- Lisa Bonet: The Vibe
Waiting for Lisa
Bonet is like waiting for Godot. Okay, maybe his goddess twin
- but the anticipation is roughly the same. She is, after all,
a Sphinx on two legs with a marital history and a media profile
so public that her ability to maintain any sort of mystique defies
all odds in this post-Monica Lewinsky era. And she does have
a mystique. Despite all the available factoids, little is known
about her day-to-day life.
The spot Bonet
has chosen to meet doesn't do much in the way of demystifying
her. Froggy's Topanga Fish Mkt., a restaurant known for its groovy
locale, sits high up in a shrouded, mountainous region of Los
interior doesn't continue this outback motif; its a wooded retreat
with a blazing fireplace. When Bonet arrives - rowdy mane of
dreadlocks swinging around her warily bright smile - she only
confirms how easily she resides between the earth and the ethereal.
She gives you direct eye contact when she speaks but you get
the sense that there are whole galaxies whirling behind that
dead-on gaze. And as the details of her life tumble out, they
underscore her graceful handle on ambiguity.
the dashboard and front mirror of her midnight blue pickup truck
sport a shimmying surfer girl, a pirate's head, an Indian medicine
pouch with tall protruding feathers, a painting of a Hindu goddess
frolicking with a lamb, and a pendant of her patron saint, Bob
Marley. It also makes sense that Bonet's circle of close girlfriends
(which includes the equally free-spirited and multi-talented
actor/singer Cree Summer) call themselves the Pirates and that
Bonet grows oranges, plums, apricots and bamboo on her 10-acre
property in the hills of Los Angeles County.
as we all were with Bonet's life as a teenage TV star, budding
femme fatale, and wife of Lenny Kravitz, it turns out the woman
she has become since then is twice as extraordinary.
to 1992, when
Bonet starred on The Cosby Show, her portrayal of the
bohemian Denise Huxtable won the heart of just about every black
woman who didn't fit the mold of debutante, fly girl or hoochie
mama. Denise, Bonet reflects, shows us "that it's okay to
be a freak" (a proclamation that her 11-year-old daughter,
Zoë, has adopted via the credo FREAKS ROCK emblazoned on
These same sistas
fell in love with her all over again after ex-husband Lenny Kravitz's
VH1's Behind The Music special aired last June and they
realized how much the rock star was suffering because she wouldn't
take him back. In fact, Bonet dazzled a generation of women so
completely that when you say you're doing an article on her,
nine out of 10 will insist you address her by her other
name- the one she gave herself more than a decade ago - the lunar
referencing one she asks you not to publish. Furtive Scorpio
that she is, she says, "Let those who know know, and let
me keep what little privacy I can."
Ladies love Mademoiselle
Bonet, but men become positively unglued at the mention of her
name. Of course, the Bonet brothers are thinking of isn't the
spunky-fresh Huxtable version but rather the tempestuous seminude
one featured on the cover of Rolling Stone's 1988 "Hot
Issue" or the steamier, seamier, not-much-left-to-the-imagination
concoction she served up in 1987's demonic flick Angel Heart.
But Bonet is matter-of-fact about her voodoo-priestess role,
in which she mated with the devil incarnate, played by Mickey
Rourke: "I auditioned for [Angel Heart] because I
loved Alan Parker's films, Bugsy Malone was my favorite
as a kid, as were Birdy and Shoot The Moon - all
those films really influenced my artistic wonderment. But I just
did my bits and went home. There was no deep Method-acting trip
What all those
caught up in yesterday's rapture don't know is that these scant
résumé items were really just a prologue. The Bonet
of today is far deeper than the telegenic hippie chick and voodoo
sex kitten of yore. There is, for example, the Bonet who has
spent the past two years paying weekly visits to incarcerated
black and Latino youth at Los Angeles County Office of Education's
Central juvenile hall and who has strong views about the way
the judicial system deals with young folk. "Prisons,"
she forthrightly declares over a salmon entree so good she had
to order it twice," are like the concentration camps of
our time. So many go in and never come out, and primarily they're
black and Latino. I'd never spent any time in a prison before
this program, and its definitely taught me to appreciate my freedom
and to feel like I'm part of an important movement that needs
years ago, Bonet, 32,and several other artist/activist friends
created Venice H.E.A.R.T (Hearing Each Other and Responding Together),
a mentoring organization for young people at a Venice Beach,
California high school. Word of the project reached Denise Miranda,
an instructor at the Central Juvenile Hall in East L.A. She invited
the members of H.E.A.R.T. to her classroom to speak with the
young men who were awaiting sentencing at the facility. Bonet's
crew brings some much needed love, respect and brass tacks into
a place where human dignity is in short supply.
" She is
a true honest friend to these kids." says Miranda,"
I mean, they have their gang-member friends, but those guys will
turn on them. She's someone they can really confide in. She's
getting to Miranda's
classroom demands you first navigate a hallway clogged with adolescents
adorned in county-issue khakis and orange prison gear who've
been made to squat on their knees with their hands clasped behind
their backs until the probation officers deem them fit to rise.
In the classroom, the walls are lined with photos of heroes and
heroines of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent (Pablo Picasso,
for once, among the usual suspects).
into the room, crouches on one knee, and lays a native-American
blanket on the floor. She dresses it with a large round candle
and a gnarled, wizened, and serpentine twist of wood. The branch,
she says, is a talking stick, one with origins in American-Indian
shamanic practice. She passes it among the teens to encourage
them to speak from the heart.
of the kids have met with Bonet before, her star presence doesn't
go unnoticed by one lanky and gregarious teen who can't stop
running down her résumé for his compadres,
as though he's celebrity gawking at L.A.'s famed Roscoe's House
of Chicken and Waffles and not the county's answer to purgatory.
" Hey, that's the old girl from, uh...A Different World.
She was on The Cosby Show. Damn, she got papers. you know
she don't even have to be here." After begging Bonet
to let him light the candle, he puts match to wick and devoted
a prayer to "his niggas and what they have been going through."
The Bonet presides over a soul baring session that's remarkable
for how hungrily the young brothers seize the day - variously
wielding the power stick like its a gun or handlebars or a flying
trapeze - and for how indifferent they are to her celebrity once
they get going.
Her lanky fan,
for one, eloquently dominates the conversation with harrowing
anecdotes about being introduced to gang culture at the age of
10 and about California's recently passed Proposition 21. this
law, which allows juveniles to be prosecuted as adults, has him
in the dark about whether he's staring down a six-month sentence
in youth camp or 16 years in the state pen. He speaks of a district
attorney who believes he's "fit" enough to serve in
an adult institution, and it sounds as if the young inmates were
on the auction block and not in the judicial system.
It's a while
watching warrior-witch Bonet slung sidewise in her chair, twirling
her locks and fervently bearing witness to these kids' hard-knock
testimonies, that you recall VIBE has sent you to Cali to ensure
her inclusion in something called "The Sexy Issue."
Under the circumstances, the whole assignment now seems rather
cheesy. But lo and behold, within these institutional walls an
epiphany emerges about Bonet's beauty: the realization that she
ain't movie-star fine - the kind of fine that comes alive for
the camera - but what she is, instead, is rock-star fine - the
kind of fine that makes the camera damn near jump off the tripod.
Put another way, while anybody can become watchable, few of us
are bewitching. Bonet is visually captivating from every angle
and in every detail: like the snake tattoo on her forearm whose
tail is wrapped twice around her wrists, its head slithering
toward her knuckles or the Medusa tattoo further up her arm with
its kinky snake locks and vipers tongue sticking out. Elfin even
in thick-soled silver moon boots, this more-than-adept yoga student
cuts a lithe pixie figure - compact, petite, magical, metamorphic.
" She called
me one night and said,'We gotta be pirates,'" remembers
Summer," Women who are able to take back what's ours spiritually,
to search for treasure, and to share the booty.' Her creation
of the pirates has made me see that part of being an extraordinary,
talented, beautiful woman comes from surrounding yourself with
other extraordinary, talented, beautiful women. It's like, Damn,
that sister over there is bad, and if I'm in a group that she's
in I must be bad too. Art is her life and her garden and her
journal and her way of bringing together artistic people. I never
would have made my album [Street Faerie in 1999] with
[producer] Lenny [Kravitz]if it wasn't for her."
and Kravitz wed
in 1987, it seemed like a marriage made in heaven, a blessed
union of two gorgeous and amorphous hippies, both of black and
Jewish descent, (Bonet's late mother was and Kravitz's father
is Jewish.) Their separation in 1990 roughly coincided with Bonet's
retreat from showbiz into a monastic period of full-time mothering
for Zoë. There's a melancholic strain visible in her eyes
when she's asked how joint parenting was worked out after the
separation. For years, she says, Kravitz's visits with Zoë
were at the mercy of his tour schedule. but now that their daughter
is older she's able to accompany her globetrotting and guitar-wielding
pops on jaunts to places like South Africa, as she did this past
Bonet says Zoë's
absence gives her the opportunity to vacation in Hawaii with
her pal Summer, but the tremor of separation anxiety is easily
detected, especially when she relates how transformative her
relationship with her daughter has been," My heart was blown
open from just loving someone so much. It also deepened my desire
to heal myself - you know, not wanting to pass on the less-than-positive
'family heirlooms' that get passed down. I can honestly say it
accelerated my growth and my desire to be here and to participate
in a loving, conscious way on this planet."
Bonet lost her
own mother last year, and she still seems to be in deep mourning.
When she speaks about her childhood, it becomes clear that she
inherited her fearlessness from her moms. "My mother, brave
woman, lost her whole family when she decided to marry a black
man in the 60's. When the marriage fell apart, she had no where
to come back to but her family. My grandmother has a hard time
with the choices Mama had made. I was literally the black sheep
of the family, and there were definitely moments of discomfort
while my grandmother was working through her racism."
" I spent
a lot of time feeling alienated and rejected," she continues,"
but I fund my art- theatre - and when I was 16 I was fortunate
enough to get Cosby and move to New York and shift my
whole life. that had been my dram all along, and it came true."
But like many,
Bonet found fame a mixed blessing. "The success of the show
made me self-sufficient, but it also took away my anonymity.
I'm just this quiet nobody, and all of a sudden people are nervous
around me. That was kind of weird. But I took solace in my relationship
with God who, along with my dog, was my best friend growing up.
Both of my parents would say they were atheists, so where I inherited
my connection to God I don't know. But it's natural. No Bible,
no Torah, just the love religion."
In 1998, Bonet
suddenly popped up like Mr.Mxyzptlk in the Will Smith feature
Enemy of the State. She played a mysterious woman with
a mysterious past who provokes all sorts of rambunction before
tragically exiting the mise-en-scène. this march, in director
Stephen Frears's High Fidelity, she played an equally
pivotal supporting role opposite John Cusack.
Frears says he
was lazily watching Enemy of the State on mute when Bonet's
cameo snapped him to attention. He invited her in for a reading
and cast her on the spot as a gorgeous folk singer who has a
fling with Cusack's jerk-off record collector before walking
into the sunset.
like a man under a spell when he speaks about our black faerie
queen," She showed up looking extraordinary, and she just
did it. I mean, she is what she is: distinctive, mysterious,
extraordinary. She brought a different perspective to that part
as far as portraying someone whose sexual politics are quite
sophisticated and who's perfectly able to get what she wants
without seeming whorish. Her character is someone who turns the
tables in a much more elegant way than a man could."
and upsetting expectations is, of course, Bonet's stock and trade.
having excused herself from the Hollyweird dinner table to quietly
raise her child, Bonet is clearly someone who dictates the terms
of her engagement with the business. As of this spring, she has
no film projects or prospects lined up and rarely goes for readings
or auditions. "There's not a lot out there, and what is
out there has to be really interesting to make me want to leave
my life, which is really precious to me." she says. "My
desire to participate in the business is not to make more crap
so I'm really content. I have a desire to create more film, more
beauty, more art, more love - but I don't feel desperate. I mean,
for me it's not about creating or building a career anymore,
So while the
rest of Hollywood obsesses about their weekend grosses, Bonet
will be using her juice to salvage the next generation, visions
of New Jerusalem dancing in her head.
VIBE Photo Gallery: See the gorgeous
collection of photos Lisa posed for.
Purchase 'High Fidelity' on video