Interview with Kam Williams
Leonard Albert Kravitz was born in New York City on May 26, 1964 to actress Roxie Roker, and Sy Kravitz, a news producer at NBC-TV. An only child, Lenny was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan until the family moved to Los Angeles when his late mother landed the role of Helen on the television sitcom “The Jeffersons.”
He developed a love of music at an early age, playing both drums and guitar by the time he was 5. After dropping out of Beverly Hills High School at the age of 15, Lenny straightened his hair and donned blue contact lenses to create a new persona, Romeo Blue. But he only hit it big after going natural and back to his real name and irises for the release of his debut album, “Let Love Rule.” A four-time Grammy-winner, Lenny’s hits include “Let Love Rule,” “Fly Away” and “American Woman,” to name a few.
He and his ex-wife, Cosby kid Lisa Bonet, have one daughter, Zoe, an aspiring actress, whose next flick, Twelve, will be released in the Fall. Here, Lenny talks about making his acting debut in Precious, where he played John, an empathetic nurse who befriends the beleaguered title character.
Kam Williams: Hey, Lenny, thanks for the time. What interested you in playing John?
Lenny Kravitz: Well, first of all, I thought it was a great story. Then the fact that Lee’s a great director and I’m a fan of his movies. He makes dynamic films. And the script was great. I also liked Nurse John, who was really the only positive male character in the film, concerning Precious. Even though it’s only a short visit they have together, she sort of starts to come alive at that point.
KW: Did you enjoy making the film?
LK: It was a great experience. Obviously it was my first film, but you never know when you read a script, what it’s going to be like, even if you know who’s been cast. And I can say that it’s the same for making music videos or doing other projects.
KW: What did you think of the finished product?
LK: It came out so amazing! It was far more than I had imagined.
KW: How was it working with such a talented cast, Mo’Nique, Gabby Sidibe, Mariah Carey, Paula Patton, Sherri Shepherd, etcetera?
LK: Well, my scenes were primarily with Gabby and the young girls, so I really didn’t see anybody else. But working with Gabby, I realized immediately that she was amazingly talented. I could tell just by the way she’d get into the role. We’d be sitting around talking and laughing, but when Lee would say, “Okay, it’s time to get ready to shoot the scene,” she would transform at the snap of a finger as soon as Lee said, “Action!” She’d suddenly be in agony, or crying or in some deep, emotional state.” And I’d be thinking, “Wow! This girl is really incredible.” You never know where you’re going to find a great actor. Just yesterday, I was watching an interview with Martin Scorcese concerning Raging Bull, which is one of my favorite films, and he was talking about how he’d worked with a lot of guys who weren’t quote-unquote “actors,” like Joe Pesce and Frank Vincent. Scorcese was very smart in the way that he cast, because you don’t know where you’re going to find the right person who can carry a role and summon that emotion you’re looking for.
KW: Would you describe Lee as a hands-on director?
LK: Extremely! And I enjoyed that, because when I’m making my music, I’m writing it, I’m producing it, I’m playing all the instruments, I’m performing. It’s my own world where I do what I feel, and nobody tells me anything. So, I found it a really refreshing change of pace to suddenly be completely directed. It was a type of collaboration that I don’t normally have. He told me how to walk, how to do this, how to do that. Yet, at the same time, he’ll give you room to breathe, once he’s established what he wants from you. For instance, take the scene in the hospital where I’m initially sitting with Precious, smacking my lips while I’m eating that fruit salad, and her girlfriends are all talking trash. That whole scene was improvised. At first, we followed our dialogue, but we weren’t feeling it. Lee came into the room, and ripped those pages out of the script. He said, “This is what I want. I need for you to take me from A to B to C, but just make it up. Now, just go!” We did, and he loved it. But then the seven of us had to remember what we’d just made up in order to repeat it 4 or 5 more times from different camera angles. For me, it was a lot of fun. It still was like making music, the way I interpreted it. It’s all rhythm, it’s all musical, so it was intense, but really great working with Lee.
KW: Laz Lyles noticed that you’re slated to make a movie with Ash Baron-Cohen [cousin of Sacha] called Novella.
LK: I don’t know what’s going on with that, actually. But the next film I’ll be doing is another one with Lee called Selma, in which I’ll be playing Andrew Young.
KW: Laz wants to know if you intend to pursue more acting roles, or if you’ll just be playing it by ear?
LK: I’m playing it by ear although, although it’s a good time for me to pursue acting, I suppose since I’m enjoying having another medium in which to express myself. I’ve been getting a great response to my work. I’m sure great scripts are hard to find, but I’m definitely open, and waiting to see what comes my way.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks, what musical heights do you still want to reach? What motivates the music you create and governs it development?
LK: What motivates it is life. Life is everything. Life influences my music and brings it forth. Life is always changing, so I’m always hearing new music. It’s the way I document my life. I feel like my best work is in front of me. I’m in the studio now, and I’m having an amazing time making this new album. It’s something I can’t help.
KW: The new album is called “Negrophilia.” Is there some sort of theme running through all the songs?
LK: It’s not written as a concept album, and the whole album isn’t finished yet, but I’m sure there will be some kind of thread, because it just works out that way. I liked the title and what the word means. I was living in Paris last year, where there’s a great appreciation of many different aspects of African culture and of black culture. The music… the art… whatever… And I kind of went with that.
KW: This wasn’t your first time living in Paris, though.
LK: No, I went to Paris in 1989 when the Americans didn’t quite know what to do with me at first. Now, all those years later, it’s kind of the same story. Not the same scenario, but kind of the same story.
KW: Larry Greenberg says, he would love to see a movie about Romeo Blue. Is there any chance of that happening?
LK: Hmmm… That’s interesting, you know. I haven’t thought about that, but it’s interesting, because it was a different persona, a different person, as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t thought about making a music film, but if I did, that would be a very interesting idea.
KW: Romeo Blue was an important phase you went through in getting you back to yourself.
LK: Yes, I was being somebody else. It was a part of me. I had an emotional attachment to this character, but it wasn’t me. I didn’t know whether being this half-black, half-white guy named Lenny Kravitz could work. That may sound really strange, but in essence, that’s how I felt. But then I woke up one day, and realized Romeo Blue wasn’t me. It was a part of me, but it wasn’t me. At that point, I accepted myself, my name and my background for who I am, and then everything began to flow.
KW: Do you ever feel pressure to identify yourself as black or white, or Jewish or Christian?
LK: No, my mother always told me to embrace both sides of my background. And she also taught me one very useful thing when I was going to first grade. She said, “You’re Bahamian and African-American on one side, and Russian-Jewish on the other. You’re no more one than the other, and it’s beautiful that you have all this. It makes your life all the more rich. But society will see you only as black.” I can’t remember how I felt at the time that she told me that, but later on in life I was like, “Wow!” because that’s exactly how it was. They don’t care that you’re mixed. They see you as one color.
KW: And although you understood that the world saw you that way, you didn’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed and marginalized.
LK: I’ve lived my life dealing with everybody. And that’s how it’s always been for me.
KW: Tommy Russell asks, do you think Obama will end up having a very successful Presidency like Reagan, bad at the beginning, revered by the end, or will he lack enough of an economic rebound to earn a second term?
LK: I think it’s too early to say, but I certainly hope that he will win re-election. Beyond his having made history as the first African American president, I hope that he gets re-elected for what he does while in office, not for his skin color. I certainly believe he has the capacity.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
LK: Very! Extremely!
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
LK: Yes, but I’m working on canceling that out completely.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
LK: Last night.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
LK: It’s a book that my mom had called “Black Poets.”
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What’s the last song you listened to?
LK: One of mine I’m working on called “Love Casino.”
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
LK: Oh, wow… Wow! Honestly, today, I saw my mother.
KW: I know you’re related to Al Roker. We grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same grammar school.
LK: Oh, you grew up in St. Albans? I used to go there almost every weekend. In fact, after I was born at St. John’s hospital in Bed-Stuy, I went straight to my godmother’s house in St. Albans. Yeah man, I know St. Albans real well.
KW: What’s your favorite dish to cook?
LK: I have a lot of them I guess right now it’s lamb chops. I been eating a little meat lately.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
LK: Me being in my grandmother’s yard in Brooklyn. I must have been about 3. I had this red balloon. I let go of it, and it went up into the sky and just kept going and going. I completely flipped out, because I didn’t understand why.
KW: Thanks again for the interview, Lenny, and best of luck with the new album and the acting career.
LK: Thank you.