Playing Pool, Drinking Beer, and Talking Taylor Swift With Kick Kennedy

Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum/New York Magazine

Parkside Lounge wasn’t going to open until 5:30 p.m., but the dive bar on Houston Street will make an exception for Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. “They actually said they’d let me in it at 4:30,” texts Kick, the eldest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. “Let’s say 4:45, cool?”

The staff is still sitting around drinking beer when she walks in off the street at ten of, wearing a vintage fringed, beaded suede jacket over a ripped T-shirt. She takes off a large pair of sunglasses and apologizes for canceling our last meeting. “I got a flat leaving Hyannis Port,” she says. “We had a 120-pound Gordon setter and my dachshund in the car. I risked it on a doughnut and drove back. The car ran out of gas at the same time.”

Along with her cousin Joe, the 31-year-old Massachusetts congressional hopeful who represented the clan at the Democratic National Convention last month, and her half-brother Conor, the 18-year-old Deerfield Academy senior and love object of Taylor Swift, Kick is part of a rising class of Kennedys, carrying the family torches of Establishment liberalism, aspirational lifestyle, and nearly Greek family drama. But it’s here, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, that the part-time actress has eked out her endearingly generic, quasi-bohemian postcollegiate lifestyle—24 and finally finished with her last bachelor’s-degree credit, she studies Method acting during the days, plays pool at Parkside’s back table most nights, and volunteers on an outsider-art project that involves Bellevue Hospital patients, as you might have read in “Page Six.” “The whole name thing, it’s the water I’ve been swimming in my entire life,” she says, folded up cross-legged. Her voice is low and husky with elongated vowels—a surfer chick’s imitation of the Kennedy accent. But if she’s performing, it feels pretty unself-conscious. “I’m not famous. I’m still just trying to make it, to be an artist, and follow my dreams.”

A few weeks ago, Kick tells me, she got a letter in the mail from herself as a 10-year-old. As part of an ­elementary-school time-capsule project, little Kick had written out her life goals. “Number one was be a movie star. Number two was become enlightened”—vocal eye roll—and “number three was become really good at pool.”

She’s checked the third one off the list, thanks to an almost unseemly amount of time spent at this very pool table—in this slum-era corner bar repurposed lately by new Lower East ­Siders like shape-shifting, identity-sharing house-D.J. duo AndrewAndrew—where she and a team of underemployed, twentysomething regulars compete in a league made up of mostly “old, fat guys.” (As for the second goal, enlightenment, Kick says she’s toured enough monasteries in Bhutan to know that although she “loves” Buddhism, she’s no Buddhist, and doesn’t even meditate: “Not exactly my forte, but I like the idea of it.”)

“My dad’s really good at pool, and I idolized my dad,” she says by way of explaining her early, oddly enduring commitment to the game, and maybe, too, her interest in challenging the bar’s old guard. She’s serious about it: When we get to playing, Kick tells me to choke up on the cue, loosen the tension on my right hand, go for the seven in corner pocket, and get my beer off the table. She’s got one of her teammates, Gabby, a grungy-hot 24-year-old photographer whom she met on a high-school trip to Cuba, in tow, and she doesn’t look like she’ll be taking any bullshit, either.

Kick and a friend at Parkside Lounge. Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum/New York Magazine

Gabby peeks into a backroom behind the pool table, where a stand-up comedian is performing for an audience of one. “Remember when I tried to get up there and do stand-up?” Gabby asks. “They got so mad.”

“There’s nothing worse than bad stand-up,” Kick says. “Except maybe bad taxidermy.” She makes her bad-­taxidermy face, bug eyes, chipmunk cheeks. Also on her burn list? Yoga. “So boring,” she says. “The only thing more boring than yoga is getting a manicure. You can’t do anything with your hands.” As Gabby practices lagging for the break (the pool equivalent of a coin toss), Kick tells me that with pilot season coming up, she’s resumed focusing on her “craft.”

 “Professionally, I’ve only done television, and I love television,” she says, a pint of Pacifico in front of her, and sweetly earnest. “But what I really want to do is movies.”

Kick spent a year trying to make it happen in Los Angeles, landing a small part in the pilot of HBO’s The Newsroom before coming back to New York shortly before her stepmother, Mary Richardson Kennedy, died from apparent suicide in May—and staying afterward “basically to help out with my family and be with my brothers and sisters.” After a summer on the Cape and in Fiji, she’s back to auditioning. She’s petite, perfectly proportioned, and has her mother Emily Black’s doll-like, Ellen Page features. “What’s the saying?” she asks when we step outside for a cigarette—her sunglasses on again, Winston Light aloft. “If you want to piss off your parents and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the performing arts?” (Later, she’s careful to tell me that her parents “are very supportive.”)

The rest of the family is, naturally, inspiring to Kick as a performer. “My uncle Max’s everyday life is like a really great television show. He just took off for Seattle yesterday to go find a cannon that was on a ship that Sir Walter Raleigh sunk at the bottom of a rapid in Venezuela,” she says. “I was just with my uncle Max the other day. And we were in a real rush to go to the boatyard to pull out a boat but this guy had a flat tire so we helped change his tire and he said to me, ‘This is what we do in this family, Kick, we do favors and we help people and we don’t expect anything back.’ ” She calls out across the bar, “Gabby, try the thing that Russell taught me, with the two fingers. It gave me a lot of power.”

She’s trying to make the family legend work for her, in her way: She agreed to let Town & Country photograph her for a cover at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port—“I have 36 first cousins. And it’s not just us. It’s the million other branches. It’s a big crowd of people, and we all kind of look like each other”—but turned down the chance to play, in a biopic, her namesake, her great-aunt, who died at age 28 in a plane crash in 1948 while headed to France for a vacation with her lover, a married British earl.

She says she’s happy for her cousin Joe (“I just hung a JOE KENNEDY FOR CONGRESS sign on the end of the breakwater in Hyannis Port”) and doesn’t mind if her brother’s happiness means enduring a few E! segments (“Whatever makes Conor happy makes me happy. I love Taylor; they’re pretty cute together”), but says public perception is of little concern to her: “It’s kind of like reading a cartoon strip and there’s a character, but it’s not me,” she says. “It’s a story that’s loosely related to mine.” Later, from the bathroom, I overhear her telling the pool crew which morsels of the avalanche of Taylor-and-Conor coverage are true, then adding, “I shouldn’t say this with all these journalists around.” As for the rumor she’s dating one member of the tribe, MSNBC’s Chris ­Matthews’s son, Thomas, she simply says she’s single.

“What about you, are you single?” she asks. Before I can answer she says she has someone she wants to set me up with, and consults Gabby, who appraises me gravely. The three of us are joined by Frankie (“Frankieeeeuh!”), a shy-­seeming tutor whom the two picked up at Parkside, and Jay (“Jayyyyyuh!”), a writer and documentarian whose film Kick was an assistant on. They start playing for real, winner keeps the table. Someone leaves a Budweiser on the edge of it.

“No drinks on the table!” Kick says.

“It’s not on the felt,” Jay says, not stopping, arranging his shot.

“American Poolplayers Association rules,” she insists. “An old, fat guy will yell at you.”

To prepare for auditions, Kick tells me, she’s been reading plays. She tries to read one every day—she was reading one just a few hours earlier and gets a bit doe-eyed and romantic at the memory. It was Orpheus Descending, by Tennessee Williams, again. “That’s one I’ve read five times. I just love it. It’s so romantic in this sad way. It just breaks my heart.” She would love to play Carol one day, the “mess socialite girl” who falls in love with Orpheus’s hero, “this drifter named Val who wears a snakeskin jacket and plays the guitar.” She sees a lot of parallels between Carol and Edie Sedgwick, a character Kick selected to study for an entire month at a recent Method-acting workshop. “I feel very deeply, and when I fall in love, I fall hard,” she says. “I know the scene that Carol is from, high society. I think I could pull it off.” 

*This article originally appeared in the October 22, 2012 issue of New York Magazine.

126 Minutes With Kick Kennedy