Late last month, Lola Kirke took the stage at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, New York, to celebrate the release of her debut, self-titled EP. Flanked by five other musicians (including her boyfriend, Wyndham Boylan, who also produced the record), she played bleeding-heart, country-dusted rock, marking her official foray into a professional music career. In that world, Kirke is still a relative unknown. For the tour she just completed—an 8-stop jaunt between New York and Los Angeles—she traveled in a small van with friends and collaborators, playing at intimate clubs along the way. And yet two weeks prior to the show at Baby’s All Right, the 26-year-old performer found herself on the cover of The Village Voice. That’s because, in Lola Kirke’s other life, she happens to be an actress on the cusp of stardom.
Kirke, who grew up in New York City to artistic parents (her father is the former drummer for the rock bands Free and Bad Company; her mother owned a popular clothing boutique in Manhattan's West Village), wanted to act since she was young. But when she left the city to study at Bard College in New York's Hudson Valley, other artistic pursuits began to take hold. While majoring in film theory, Kirke took up music, guitar, and singing with friends, and eventually formed an alt-country band, She Rose. But when Kirke returned to the city after graduation, with her sister Jemima a star thanks to her role on HBO’s Girls, the acting bug took over, and Kirke quickly found work, first in a small but pivotal role in David Fincher’s Gone Girl, and then as one of two leads in Noah Baumbach’s well-received indie, Mistress America.
Now, Kirke sits at the top of casting lists across Hollywood and is one audition away from the role that will launch her to rarified movie stardom. But until that happens, Kirke is thrilled to follow her artistic muse wherever it leads her. She just wrapped her third season as the ambitious oboist Hailey on Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, and will next star opposite Jemima in writer Emma Forrest’s directorial debut, Untogether. We recently spoke with Kirke, who splits her time between New York and Los Angeles, about why she felt the need to start her music career now, how her college experience changed her life, and what she’s learned about Hollywood.
Props courtesy of ACME Brooklyn
You’ve said that growing up, you wanted to be an actor. Did that desire last throughout college as well?
Yeah, I wanted to be an actor growing up, and that was something I always pursued. I did everything in my power to make that happen, within the realm of doing school plays and reading lots of plays and going to see lots of plays and watching lots of movies and giving myself that kind of education. But then when I got to college, I think there was something too small about being an actor. That’s not something I feel at all anymore, but my sense when I got to college was, like, that it wasn’t going to be enough, and in order to be interesting I had to do other things. Also, I genuinely was and still am interested in making films, but I studied filmmaking in college and it was really great. I had never acted for film before, and I didn’t have a belief that anybody was going to put me in their films or in their TV shows or whatever, so I thought if I wanted to do acting at all, I would have to put myself in my movies. I ended up making a score of very art school videos, of me brushing my teeth and all sorts of things you definitely don’t need to pay $250,000 to do, but I did.
Did your sister’s success make an acting career seem more palpable to you?
Honestly, no. It’s a really difficult thing to succeed in, and I think in a lot of ways it felt like there’s only so many slots, and if she’s doing this, maybe I won’t be able to.