That recognition is guaranteed to increase this Fall, when Kravitz once again reprises his role in the highly anticipated "Hunger Games" sequel "Catching Fire." But first up is the Civil Rights drama "Lee Daniels' The Butler." Here, Kravitz plays James Holloway, a butler who worked at the White House during a tumultuous time in our country's history. It's a reunion of sorts for the actor/musician, who worked with Daniels on the 2009 film "Precious."
Moviefone sat down with Kravitz to talk about his work in "The Butler," transitioning from music to movies, race relations in America, and why he didn't sleep while filming "Catching Fire."
Moviefone: Getting to work with Lee Daniels a second time must have been a big reason for you to sign on to "The Butler."
Lenny Kravitz: Yeah, he called and said, "This is what I am doing, read the script." I read the script. The story obviously speaks for itself. I had worked with Lee already and enjoyed that very much, so I signed on. There was no reason not to do that.
The story does speak for itself. It has a very grand message.
Yeah, most definitely. It spans many years, it's a very important part of our history, it's got the political and social tone, it's got the family tone -- the dynamics of what happens in a family over different generations where people go in different directions -- so it's really well-loaded.
Coincidentally, I feel like a lot of the themes in this movie intersect with the experience you spoke about on your album, "Black and White America," where you discussed race relations in this country as well as what it was like growing up in a bi-racial household.
I mean, I was a bi-racial kid and had lots of issues with that. I watched my grandparents and aunts and uncles and parents fight for equality. I was a little kid, but I understood what was going on. My mom even explained to me before I went to school that, "I want you to be proud of who you are. Your dad's a Russian Jew, his skin is white. I am Bohemian and African-American and this is where we come from. And you are no more one than the other. You're one of each. But society is only going to see you as black." And that was something that she taught me going to school, as like a six-year-old in first grade. Because I had no idea about prejudice and all these things until I went to school. Because where I grew up, the house was filled with every colored person.
So that was normal.
It was normal! My dad looked different than my mother. But I didn't understand that that was a... I knew that it was a thing but I accepted that people looked different from one another. And then there were people in my family that were black but had hair as white as my dad.
How do you view the trajectory of race relations in this country since the Civil Rights?
Well, of course many amazing things have happened. But we're not done. People think, Well, Obama was elected. That's it, we're done. It's post-racial America, we did it. Nah. We have a long way to go. The fact that that happened has rustled a lot of folks who don't like the fact that that happened, who don't want change to go that far. Look, it goes generation by generation.
I was at the "Catching Fire" panel at Comic-Con this year, where you brought up something really interesting: that younger kids are now recognizing you as Lenny Kravitz the actor and not Lenny Kravitz the musician.
Yeah, it first started on a street in Paris. This little kid came up to me and said "Oh, Lenny. Oh, my god! I love your work." I am thinking, You're seven. I was like, "Oh, really, you have the records?" And he said, "No, 'Hunger Games.'" I have been getting more of that. A guy came up to my table recently and said, "My daughter would really like a picture with you." Over walks a nine-year-old who has no idea.
That has to be a bit strange, because for years you've been recognized as a musician.
Well, what's cool is they're now getting turned on to the music.
This is the fourth film you've done so far, so do you consider yourself an "actor" at this point?
Well it's funny, because I did "Jimmy Fallon" last night and they [introduced me as an] "actor-musician." I was like, "What?" It just sounded weird. I mean, am I an actor? I am enjoying acting. But let's get a few more films in a few more years under my belt. I purposefully started very quietly, taking these supporting roles and not pulling the star card. I was going to do this the way anybody else would do that -- start off mellow, give it the respect it deserves. I mean, I used to do it when I was younger, so it's not like it's something that I have never done. I did a lot of theater when I was young...
And commercials, too.
[Smiles] Yeah, you saw that?
Yeah, on "Jimmy Fallon," they showed this German commercial that I had done. I was really shocked. So, yeah [acting] has just come back into my life.
Did you ever expect it to?
When you first started acting, with "Precious," you talked about how being a musician is self-indulgent, and that acting is nice because you get to help someone's creative vision. That was unique because a) a lot of musicians probably wouldn't admit what they do is self-indulgent, and b) that you'd be willing to give up that creative control.
That doesn't mean it's a bad thing, it just is [self-indulgent] -- I mean, it is for me, because I am producing it, I am playing it, and I am writing it. But it's a nice relief to go on a film set after being on tour, after making a record, and working for somebody else. I enjoy that switch.
So are you finding time to record music, too?
I just finished an album while I was doing "Catching Fire" -- I had no plan to do this; I was in Atlanta and I like to work in my own studio -- I went in the studio and ended up recording an album at night. So I would be filming "Catching Fire" all day, go to the studio, work all night, either get no sleep or get an hour or two, and then go right back to work. I did that for, like, three weeks.
How do you think that affected your creative output for each -- doing two things at once and not getting sleep?
It worked! It really did. I should've been so tired. I mean, I was tired but I was so charged creatively that it just worked.
Did you have more confidence going into "Catching Fire," since this was your second "Hunger Games"?
Well, it was really fun. It was like going back to summer camp a second year and seeing all your friends again. The cast, we really have a great chemistry together -- we really dig each other. We have a new director, Francis Lawrence, so there's an unknown there. But from the first day, it was great. He took charge and was wonderful to work with. We had a lot of fun, as we did on the first one. I am looking forward to seeing it myself.