Zoë Kravitz taps into her Miami roots and creative legacy for a new blockbuster film—and an in-demand band.
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Frolicking in the Miami surf in a rare moment of downtime, Zoë Kravitz looks the spitting image of her mother, Lisa Bonet (who rose to fame in the ’80s on The Cosby Show). Black cornrows swing down to her midsection; a wisp of a black bikini shows off her enviably toned body. The child of Bonet and Miami fixture and rock icon Lenny Kravitz, Zoë is forging her own artistic path in each of her parents’ main fields: on-screen, where this month she reprises her role as Christina in Insurgent, the second installment of the young-adult franchise Divergent, and onstage, where she fronts the electro-glitch-pop trio Lolawolf. This past Art Basel, Kravitz’s band wowed an invite-only crowd at the rock ’n’ roll jeweler Chrome Hearts’ Miami pop-up shop party.
Given her bloodlines, it’s no surprise that Kravitz’s self-professed need to create is simply a part of her DNA. “It’s always what I’ve done, before I even had a real understanding of how the rest of the world saw my parents,” she says. “My dad was always really supportive. My mom always wanted to make sure that this is what I really wanted to do before being in the public eye myself. They knew that’s genuinely who I am—I don’t know what else I would do if I wasn’t creating.”
That need for self-expression has manifested itself in a personal style that’s been a hit with the fashion crowd—she even collaborated with Swarovski on a jewelry line—but acting is her primary focus. Kravitz made her big-screen debut while still in high school in the Catherine Zeta-Jones/Aaron Eckhart rom-com, No Reservations. Since then, her roles have been a bit more envelope-pushing: a teen prostitute in the Jodie Foster pic The Brave One, a recurring part on Showtime’s Californication, a mutant in X-Men: First Class, and the compelling Nakia in this year’s Sundance hit Dope. But it was her role as Christina, the protective friend to Shailene Woodley’s Tris in the young-adult sci-fi flick Divergent, that brought her wider acclaim; Kravitz reprises the role this month in the second installment. “[My character] Christina comes from the faction of Candor, which is all about honesty; I was really intrigued by that,” says Kravitz. “That’s why she’s kind of an open book—she’s feisty and she’s funny and she’s real—and those are the kind of people that I like to surround myself with, and I’m the same kind of person.”
However, those character traits are not without their downsides, says Kravitz, who admits that “sometimes you go too far, where you just put your foot in your mouth. I definitely struggle with that, so I identified with that part of her. I love the friendship between her and Tris. It’s so important to see females supporting each other, especially in films for younger people. My girlfriends have kept me sane over the years, so I think their friendship and their bond is really beautiful.”
Insurgent actress Zoë Kravitz spent her teen years in the Magic City with her dad, rocker-turned-designer Lenny Kravitz.
Off-screen, Kravitz and Woodley developed a deep bond, too. While filming the sequel in Atlanta during a hot, muggy summer, the actresses would “always go to Shailene’s house and sit outside and drink wine.”
Beyond the good friends she’s made, Kravitz is still pinching herself over the good fortune to work with Insurgent’s esteemed cast: “It was one of those moments when you look around the room and think, Oh my god, I’m shooting a scene with Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet—that’s absolutely insane!” she marvels.
This summer, the star wattage amps up further when Kravitz will appear alongside A-listers Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy in George Miller’s blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s the first Mad Max in 30 years, and Kravitz plays one of five wives who’ve been captured and are being pursued in a full-throttle car chase across the vast expanses of Namibia. “Aesthetically, it was the most beautiful, creative thing I have ever seen,” she recalls of the project, which came with a fair amount of frightening scenes. “It was really crazy and surreal and intense—we were out in the desert in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden, there’d be fire and bullets flying at us. It’s Mad Max, so it was definitely some gnarly shit we were doing.”
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When Kravitz isn’t filming, she channels her creative energy into Lolawolf, her band with Jimmy Giannopoulos and James Levy, which has grown from an off-the-cuff side project—“It’s always been something I do in my spare time when I’m not working on a film; it makes me feel happy and creative, and I don’t like being idle”—into a force of its own. ASAP Rocky costarred in their debut video for last year’s single “Jimmy Franco.” And the trio secured two major tours last year, as the opening act for Miley Cyrus and Lily Allen. “It was a big learning curve. We were used to playing really small venues, in front of people we know and love,” she recalls. The stadiums were a big leap. “Miley and Lily were both really supportive. Then there’s the truth of being an opening act: You’ve got to pay your dues. You’re not the band the audience came to see. It gives you thick skin, and you learn to perform even when the audience isn’t giving you that energy.”
Their music, a unique mix of edgy, tribal rhythms and post-modern electro flourishes combined with Kravitz’s fierce commands and vulnerable soulfulness, calls to mind peers like Santigold and M.I.A. It’s a captivating sound that can confound listeners—including her parents. “At first, they were like, ‘Oh, what is this?’ Which is how everyone reacts to it. The music is kind of weird and different. It’s good when you can’t describe it right away or put a genre to it; it represents me well. Now my mom plays it in the house and my dad is super proud.”
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Dad even opens the doors to his multiple homes for the band to record in. Kravitz and bandmates Giannopoulos and Levy spent a few days this winter at her father’s Paris apartment to record new material before embarking on a European club tour. “My dad was out of town, so we were at the house just recording music and hanging out before our tour. We’re just trying to find a new kind of vibe.”
Growing up, the vibe was one big extended clan. Though her high-profile parents separated when she was 3, Kravitz doesn’t have the typical hang-ups of a child of divorce. Rather, mom and dad remain tight and loving, and Zoë spent many years with each during her childhood, staying with her mother in Los Angeles until age 11, and then relocating with her father to Miami and New York. “My mom told me that it was important for me to spend time with him,” she remembers. “I’m sure it was hard, but she took it like a champ.”
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Lolawolf’s performance during Art Basel was a homecoming gig of sorts for the 26-year-old creative dynamo, who spent her formative years with her dad in the Magic City; she even attended Miami Country Day School from the ages of 11 to 15. “Those are really strange years—that weird in-between place between being an adult and a kid,” says Kravitz. “I associate my time in Miami with that.”
Nevertheless, the city’s natural splendor gave her comfort then, as it does now. “Miami is so beautiful, you have that to fall back on when everything else is falling apart because you’re 13 and confused. You can go to the beach and lie outside.”
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Kravitz and her dad, whose eponymous design firm took off in Miami, put down roots in an exquisitely appointed modern villa on Sunset Island in Miami Beach. “It was big and everything was white and clean-looking, and you weren’t allowed to drink anything dark,” she recalls. In her room hung an oversize portrait of Billie Holiday and various pieces of Holiday memorabilia, including the framed sheet of paper upon which she wrote “Lady Sings the Blues.” The family pet was a hairless dog named Ramon, a breed chosen to preserve the spotless look (no shedding). Ramon didn’t take to the freezing cold of New York City when Kravitz relocated up north, so he remained with friends in Miami. “I saw him last time I was here,” she says, admitting, “I feel kind of bad whenever I see him, too—I have that guilt!”
Today, Kravitz enjoys a close relationship with her famous parents. “It makes things so easy that my parents are still very close, they have so much love for each other,” she says. “My dad and my step-dad [actor Jason Mamoa] get along really well, and my dad loves and is close with my brother and sister. It’s really beautiful. As long as everyone can be in the same room together, and have love for each other, it’s totally healthy.”
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She’s grateful for the exposure to a life in the limelight before embarking on her own career. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who come from very normal lives and all of a sudden become famous. I’ve been lucky enough to dip my toe in it and feel the water before I got in the pool.”
While her romantic history—which reportedly includes paramours ranging from Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley to X-Men costar Michael Fassbender to Boris Becker’s son, designer/DJ Noah Becker—has provided fodder for the tabloids over the years, she’s single now, focused on her career and art. “I’m never in one place for more than a couple of weeks, and when I’m home, I just want to be home and do normal things—do the laundry and clean my house and have brunch with friends,” she says. But when Kravitz does date, she notes, a sense of humor is paramount. “I don’t have much of a type; the most important thing to me in a relationship is that they can make me laugh and I can make them laugh. Laughing is just the deepest, sexiest thing.” Spoken like a true free spirit.