From ‘Mistress America’ to Majority Rule

Snagging an interview with a rising star, a sure-to-be It-Girl player like Lola Kirke, is definitely a catch-as-catch-can proposition.

Sep 2, 2015 at 10:52 am
click to enlarge 'Mistress America'
'Mistress America'

Snagging an interview with a rising star, a sure-to-be It-Girl player like Lola Kirke, is definitely a catch-as-catch-can proposition. Kirke comes from a family that includes papa Simon, the former drummer for Bad Company and Free; mama Lorraine, a vintage boutique shop owner (her store Geminola supplied outfits for HBO’s Sex and the City); and sisters Jemima (one of the featured leads on HBO’s Girls) and Domino (a New York-based doula and musician). My sense of anticipation was quite high, much more so than one might expect for a quick phone chat.

Part of the reason, rather serendipitously, in fact, was a recent article in Forbes spotlighting the world’s highest-paid actresses for 2015. Jennifer Lawrence claims the top spot with $52 million, thanks in large part to starring in The Hunger Games. But far more intriguingly, we find Melissa McCarthy ranked third ($23 million) — a now proven solo star who also works behind the scenes.

I find anecdotal evidence a bit more compelling, especially when it comes to the evidence that can be seen by audiences. Amy Schumer exploded onto the scene, gaining increased exposure from her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer and then her partnering with Judd Apatow for Trainwreck, one of the certifiable hits of the season. The television and film world seems to be in what can best be considered a hopeful early stage of a women’s movement, ready to take over the industry — with Shonda Rhimes programming our network dramas, the continued success of Lena Dunham’s Girls and the steady ascent of Greta Gerwig in the indie realm.

It is Gerwig’s somewhat muted yet quite indelible stamp that triggered my interest in Lola Kirke. Kirke takes the lead in Mistress America, Gerwig’s latest collaboration with Noah Baumbach, where she plays a young college freshman named Tracy. A bit adrift in New York, Tracy hooks up with her soon-to-be stepsister Brooke (Gerwig), a slightly older, flinty and flighty city dweller with too many dreams and too much interest in broadcasting them to bring them to fruition.

The combination of Gerwig and Kirke provides a pointed contrast in styles and attitudes, while also offering intriguing signs for the current representations of women onscreen. Having already spoken with Gerwig, a comedic dervish, in the past, I was willing to move heaven and earth for the chance to catch up with Kirke. I wanted to hear what she, as a relatively new player on the scene, felt about this moment, and what it might mean as we — and, more importantly, she — head into the future.

With Mistress America, Kirke explains that she signed on without having read the full script. During auditions, she got bits and pieces on a need-to-see basis, but she points out, “Noah and Greta’s names attached promises a lot.” She was overcome by how much the script, when she finally got a copy and had a read-through with Baumbach and Gerwig, actually covers. “The dynamic of female friendship — and friendship in general — and the subtext of what it is to be a writer, and the rights of an artist and the rights of a human,” she says. “It was all a part of this offbeat narrative.”

I wanted to focus on women and our current culture, and Kirke didn’t even need me to fully articulate a question before diving right in.

“What I loved about these two characters [Tracy and Brooke], and all of the female characters, really, is that they were not defined by men,” Kirke says. “There are men involved in their lives and their stories — and this is not to say that men aren’t amazing people — but they are not in search of a man or in despair over a man. I think they are people in search of a way to make their identities their own.”

Looking beyond the film, though, I wondered if Kirke might have the same concerns I have often felt when in the midst of what we assume is a watershed moment (seemingly every few years or so for either women or African Americans in the industry). Can such periods be sustained over time?

“Do I think it’s sustainable [for women, currently]?” Kirke asks. “I would only hope that the more voice that we’re given, as women, is something that can’t be taken away. We’ve seen a lot of reverse progress in terms of racial issues over the last 20 years, so perhaps it’s possible. I think, though, in this case, it is a reflection of the times that we’re in and is exciting in a lot of ways, with power being given to minorities and women being — it’s kinda funny to say that we’re a minority, but you know...”

MISTRESS AMERICA opens Friday at Esquire Theatre.