Chloë Sevigny Doesn’t Want To Be Your "It" Girl
The star of HBO’s We Are Who We Are on her career, and why she’s always felt misunderstood by the media.
At 45, Chloë Sevigny is still generous with interviews, but is “a little disillusioned” by the process. “You spend so much time speaking to someone and then they’ll use one sentence,” she tells Bustle. “So like what’s the point of it all?”
The first magazine profile of Sevigny appeared in The New Yorker in 1994, when she was 19. At that point, Sevigny hadn’t really done anything yet except get noticed hanging around Washington Square Park in thrifted clothes. She was filming her first movie (Harmony Korine’s Kids) at the time, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to be famous or an actor. Raised in suburban Connecticut, Sevigny had come to New York, she told The New Yorker’s Jay McInerney, because she “didn’t really like the kids in Darien.” He calls her by her first name throughout the 6,000-word piece.
Twenty-five years later, there’s practically a formula for writing about Sevigny. First comes the description of her cagey mystery (a lesson from her mother) and then a section that grasps at defining her current phase of relevance (Chloë the It Girl, Chloë the Woman, Chloë the Adult, Chloë the Mom). She’s seldom quoted at length, and her laugh, which is warm but honestly not that remarkable, is reliably described with a startled flourish (see: "her loud, un-self-conscious, wheeze-honk-honk," per the Times). I ask her why she thinks that is. “Because they’re like, ‘Oh wow, she’s actually goofy or something,’” she says. “They want me to be like a schoolgirl.”
Sevigny is braving the process once more to promote her new project, the Luca Guadagnino-directed HBO drama We Are Who We Are. She plays Sarah Wilson, an army colonel who moves to the Adriatic coast with her wife and 14-year-old son to take command of a US base. She worked with a military adviser to perfect Wilson’s physicality — how she stands, the angle of her beret, her remote demeanor. “I was scared of the vocalization,” Sevigny says. “I’m not a very verbal person, and being able to own the language [intimidated me].”
At its heart, We Are Who We Are is a coming-of-age story about Sarah’s son Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) and his unlikely friendship with the tomboyish Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón). The characters come to question their sexuality and gender identity respectively, a familiar topic for Guadagnino, who directed Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in the critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name.
It’s also, as Sevigny succinctly puts it, about "men having to deal with a woman in power,” as Sarah navigates being a queer woman leader in an organization as historically anti-queer as the military. "It’s exhausting," Sevigny’s Sarah says in one episode of parenting her increasingly sensitive and tetchy son, "trying to be his mother and his father all at the same time." Sevigny is now a mother herself — she welcomed a son with gallerist Siniša Mačković in May — though she was keeping her pregnancy quiet while filming We Are Who We Are, and being in Italy proved a convenient cover. “If I was out with my friends at dinner, they’d be like, wait, why aren’t you having three martinis?” Sevigny says. But in Venice, she could avoid nosy questions — a benefit of working with a largely teenage cast.
For that teenage cast, working with Sevigny was “awesome,” according to her co-star Francesca Scorsese, who plays a high school Army Brat. Though even Scorsese, daughter of Martin, couldn’t bring herself to say hello when she first spotted Sevigny at the Italian embassy while sorting out her work permit. “She came in with this black leather jacket, and she had these huge shades on, red lipstick, and just looked like she would kill you with one glance," Scorsese says. "I was absolutely terrified.”
On set, Scorsese finally introduced herself, confessing that she’d avoided her months earlier. Sevigny wrote her a note. “She left it at the hotel’s front desk for me and was like, ‘I’d love to connect and have dinner. Here’s my number. Love, the mean lady from the Italian embassy,’" Scorsese recalls. "We would go down and drink wine and just chat and it was so much fun. She’s a wonderful person."
It’s a cute celebrity story, the kind we’re used to hearing — how nice they are, how unexpectedly relatable — but it’s not the kind of story you often hear about Sevigny, whose persona (insouciant, edgy, cool) has always taken center stage. “I feel like I don’t ever really get credit for my acting,” she tells me when the conversation circles back to the media. “I feel like I’m searching for a certain amount of respect or to be considered as an artist, or something more than what people assign to me.”
Still, when I ask Sevigny what she thinks is the biggest misunderstanding about her, I’m surprised how far back she goes, all the way to when she was 19 and Jay McInerney was waiting for her to show up at Tunnel, a Chelsea nightclub. “They always think that I was like — and I still hear this — a party girl,” she says. “I never thought of myself as that, you know? Or even the ‘It Girl’ thing. What is an ‘It Girl’?”
Even so, she’s not dwelling on it. A few years ago, she set out to make a timeline of her life. The ’90s, when she was first getting started, are easy to recall, but the 2000s have become a blur. "I was trying to align what I was working on during what relationship just to kind of make sense of it, you know?" I check her filmography and discover Sevigny made over 20 movies and TV shows in that 10-year period.
"I don’t think I even finished,” she tells me with a laugh, eventually losing interest in rehashing her own origin story. For now, she hopes the rest of us will grow just as bored with her past as she did.
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