LOS ANGELES — Director Gary Ross knew he needed someone who was super-cool and a trendsetter to play the avant garde stylist Cinna in "The Hunger Games." The first person he thought of was Lenny Kravitz.
It wasn't a complete out-of-the-box idea to offer the film role to the rock star. Before Kravitz began his four-time Grammy wining recording career, he had done some acting while growing up in New York. His mother was the late actress Roxie Roker (of TV's "The Jeffersons").
Slipping into "The Hunger Games" character was easy for Kravitz. Although the character is described as being quite gregarious, Kravitz decided his wardrobe should play it a little more low-key.
"The first question I had to answer was 'How far do you want to take this?' When I told friends, who had kids, that I was doing this film and playing Cinna, they were like 'Oh yeah! He's super-flamboyant and super-out there!' I didn't know at the time what the movie's style was going to be," Kravitz says. "We thought it would be interesting to pull him back and make him more like a Tom Ford or Yves Saint Laurent.
"Cinna wears waistcoats, shirts and slacks and is very clean. The gold (on his eyelids) is his touch of the glam Capitol. He's more subdued than I thought and I liked that."
It also helped that Kravitz knew "The Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence through his daughter, Zoe Kravitz, who co-starred with Lawrence in "X-Men: First Class."
Kravitz could have returned to acting a long time ago. He's had many offers during the 23 years he has been making records. But they all felt wrong to him.
"They were stereotypical and weird. They were based on 'Lenny Kravitz,' someone with his dreads and his look to go do this thing that was just me. There really was no imagination," he says. "I just forgot about acting and stuck with music because that's what I do."
Director/ producer Lee Daniels finally came up with an idea that was imaginative enough to make Kravitz think about returning to acting. The first project they talked about that would have starred Kravitz didn't get off the ground. But Daniels remembered Kravitz for the role of Nurse John when he made "Precious."
That small role re-awakened an acting interest in Kravitz.
"What I liked about the idea of acting was that my music is completely about me, self-indulgent. I play all the instruments. I write the songs. I produce the music. I liked being in this position of service, as corny as that might sound, of being there for the director to help bring out the character," Kravitz says. "I don't normally get somebody else telling me what to do, so I was really refreshed by that."
He says he will keep agreeing to get in front of the camera for roles that challenge him.
It's not a complete coincidence Kravitz picked "Precious" and "The Hunger Games" for his return — both films based on much-heralded books.
"I am taken by the story. I didn't know about 'Hunger Games' but after I got the book it was not what I expected. It's written so simply but yet so strongly and at the end of each chapter I was like '(Expletive), I can't put this down.' For me it's all about the story and this had great characters and great story and that's what made me sign on," Kravitz says.
And speaking of writing, Kravitz, who has eclectic taste in music, says if he had to write theme music for Cinna it would be dark, like an '80s David Bowie song.