Courtney Love has a reputation that often precedes her. However, through her private and public ups and downs she has proven herself to be not only an honest talent but a truly committed artist. As she put it in conversation with friend Jemima Kirke, “I have a lot of regrets, of course I do…but I did it my way.”
JEMIMA KIRKE: Hi Courtney!
COURTNEY LOVE: Hi Jemima, how are you doing?
JK: I don’t know—I’ve just been yelling at contractors for a little bit. I’m trying to destress right now by talking to you.
CL: Are you doing your apartment?
JK: I’m doing the bottom floor of the house and turning it into a playroom. But anyway, you know how contractors are—so full of shit. Anyhow, where are you?
CL: I’m in Los Angeles.
JK: Do you like it there? How long have you been there? Seems you’ve been in L.A. for so long now.
CL: Like a year and a half almost. It’s ironic: I don’t love it at all. I lived here for 20something years of my life, in New York for about eight and then in London for maybe four. Then Oregon, Portland and Seattle for maybe three or five years. But L.A., I used to love it, and then I just don’t like it anymore. After living in New York for so long, I don’t like it, but I’m getting a lot of acting jobs here. So by being here I’m getting jobs. I just got this film, so I’ll be fine.
JK: What’s the film?
CL: They are doing the offer today. It’s called The Long Home, with James Franco, and I’m sure there’s not going to be any problems with the offer or anything. It’s like a Southern Gothic, moonshiney film. I’m his wife. It’s a good role. I’m happy about it.
JK: Is it sexy? Do you make out with him?
CL: No, not in this draft. The original draft, William Gay wrote when he was alive. There’s going to be some revisions, but I’m basically a hooker who is his wife. He’s a moonshiner and I run, like, his brothel, so the first time you see me, I’m doing something sexual with a sailor. It’s pretty dark—William Gay was like O’Connor or Faulkner or something like that, like he was in that group of Southern Gothic writers.
JK: Do you find that acting with someone like James Franco who is super talented makes a difference?
CL: Absolutely. I’m really emphatic and unfortunately reactive, so I can’t really hold my own. If somebody sucks, I’ll probably suck, and if somebody’s really good, then I’ll come up to their level.
JK: I saw you in Empire. Courtney, you were so fucking good! I was blown away!
CL: Oh, thank you!
JK: It’s just your singing—you singing was my favorite part. It was your voice, it was your style, it was the way you sang painfully, you know, so that was awesome. When you got sent that role, did you immediately want to do that?
CL: Yeah! I didn’t get sent that role, though.
JK: Did you pursue them?
CL: I didn’t pursue—more like stalk. I wrote Lee Daniels and said: “Hi, I’m a big fan. Love, Courtney Love,” and like two minutes later my phone rings and it was Lee Daniels and he said: “I’m doing this little show; no one knows if it’s going to be a hit or not, but will you take a part on it?” and I said: “Absolutely, what’s the part?” and it was supposed to be R&B, and I can’t sing R&B. It’s kind of a really funny story: Initially, he wanted me to sing this Patti LaBelle song that not even Patti LaBelle can sing anymore, with such crazy high Mariah notes, right, and there were like four or five Fox executives on the phone and I sang it to Lee and Lee said, “That’s great,” but I sang it to these Fox executives. It’s called “Messing with My Mind.” It’s not a hit, it’s like a deep cut, and they were cringing, like, “Oh my god, you can’t sing that.” I was so bad at it. So then they sent me down to Timbaland to Hit Factory and we came to the compromise that I would sing “Take Me to the River.” So I came down to Hit Factory in Miami and the first night Timbaland was all, “What is the deal with this girl who can’t hit notes?” and he’s very musically intelligent, but I was like, well, “You know, think Patti Smith, think Bob Dylan,” and he said, “OK, I get it, I get it,” but it was really funny for the first two hours. He was like, “Well, can you hit this note?” and I’m like, “No, I’ve never hit that note.”
JK: But I think it’s great that you took it on knowing you probably couldn’t deliver on it and you made it you. I think a good actor is not somebody who can do anything they’re asked to do, but someone who can take it and make it doable for them.
CL: Yeah, it did definitely change the character to a rock singer more like Joplin or Stevie Nicks more than a Mariah singer.
JK: But you killed it. The episode wouldn’t have been as good or you wouldn’t have been able to do it as well. When I see a scene that has crying, or if a scene opens with crying, I’m like, “I don’t know how to cry on command. I need some dialogue—can we put some dialogue in here to help me get there?”
CL: I hate doing it. Look, in my whole career I’ve only pulled off crying on cue one time, and that was in Man on the Moon with Jim Carrey. And he has cancer in the movie. All day long I was walking around with all these triggers, sobbing, sobbing, sobbing, and then it’s time to cue the scene and I’m all worked up! In the scene in Empire where I’m crying because she’s taking my drugs from me, I had to mist my eyes, but then I did start to really cry. I’m taking acting classes and that’s where the stamina is, and my acting coach is excellent and I go to class a lot and the more I get on stage and do deeper stuff, the more I really want to do a play. I just read for this play; it takes months and months to set these things up. I don’t want to say what it is, but it’s a good one. It’s a play about what happens to rockers—this role is about me. It’s a play of what happens to rockers who don’t make it, so what happens to say, someone in Helium 10 years from now, you know? Helium was an indie band that I took on tour back when you were a fetus. Like what happens to those bands, or Super Furry Animals or whatever, that didn’t make it. So it’s meta, in the sense that there’s lines like: “I don’t get nervous, I’ve opened for Thurston Moore,” you know? She gets a Matador deal and betrays her son over it. It’s a meta play. It’s not me, but it’s in my wheelhouse, so it’s really, really interesting and I really want to do it.
JK: It’s that angle that they always keep chasing it, chasing the dream, or maybe just chasing and trying to keep making music.
CL: That’s exactly what this is, and it’s a really good play. I hope it gets done. It’s by a writer named Sam Marks.
JK: Do you like doing plays more or making music?
CL: I haven’t done plays in New York proper, ever, so I don’t know. I did this musical and that required some acting as well. I have fidgeting issues, I have hand issues, I have issues with my physicality, like keeping a posture straight and all this stuff that I have to think about when I’m on film or TV.
JK: It’s strange because you’ve been on stage in your life more than you’ve been in front of a camera. I know it’s different because that’s singing, but it’s still performing.
CL: It is, it’s performance, but being a different person and having a fourth wall and not being able to hand out flowers to people in the front row or hold their hands or break the fourth wall, that’s a skill in itself.
JK: When you say being a different person, do you mean being a different person from who you are?
CL: Yeah, to be this character is really challenging and something I really want to do. I mean, I’ve done enough films to know how to save up my energy for the take and then give it on the take and do that, but I was never trained before in the ’90s when I was doing films, and so now I’ve decided to really go for being trained, you know, take on Shakespeare, take on things that are really difficult and challenging for me.
JK: Do you find that now that you’re being trained you’re learning so much more than you wish you knew?
CL: Oh god, yeah, from posture to breathing to fidgeting. I saw a play called Marjorie Prime at the Taper and they’re robots basically, and it stars Lois Smith, who’s a stage actress who’s been around forever, and she stops still—everyone in that play stops still. And it was really an epiphany, because, you know, there is no onstage fidgeting. You know, with Kansas City Choir Boy I also had to learn how to interpret someone else’s music and interpret someone else’s direction onstage in a live and intimate space. In rock ’n’ roll it’s really about being as vulnerable as possible and giving them what they want. But onstage it’s about pausing, about internal life, it’s about internal triggers—that’s one of the reasons I’m really challenged to do a play. I’m super excited to be doing a movie; I just got offered another indie movie too and I’m really, really excited to be doing these films. And I think I’m coming back to Empire. I think so. So that would be really amazing, especially now that it’s a hit. The wardrobe department will be really on fire. I can’t wait for that. They spent a fortune on everything and the wardrobe department kind of suffered, so it was every man for himself, because no one knew it was a hit yet. When Naomi Campbell came on she hired a stylist. I called Marchesa and got a gown; they were really kind about it, but people didn’t want to take a chance on an unknown show yet, and then it blew up.
JK: That’s always fun! I love going to fittings before we shoot. It’s one of my favorite things.
CL: Do you find that what you wear for your character on Girls is inspired a lot from what you’re wearing personally? Because I certainly do. What I’m wearing really informs, you know what I’m talking about?
JK: Absolutely. A good stylist knows that and is not going to push you to wear something that you’re not comfortable with. Period pieces are a whole other thing. But yes, it’s collaboration. I’ve learned so much from the stylists; it’s truly not about just dressing in what looks good or fits right or is cute or whatever. It’s how does this outfit that she’s wearing today show where she is right now in her life? Subtle things, like putting matching
colors with some of the characters just to show and bring the connection, and like replacing something that one character used to wear and now I’m wearing it, it’s really cool. And how about the other one you did, the motorcycle one, what’s it called? The Hells Angels one, but it’s not Hells Angels?
CL: Oh, Sons of Anarchy.
JK: I didn’t get to watch that.
CL: It wasn’t a lot. It was my start into this chapter of my life. Again, I got in touch with the producer, Kurt Sutter, and I was like, “Can I be on your show?” He gave me the part of a kindergarten teacher and it was really like dowdy dresses and espadrilles. It was really great. I wasn’t like chomping on the scenery—it wasn’t like with Empire, where I got some big stuff. I was there as a supporting costar and that’s what I did. But I was still crazy nervous about it because it’s been 10 years; I hadn’t acted professionally in 10 years at that point, and Kurt really did me a solid by letting me have that part because, you know, it sort of showed the community and I am proving it slowly that I show up, that I show up early, that I’m on time, that they can dress me in anything. I don’t really care, I’m not picky—if it’s right for the character, it’s fine, you know? And I really want the community to know that.
JK: What community?
JK:The audience? When you say “the community”?
CL: The film community—like the Screen Actors Guild and the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild.
JK: Yeah, OK.
CL: So that’s why I live in L.A., because most of the community is here. A lot of the theater community is in New York. There are some serious great actresses, like Julianne Moore, who live in New York as well. Hopefully I can get to the level where I can move back.
JK: I understand why you live in L.A. I think it’s quite humbling; I think it shows you really want this. Sometimes you need to move for a while and someone like Julianne Moore doesn’t need to move to L.A. and I think that’s cool that you’re starting at the place where you feel you should be.
CL: Also, I’m really near my daughter, a few blocks down. Not that I see her every day, but we do spend the night like once a week or something.
JK: Do you feel like people have a preconceived notion of you that affects how they are seeing you or whether they hire you?
CL: Not really right now. It’s coming undone—it’s definitely going away.
JK: I think it’s your own doing, by the way.
CL: No, it’s Lee Daniels’ and Kurt Sutter’s doing, by giving me these roles. It’s showing the community that I can.
JK: But you were professional. If you weren’t professional on set or if you didn’t do your job right, then people wouldn’t hire you. They gave you these jobs to give you the opportunity, but you stepped up.
CL: I’m not hearing any blowback at all. I mean, even when I stepped out from doing films and had a dark period, I never did anything dark on a set, so I never made enemies on a set. I never was a bad girl on a set; I always considered films a really sacred space, so when I had my problems, I had them very much away from the film community. Look, there’s so many people in the program, in recovery. I’ve talked to Kurt Sutter and Lee Daniels and they know where I’m at. My agents are really nurturing and great. I didn’t have an agent for 10 years, so I’m devoted to my agents and I’m devoted to my publicist. They’re fantastic. I have a really good team around me.
JK: On a side note, are you really 50?
CL: Yes, I’m 50. I turned 50 in July. But I’m not going out and getting a facelift.
JK: How do you feel about it? I’ve heard from a few actresses that it’s hard to get good roles as you get older.
CL: Well, you can get a little disillusioned.
JK: Do you ever regret not taking advantage of things more when you were younger?
CL: Regrets, I have a few, but in the end, as Frank Sinatra sings, “I did it my way.”
JK: You know those people who say they don’t have any regrets? I hate that so much.
CL: I have a few regrets, for sure.
JK: It’s so inhuman and so immoral to say, “I have no regrets.”
CL: Je ne regrette rien. I have a lot of regrets, of course I do. I should have taken that part; I should have maybe married that one, I don’t know, but I didn’t. So I am what I am and I’m pretty condent that I can break in. I think what I have to offer on film and on television is honest and I’m more disciplined than I was ever before.
JK: I 100 percent agree, and I think that your discipline is going to take you far, because there’s a lot of people who can be emotional and vulnerable.
CL: You know, part of me wants to do what Lena [Dunham] did in the sense of coming up with my own idea and my own show. I’m not as prolific a writer as her; I need a cowriter, because I can’t just do it myself. I just can’t.
JK: Everyone needs a cowriter.
CL: Yeah, so I found this girl Kit and this girl Dierdre. And basically started. I don’t have the pitch done yet, but these girls understand it.
JK: Lena targeted a niche, a very specific niche that if you tried to say what it was before she wrote it not a lot of people could relate. It’s a very specific type of person, type of crowd. Everyone’s on the feminist train right now, which I’m thrilled about, but right now it needs to be about older women.
CL: It’s about what happens after 40 with men, with money and with life and real estate.
JK: My mother is the perfect character study for this right now. I mean really—her life has completely changed. Bigger changes happened now than in her 20s.
JK: She’s having more fun right now than I am. I can’t imagine what she’s learning about herself.
CL: I’m sure she’s having a blast. Your mom is a big influence on me, aesthetically and all sorts of ways. I love your mom. I got fascinated with all these characters around her, from the psychic to your sisters to your neighbors.
JK: It’s very hard to describe to people sometimes the way I grew up, because it wasn’t like my parents were irresponsible. They weren’t necessarily reckless, but they were bringing all types of energy into the house, all kinds of people. There were never doctors or lawyers but there were all kinds of others. I feel like the criteria for who she would let in the house was always just like, “Do they have kids? Can they play with my kids? Are they interesting to me?” She loved bringing people in the house from all walks of life. Interesting, that’s for sure. So you’re doing a tour with Lana Del Rey, right?
CL: I’m doing a tour with Lana Del Rey. She’s young enough to be my daughter—it’s kind of weird.
JK: Did you choose that? Did you choose Lana Del Rey?
CL: It just happened, Jemima. I was like, “Lana, come to London to the British Fashion Awards with me,” and she was like, “OK. If I do that, then you have to do a little bit of my tour,” and I was like, “OK, I’ll do a little bit of your tour,” and that led to me writing two songs and I’m dropping a single. One’s called “Died Blonde” and the other one’s called “Miss Narcissist,” and “Miss Narcissist” is like the catchiest song of my career so far.
CL: Yeah, it’s super good. I heard it yesterday. It’s not mastered yet, but I’ve heard it mixed and it’s really good and modern sounding but still grungy and rock. I don’t think it’s going to end up on Billboard or on radio, but there’s enough outlets for alternative radio that it will end up there. By the way, if you’re in L.A. and you listen to KROQ, they don’t play a lot of chicks. They play me a little, they play Paramore a little, they play No Doubt a little, and that’s sort of it. I’m the last chick on alternative radio that they’ll play, and it’s really kind of stupid. It’s so hard for rock ’n’ roll right now—it’s so hard. I have someone really close to me who is in a rock band and they’re excellent, they’re the best rock band I’ve heard in years, and they signed an old school deal with Interscope but it’s really a struggle and it’s a struggle just to be middle class. I’m not talking big houses and art collections. I’m talking about just getting by.
JK: I mean I don’t know anything about the struggles in the music industry, but I can only imagine that you have to do a fuckload of touring.
CL: That’s what you gotta do, go on tour. So this is a little bit of touring, but I want to go back to acting immediately after it. In fact, I have to weave the touring days in and out of my Franco movie.
JK: Did I read something about you and Miley Cyrus? What are you doing with Miley Cyrus?
CL: Yeah, Twitter is an amazing thing, because people follow each other and they can make friends, and so Miley Cyrus asked me to like come and have a drink with her at the Chateau, so I went and had coffee with her. I ended up taking her over to Brett Ratner’s, who’s basically my best friend in town.
JK: But why did you bring Miley Cyrus to him?
CL: Actually, Miley, when she had Hannah Montana, had already done a video with Brett, and Brett’s house is like the equivalent of your mom’s in a way in L.A. It’s like a salon—you go over to Brett’s house, you never know who you’re going to meet. Michel Gondry could be there or like porn stars from the Valley. It’s really fun. You never know who’s going to be at Brett’s house—it’s awesome.
JK: Are you doing any music with Miley Cyrus?
CL: No, I have not made any music with Miley Cyrus. I don’t know that that would be a good match, but she’s really put together and smart. I liked her a lot.
JK: I want to ask you, this is something that I think we can relate on, you on a much stronger level, by the way, but do you find it frustrating that you have to so strongly prove yourself when you want to be called an actor?
JK: My nightmare is to be “that girl from Girls.” I always feel like if you make a lot of money doing something or if you’re doing something for a long time, then that’s what you are to people.
CL: Yeah, like a rock star, like a provocative rock star that sings about gnarly stuff. Which, by the way, these songs don’t do anything to dispel that; they’re both really kind of filthy. But that’s kind of what I do—I do sort of work in torture, filth, angst and torment. I don’t do straight love songs. I can’t. It’s not in me. So when it comes to music, it is what it is. I remember seeing a Marianne Faithfull quote about why she didn’t do anything like
Broken English after Broken English back in 1978, and she said: “I didn’t want to be the rage girl,” but it’s still what she’s known for, that comeback and that rage.
JK: We have to be so calculated with our moves, you know, and that really stops what you actually want to do. I hate this expression, but at the end of the day, if you take yourself seriously at whatever you’re doing, then people will take you seriously.
CL: It’s what you said earlier—it’s about discipline. Discipline is going to see me through, so I think as long as I show up and I’m disciplined, but I still have to prove myself … I got asked to speak at TED—they want me to speak on “reputation.”
JK: Oh, you should do it!
CL: I’m thinking, rather than speak on it, why don’t I just prove it? You know what I mean? Rather than discuss it out loud in front of the world, why don’t I just prove it and then maybe speak on it after I’ve proven it? Take a bad reputation and turn it into a good one, take all those things that were hideous and turn poison into medicine. So that’s my answer to that, my love.
JK: I have a million more questions, but we can save that for some other time.
CL: All right, darling. I can’t wait to see you.
JK: Me too. Thanks, Courtney.