From Issue 61: Roxy Lola talks to Kota Eberhardt
Kota Eberhardt is glowing. Yes, we may be on FaceTime, but the glow is real. She has just come back from a top-secret audition and a day of disruption. It’s her favourite kind of day. It’s hot in New York City. She’s wearing an oversized graphic shirt and opens up a bag of Way Better tortilla chips.
“Of all the places I’ve been that I’ve called home, there’s something about New York. There’s nothing that collides like things do here.” It’s intense out there, but Eberhardt is intense. She originally intended to be a scientist, but life took a turn and she is now an actress, although it doesn’t feel right to box her into any title. She is simply on fire. The energy of NYC bounces off her. “There are awesome women here. I call them SWATS – special women and talent.” She’s a Cancer, FYI. Very important. Ruled by the moon, driven by emotions, with a need to nurture those she loves. An innately selfless lover with a lot of compassion. We had, what I like to call, a Kota conversation. It was two hours of thought-provoking topics, life changes, raw, swapping music. It went like this.
It’s a time for unapologetic self-expression. What is Kota Eberhardt most passionate about right now? “Not apologising for taking space. Just authentically approaching every circumstance in my life fearlessly.” How? “Storytelling. I’m deepening the practice as an actress, working on scripts and new projects that come my way. This is the first time in my life that I really feel like I have a space to be all aspects of myself and to extend myself into this universe, like the tentacles of an octopus.” Yes, what a time to be alive. There’s a big horizon of opportunities for a woman with this kind of drive. “I’m doing a lot of confessional writing and I want to direct. I think, eventually, I’m going to get bored with acting and just want to hold space as a director.” It makes sense, she likes to be in charge. Eberhardt seems like the type of person who wants to take more control. “Definitely. There are limitations. I want to break glass ceilings. I live to surprise people.” As a headstrong woman, how does the idea of “the future is female” resonate with her? “I can’t wait until gender is extinct and people just have baby showers and say, ‘Yay, it’s a human!’ I can’t wait. It’s alive! That would be a wonderful announcement.” But she does love being a female. She embodies that superhuman strength.
So yes, what a time to be alive, but what a hard time to be alive. Would she say she’s quite empathetic? She has to be for her craft. “Yes. As a Cancer, too, oh my goodness. I feel like I’m the most empathetic star sign in the zodiac scheme. Empathy is something a lot of actors talk about, but it’s not something they’ve lived with. Everybody wants to feel something. Everybody wants this grand idea of depth that they feel, but not everyone has the self-awareness and the awareness of the world around them to be able to dispense that story.” She’s been through a lot of shit, which she describes as experiencing “two sides of the coin”. She tragically lost her mother when she was 17, her father was then diagnosed with cancer, and Eberhardt herself was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. “This was the complete denunciation of God and this formidable force. I kind of felt like the world was against me.” But she still believes everything happens for a reason. “There are no accidents in this universe. Everybody that’s meant to meet will meet. A lot of people are like, ‘She doesn’t have training.’ I’m just someone in touch with my adversity. The role I had to read for today, I had an hour and a half to do it. I had a day to learn six pages. To memorise them and feel them and to create them and to live authentically through it is difficult shit. You have to have real reactions that are not pre-dispositioned. You didn’t plan it, you’re just reacting. That takes trauma, drama, struggle. That takes poverty, disease, death, murder. These are the things I have encountered and experienced.”
Reality or fantasy? “I think my reality is my fantasy. I went to Los Angeles when I was 17, it was the year that my mum died. A couple of days before I got the call was my first time in California. The first time I saw a palm tree I wanted to drink it into my irises – I had never seen something so massive and so beautiful. My fantasy was I could live there. I was very decisive at a young age that I want to approach what scares me and make it my fantasy.” So if her reality is her fantasy, she’s living in wonderland. In her wonderland, Mr Little Jeans’s rendition of The Suburbs is playing – it’s her favourite song. We start talking about music. She’s going to see Roy Ayers tonight. Everybody Loves the Sunshine is one of her favourite songs. “I used to make music – I worked with Thievery Corporation on their Culture of Fear album. I’m so happy you’re asking me this, because I love music.” Her favourite lyric of all time is Placebo’s “Every me and every you”. She wants to get it tattooed on her back, to go with the number 11 that’s already there. “I’m really into numerology, it’s a special number.” I tell her I have a number 22 on my necklace. “Whoa, 22 and 11 are the ones. Numerology, astrology… very much what I’m into.” Idealist or realist? “I think I have to be a healthy combination of both. I was born an idealist – my father’s a lawyer, so I grew up with the realist right next to me. Best friend, my ride or die. Dad is very much a practical person who keeps me balanced. It’s natural for me in my life, and professionally I’ve sought out people who have that kind of parental survival instinct. Grounded, Taurus or Aquarius vibe. Extremely practical.”
We play quick-fire, which in usual Eberhardt style, is so not quick. Her saving grace is her sister, Shannon. “She makes me feel that even if the world is on fire, my house is not. She reminds me that my door is open. When I get hurt or disappointed, or when things don’t turn out my way for whatever reason, she reminds me that my door is always open but not everyone will knock. She reminds me to respect myself, my boundaries.” Her worst enemy is her ego. That inner critic constantly judging her, watching her scenes when she’s filmed them. Trying to generate the right response. “There’s no such thing. You just let it be. The less you plan the better it feels… Like, today, I didn’t plan for anything, I’m just gonna live my life and you’re gonna call and we’re gonna have a conversation and it’s gonna be a transparent one. Not a guarded one. Raw and real… ” Raw and real it has been.
Eberhardt prides herself on her friendships, and her weakness is noted as managing her expectations. When I ask her what makes her laugh she bursts into hysterical laughter. So, herself? “People who are unequivocally themselves. I love rawness. I don’t know what it is. Dave Chappelle makes me laugh. He’s the funniest comedian alive.” When I quick-fire-ingly ask what makes her cry, her face clouds over, a puzzle of despair, thoughtfulness and pain. “Sometimes I think about my mom and I think about what my life would have been like if I had that female mentorship on such an intimate level. Sometimes when I’m really sad I’ll go into the bathroom and just talk to her and speak out loud. Obviously I’m not talking to a person in front of me, but I feel that there is this bond that is unquestionably close. If there’s another realm or an afterlife, it has to be right next to us. Because the feeling that I get when I speak to her, there’s such a calm that comes over my body. It makes me cry when I get nostalgic about a life I never lived. I’ve embraced it through acting. You have to learn the buttons that make you try. I wish I had my mom sometimes. That’s a sad point.”
Yes, there has been heartache. But there have been so many good moments that Eberhardt can’t narrow it down to one. A lot of them have NDAs, but today, her best moment would be “meeting Bryan Burk at a Nelson Mandela family charity event in Los Angeles, who introduced me to [casting directors] April Webster and Jessica Sherman”. Life’s good being Eberhardt. Are you reading anything, I ask. “Catherynne Valente has a fiction book called The Bread We Eat in Dreams. Let me find a quote, I’m a huge quote fan.” A quote I read the other day springs to mind: “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t even happened yet.” She looks up knowingly: “I love that. Oh my God. Girl, there are so many in here. Let me see. I have one I want to read to you. This is my favourite quote in this book so far. ‘Finally, she said, “I’m lonely” – it’s weird but you tell the wolves things sometimes. You can’t help it, all these old wounds come open and suddenly you’re confessing to a wolf who never says anything back. She said, “I’m lonely,” and they ate her in the street. They didn’t leave any blood. Wolves are fastidious like that. It’s in their nature.’”
We continue to talk. She’s unstoppable. On films. She’s just watched All the Money in the World. “Christopher Plummer? Genius. And have you seen The Florida Project? That one’s really raw. I’ve been watching a lot of Westworld recently – virtual reality, artificial intelligence. And Evan Rachel Wood, I’ve been watching her since Thirteen. I didn’t grow up with a television!” I make the Evan Rachel Wood and Thirteen connection. “Did your mind just blow? She’s incredible. I love watching her. She’s effortlessly effervescent and dignified but raw. She looks like she could eat men. I like it.” Eberhardt could join her man-eating tribe. The Kota Eberhardt mantra is “know yourself, know the world”, because if you know yourself, you know the world. “If you know what you want, the rest is easy. Everything else will come to you.” I ask her to nail her essence in five words. Her mind goes crazy. “All right… you’re gonna laugh. Disco goth meets lesbian ceramics teacher living in Brooklyn meets slay kitty slay.” I laugh. It’s perfect.