The Independent Spirit of Chloë Sevigny

The first challenge with Chloë Sevigny is figuring out how to describe her, as no single epithet feels quite right. “I guess people think of me as a strong individual, and strongly individual,” she says. “I don’t want to say it outshines my acting, but it’s always been: ‘Oh, she’s the fashion girl, she’s the New York girl,’ instead of, ‘Oh, she’s the actress who’s done a string of very different, diverse, odd characters.’” 

Looking back across her three decades in film and TV, though, if I were forced to sum Sevigny up, it would be as one of the greatest character actors of her generation. That was what she wanted to be, all the way back when she was a Connecticut teenager taking the train into Manhattan, where she caught the eye of Harmony Korine in Washington Square Park and landed her breakout role in Kids. “I’ve always had an urge to just disappear into a character,” she says. “I think some actors play themselves over and over—and there’s a lot of charm in that, but the characters I’ve played have been so varied.” At this, Sevigny breaks out into a hearty, self-effacing laugh. “I think I just want a bit more credit for that, you know?”

Yes, Jay McInerney’s infamous 1994 New Yorker piece branding her “the coolest girl in the world” and her evergreen status as a fashion icon may have led to a certain strain of snooty Hollywood gatekeepers overlooking her at times. (On which note, good luck finding a breakout film ingenue today without some kind of contract with a major fashion house.) But Sevigny took the high road, putting in the work and establishing herself as a director’s actor, appearing in films by the likes of Lars von Trier, David Fincher, Jim Jarmusch, and Whit Stillman. Over the past five years alone, she’s appeared in no fewer than 13 films and five TV shows.

It feels like Sevigny’s most pivotal role was her late-’00s, Emmy-winning turn on HBO’s acclaimed Mormon drama Big Love, which launched an impressive career on the small screen, arguably the medium where she seems most at home. From Sky’s Hit & Miss, in which she played an Irish contract killer, to Luca Guadagnino’s criminally under-watched We Are Who We Are, which cast her as an American colonel posted to Italy, TV has proved endlessly fertile ground for Sevigny, rewarding her slow-burn approach as an actor. “Once there was a big distinction, but today, we have a clearer idea of what a rewarding form TV can be, and how much freedom it can provide,” she says. “I think television is still so far ahead of Hollywood, as far as celebrating and telling stories about and putting people in positions of power who are women, or people of color, or queer people—anyone who is marginalized in some way. It’s still a far more progressive space than the movies, unfortunately.”

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