‘Let her write her f—ing story, she’s 18.’ But it’s so complicated. Greta said yesterday, in one of her moments of brilliance, that writing is not a victimless activity. That’s incredibly true. But I think it’s case by case. Everyone’s entitled to their own experiences of life, but this film is about learning that you can hurt people.”

If she’s a musician, like her father: “I’m not a huge musician. I’m a small musician. It’s a great love of mine. I love playing guitar, and I love singing. I do it often. Right now it’s for me and my friends and whoever will listen to me, and not talk over me. It depends how drunk everyone is.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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