High School Musical Starring Frances Bean Cobain
Kurt and Courtney's daughter is ready to hit the spotlight
By Laura Brown
Those who think Frances Bean Cobain is an enigma wrapped in rock 'n' roll mystery, a shy, blue-eyed kid clinging to mother Courtney Love's hand on assorted red carpets, would be sadly mistaken. A chatty, spritelike firecracker, Frances, 15, is bouncing around her lair, a guesthouse at the back of Courtney's grand manse in Beverly Hills. Said lair houses a kitten ("She's called One, Two, Three because I couldn't decide what to name her"), a big-screen TV, and, on the couch, a BlackBerry and a DVD of Sex and the City. "I love Sex and the City so much," Frances says, plopping on the couch. "I can't wait for the movie. I'm not gonna lie."
Frances and Courtney just got back from New York, where they were looking for apartments. "New York is like my dream city," Frances proclaims. "That's where I'm going to live, I'm convinced of it." The two were captured by the paparazzi at LAX, Frances wearing a shock of red lipstick and a pair of satin heels almost as tall as she is. "Oh, yeah, they're Prada," she says in rat-a-tat-tat style. "I bought them maybe three minutes before we got on the plane 'cause we were staying at the Four Seasons and Prada is right next door, thank God. I wore them out of the shop. Mom and I were like 30 minutes late for the airport because we're both very flaky people."
Frances is disarmingly direct, dispensing bons mots like a 17th-century raconteur. (This may explain why the French period drama Molière is her current favorite movie.) She's implicitly aware that this interview—with no hovering minders, no publicists, no Mom—represents something of a coming-out party. And she is dressed for the occasion in a sparkly red J. Maskrey cardigan, a navy tank, and a black American Apparel skirt. She recently dyed her hair black, accenting the look with more red lipstick, red fingernails, and — mais oui — red toenails. She has a brand-new nose piercing, too. "Mom went with me. She was freaking out because she thought it was going to be a big stud or a big ring," she says. "And, God, it hurt. It was worth it, though, because it looks so cool."
But it's Frances's eyes that have it: Huge pools of "like green, blue, yellow, purple, orange, gray," they are startlingly and immediately reminiscent of her late father, Kurt Cobain. They are inescapable. "I'm very lucky because my eyes work with almost any hair color," Frances notes breezily. "Thanks for the genetics, parents. Rock on!"
Of course, it is genetics—her grunge-icon father, Kurt, who took his own life when Frances was not yet two, and her rocker mother, Courtney, now clean after completing drug rehabilitation in 2005—that has the world so intrigued by Frances. ("She has a legend on her shoulders," Courtney observes.) "I get it, I really do," Frances says with a wriggle, "but at the same time, it's creepy. It's creepy to see fan sites about me." There are almost 200,000 Web pages featuring Frances, which variously anoint her "the most beloved child in rock 'n' roll" or debate burning issues like "Do you think Frances Bean should guest on Hannah Montana?"
"These people are fascinated by me, but I haven't done anything," Frances says. "I'm famous by default. I came out of the womb and people wanted to know who I was because of my parents. If you're a big Nirvana fan, a big Hole fan, then I understand why you would want to get to know me, but I'm not my parents. People need to wait until I've done something valid with my life."
She's not entirely sure what that will be yet. She has flirted with photography ("but it's such a repetitive action and I have the attention span of a rabbit on cocaine"), and she might go intern at Rolling Stone magazine this summer, but there's no rush. "I'm lucky enough to have a life where a lot of doors are going to be opened for me, so I'm taking my time. But I get asked what I want to do all the time because of my parents, because of the life I live."
It is, and has been, quite a life already. Frances, at home now after Courtney won back custody in 2005, when she was 12 (her grandmother Wendy O'Connor, Kurt's mother, was for a time appointed her guardian), has a nanny with her at all times. "I don't walk on the street by myself," she says, rolling her eyes, "because my mother's a little paranoid." She counts Michael Stipe as her godfather and still winces when she remembers the untimely death of a rabbit given to her by Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. ("He's like, 'Promise it won't die,' and it did. And I was like, 'Oh, Billy, my bad.'")
It's surprising, then, that one of her favorite things is the very un–rock 'n' roll, often very uncool Broadway musical. "Frances grew up on musicals," says Courtney. "I think musicals comfort her; it's a stability thing. And she's a gay man trapped in a woman's body, like me." Frances has performed in more than 20 productions, from The Wizard of Oz to Grease. She was "eight and a half" when she saw her first, Beauty and the Beast. "My nanny Linda took me. I got to go backstage and hang with the cast and Belle," she recalls. "Belle was really pretty, but she was kind of old, actually. She looked like she was 30. But she did let me try on her eight-pound wig."
One of Frances's favorite characters, though, is Rizzo from Grease. "Oh, I hate those people who are consistently the Sandys," she scoffs. "I'm always kind of a badass. I'm an attention whore. I'm not gonna lie." She sees a little bit of Rizzo in herself: "I'm sort of hard. I'm not mean; I'm just sort of cocky. But you know when Rizzo sings that song, 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do'? She's like, I can feel and I can cry. I'm really outgoing, but there's times I want to be by myself."
Frances was initially "reluctant" to hit the stage "because I didn't want to go into the whole cliché of my parents. The first time I'd ever been onstage, singing by myself, I was shaking." Did she learn anything about performing from her mother? "She has great presence. But we're different; we're very yin and yang of each other. When our personalities clash, it's because we have such different ideas about the exact same thing."
Given the difficulties of her childhood, Frances now seems to share a typical teen-mom relationship with Courtney: "Nobody who's 15's mom is cool," Courtney says. "I'll be cool in like a year and a half." Of her self-termed "cuckoo-banana" years, she adds, "Frances never saw me in that state except possibly on TV, and I think she avoided that. I would go to New York or to a hotel if I was going to do that stuff." She laughs wryly and says, "The only thing that has ever embarrassed her was when I went with David LaChapelle to his Rize premiere and she saw a picture of me krumping. And I was fat."
Though Frances is happy to be in the spotlight onstage, the media glare is not as seductive. "I could be at Hyde every night," she says. "I could be a party girl." She has been to a few soirees, sometimes with girlfriend Tallulah Willis (Demi Moore's daughter), "but I don't want my picture in every single tabloid." Frances won't be hosting a club opening in Las Vegas anytime soon, then. "Ah, you found me out!" she jokes drolly. "My secret identity is Baby Jesus, and I deejay all the time. In really, really slutty, go-getting outfits."
She sympathizes with the plight of the party girls. "They might be very nice people; they're just going through a stage. But their pictures are everywhere, and they're never going to get rid of that. So I have been careful about where I go and who I hang out with because if you tell someone the wrong thing, then it's everywhere.
"Like Jamie Lynn Spears!" she continues passionately. "I feel so unbelievably bad for her. Do you know how many 16-year-old girls get pregnant? Fourteen- and 13-year-olds get pregnant! Unlike them, she's getting so much controversy over it because she's Britney Spears's little sister. And that's really not fair to her at all."
Frances prizes her tight-knit set of friends. "I can count on one hand how many people I trust," she says. She is also wary of indulging in the petty dramas of teenagehood. "I've had a different perspective on what real drama is," she says quietly. "I'm not a fantasy-type person. I'm really pessimistic. It's horrible." Glass half empty? "No, more like a glass is just there."
She credits Kurt's mother, who lives in Olympia, Washington, with helping her keep her head. "We've moved so much, and my life has been so inconsistent," she says. "[She's] the most constant thing I've ever had. I'm really lucky because I've been able to go places and meet people you can only dream of, but she's probably the person I respect most out of anybody in the world." Courtney adds, "Whatever you want to say about me, go look at my kid. ... I don't think any child has ever been more wanted. And I don't think that any parents have wanted to fuck up less."
These days, Frances is getting on with the business of being a teenager. Picking up her Sex and the City DVD, she grins. "I am pretty much a shoe junkie. Think Carrie Bradshaw times 20. It's not even cute; it's sick." She adores the style of Dita Von Teese. "She's like a very dark, gothic, beautiful burlesque doll. Oh, hey, want to see what I bought on eBay?" She runs to her room, returning with a curvy Dita-esque vintage purple dress. "It looks amazing on. I'm not gonna lie."
So what is Ms. Bean's ambition? "I want to be sublimely happy" is her swift response. "I want to be able to live in a way that isn't too hectic. Calm. And I want those around me to be sublimely happy as well.
"But," she continues, her big green-blue-yellow-purple-orange-gray eyes widening, "I'm really scared to hit adulthood because if everything is this hectic and I'm only 15 years old, what the hell is going to happen when I'm 22?"