“I WANT to REMIND PEOPLE THAT a BLACK WOMAN with TATTOOS DOESN’T HAVE to JUST PLAY an ARTIST”
The seven-part series is based on the successful Australian novel of the same name. Released in 2O17, it follows a group of rich Monterey women played by Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley as they uncover a series of uncomfortable truths about their community, and explores rape, domestic violence and murder. It was an instant phenomenon and went on to win eight Emmys.
Zoë’s character, a zen, clean-eating yoga instructor, is an essential role. It is she who, at the end of the first series, is able to offer catharsis after an abusive man’s behaviour is uncovered. The show debuted just one month after the inauguration of Donald Trump, and its message of female unity seemed to resonate with audiences in need of a depiction of justice against badly behaved men. ‘That was something people wanted: women standing up for themselves and standing up for each other,’ she says. ‘There was some kind of collective consciousness going on, because the Me Too movement happened right after.’
Zoë has become increasingly political since Trump’s win, participating in the Women’s March in Los Angeles the day after the inauguration, rallying for gun safety and campaigning to keep immigrant families together. She frequently uses Instagram to speak out against what she feels is wrong: ‘I like that people have been taking to the streets.’
To hear Zoë tell it, the vibe on the second-season set for Big Little Lies has a similar kind of solidarity to the movements that have sprung up in the past year. Debuting in March, the series will feature Meryl Streep and reportedly focuses more on Zoë’s character’s own history of abuse. She is silent about the plot, but gushes about getting to watch and learn from legendary women, paying attention to Streep’s approach: ‘You don’t see the effort in her acting. She’s not taking it too seriously; she’s just trying to be truthful in the moment.’ Zoë has also been taking powerhouse pointers from executive producers Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon; Reese in particular has been an advocate for women finding, cultivating and fighting for strong roles both in front of and behind the camera. Zoë has recently written a script (again, she doesn’t want to reveal any details yet) and shown it to Reese. ‘She’s giving me notes.’
Zoë says she is dedicated to the idea of creating her own projects (writing, directing), as she’s been disappointed by the roles offered to black women. She’s realised that if she wants things to change, she’s going to have to change them herself: ‘You read scripts and you’re like, “Where is my story?” Often, the parts written for women are accessories to men’s stories, and parts written for any kind of minority are an accessory to a white person’s story. A script will point out that a character is African-American, and you know how she’s going to talk. She’s going to add some attitude or something. It’s just about creating characters for women and people of colour who feel like real people, who feel complicated and honest – not just being used to further a white person’s story.’ This sometimes means playing a cool witch, as she does in this year’s
Fantastic Beasts sequel. ‘She’s important in the story and an outcast in her own way,’ Zoë says. ‘She’s dangerous; she’s bad. I want to remind people that a black woman with tattoos doesn’t have to just play an artist.’ Zoë got to meet JK Rowling (‘She’s very jokey’), who wrote the script as a prequel to the Harry Potter series. ‘I’ve worked with CGI before, but this is just... a universe. I love the magic.’ Yes, she is political and serious, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a need to sit in a dark theatre and leave behind the earth’s ills. ‘It’s escapism,’ says Zoë. ‘Especially where we are right now. It’s nice to forget about the world for a minute.’
She finds frivolity fun, and enjoys dressing up for the red carpet – even when it takes her out of her day-to-day attire and into a slinky, black lace Saint Laurent evening dress slit high to the hip bone, as she famously wore to the Met Gala last year (Zoë is a brand ambassador). She loves jewellery, and today has multiple gold hoops in her ears and two gold chains around her neck. Her style icon is Nineties Brad Pitt, and her wardrobe is a mix of her mum’s bohemian free spiritedness and her dad’s rocker vibes. She got her first tattoo at 18 (her parents requested she wait until then) and now has many, including DIY stick-and-pokes given to her by friends and the dates of each parent’s birth on her hands. She makes fun of her hippy persona, too, saying that everyone assumes she’s vegan by the way she looks (she isn’t, though her mother is).
Refreshingly, Zoë doesn’t pretend (the way some actors do) to be unaware of how her looks are perceived, but rather takes the compliment, seeing it as part of a journey in hard-won confidence. ‘People come up to me on the street and tell me I’m beautiful, and yet I still feel insecure,’ she says. ‘It’s important to be humble, but I also want to feel beautiful. I want to love myself. That energy affects your health.’
So, what does the future hold for Zoë Kravitz? For one, maybe marriage with Karl. But she is practical about things: ‘I’m a child of divorce, so I have to be realistic. I think I love the idea of attempting to work through the hardest times and really show up for your partner. To put in work.’ She says the politics of today make her unsure of whether or not to bring children into an uncertain world (and watching The
Handmaid’s Tale hasn’t helped). ‘I’m scared for myself, you know?’ Zoë looks to both her black and Jewish heritages for resilience. ‘Jews and African-Americans have had so much pain, carried so much on their shoulders, and come so far.’
As her career soars, Zoë says taking the New York subway now sometimes involves people taking a sneak picture of her on their phone, which makes her uncomfortable. When I ask if the prospect of venturing even further into the wonderland of Hollywood mega-stardom conflicts with her desire to stay humble – or, to borrow a worn-out cliché, keep it real – she doesn’t worry. ‘Even if I’m doing a big-budget movie that’s a machine to make money, I’m still trying to be honest in the moment in the scene,’ Zoë says resolutely. ‘I don’t want to ever feel like I’m faking it.’ From the outside looking in, it seems she won’t have to.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is in cinemas from 16 November
“YOU READ SCRIPTS and you’re LIKE ‘WHERE is MY STORY?’ OFTEN the PARTS are ACCESSORIES to MEN ”