Jemima Kirke's Little Sister Lola Is Her Own Type Of Cool

Photo: Michael Friberg/Contour by Getty Images.
Lola Kirke may be a relative newbie in the film world, but the native New Yorker (and younger sister of Girls' Jemima Kirke) projects none of the naiveté of the character she plays in Noah Baumbach's Mistress America. Although, Kirke does think that her eight-year-old self would be "peeing her pants" to see her now, talking to the press about her burgeoning career. "I have always wanted to be an actor or actress — I’m undecided about which one I want to describe myself as," she says. "I kind of want to embrace the actress part because, why not? Women are great. It’s not diminutive."

In the film, Kirke plays Tracy, an aspiring writer who moves to New York to start college and finds herself lonely in the city. Her life changes when she becomes infatuated with Greta Gerwig’s character, Brooke, a woman of many pursuits who teaches SoulCycle, wants to open a restaurant, and lives in the decidedly uncool Times Square. Brooke's father also happens to be engaged to marry Tracy's mother.

But ask Gerwig to talk about her co-star and you'll find their roles reversed: Gerwig will be the one who starts to gush. “I feel like I can say all of this because I’m a woman and if I were a dude it would sound like creep city,” Gerwig says. “When we auditioned her in person I had this distinct feeling of, I want to put a camera on that girl. I love her. I love how she is. I love her voice. I love her face. I couldn’t stop looking at her face. I think I showed all my friends a picture of her, and they were like, 'This is weird.' I got kind of obsessed with her.” (Gerwig adds, a moment later: “Don’t you just want to know what she washes her face with?”)

Though Kirke, 24, and Jemima do share a striking physical likeness, the younger sister has been forging her own path, starring in Amazon's underrated series Mozart in the Jungle and before that, playing a pivotal role in Gone Girl as the shady motel dweller who fleeces Amy Dunne. Next up: a role alongside Tom Cruise in Doug Liman's thriller Mena.

Which is an interesting choice, considering that Kirke is the type of woman who drops references to Ingmar Bergman and Ernst Lubitsch without sounding the slightest bit pretentious. Here, she talks friendships, bad childhood haircuts, and the perils of getting famous. (No, she is not marrying Cruise.)

Mistress America does a really good job of capturing that terrifying feeling of the first days of college. Did you draw on any personal experiences for that awkwardness?
"The awkwardness was something that I have experienced many times in my life, but my first days of college were kind of the opposite, but they still were similar. I grew up in New York City and then went to Bard so it was kind of this experience of being in the big city and then going into the middle of fucking nowhere. I felt like I shouldn’t be in the middle of nowhere, I should be going to the Beatrice Inn, which was a ridiculous thought. I think Tracy was like, I’m in the city but I still feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere. So I definitely felt like a fish out of water myself, but it was in a different capacity."

The movie captures how we as women can be enamored with other women on a platonic level. What was your take on that? Have you had any experiences like that?
"I was so grateful for the opportunity to explore a more nuanced side of female friendship. I think Greta was really interested in other representations of women. I don’t think that we see this too much in movies. The only other films I can really think of that look at the more complex world of female friendship are like 3 Women and Persona, which are really cerebral and kind of dark movies. This does that in an 87-minute-long slapstick, sliding-doors comedy."

Right, and Brooke is a character we don’t find often. One might be tempted to call her a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but that’s not who she is.
"She’s kind of like a fusion of Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy. It’s really bizarre."

There’s really something old-fashioned about her. Claudette Colbert comes to mind.
"Carole Lombard or something. I think the Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Ernst Lubitsch films of the 40s were strong influences on this. Along with Tracy’s character, who comes from, like, an 80s teen movie, and then somehow they meet in the middle. I feel like the way we demonstrate a free spirit of a woman now is, like, put her in a flowy top and put a feather in her hair. I’m so bored of seeing counterculture or cool represented in that way. I think Greta’s costume in the film is so brilliant as well. It’s sort of like this confused businesswoman look. I think that’s what Brooke aims to be in the film. The film is a lot about trying to become something more than you are already. If anything that’s why New York is an important character in the film."

You said you always wanted to be an actress. I know that Jemima wasn’t really focusing on acting and then Girls came along. You have other pursuits as well, right?
"None of them is as serious as my pursuit as an actress. I’ve recently been realizing as I do this surreal thing where people are asking me questions about what I do that if my eight-year-old self could see me right now she would be, like, braiding my hair in the most celebratory way or whatever I did...I didn’t have long hair as an eight-year-old. I looked like a boy until I was 11."

What kind of haircut did you have?
"I cut off all my hair when I was three and my mom kept it that way for years and it was so mortifying. I would get haircuts and never see the mirror. I guess for some reason I believed that a haircut could cut my hair longer [and] I would like leave with long flowing hair — and every time I would see myself I would look like a boy, and people thought I was a boy. Like, is this your son? I thought that was really good for character building. Anyway, the transition from the fantasy of what this life could be and the reality of what it is has been so swift and I haven’t had much time to fully process that I get to do this. That’s pretty unusual. This is a really hard thing to get to do and I’m so grateful for it. I unfortunately don’t have any kind of wonderful story, like I wasn’t discovered at a public swimming pool in Trenton or something. No, I’ve been pursuing this seriously and I’ve made theater since I can remember and have made films, and I've always just been drawn to storytelling."

You have small movies coming up, but you’re also doing Mena, which is a big Tom Cruise-Doug Liman film. Is there a thought behind what you want to pursue in terms of studio films versus indies, or is just as it comes?
"As it comes. I just want to make good work."

With bigger roles come rumors, and I was Googling you and one of the first results that came up was tabloid speculation that you’re going to marry Tom Cruise.
"Um, we’re not getting married."

I assumed that wasn’t true. How do you react when you see stuff like that pop up?
"That’s been the only thing that’s popped up and I’m glad it’s so unbelievable, because it was humorous to me. I guess it comes with the territory. I really do cherish my anonymity. I’ve been recognized one time in my entire life by an old man in Schenectady, New York who was upgrading my train ticket at, like, midnight."

I feel like a collage sometimes of all the women that I’ve admired, and that’s awesome.

Lola Kirke
What did he recognize you for?
"I was dressed in costume, my boyfriend and I were traveling cross-country on the train and we were dressed in these crazy white outfits. I was wearing a white button down dress with a head scarf and loafers and he was wearing a white suit, and we were in these characters."

Just for fun?
"Just for fun. And we were upgrading our train tickets because we didn’t want to sit in those seats anymore, and the guy was like, you’re an actress, and I was like, no I’m not. [And he said] Yes, you were, you were in Gone Girl. I was like, no, I wasn’t. What? And so I left. But I was so happy. I was in another costume, and he still recognized me."

And presumably something totally different from what you wore in Gone Girl.
"Totally different from what I wore in that movie."

Which was a very transformative role. There’s somewhat of an interesting line between what you’re wearing in Mistress America and Mozart, but that was totally different.
"I’m so happy that David Fincher sees me like that."

Going back to Mistress America and female friendship — Greta and Noah explored it in Frances Ha in a slightly different way. There’s a big sister quality to how Tracy and Brooke interact. You have big sisters yourself. Did that help you interpret their sisterly bond?
"I spent so much of my life trying to get my bigger sisters to think I was cool, so it was very easy to bring that to the screen. I spent a lot of time in that dynamic so I often feel like the baby in the dynamic that I have with my girlfriends."

How so?
"As much as I like to be thought of as a leader, I love to follow. I feel like a collage sometimes of all the women that I’ve admired, and that’s awesome."

What did you learn from Greta working on the film? She wrote and stars in it. Is that something you’d ever want to do?
"If it was good. I think working with Greta has expanded my vocabulary tremendously because she is so intelligent and her ideas and the way that she alchemizes the most subtle, weird thoughts into the most articulate expressions is really powerful, and also just her commitment and her humor and her professionalism. It was a turning point in my life to be able to work with her and the dynamic you see in the film is not quite the way it is in real life, but I certainly feel a great deal of admiration for her and I’m happy we got to do that together."

Did you have a moment personally when you started thinking about your place as a woman in society?
"Totally. I think that maybe the idea of feminism was very stigmatized to me until I was becoming a young woman and just seeing how my interpersonal relationships were affected by certain systems that had been in place for a really long time. If you just open your eyes to the world, it’s pretty blatant how unequal everything is, and that’s fucked."

Well, that’s a perfect note to end on.
"My articulate way of voicing gender inequality."