Kelly Cutrone is the owner of the leading fashion publicity firm People's Revolution, a judge on America's Next Top Model, and the former boss to Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port on The Hills and its spin-off The City. This month, she adds starring in a Terrence Malick film to her resume. She plays herself against Oscar winner Christian Bale in Malick's new cinematic meditation on Los Angeles, called Knight of Cups.
On paper, Cutrone and Malick seem different. Cutrone stars on reality shows and prolifically produces fashion shows—one year, she produced five shows in a single day, breaking the world record—while Malick is a notoriously private, slow-working filmmaker who has released seven films in four decades. (There was a 20-year gap between his second and third movies, and he hates interviews.) But both Cutrone and Malick operate on the fringes. Malick makes abstract films that go against Hollywood's superhero obsession; Cutrone chooses to star on reality TV, going against the snobby fashion grain.
The author of a self-help book called If You Have to Cry, Go Outside, Cutrone values independence as much as art house filmmakers do. Over the phone, I spoke to Cutrone about Malick, reality TV, and Rosa Parks. This interview has been edited and condensed.
BROADLY: How did you end up starring in a Malick film?
Kelly Cutrone: It all happened two years ago. I was on America's Next Top Model, and we're in Jamaica, and my assistant calls and goes, "Terrence Malick wants you to do this movie. You'd need to go to LA Thursday." It was a Sunday, and the only way it was going to work was if I left Wednesday night, arrived by Thursday morning, and left that evening—and that's what I did.
What were your expectations?
All I know is that I asked how much I was getting paid, and they said, "Nothing." I thought to myself, I'm going back and forth across the globe for free. Why am I doing this? Then my agent says, "No one ever gets this opportunity in this lifetime. If you can, you should." I get in at 1 AM, sleep and wake up at 5 AM, and I head to this house in the Hollywood hills. I completely don't know anybody. I'm trying not to be moody, but I don't speak film—it's a very different language than TV. There are all these people there—including Christian Bale, supermodels, and literally all these little people (I don't know the right word)—and I'm just standing there like, "What the fuck did I get myself into?"
Do you rarely lack control of situations?
I'm definitely standing there being quiet, which is a rare moment. Terrence did come up to me and just say, "I want you to be really psycho." (He doesn't give you a script or anything.) Then the crew comes up to me saying that they're thrilled I'm here, but I'm probably not going to make it in the movie and sorry in advance if it doesn't work out. I'm again thinking to myself, Oh god, really? I left Jamaica for this! But then I really just told myself, Kelly, make the most of the moment and just enjoy yourself. Who cares about anything? You're not even a film person. Just enjoy this experience. And that's kind of what happened.
Did you assume your scene would end up on the cutting room floor?
When I left, I kind of deleted it out of my brain, because I knew he cuts so many people out of the final cut. When I said goodbye to everybody, I was mostly just thinking about how I was going to miss everybody after that day—it was just so nice to be part of that circus. Then I get this email a month and a half ago saying that the New York Times wanted to interview me about my part in Knight Of Cups, and I realized I'd completely forgotten I'd even done it! One of Terrence's producers called me saying, "That's why we love you. You're the only person who hasn't been calling. You'd forgotten you'd even done the movie."
I can imagine Christian Bale's agent constantly hounding Malick's camp, trying to find out what happened to this movie he did two years ago.
Totally. I actually think that's what made it so special for me, because everyone had probably held on to the memory that they did it and were going to be in a movie like that, and I forgot. It was a totally pleasant surprise.
Were you trying to channel your TV persona or an abstract LA fashion character?
I think the first probably. I think sometimes—because of how things are on TV—I'm portrayed really harshly. People see me and think, She's really funny, she does all this crazy stuff and is yelling, so I wanted to make it obvious that I knew it was ridiculous, because sometimes I don't think people know when you're in on the joke.
You play yourself in the movie and in reality TV, but did you treat the Knights of Cups set differently than the America's Next Model shoot in Jamaica?
I think that people who go see a Terrence Malick movie might have a little more ability to comprehend things. I might be a little harsher and a lot more insane on Terrence's set than I could be on the Top Model set. I think that if I were to scream, "Are you a pigmy?" at people on Top Model, it would be taken a bit out of context.
What do you love about Malick?
Terrence is so fucking cool. He's my hero. When you're around him you just want to be the most authentic version of yourself. He's so authentic. He's insisting on manifesting his reality while living in this world, and it's so hard to have such a sincere and authentic reality and enter into the place we work in. It's a beautiful thing to see wild birds fly but all stay together. They were all beautiful wild horses doing their own fucking thing.
Did you feel like you had discovered an unlikely kinship?
Yeah, I felt like I was in some Grimm's fairy tale, like I was connected distantly. I was watching people do what they want regardless of what people said about it. I'm coming off the Top Model set, while simultaneously running a fashion PR company, I've flown in from Jamaica, I'm screaming at Freida Pinto, laughing with Christian Bale, and being looked on by Werner Herzog—and then I ended up having a little picnic with Herzog, Terrence, and his wife. We had a super normal, cheap-o catering, with like one potato. It was kind of lovely.
I would do anything for a photo of you, Terrence Malick, and Werner Herzog splitting a potato.
I know, me too, but I didn't know that Terrence doesn't allow any photos or do any interviews, so we couldn't take any pictures. Of course one of the first things I do when I arrive is just snap a shot of him, not knowing that you can't, so I have this photo of him that no one will ever see.
The film examines Los Angeles's strangeness. As a publicist who once split her time between New York and LA, what are your thoughts on LA?
[What's] hard is they speak a different language in LA. Words have different meanings in different cities, and in LA I feel like people don't say what they mean. "Hey, it's really great to see you, let's get together" could mean, "I hate you, you fucking bitch. I hope you rot in hell, and I can't believe I had the great misfortune of running into you."
The fact that LA is more isolating means you have to have a relationship with yourself because you do spend a lot of time alone. I like LA, but at the end of the day I choose New York because I like to tell the truth. I like to talk loud, and I like the seasons. I like cheap coffee around the corner, and I like getting a paper that never tells the truth.
Like Malick, you've built your career around your desire for autonomy. Do you think that's a unilaterally important value for artists?
I think you have to be a warrior to choose autonomy. There are so many systems set up to discourage people from their truth, and some of them are really enticing. When I think of what I've gained by having this lifestyle and what I've lost, I wonder if I should have been more agreeable, but I also still wonder if I'm autonomous enough. There is pain to telling the truth, to exposing yourself, and [to] all the ways humanity can react. There is a huge part of the population that refuses to move forward in a peaceful way, but people that choose autonomy and honest expression are really the pioneers of the human race.
The word you've said most during this interview is "authenticity."
That's what I think of when people like Terrence are around: the poets, the artists—even the fashion people. They all just want to bring beauty, and you've got to be on point to keep that going. Nothing ever changes because some cute corporate girl did it in a cashmere sweater—that's not how the world changes. I bet if you asked Rosa Parks five years before that she was going to be one of the most powerful [people] in the history of civil rights, she would have said, "No!" But she had a totally authentic moment of being like, "Fuck this shit."