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Interview: Lola Kirke Talks ‘Mistress America,’ Working With David Fincher, And Her Love For ‘Top Of The Lake’

Interview: Lola Kirke Talks ‘Mistress America,’ Working With David Fincher, And Her Love For ‘Top Of The Lake’

While she’s been acting since she was a child, and has a semi-famous sister you may already know (Jemima Kirke from “Girls”), Lola Kirke is a relatively new face that you’re seeing everywhere all of a sudden. She had a plum role as the trailer trash girl in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” last year; she’s the star of Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman’s Amazon show, “Mozart In The Jungle,” with Gael Garcia Bernal; and now she’s the co-lead of Noah Baumbach’s latest comedy, “Mistress America,” which centers on two women who go from strangers to sisters in a matter of days and how their accelerated friendship, coupled with ambition, unravels at lightning speed.

Kirke has got breakout star status all over her. In fact, we just featured her on our Actresses On The Rise feature highlighting all the new talents you need to watch. How does an actress go from relative obscurity to near ubiquity in a matter of months? What was it like entering the intimate world of Noah Baumbach and co-writer/lead actress Greta Gerwig? How about working with David Fincher, and does he really do all of those takes, even for smaller, supporting roles like hers? We asked all of those questions and more when we had the chance to talk to her recently.

READ MORE: Review: Noah Baumbach’s ‘Mistress America’ Starring Greta Gerwig And Lola 

So this movie [‘Mistress America’] has its own heightened, screwball energy and rhythms which isn’t really natural for actors these days. Was that hard?

It wasn’t hard to get into those rhythms because Greta and Noah wrote them in, and they’re very interested in having everybody be more perfect. They write beautifully, and they write consciously. Their words are important, and it’s a pleasure as an actor to say words that you know are important. 

It’s pretty nice to be plucked to work on this film with them. Had you met them socially beforehand, because there seems to be a genuine rapport?

I didn’t know them. I had auditioned for Noah years ago, but he doesn’t remember [laughs]. I auditioned about ten times for Noah and Greta with increasing privacy and confidential pages being shown to me, and at one point I was like, “All right if they don’t fucking hire me I don’t even know. If go in for one more audition I’m gonna…” and then they finally gave me the part, and I am so happy about that.

You’ve been acting since you were a kid, right?

I tried to be a child star, but that didn’t work, and you know what? I’m so happy about it. I just finished watching “Top of the Lake” with Elisabeth Moss. Did you see it?

Oh yeah, I loved it.

So, that little girl on the show Tui [actress Jacqueline Joe] who is literally the best actress of all time, there was like no way I could have been any good at that age. It took me a really long time to figure out that acting I liked, and acting that I thought was believable, was the kind of acting that was just like people talking to each other instead of like me being really theatrical all the time. This is now an interview about how I love that twelve-year-old girl who’s pregnant [editor’s note: the character was pregnant on the show]. Anyway, I think that there are some child actors who are so brilliant at it. Mary Badham obviously [Scout from “To Kill a Mockingbird”] among them, but I don’t think I would have been any good, so I’m grateful that it didn’t pan out then.

READ MORE: Watch 3 Clips From Roman Coppola’s Amazon Series ‘Mozart In The Jungle’

So things don’t work out and then you’re in “Gone Girl,” and then the lead in “Mozart in the Jungle,” and now this. How does that work? Auditions suddenly clicking?

Well, Noah’s film opened up so many doors for me, which is interesting because I shot “Gone Girl” after Noah’s movie.

Oh right, “Mistress America” was shot even before Noah’s “While We’re Young,” which came out this past March.

Yeah, it was a while ago. There’s definitely powers that be like my agent or my manager who are doing their own strategizing on how it works, but it’s a bizarre catch twenty two in this world. You sort of need a certain job to get another job, but you can’t get a job unless you’ve had a job. I think there’s a tremendous amount of really talented actors who get overlooked because of their inability to land that first job.

That one key gig can set the wheels in motion. Had ‘Mistress’ been shown around early before it came out as a sort of calling card?

No, no one had seen it, but I think that people trust Noah and Greta to have good taste.

What was it like working with David Fincher?

It was awesome. It was really awesome. Other than the fact that both Noah and David do a ton of takes, it was a very different experience.

Yeah, how do they differ? I would assume they’re night and day.

Both of them are total amazing, but in different ways. They both know exactly what they want, but they just have different energies about them I suppose. But, they’re perfectionists as well, so in that way they’re similar, and I’m very happy that I got to work in a more intimate way with Noah prior to going onto this very large scale set with David Fincher because I think I would have drowned in all those takes with David unless Noah hadn’t forced me to do it all a hundred billion times.

So Noah put you guys through that grind too?

Mm-hmm (laughs).

What does that do to you as a performer?

Well, there’s a lot of positive sides to it. The first being generally in film you don’t really get rehearsal. Even when I have had directors who are like, “Oh we’re going to rehearse.” Like it’s like we sit at a table for an hour and read the scene. But like I come from a theater background where you actually rehearse for three weeks.

Yeah, film usually doesn’t afford that luxury.

Film is made on the clock. Film is made with money that runs out. And it has its complexities: you shoot a scene [and] you don’t know your scene partner. You meet your [on screen] husband an hour before you start shooting because he lives in Nova Scotia and you live in Los Angeles or whatever it is. It’s so bizarre the nature of this business, but by doing a lot of takes, rehearsals get kind of built into it. And so you know you would get into the rhythm of the scene. You would get tired. You’d think you’d gotten it. Then, you would hate the scene, and then you’d get a new direction thrown at you, and then you love the scene, and it’s this totally another thing. So there were breakthrough moments in those copious amounts of takes.

READ MORE: Retrospective: The Films Of Noah Baumbach

I didn’t realize Noah was also Kubrick-esque.

[Laughs]. Just when you think it’s over he’s like “Okay, begin.” He doesn’t say “action.” He says begin. It’s pretty cool. I don’t know how it worked. He just wanted to do lots of takes of everything, and it’s funny because the movie is 87-minutes-long and very fast, but we shot it over 60 days and many hours. It just goes to show you.

Every movie has a surface and deeper layers, at least the good ones. What do you think this movie is really about and how do you see your character?

It’s about female friendship obviously and just how dynamic that can be, how performative that can be, and how like — this is like the cheesiest sentence ever — but how life-changing friendship can be. But also I think the film is about being a writer, the ethics behind that. It’s about behavior and performance — performing to other people’s ideas of you. That’s what [Greta and my character] really do. While it’s this fast paced comedy, and I think that’s the art of Greta is being able to wrestle all of these really big ideas and then make it palatable to people. And they have so many funny observations. I’m like I always thought that and never knew how to say it, and now it’s hilarious and articulate.

A mainstream movie makes this story about supportive sisterhood. There’s a complexity to this relationship deeper than that here.

Totally. I mean the only other movie I can think of about female friendship where there’s like shape shifting dynamics are like [Ingmar Bergman’s] “Persona” and [Robert Altman’s] “Three Women,” and those aren’t funny movies.

Nor is this like an accessible mainstream comedy or whatever. That’s no accident. Greta is particularly invested in altering the narratives that we predominately see. It’s interesting because Noah directs these movies and the male gaze is still present, but he’s so wonderful at mediating that I didn’t ever feel that I was being misrepresented as a person in the film because I was a woman and he was a man and whatever it was. But yes, refreshing as hell for me to be able to tell a story where my end game isn’t getting some man, but it’s more just about discovery, and at the same time that this movie’s about female friendship. I don’t know how unique this dynamic is necessarily to female friendship. I think that it’s just how people are, but heightened for comedy.

Right, so what’s coming up for you next. I know “Mozart in the Jungle” got renewed. And you’re in a Tom Cruise movie, right? What’s that like?

Yeah, I go back to shoot season two of ‘Mozart’ on Monday. And I’m in a Tom Cruise movie! [The drug drama “Mena“] It was really awesome. Doug Liman is a fantastic director. Very different from Noah. We shot with César Charlone, he’s the DP of “City of God,” and he was very amazing. It was a totally different way of shooting. You never knew what angle like you’d turn around and suddenly the camera would be right here in your face, and you would have to play that off, but it was actor friendly as well in spite of it being a very large set and a big crew. I loved working with Jesse Plemons and got to spend time with Caleb Landry Jones who are two younger actors that I like adore. It was good.

What can we expect from “Mozart in the Jungle,” season two?

I have no idea because I haven’t seen shit [laughs], so I’m just going to go, but hopefully — I’m sure you can expect something awesome if Jason and Roman and Paul [Weitz] are involved.

“Mistress America” is in theaters today, Friday, August 14. 

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