downtown girl lola kirke helps free the nipple
Born-and-bred New Yorker Lola Kirke is having a breakout year, making waves in new films by David Fincher and Noah Baumbach. In the recently announced Free the Nipple movie, the 23 year-old actor bares all, playing the leader of a feminist revolution...
Photography Tracy Antonopoulos
Lola Kirke always knew she'd be an actor. "I come from a family where we were encouraged to grow up to be artists," Kirke explains, sitting in her hotel room in a "strange little town called Gyula" near Budapest, shooting the film Fallen, based on the fantasy book series by Lauren Kate. "I play the non-magical counterpart to the hot magical girl," Kirke says, she's radiant and charismatic, wears no makeup and laughs a lot.
"As soon as I was 10 and started taking acting classes, my mum and the rest of the family treated me like the actor in the family unit," she says. Although Kirke is not the only one who acts in said family unit: her sister Jemima plays free spirit Jessa on HBO's Girls (though Jemima mostly thinks of herself as a painter, explains Kirke).
Kirke just made her big-screen debut in David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's thrillerGone Girl. Kirke describes her role, the minor but memorable character Greta, as a "slutty, trashy survivalist." In Kirke's opinion, Greta is "gross hot," someone who "burps and eats too much and chain-smokes menthols but is super comfortable in her body, if only because it never occurred to her feel otherwise." Kirke regards this role as a major departure from her other roles, which she generally ranks "somewhere along the charming and awkward nerd spectrum."
Luckily for her, that spectrum is quite extensive: Kirke is well on her way toward establishing a diverse set of roles. After graduating from Bard College in 2012 with a degree in Film and Electronic Arts, Kirke made a swift return to her hometown of NYC and began working with Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig on their second collaboration as writers (a thus far untitled feature film). Kirke migrated across town from her family's West Village townhouse, whimsically decorated with vintage fabrics from her mother's store Geminola, to a small one-bedroom apartment in the East Village. Kirke also got the part of a stylish-but-geeky young oboist in "Mozart in the Jungle," an Amazon Original Seriescreated by a team of all-stars - Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Alex Timbers and Paul Weitz.
Is Kirke a nerd in real life? "Prior to working, I never really had a conception of myself as a nerd," Kirke answers, "Maybe I am just more square than I thought. Maybe I'm just ten pounds too heavy to play hot girls and less photogenic than I originally believed." Anyone who has done a casual Google image search of Lola would argue against this point, but she definitely gets bonus points for the adorable self-deprecation.
With the recently announced news of the Free the Nipple movie, picked up by Sundance Films for North American release, Kirke is already resisting being typecast. The movie follows a team of feminist activists, led by Kirke's character Liv, in their quest to decriminalise female nudity by staging topless protests throughout New York. Director Lina Esco pursued Kirke for the role, plying her with pancakes and the promise of a film with feminist meaning.
Over the summer, Esco threw a happening in Washington Square Park that doubled as a protest and a promotion for the film. Kirke got in on the action: "I had never really done it before, been topless in public, save for on the beach or in front of the camera. And it felt fucking weird. People were taking pictures who I didn't know and men were ogling and mothers were yelling and cops weren't arresting us, just kindly asking us to move away from the children who were having a science fair on the other side of the park, and then I stuck FTN stickers on my nipples and felt much safer which was really weird. My instincts are right in line with the FCC I suppose."
While Kirke was not totally in love with the experience of public toplessness, she admits, "I absolutely think we should have that right, and I think the FTN movement is a platform for conversation about changing people's consciousness, and that is definitely overdue."
While Kirke has been keeping busy with all of these exciting projects, acting is not always smooth sailing. The experience of working on big-budget film projects makes things a bit more complicated: "The more I work, the more I see that pampering is a smoke screen to disconnect you from the truth that you can't fuck up because it costs too much money."
Despite her refreshingly realistic attitude about the world of Hollywood, Kirke is not immune to the itinerant and often lonely existence of acting: "Sometimes I eat way too much junk food and look at my iPhone for way too many hours," she tells me, "Sometimes I get home and feel so lonely and break down for no apparent reason. You just have to be so on all the time."
Even though being "so on all the time" troubles Kirke's personal life, it also keeps her afloat: "Being creative is the way I make myself feel less heart-broken, less confused, and less like shit. I'm really grateful for the ability to alchemise my own feelings into something concrete." She sees her career as a work in progress. "I still don't really understand what acting is," she admits, "I'd like to understand it better, which is maybe why I'm still doing it." And Kirke will continue to do it, along with other things -- including getting her feet wet in production.
After producing and acting in an original drama-comedy called Lake City this past year, Kirke has vowed to continue pursuing personal projects. "I guess I got into filmmaking in the first place because I wanted to put myself in things...I figured, 'Why wait for other people to cast me?'" Given the whirlwind year she's had, it seems unlikely that this bright young star will do much waiting around.
Text Charlotte Lieberman
Photography Tracy Antonopoulos