ALL IN THE BALANCE
student across every aspect of my life,” Gerber says. She waits patiently for a panting Milo to finish a round of sniffs with a nervous Chihuahua named Kyle (“Hi, Kyle! Look, Milo, he’s just like you!”) and then continues. “Once I realized that I am going to mess up, I learned to be more forgiving of myself.” Journaling every day has helped, as have therapy, meditation, yoga, and breath work. She’s also trying to create a space of openness with people in her life. “So many conversations I used to have were so surface level, and I just don’t believe in that anymore. Now I’m more, like, ‘Hey, nice to meet you; what’s your deepest fear?’” She laughs. “I’m a trusting person. There were moments I’d be going through a hard time, and people would ask me how I was, and I’d say, ‘Oh, I’m good.’ Now it’s more, like, maybe the person I’m talking to is also having a bad day, and we can talk about it. If we close ourselves off, a lot of things get buried.”
Since September, Gerber has been dating Jacob Elordi, the 23-year-old heartthrob and star of HBO’s edgy teen drama Euphoria; and though she has gestured at the relationship only briefly and obliquely, posting a very few mentions of Elordi on her Instagram, the paparazzi have been relentless in documenting the couple, whether en route to the gym or grabbing a smoothie. (“Kaia, are you engaged to Jacob?” a photographer can be heard yelling in one video, in which Gerber is seen leaving the West Hollywood members’ club the San Vicente Bungalows, attempting to cover her face as she walks grimly to her waiting car. She looks like a dignified gazelle.) I ask her if her desire to open up has to do with her new relationship. “Being able to be with someone I trust, where we don’t want anything from each other, having a safe, steady relationship like that, has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of love and what it feels like to love without conditions,” she says. “Lust is touching other people or wanting them, but love is really seeing someone.” She now splits her time between her parents’ place in Malibu and Elordi’s house in the Hollywood Hills.
We take a turn, and the Hollywood sign, which overlooks the reservoir, is suddenly revealed; a flock of birds rises over the water in unison, a perfect formation against the blue sky. “I started so young that people weren’t expecting me to have an opinion about things, and I was fine with that, because I didn’t feel comfortable enough in who I was,” Gerber says. “But when I got a little older, I started to wait for someone, especially in interviews, to ask me something other than ‘What are three items in your purse?’ I was like, ‘You’re not asking Adam Driver that, right?’ I was waiting to be invited to speak. Eventually I invited myself. And that was a really freeing feeling.”
One way in which Gerber has been able to express herself recently is through her Instagram book club, an endeavor she began in early lockdown. She had always loved to read, and when she moved to New York after high school, she began to see it as a way to further her education, visiting bookstores almost daily and asking friends for recommendations. (College had been a dream of hers—“I was one of those kids in preschool who thought they’d go to Columbia one day”—but she’s not worried about missing out. “I can always go,” she tells me. “I have no problem with being a 50-year-old in college.”) Her literary whisperers range from Lena Dunham to the writer and Freud-family scion Jonah Freud, who, she tells me excitedly, is about to open a bookstore in London. “I would bring books backstage to shows,” she says, “and some people would act surprised, which I always found interesting. I was like, ‘Why is it crazy to believe that I’m a reader?’” Since last spring, she has been hosting book discussions on Instagram Live, where she is joined each time by a guest. These have included the writer Jia Tolentino, the novelist Raven Leilani, the Normal People actor Daisy Edgar-Jones, and more. In a recent piece, the New York Times identified Gerber as part of a wave of “fresh-faced mega-influencers using Instagram to share literary life with millions of eyeballs”—efforts that have been bolstering book sales. Gerber’s topics have ranged from sexual trauma to LGBTQ sexuality and the ennui of modern life. The writer Lauren Oyler, whose novel, Fake Accounts, answers to the last category, tells me that she was surprised but pleased when Gerber was recently photographed with it. “There’s a strain of thought that says it’s terrible that books have seemingly become accessories in a kind of Instagram-inflected way,” she says. “But I think it’s great for beautiful people with charmed lives to be exposed to what is sort of a difficult, ultimately pretty depressing novel, because there isn’t a lot of that perspective in mainstream American culture right now.”
Recently Gerber has also begun educating herself about contemporary politics. Last summer, she attended Black Lives Matter protests, and for her book
club she has chosen readings that explore the complexities of race in America, such as Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play, which was a Broadway sensation, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. “In the past, I stayed away from getting political because I didn’t want to speak about things I wasn’t knowledgeable about. But this year, I really had an opportunity to learn,” she says. While she has always been suspicious of the term influencer, she tells me, she’s started to see visibility as a kind of gift. “Kaia wants to better herself through reading and through being part of a community,” says the designer Stella McCartney. “And she wraps all of those responsibilities up in a way that still makes young girls want to be like her. I think the thing about Kaia is she understands her privilege, the access to influence through her platforms, and her voice as a young woman. She doesn’t shy away from that responsibility, but embraces it.” Harris, who has become friends with Gerber, appreciates her desire to expand her grasp of the world around her. “People are so quick to be cynical, which means that they’re more comfortable with Kaia just remaining static, in the position of the wealthy white girl of pedigree. But when I met her, I saw someone so curious and excited about learning, about not always looking like the smartest person in the room, about complicating her understanding of her own socioeconomic and racial positioning,” he tells me. “She’s decided to be an autodidact in public, and it’s really admirable because when you do that, you risk potential failure.” Gerber is in no way interested in seeming perfect. “I want moms to be happy that their daughters look up to me, but being a real role model means also being a real human,” she says, her young face serious.
She is also pursuing new professional challenges. On the day I meet with Gerber, the mega-producer Ryan Murphy has just announced on Instagram that he has cast her for a role in his anthology series American Horror Story. (In a comment on Murphy’s post, Gerber wrote, “If I’m dreaming this don’t wake me up.”) “I wanted to be an actress really bad when I was growing up,” Gerber tells me. “I was into musical theater. My poor family, they had to come to so many productions. They came to five shows of The Wizard of Oz where I only played a tree, bless their hearts.” (Crawford says that Gerber, in fact, played the lead in a fifth-grade production of Beauty and the Beast, one performance of which was attended by a supportive George Clooney.) When I ask her about Murphy’s show, Gerber admits that she’s “terrified. But so excited too. It’s a new chapter. And I can still do modeling, which I love.” I ask her if Elordi has provided her with any advice. “He’s a great person for me to go to because he’s gone to drama school and has years of experience that I don’t have. So I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely going to be using you as a resource,’ ” she says, laughing. For his part, Murphy takes pains to note that Gerber’s connections had nothing to do with his decision to cast her. “She had one of the best auditions I’ve ever seen,” he says flatly when I speak to him on the phone. “I was so surprised that she didn’t call in any favors. You could tell that she’d just worked really hard and really got in the trenches. She wanted a challenge.” He goes on, “Not only is she a great actress, but she has star appeal, and you can’t buy that. She has a combination of strength and vulnerability that people are really drawn to. She’s an empath.”
A couple of hours later, I meet Gerber again at the Bourgeois Pig, a casual coffee shop that serves pub food in Los Angeles’s Franklin Village neighborhood. This time we are joined by Presley, who is, indeed, heavily tattooed, his hair freshly dyed platinum, and as soft-spoken and thoughtful as his sister. (While he too modeled in his youth, he took to it less than Kaia and is now designing a streetwear brand.) He has driven in from Malibu, where he lives in his parents’ guesthouse with his girlfriend, Sydney Brooke, and his two cats, one of them a sphynx named Mr. Beaglesworth. “Have you ever felt a sphynx before?” Kaia asks me. “It’s the weirdest...it’s just, like, skin with a little fuzz. It’s like a baby’s head, almost, or a prepubescent….”
“Like a boy when he starts getting a mustache,” Presley agrees, and the siblings laugh. “Kaia came out of the womb a genius,” Presley adds. (“Stop!” she giggles.) “She can memorize things off the bat, plus her handwriting…. Half the time I can’t even read my own handwriting. I’d come home and be like, ‘Damn, I took notes for an hour and I can’t even read this!’ ”
“If you look at our notes, you’d know everything you need to know about our personalities,” Kaia says. “I’d go home and rewrite all of my notes and color-coordinate them.” She nibbles at a fried pickle from a platter she is sharing with her brother. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this,” she says to him, “but my controlling side has calmed down a lot as I’ve grown up.”
A bit later, we are joined by a longtime friend, Charlotte Lawrence, a 20-yearold singer and occasional model. Lithe and blonde, Lawrence is a live wire, clearly the kind of pal who’d goad you into sneaking out the window to party after your parents are asleep, and in her presence Kaia becomes immediately more relaxed.
“We have lots of matching tattoos,” Lawrence tells me. “Like, we got one after going to Greece together with my family; it was the best trip ever. A tattoo of Eros. And we both have mermaid tattoos and tattoos of a glass of wine.”
“We also have tattoos of each other’s boobs,” Kaia says, showing me a small line drawing of a woman’s bare torso on her inner arm. “It’s a realistic rendering.”
“And I have a K on my finger,” Lawrence says. “Presley gave it to me!”
“Oh, yeah, I remember that,” Presley says, smiling.
“In September we tried being roommates for three weeks,” Lawrence reveals. “But on the day I moved into the house, I broke up with my boyfriend, so I was like, ‘I want to cry and party and then cry some more.’ Meanwhile, Kaia was falling in love and was like, ‘I want to just be with my boyfriend and be happy.’ ”
“It was probably the most grown-up thing we ever did,” Kaia says. “We were like, ‘We love each other; let’s part ways.’ We’ll probably still live together at some point.”
“When we’re single and old,” Lawrence says. “I want the house to be a sanctuary for her. I’m always, like, if anything is ever happening, if you guys ever have a fight, just come here.” Kaia laughs.
The girls bid farewell to Presley, and we walk over to a nearby bookstore that also offers some records and a wide selection of lightly spiritual paraphernalia— astrology guides, incense, soaps in the shape of crystals. Morrissey’s Viva Hate plays in the background, and the girls chat about their recent vintage finds, purchased from an Instagram account whose name they good-naturedly resist revealing to me, for fear that I would “blow it up.” “You haven’t commented on my shirt yet!” Lawrence says, showing Gerber her circa-1993 baby tee, emblazoned with the legend superpornstar. “It’s cute!” Gerber says. “I just got Jacob a shirt from there, too. It says, get high on jesus, and it has a Bible and a cross coming out of it.”
Lawrence begins to pick candles from a shelf, sniffing them. “KeeKee, do you want some witchy stuff?” she asks. “We could do a whole moon ritual, with tarot cards.”
“Oh, these smell so nice,” Gerber says of the candle. “It smells just like my dog, not in a bad way. He smells good!”
“This one is called Death,” Lawrence says, mystified.
“A nice, relaxing smell,” Gerber says. “The smell of death in the air.”
The two turn to look at the books on display. “They have a really good curation here,” Gerber says. “Ooh, I love Eve Babitz!” She picks up a Kathy Acker book. “Did you ever read Blood and Guts in High School?” she asks Lawrence.
On a shelf, I notice Touching From a Distance, a memoir by Deborah Curtis, the widow of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis,
and show the book to Gerber and Lawrence. “It’s good. It’s depressing,” I say.
“It’s depressing?” both exclaim in unison, reaching eagerly for the volume, two fun-loving young women who love to read sad books.
Gerber picks up Michael Shurtleff’s Audition, the classic guide for actors. “This is a great one,” she says. “When I started getting back into acting, I read it. It has tips as simple as ‘Don’t look the auditors in the eye’ to things like, ‘How to get into the mind of a character.’ ”
“I always thought you were meant to be an actor,” Lawrence says. “She just has a way of subconsciously entertaining the entire room,” she tells me.
“That’s not true,” Gerber says. “No way.”
“It is!” Lawrence says. She looks over at Gerber affectionately. “Everyone’s
@ eyes are always on her.”