Lenny Kravitz on His Hunger Games Call, Jennifer Lawrence, and Cinna’s Sexuality
Preparing for a battle to the death in which the odds are most definitely not in her favor, Jennifer Lawrence’s Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen feels utterly alone, trapped within the deceptively cushy confines of the Capitol. Thankfully, she has at least one key ally on her side: Her stylist Cinna, played gracefully by rock star-turned-actor Lenny Kravitz, who discovered only after being cast that he’d be sharing the screen with one of his daughter’s close friends. “I asked, ‘Who’s playing Katniss?’” Kravitz recalled to Movieline. “‘It’s Jennifer Lawrence.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, she was just in my house cooking breakfast!’”
Their previous friendship (through daughter Zoe, who co-starred with Lawrence in X-Men: First Class) helped lend a natural rapport to scenes between Katniss and Cinna, moments that evoke the stalwart tribute’s hidden fears and anxieties on the eve of The Hunger Games’ death Olympics. For Kravitz’s part, his take on Cinna is at once subtle and fresh; cast on the strength of his acting debut in Lee Daniels’ Precious, he lends Cinna unexpected warmth and complexity and breathes confident life into one of the books’ most beloved supporting characters.
Kravitz spoke with Movieline about the call from Gary Ross offering him the part of Cinna, the all-night reading sessions that caught him up on Suzanne Collins’ page-turner, and why, in this age of media oversaturation and reality TV fame, The Hunger Games rings scarily true. (Also discovered: Lenny Kravitz totally watches Hoarders.) Revealing the real-life inspirations for his take on Cinna – described in the books as a gold-eyeliner wearing fashionista who is also the most “normal” person Katniss encounters in The Capitol – Kravitz answered Movieline’s burning question about Cinna and his intentionally ambiguous sexuality, a question that’s led to much discussion of Collins’ more subtle commentaries on modern culture. Is Cinna gay?
So, you weren't familiar with the books beforehand and only heard about them when you got the call for Cinna?
Yes, through Gary Ross – I had no idea.
Did you know Gary beforehand?
I had met Gary once at a dinner, a random dinner. He and I had a conversation about film in general, and I was completely taken by the fact that he had written Big and it was his first thing, off the cuff – ‘Oh, I’ll write this movie called Big…’ But that was it! I’d met him once at a dinner. Never saw him again, didn’t have his phone number.
How did he track you down for this phone call?
I’m in the Bahamas, recording my album, and I’m in the booth somewhere. The engineer knocks and says, ‘There’s a Gary Ross on the telephone.’ I had kind of forgotten, you know? I pick up the phone and he’s like, ‘It’s Gary! Remember, we had dinner…’ I was like, ‘Oh! Gary Ross. Cool. What’s up?’ He said, ‘I’m doing this movie called Hunger Games and there’s a character called Cinna. If you want it, you’ve got it – just tell me. You won’t have to audition.’ I’m sitting there like, what? But in the back of my head I’m thinking, who’s Cinna and what’s Hunger Games? I had no idea what it was. So I said, ‘Thank you, I’m sure I’d want to do this but – I don’t know what it is, so let me get the book.’ I was in the Bahamas in a small town, not a lot of internet around, so I’m with my iPad trying to get a signal to download this entire book… and I began to read, began to read, and at the end of Chapter One I thought, oh shit – I can’t put it down. I’ll just read another chapter. It was at night and I had been working all day so I’m tired and I figured I’ll make a chapter or two before I put it down, but I couldn’t. I was like, wow, this is a really good story! So I called him the next day and said, ‘I’ll be there.’
Your scenes in the film are mostly comprised of just you and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, and you two share a great chemistry together. But you had already known her prior through your daughter Zoe, who was also in X-Men. What was your relationship like with her before making the movie together?
She used to come over, and I’d go to London and see them. I mean, I fell for her the day she walked in my house. This girl is family. She’s so funny, such a joy to be around. She brings sunshine to any situation. And obviously it was a plus to find out, because when I told Gary I would do the movie I asked, ‘Who’s playing Katniss?’ ‘It’s Jennifer Lawrence.’ And I was like, ‘Wow – she was just in my house cooking breakfast!’
Did Gary know about this connection when he called to offer you the part?
Did he know? No, he didn’t know. I told him and he said, ‘Really? Well, that makes it even better because there’s going to be a natural chemistry already.’ That definitely was a plus.
Did you read the whole book in a day?
At night, and then the next day. Quickly. I could not put it down. What a great opportunity! And the fact that he’d called me – he said he’d seen Precious and he thought that Nurse John and Cinna, even though they’re completely different characters, had similar characteristics as far as being nurturing and all that.
Certainly, they do. When it comes to Cinna, though, maybe given the fact that he’s a fashionista some readers of the books infer that he’s gay, even though his sexuality remains ambiguous.
Right, they assume. And that was a question: How far do we take it? If we had gone the outrageous route, it would have been just another stereotypical statement. Immediately I’m thinking science fiction, crazy costumes, this sort of possibly effeminate costumes. I started thinking Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element, because I didn’t know where Gary was going stylistically. Then when I got to the set I thought, this is really smart. The look of the Capitol and the way everybody dressed, it was real – it wasn’t this outrageous costumey stuff. There were a lot of outrageous colors and big statement, but there were a lot of old things and new things mixed, just like it is now. We’re in 2012 and we’re still wearing clothes that look like clothes. We’re not wearing silver space suits with helmets and all that… well, some of us are. [Laughs]
I thought about Yves Saint Laurent and Tom Ford, who are both very inspiration design characters for me. And both of them are kind of right down the middle and very classically dressed, not say, like a Galliano or someone who is more outrageous and flamboyant in dress. That was the way we decided to play him and I think that was definitely the right choice.
So then: Is Cinna gay?
I have no idea. I have no idea. I played him right in the middle, and one of the inspirations is a friend of mine, actually, who I grew up with. He’s bisexual and you could think he’s gay, you could think he’s straight, you’re not really sure. It’s very subtle. You wouldn’t know it, but Cinna’s speech patterns and the way he enunciates was kind of based on this person that’s just a friend of mine, who I thought was a good example.
It’s worth noting that the way you play Cinna, what stands out a bit more than in the books is that he comes off as more of a strategist than a stylist. Was that an important element to highlight?
Most definitely. When people think at first, ‘So, what is Cinna?’ I play a stylist, but it’s hard to just say I play a stylist. What does that mean? He’s not that, he’s trying to help Katniss make an impression and he’s trying to save her life, and he wants people to like her because that’s part of the game. So that’s a good word, strategist.
Given how much of a stark contrast he is to most people in the Capitol, more sensitive and grounded and restrained in his sense of style, it feels as if he’s infiltrating Capitol culture.
He’s clearly on Katniss’s side, doesn’t agree with the Capitol groupthink.
No, he’s doing his job, trying to stay alive and do his thing and not get on the bad side of the government…
How much of Cinna’s backstory did you cultivate with Gary or Suzanne Collins in terms of where Cinna comes from, even if that backstory isn’t included in the film?
Not a lot, really. I just thought about him as being a person who’s been there for a few years; he hasn’t been there forever, he’s not that old, and he’s one of those people that kind of wishes or wants to break out and it’s not the time, necessarily. So he’s going to keep things even but he’s going to show his talent, he’s going to be fierce about it – he’s making these fire costumes and all this stuff – and he obviously is talented and likes using his talent. I’m sure he’s cared about everybody that’s come his way over the years, but now he’s met this girl that he really sees something in, and she’s the biggest underdog there is, and he’s going to do his best to help.
Do you see a contradiction between the wariness in the books of mass media and the dangers of entertainment as a means of cultural control, and the fact that the Hunger Games movie is a now studio franchise involving hundreds of millions of dollars that will likely dominate pop culture when it comes out? Especially given your unique position as a successful recording artist, how do you view that fine line?
It’s a very interesting time we live in. You know, it took me a long time to join this party of Facebook and Twitter and reality TV – I mean, I still don’t really watch it, but sometimes when I’m on the tour bus late at night trying to bring my brain back to a neutral place I’ll flip past these shows, and when I stop it’s because I’m really blown away that I’m watching this… that it exists. There’s a show for people that don’t know how to throw away their garbage! Or guys who have a pawn shop. Last night I was flipping channels for a bit before I went to bed and there was a show for guys in prison and how they function in prison and all their secrets! This one guy’s making moonshine liquor and they’re getting him to show us and it’s like, my god, what’s going on?
Well, some of those shows are amazingly insightful, but then you have the other kind of reality TV shows…
You have the bad behavior being glorified, and they’re becoming role models. Kids, everybody just wants to be famous now. I mean, I grew up saying I wanted to be a musician. Did I want to make it and be famous? Why not, sure. But I never said I wanted to be famous, I wanted to be a musician. Now it’s just all about fame. They’re showing everything. It’s quite interesting, but I think the movie is trying to show us where we are. We’re not yet in arenas killing people, but it happened thousands of years ago. Could it happen again? How much is it going to take to keep quenching our thirst? Look at where we are now. How’s it going to be a hundred years from now? People are going to be numb.
That’s the great thing about the novels; it’s a young adult series and could be dismissed on first glance as a children’s property…
But it’s not! That’s what’s so interesting. That’s why I think this is going to be very successful.