One afternoon in January, Zoë Kravitz was sitting in a sushi restaurant on the second floor of a Los Angeles strip mall, but her thoughts were 3,000 miles and 10 or so years away.

Specifically she was thinking about her weed guy.

He’d come around with product concealed in a guitar case. “He would only talk in code,” Kravitz remembered. “Like, ‘Do you want a guitar lesson today?’ But then sometimes he would screw it up, and be like, ‘Do you want guitar?’ I’m like, This isn’t code anymore.

She was in her early 20s then, working only on and off, just another smart, young Brooklynite with time on her hands and a propensity for overthinking. She couldn’t have known it, but she was also doing research for her first headlining role, in the Hulu series “High Fidelity,” based on the 1995 lad-lit novel by Nick Hornby. Kravitz plays a Brooklyn record store owner whose life — and love life — is going nowhere particular, a part for which all those guitar lessons were inadvertent research.

“I did a lot of dumb stuff,” she said, but used a more pungent noun than “stuff.”

“Fun stuff,” she said, “but dumb stuff. And was probably a really difficult person to be in a relationship with. But I think maybe any 21, 22, 23-year-old is.”

Back in Los Angeles, the lunch crowd had mostly cleared out while Kravitz talked about living in New York, young and unfettered.

She wrapped her hands around a mug of green tea. She has the names of her younger siblings, LOLA and WOLF, inked across her middle fingers. Certain creepily comprehensive Internet sites suggest that she has at least 55 tattoos in total, many as small as punctuation. She wore a white cardigan. Her hair was cut short and pressed to her scalp in dark waves. Her characters often tend to say less than they know, forever side-eyeing the world around them, but in person she’s sharp, emphatic, easily moved to passionate outbursts by a piece of omakase (“Like butter. Like butter!”) or the two-decade-old “Seinfeld” where George builds a bed under his desk. (“It’s just so funny. Oh, man.”)

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It feels like Kravitz, 31, has always been famous — an indelible screen presence and iconic parents will do that — but for years she’s been on the fringes of the action, playing haunted supporting characters in epics like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the “Divergent” series. But that’s about to change. In a day or two she was leaving for London to start shooting her biggest movie role to date, playing Selina Kyle — better known as Catwoman — in the director Matt Reeves’s “The Batman.” Robert Pattinson plays the Caped Crusader, Colin Farrell is the Penguin, and in true star-of-a-comic-book-adaptation fashion, Kravitz said she couldn’t say much else, except that she never imagined finding herself central to a movie like this one.

“I really thought I was going to do theater and indie films,” she said. “That was what I liked growing up. And also, that was what I thought I was suited for. I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me in big movies.”

Just a few years ago, Kravitz — whose parents, the actress Lisa Bonet and the rocker/scarf influencer Lenny Kravitz, are both African-American and Jewish — had been discouraged from auditioning for a part in one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Not by Nolan personally, she said. It wasn’t a Catwoman-size part.

“It wasn’t like we were talking to the top of the top in terms of who was casting the thing,” she said, “But they said they weren’t ‘going urban.’ I thought that was really funny.”

A lot has changed since — for Kravitz personally, and in the business as a whole. From Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie in Marvel’s cinematic universe to Halle Bailey’s Ariel in the forthcoming live-action “Little Mermaid” reboot, it’s become less unusual for actors of color to book roles not originally conceived with an actor of color in mind, particularly in comic-book and fantasy material, where parallel universes collide and anything is possible. (It’s worth noting that women of color have played Catwoman twice before, including Halle Berry in a somewhat infamous 2004 film.)

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Sometimes, though, inclusive casting highlights just how much work Hollywood — newly woke but still groggy — has left to do, when it comes to actually telling diverse stories. For two seasons, on HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” Kravitz has played Bonnie Carlson, the yoga-instructor wife of Reese Witherspoon’s character’s hunky ex. Amid a stacked cast of A-listers going for broke — trashing one another verbally, sometimes trashing rooms literally — she’s been an island of wary reserve, her eyes suggesting painful depths.

But in the first season Bonnie seemed to float at the periphery of a story that prioritized the tribulations of its well-to-do white characters instead. In the second season, Bonnie got a real story line — which required her to sit by her comatose mother in a hospital room few of the other characters ever visited. Critics and viewers noticed; the show was roundly criticized for its apparent lack of interest in Bonnie’s inner life.

Kravitz said she’d been drawn to the role of Bonnie — who’s white in the Liane Moriarty novel that inspired the series — because it was a chance to work with the director, Jean-Marc Valleé, and with “this dream cast” of Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley, who she’d made three “Divergent” movies with and who she’d practically grown up alongside. When she first read the script, Kravitz said, “it felt really fresh and necessary, and like it was filling some kind of creative void I didn’t know I’d really had.”

It didn’t bother her, she said, that the show never acknowledged that Bonnie was the only prominent person of color in the series’ otherwise monochromatic Northern California milieu.

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“In the first season, there was something really refreshing about not making that a story line,” she said. “It’s frustrating when people of color can only play a character that’s written as a minority,” she added. “So it’s refreshing when it’s not about that. But it’s complicated, because you don’t want to ignore that fact. Part of our responsibility as storytellers is to tell the truth.”

She said she’d brought up ideas for Bonnie, ways to explore her position in the world of the show that felt truthful. “I pitched things, and it didn’t resonate with everybody and that’s OK,” she said, “It’s not like I didn’t have anything to do. Bonnie has a lot going on besides the fact that she’s a minority, you know? But that detail and that depth would have been delightful.”

Read more about Kravitz here (New York Times)

Photo Source: Ana Cuba (NYT)

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