On March 17, what would have been another forgettable St. Patrick’s Day, I was “kidnapped” by an heiress. OK, I wasn't kidnapped, but I was blindfolded and taken to a discreet location at one point during our whirlwind six-hour interview.
She was wearing a black trench coat with baggy suit pants. With her bleached-blond hair and L.A. lips, she looked like Jayne Mansfield through a lo-fi Instagram filter. In the canyons of Malibu, where she was raised, she’s nobility — a “Mali-Baby” — an eighth-generation Angeleno whose bloodline traces back to Francisco Xavier Sepúlveda, the namesake of L.A.’s longest street, and Sewell L. Avery, a Midwestern gypsum baron and the head of Montgomery Ward from 1930 to 1954.
She’s surprisingly unaffected by the weight her well-to-do family name carries. She's Irish-Mexican, leggy and, at 23, Lauren Alice Avery is an enfant terrible of young Hollywood's Snapchatting brat pack, which includes Jack Kilmer, Val Kilmer’s son, and Georgia Ford, Harrison Ford's daughter, who gave Lauren a stick-and-poke tattoo of a “V” on her wrist. The “V” is for Vasco Giovanni III. “What is he?” I ask. “He's Pasadena,” she says.
She's part of a tight group of hyper-millennials who are Hollywood’s first indigenous Internet babies, a generation of Hollywood aristocrats whose fame is nurtured online rather than on red carpets or in supermarket gossip magazines.
(Useless Fact: A recent study shows that 73 percent of Snapchat users are millennials.)
Their real lives have been obfuscated by their detached tweets and irreverent Instagram posts. Like reality TV, which Lauren equates to the numbing effect of Xanax, America hasn’t been allowed to see them beyond their script, which in the case of young Hollywood is social media and exclusive parties. Yet these young people haven't been overexposed like the Kardashians and the Hiltons. This young Hollywood is the product of genetics and tradition, not scripted spectacle and new money. They don't want to be famous for the sake of being famous. “That's cheap,” Lauren says when I ask if she'd consider being the subject of a reality TV show.
It's nearly 10 p.m. and I'm sitting with Lauren on the back patio of her beach club. The Pacific Ocean is consumed by blackness and we're staring at the faint ember of a fire pit surrounded by beach chairs and illuminated with a spotlight. She's drinking white wine and smoking Marlboro Lights.
“Famous people are the most miserable people I've ever encountered,” she says. “I don't want to be famous. I want to offer my unique perspective that wouldn't normally be offered into the world.” To nurture her eccentric worldview, and because she enjoys the theatrics, Lauren sees various psychics, healers, past-life regression therapists and shamans in the Malibu area on a regular basis. She's a Sagittarius, an astrological sign Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard said she can trust. That's good enough for me.
“In my first life on Earth, I was actually a tree,” she says, smiling tentatively and asking me if she sounds crazy. I tell her I'm agnostic. She tells me she believes in God. I tell her I'm a realist. She tells me she thinks the Earth is flat. “Look up some Earth-is-flat-shit, bro,” she says with conviction. No matter how extraterrestrial our conversation gets, it always comes back to her current creative interest: the forgotten canyons of Malibu. “Malibu is often previewed as this paradise,” she says. “But it's a sad place, and it's very isolated. I think when you're isolated, every part of yourself is incubated and grows like mold in a Petri dish.”
Lauren is pitching a film about it. It's something she wrote that's tentatively titled Mali-Babies, which is what girls from Malibu are called. It's going to be “dark,” she says, and probably a bit cheeky, like most of her work.
Like her young Hollywood friends, Lauren’s Internet persona and isolated existence have transformed her into a hybrid creature who’s insta-famous, photogenic, bored, insanely creative and the subject of editorials that miss the purpose of her perverse take on wealth. “The Internet is the gateway to hell,” she says. Last Fall, Paper magazine published an editorial about #Bonnetcore, a “fabulously fresh-off-the-Mayflower” trend that began when Lauren posted the following photo on Instagram. The piece annoyed her so much she took the photo down.
“I'm really interested in Colonial America and the South,” she says, without a hint of irony. “So I forced my boyfriend to go on a trip with me to live with the Amish for a few months. I wore bonnets and made a film. And then there's all these photos of girls in Brooklyn wearing bonnets,” she says, sounding offended by the stupidity of this. “I had no intention of starting a trend.”
Lauren now lives in her late grandmother’s villa in Brentwood, surrounded by an antique doll collection and Windsor chairs that were passed down from philanthropist Alice O'Neill Avery to granddaughter Lauren, who takes perverse pleasure in the paradox of being a millennial trapped in an antique dollhouse.
Lauren's grandmother was her surrogate mother. They were very close. In 2012, Lauren was married at her beach club in a fake wedding. She married her friend's “hot” younger brother. It also had a deeper purpose. “My grandma was getting really old and I wanted her to see me walk down the aisle,” Lauren says. She thinks about her future wedding a lot — too much, maybe.
(Watch: Tears of Santa Barbara is Lauren's short film about grieving for her grandmother at the Four Seasons Santa Barbara. It's worth watching if only for the DIY-horror quality and fake blood.)
Lauren also is an actress with a handful of credits on her IMDB profile (mostly short films) and she recently auditioned for the Blade Runner sequel. She's also a fashion model who says she recently refused to be on a Calvin Klein billboard on Sunset Boulevard. “It gets so dangerous doing all these things at once. You know, you can become a James Franco,” she says, as if this is a thing people say in Hollywood. Fame on that level frightens her. She doesn't want to appear in everything. She's got her reasons. “I've had two encounters with intruders in the past year. I'm so scared of burglars. One time I came home from dinner at 10 and this guy was waiting in my backyard. He had duct-taped his license plate,” she says.
The beach club is her safe haven. It's also a repository for her twisted art. Lauren’s a spectator there, with an all-access pass to translate her absurd privilege into a living art gallery of what it means to be young, disturbed, pessimistic, increasingly paranoid, fatalistic, filthy rich and the future of Hollywood. “I'm a pervert just documenting shit. I want everyone here to keep doing what they're doing,” she says, before turning her head and heading to the powder room. “Will you get me another glass?” She says “glass” with a hint of a mid-Atlantic accent, as when Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard says “gah-rag” rather than just “garage.” When Lauren is drunk, you can detect a Midwestern drawl.
Lauren's favorite film is L.A. noir Sunset Boulevard. She has it tattooed on the bottom of her foot. We’re now standing in the parking lot of her secluded beach club in the Pacific Palisades. Lauren tosses her glass of wine into the bushes. It shatters against the white picket fence. She has a lit cigarette dangling between her gangly pink fingertips; she often speaks as if she’s acting in a film or being vaguely erotic. She wants to go home to charge her iPhone.
“If you take your blindfold off, I’ll murder you,” she says, ensuring the yellowish leg warmer she’s using to cover my eyes is secure. The leg warmer smells like moisturizer and cigarettes. She insists on blindfolding me because she doesn't want me to know where she lives. As we drive away in my car, I see nothing but an amorphous blur of lights. I hear nothing but Lauren singing along to a Guns N’ Roses CD I’ve forgotten to eject. “I don’t trust you. I don’t trust anyone,” she says, often referring to me as L.A. Weekly, rather than using my real name.
Lauren has trust issues. She says that at age 13, she was kidnapped by two hired professionals who handcuffed her, threw her into a car and took her to a Mormon farm. To calm her down, the men gave her a Snickers candy bar. Until her 18th year, she says she was drugged, beaten and brainwashed at 14 different institutions between Oregon and Wisconsin. She won’t say why, only that she tried to escape often by poisoning or stabbing herself with carpet staples in an attempt to get hospitalized. At times, I can't tell if she's serious or improvising her history for me. Either way, it's fascinating. All of it.
“Those prime years of one's life when they're shaping and developing, I was living on an all-girl Mormon farm on Utah and picking cherry trees. It was dark. Maybe it made me a damaged person,” she offers. It also kept her from becoming a Kardashian or, perhaps worse, a Hilton.
Lauren is Catholic, not Mormon. She wears black crucifixes for earrings because she's a bit of a goth and a fan of the '90s teen-witch movie The Craft. She says she had her first period at the Vatican after kissing the pope’s ring during a private sitting. She even went to the same private school as Paris Hilton, St. Paul the Apostle in Westwood.
“I have an eighth-grade education,” she says.
Lauren says that at 18 she was legally granted her freedom. By 22, she'd became a jaded debutante with an iPhone. It was then that she began to document high society with her own postmodern perspective that’s at once satirical and austere. At 19, she wrote a novella about the powder room at her beach club, which she sees as both hallowed ground and haunted, and acted in a movie about a Cinderella character in the Valley, all the while posting Instagram photos of her trashy chicness dirtying up the pristine wealth that surrounds her. She has a purpose, and it's not just boredom or millennial apathy: “I understand that I've been born into a unique situation. I get that. Not a lot of people here see humor in the wealth. These people are so consumed by their in-bred, reptilian families.”
When we arrive at her villa in Brentwood, Lauren clutches my arm and pulls me out of the car. “Now step down,” she says. “Just put your hands on my shoulders.” It takes us a few minutes to get from my car to her living room. She holds my hand. I see nothing.
Before I can remove the blindfold, Lauren is preparing to sing for me. I'm drunk as I keep thinking that we're sitting in a dead woman's villa. “I'm gonna sing a song about you,” she says, holding a microphone that's plugged into a tiny amp that's playing a beat.
She sounds like an untrained Lana Del Rey.
Come with me to the ocean.
Come with me to the sea.
I've been waiting a long time.
Since you met me.
Lauren then turns away and heads toward the front door. She's now singing opera, but she won't look at me when she does this. I can't believe what I hear: Lauren Alice Avery is a superb soprano. She can actually sing opera. I also wonder if I'm the only person she's done this for.
“I'm going to blindfold you again. We're going to see my Young Hollywood friends,” she says. We whisk away to Silver Lake and walk into a dimly lit bar I'm told I cannot name. The Cure is playing. I recall Lauren telling me she wants to be in a new remake of The Craft. She's an L.A. witch, a goth like most interesting girls her age, except she isn't like every girl her age. When her grandmother died in 2014, she wore a Grim Reaper's costume for the entire summer while traveling abroad, dating a Parisian boy in a “sordid love affair with the younger kind.” She fucked him with the costume on. By this point I see Lauren softly palming a guy's ass. It's Jack Kilmer, 20, the son of Val Kilmer, who's surrounded by members of Young Hollywood I cannot name. He's wearing a black T-shirt, with black slacks and shiny black shoes. His hair looks unwashed and stylish. I've also been randomly inhaling poppers that a member of Young Hollywood is passing around.
(Useless Fact: Poppers are nitrates that loosen up the body's involuntary muscles. Young Hollywood prefers the Jungle Juice brand. When you're partying, they just give you a head rush and make you horny.)
One of Lauren's poppin' friends from New York talks like a Bret Easton Ellis character: “My reputation is terrible. Industry deals with me. Either way. Fab. Whatever. Fab. Publicity stunts. Fab.” Another, whom I also cannot name, occasionally appears and pretends to be shooting pistols into the air as the Bret Easton Ellis character, wearing sunglasses, says, loudly: “Poppers. River Phoenix. Poppers. Out. Of. Control … poppers.” This is literally what he says, word for word.
Jack seems to be the most normal member of Young Hollywood. “I met Lauren in my living room,” he says. Lauren jumps in with a warning for her friends: “He's taking notes on everything!” Jack continues: “The most artistic thing she does is existing. Wherever she is, she's performing.” Lauren later tells me that Jack is her best friend. Before we leave, I meet a brunette who says she works for Julian Casablancas' record label in New York. She's bizarrely obsessed with the L.A. punk band No Parents.
Lauren says we should leave. “Why were you talking to that brunette?” she says. “She read an article I wrote about the band No Parents,” I reply. On the way to the car, before getting a burrito, we talk about sex. “I bet you eat the box,” she says. I don't know what this means until she explains this relates to oral sex. I blush.
“I'm shy during sex,” she says. “I'm not very performative,” says a performer.
After failing to jump the walls of a nearby cemetery I'm too drunk to remember, Lauren takes me to the Gaylord Apartments on Wilshire, a legendary hideaway for the stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood. She has an apartment there, which she rarely sleeps in. It's unkempt, so we go to the fire escape, overlooking the former Ambassador Hotel, where Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. A white cotton beach towel Lauren left last summer is still there. It's now 3 a.m. and I'm imagining Lauren naked in the sun, with just a big towel and big sunglasses, drinking Champagne and puckering her lips.
“I can't sleep at nights. When I try to fall asleep, I feel as though an unknown force is trying to take over my body. Sometimes I have to go to my mom's house just so she can hold me.” As she says this, there's a homeless man yelling something below. Lauren theatrically ad-libs what he's saying, as if she's performing a reading: “Kill me, he says. Kill me. Kill me.”
I think back to the conversation I was having with the brunette at the bar: “They don't have to think about real life. They can stay young forever.”
“I was an ugly baby,” says Lauren, who's snapping an iPhone pic of a 2016 Chevy Malibu billboard across across the way. The irony is never forgotten when she does it; it's the ultimate paradox of a high-class beauty and trashy punk chick who's more than just a sexy-drunk avatar. “If what being taken seriously is being retweeted, I don't want any part of that. I want something greater and grander,” she says. A few seconds later, Lauren is on her iPhone in the lobby of the Gaylord, Snapchatting with Jack Kilmer, adding herself to a cuddling app (as a joke, I think) and looking through baby names she's saved in her phone: “Cinderella, Pony, Winnie, Sepulveda, after my family.” We're sitting next to a money tree as classical piano concerto music plays in the background. I take a photo of the princess IRL, no Instagram filter. I'm on the floor as I do this.
“Are you sick of me? Do you hate me?” she asks. I don't answer, but I'm not and I don't. I also still have no idea where Lauren lives, even though I've been there twice, watched her sing a song in the living room, peed in her Oriental-looking guest bathroom and bumped my head on her front gate in such a manner that I forget parts of the evening. We listen to Hole's “Malibu” on the drunken drive back to Brentwood. The lyrics ring true.
Oceans of stars.
Down by the sea is where you.
Drown your scars.
Malibu is dark. Lauren Alice Avery is our parachute into its uncharted terrain, where the rich shield themselves from reality. Simply by existing and showing us her wounds, whether on Instagram or on film, Lauren is our entree into the White Houses of the west, where's she's a big star yet uncomfortable with the notion of fame. She's a paradox, like Malibu and the Young Hollywood brat pack she belongs to.