'The Hunger Games' Co-Star Lenny Kravitz Talks Cinna, Playing Understated, and Will He Leave Music for Movies?

Because of Lenny Kravitz' pedigree as one of the most iconic rock musicians of the last two or more decades, it would be easy to assume that the role of a futuristic fashion designer would fall squarely in his flamboyant wheelhouse. But ever since he made his debut as Nurse John in the 2009 film Precious, Kravitz has increasingly taken on roles that seem to contradict his rock-star style. And in The Hunger Games, gold eyeliner is by far the most garish thing about his character Cinna, whose grounding influence helps give Katniss Everdeen's journey real emotional depth.

We sat down with Kravitz at the recent Los Angeles press day for The Hunger Games, where the musician talked about taking on both the creative challenge and the time commitment of playing Cinna. In addition to discussing his interpretation of the character, Kravitz talked about his collaboration with director Gary Ross, and reflected on his own evolution, personally and professionally, throughout the various permutations of his career.
Fandango: How different or how faithful was the finished film to your expectations about what the film would feel and look like?
Kravitz: In knowing the book [but] obviously only doing the scenes that I did and not seeing everything, I thought Gary did a really good job of representing the book, of making a blockbuster kind of action, adventure, sci-fi film that has really sophisticated qualities and lots of layers. I thought it was great -- I was really pleased.
Fandango: Cinna plays a very essential role in the dynamic of the District 12 crew in that he provides a realistic point of view. How much of that was in the script and how much came from your interpretation of the role?
Kravitz: Mostly it came from the script. I mean the words are there, but Gary and I just talked about who we thought Cinna was and how he should look, how he should walk, talk, his vibe. I think that it was left open for interpretation because a lot of kids that I would talk to when I [told them] was playing Cinna were like, "Oh, you're playing that really flamboyant designer guy," or, "you're playing the gay guy." There were so many opinions of what he is because of his gold eyeliner and he's a fashion designer. I thought of having him based on a guy like a Tom Ford or a Yves Saint Laurent that are kind of like right down the middle, that dress more classically than say like a John Galliano. And this guy has a heart -- he's a real guy. Yes, he works for the Capitol, but he's the kind of guy that if the revolution goes down, he's going to be right there, and his heart is invested in Katniss' survival.
Fandango: There's a great moment when Katniss gets her rating in the Games and Cinna sort of instantly forgets that Peeta just received his. How does Cinna feel about Peeta??
Kravitz: You know, he's out for them both. They're a team. But there is something about Katniss from the moment he saw her, because the first thing he says to her is, "That's the bravest thing I've ever seen. I mean, you took the place of your sister." He knows that she's a stand-up chick and so I think he just falls for her in that way. Like, this chick is hardcore. She is the underdog. She is from District 12, which is wack -- and I feel this girl. I'm going to do everything I can do to help her create a really good image and so forth.
Fandango: How did the larger-than-life personalities of Elizabeth Banks' and Woody Harrelson's characters allow you to be a little bit more understated?
Kravitz: Just by virtue of even the design, the costume design and makeup and for me, it was great, because I'm usually kind of dressed up. You know, I'm a musician and I've been known for wearing certain things and here everybody else is all dressed, and I'm in a waistcoat, vest and slacks -- very clean. But yeah, every time you see the Capitol, you see people there [who look] just outrageous and so that enabled me to easily just pull back in the cut.
Fandango: Casting you seems like almost like an ironic choice, since you are a musician with a flamboyant public persona, and then you're playing very understated characters as an actor. Was that a conscious decision?
Kravitz: No, but the reason that Gary called me was he said, "I saw Precious and I liked the way you portrayed Nurse John -- you were very quiet, you were very simple and understated," and even though they're completely different characters they do have similar characteristics. Like you just said, they're both very mellow guys, quiet, nurturing in this blown-up world around them, so I guess he saw that and thought, hey!
Fandango: How are you balancing music vs. acting?
Kravitz: I'm really into it. I'm enjoying acting. I'm not going to stop making music. I'm on a world tour right now. I'm just, it seems like I have less free time.
Fandango: How much of a time commitment was the first Hunger Games for you?
Kravitz: I was actually rehearsing my world tour and making the movie at the same time, because when they called and said this is when the movie is, I was like, I can't do this movie because I've got to rehearse. And then I said, you know what, I can't turn this down. I rented the arena in Charlotte and I was working two shifts: I had my whole band and crew there in an arena with the stage, and I was making the movie at the same time, which was f***ing exhausting. It's enough doing one of them -- trust me.
Fandango: Was there any interest from them or you in having you contribute musically to the movie?
Kravitz: I came as an actor, which is good to separate.
Fandango:  Well what is next, then? Is it primarily music, or are you going into another movie?
Kravitz: I'm going to be making some more films and I'm on a world tour now, for another album. I have my design company doing lots of really great projects; there was a great article in the New York Times a few days ago about my company, Kravitz Design. And I take pictures too, so I'm just kind of traveling around and doing my thing.
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