Perhaps just because I am terrible at the observa - tional aspect of my job, I don’t notice who I am seated next to in Soho at New York’s bustling Altro Paradiso restaurant when Chloë Sevigny — hair tied back, Patagonia fleece and mustard leggings — wanders over to the table.
‘Shall we go and sit outside?’ she smiles, slightly sheepishly, without sitting down. Fine with me. She doesn’t, she says as we wander out, want to do an interview about being an actor while sitting in such close proximity to another actor, whom she knows. Fair enough, I think. I try to glance back and catch a glimpse, but it’s too late.
If I am giving the impression that Sevigny is at all on edge today, I should make it clear that she is not. Quite the opposite in fact. It has, she says, ‘been a rough couple of days’ due to her two-and-a-half year-old son, Vanja, having been up the past two nights. But she is nonetheless really good, vibrant company.
She laughs, a lot. She beams, ‘What up?’ at a friend — not that actor, sadly — who walks past. She asks me as many questions as I ask her and over the course of lunch our conversation takes many pleasant tangents. From the fact that London menus now list the calories of each dish (‘Oh, no… even J Sheekey?’), to Succession (‘Gerry lives around the corner!’) to Blonde (‘I thought there were so many beautiful things about that movie — she was insane, the cinematography was amazing — but [...] the trauma porn of it was very hard for me to swallow’). And she really enjoyed the ES cover shoot a couple of days ago. ‘So fun! I’d never shot with Petra [Collins], she’d come up a bunch before and I was like, I’ve always been really interested in her and her work, and her whole thing.’
Sevigny is funny, too. When ordering our food — gem oysters, tuna tartare, a pile of (delicious) shaved fennel — she asks the waiter for green tea ‘and whatever the gentleman wants’.
‘Sorry: is “gentleman” your preferred pronoun?’ she asks, smiling again.
We should probably begin, I say, by discussing The Current Project. Which won’t take long because Sevigny’s role in The Current Project involves just a few minutes of screen time. It came about because the director, Luca Guadagnino — he of Call Me By Your Name fame — ‘texted me and said, “There’s a small but pivotal role, will you come?” I said, “I’ll come for one line, for you.” Then I get the script and there’s not even one line. There’s one monologue, a voiceover.’ (Not to ruin the surprise, but Sevigny’s single day of shooting involved her collaborating with the same prosthetics artist with whom she worked on American Horror Story).
The film, as you might have guessed already, is Bones And All. It is about a young couple who bond over a shared compulsion to eat human flesh, fall in love and embark on a road trip across the United States: kind of Natural Born Killers, but with cannibalism. Said couple are played by Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet. And while Sevigny only shot with the former, she did get the chance at the film festivals in Venice and New York to witness Chalamania up close.
‘Oh my God: in love!’ she says. ‘His whole thing is just… undeniable. Being at a press conference with him, and the way he navigated the questions, and how generous he was to everyone around. And how beautiful he is, and glowing. He is like a true… I don’t even know what. I mean it’s so wild, to move through spaces with somebody like that. Like The Beatles! People mobbing the car, people running after him. Like, I used to hang out with Jarvis [Cocker] in the Nineties in London, and that exposure to that level of fame, at that time, made me decide I never wanted to be famous.’
It’s not difficult to draw parallels between Sevigny and Chalamet. Though the former was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, and raised in Connecticut to a father who worked in insurance and a mother who worked at a church nursery school, both are strongly associated with New York. Each has a notorious sex scene to their name (with Vincent Gallo in Brown Bunny, and a ripe peach in Call Me By Your Name, respectively). Both are forever feted by the fashion world and both are probably bored of being described as an It boy/girl (it’s basically illegal to write about Sevigny without mentioning the 1994 New Yorker profile that described her as ‘the coolest girl in the world’).
There’s this generation of girls who are cool and on the up and up who are looking at me wanting me to direct for them
Most of all, both shun the mainstream and exhibit a proclivity for the independent, the alternative, in terms of style and the films in which they have chosen to appear. The difference being that in 2022 the ‘alternative’ that Sevigny was a part of has now permeated the mainstream: Chalamet is a megastar rather than the cult figure she was in the Nineties and Noughties. ‘Right now, being more of an individual is more celebrated,’ Sevigny agrees.‘Whereas back then it was Johnny Depp and that was kind of it.’
From Kids (teenage tearaway) to Big Love (Mormon wife) to American Psycho (serial killer’s secretary) and beyond, Sevigny has always sought roles that are different and challenging. To date, her sole Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, is for 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry, in which she portrayed the girlfriend of Brandon Teena, a trans man played by Hilary Swank. As someone who also donned a prosthetic penis to play a transgen - der contract killer in the 2012 TV series Hit & Miss, I wonder how she feels about the current debate as to whether such stories should be told only by actors who have experienced them.
‘I mean, I’m not even sure about playing gay any more,’ she says. ‘You know what I mean? I keep getting asked to. I think…’ A long pause of three or four seconds.
‘I’m undecided on that debate. I kind of go both ways. I mean I think that’s the actor’s job, to interpret what someone has gone through on the page, or a true story. But I can also understand when individuals have experienced certain things and don’t think it’s fair. But there should be more opportunities for the people that have been maligned. That’s the long and short of it.’
Sevigny is doing her bit on that score. Having directed three short films (check out Kitty, in which a young girl turns into her cat) she is now editing her fourth, with legendary New York drag artist Lypsinka. She tried, too, to cast Indya Moore in another short film. ‘But she wasn’t interested or there wasn’t enough of a part,’ she laughs. ‘I was obsessed with her in Pose. And then we met on this Saint Laurent thing, and she was like, “Oh I should have done it.” I was like, “F*** yeah, you should have done it!”’ She is also developing a project with Hari Nef (Tante Gittel from Transparent) who asked her to collaborate. ‘It was interesting during the pandemic,’ she says. ‘I was approached by a lot of, like, cool girls. There’s just this generation of girls who are kind of cool and on the up and up, looking at me and wanting me to direct for them. Like Julia Fox is interested in me for something.’ Which is? ‘Well, her project, unfortunately, was a real exploration into addiction and I’m just not that interested in that enough to devote the kind of time and energy that needs. But I dunno, we’ll see.’
Aside from becoming a kind of godparent to a new generation of It people, the pandemic brought about big changes in the life of Chloë Sevigny. She got married in March 2020 to Serbian art gallery director Siniša MaÄkoviÄ and then in May, with the world in lockdown, she gave birth to Vanja. Sleepless nights aside, married life remains ‘great’, she says. ‘It’s really settled. I don’t know if I really liked being single or if I wasn’t very good at it. So [it’s good] finding someone who is my first boyfriend — and sorry to all the boyfriends before — that isn’t, like, a narcissist.
‘I also dated a lot of addicts, so it’s really nice to be with some - one who’s like, super-solid and comfortable in his skin and very supportive and not competitive. He’s a nurturer. He works with artists, he runs a gallery. He helps shape people’s careers and support them and their ideas. He’s like a caregiver in a way. And he’s also a businessperson, which is really nice because I’ve been coddled since I was 19, so even buying, like, airplane tickets is challenging for me.’
She has plans to retire to Provincetown someday: ‘We’ve been going there every summer. I love how remote it is. There’s a real arts community, a real gay community.’ But for now she is happy staying put in the city with which she will forever be synonymous, in the apartment two blocks from where we are currently sitting. ‘It actually gave me a lot of faith when I was around Timothée in Venice,’ she says. ‘Because sometimes I’m like, ahhh, raising Vanja in the city, what’s that gonna be like? How’s he gonna turn out? But there are kids who grew up here that are really solid. And Timothée is really solid.’
Motherhood, she says, is now her total priority and will, to a large extent, dictate the work that she takes on from this point. This year, for example, you will have seen Sevigny only in Russian Doll (which was shot in New York) and The Girl From Plainville: ‘An insane story obviously, and the cast and team were stellar. But it was also filmed in Savannah, which was really familiar to me, a three hour flight from here, same time zone… if that had been LA, I might not have done it.’
But the good parts keep coming. By the time you read this she will be shooting season two of Feud, directed by another achingly cool director, Gus Van Sant. ‘He exec-produced Kids, so I’ve known him since then,’ she says. ‘We had a weird con - nection because he went to the same high school as me, and we had the same art teacher. So we have a kind of unspoken understanding’.
And there’s still plenty more that she wants to do. ‘Tonnes! Vampire pictures: my favourite genre. A million and one directors. Bigger parts, always. Be fun to play a villain. Why can’t I play a villain on The Mandalorian? I love The Mandalorian!’ She’s a Star Wars fan? ‘My husband had never seen it, so during the pandemic we watched everything from the beginning again, all the films, then The Mandalorian.’ As a director, too, she has lots of big ideas: namely ‘a feature that, like my film Kitty, appeals to young people and old people. That also has like a magical realism element. Kind of Spielberg-esque.’
Tonight, though, she is off to the cinema to watch either Triangle of Sadness or Tar, and before that has a Zoom meeting with a dialect coach who is helping her perfect an accent. She shows me a YouTube video of someone speaking in this accent, and it seems quite terrifyingly tricky, so I let her go. It’s only a few days until she shoots, after all. Oh, and it turns out, the actor who was sitting at the next table was Maggie Gyllenhaal. Damn! I go inside to see if she is still there, but she appears to be long gone. Oh well: I’m sure had I asked her for a line on Chloë Sevigny she would probably have said, ‘Still the coolest girl in New York,’ or something, so maybe let’s just go with that.
‘Bones And All’ opens in cinemas on 25 Nov