Lunch with The Beast
Chloe Sevigny on ‘The Cosmopolitans,’ New York’s Frat Boy Takeover, and ‘Asshole’ Michael Alig
The star of Kids, former NYC club fixture, and fashion icon has reunited with Whit Stillman for a new Amazon series, and is shooting another on Netflix. Over lunch with Marlow Stern, she opened up about her wild life.
Due to some heavy traffic—summer, tourists—I’m five minutes late to my interview with Chloe Sevigny, the actress/city girl/fashionista. The setting she’s chosen is Balthazar, Keith McNally’s chic SoHo bistro, and it couldn’t be more fitting.
We’re here to discuss her role in Whit Stillman’s The Cosmopolitans, a half-hour pilot made for Amazon Studios that will premiere on Amazon Instant Aug. 28. It centers on a group of American expatriates in Paris, played by Adam Brody, Sevigny, and Carrie MacLemore, and is populated by Stillman’s usual brand of upper-class sophisticates, which he coined the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie—basically, the type of people who’d frequent a place like Balthazar.
Upon entering, I spot Sevigny seated in the back, feasting on a plate of oysters, a goat cheese salad, and iced tea. The 39-year-old is looking very summery—you can scope her outfit here, since the Daily Mail apparently snapped her moments after we parted ways—and in good spirits. She whips out her phone and shows me a picture of models clad in fitted hats and T’s sporting the label “Tri-State Represent” on them. It’s part of a fashion line she’s doing with Opening Ceremony that’s launching Sept. 11. “It’s a play on those annoying, white caps that say Syracuse Lacrosse,” she says, laughing. “I think it’s hilarious. We always called all the preppy kids in high school white caps.”
Sevigny grew up Darien, Connecticut, but would go into Manhattan on the weekends. In 1992, she was spotted by Sassy magazine, and became a model/intern for the fashion rag. Then, after graduating high school in ’93, she moved to the city—shaved head and all—and grew into a nightlife fixture, frequenting the Gatien-operated hot spots like Limelight and Tunnel. The following year, Jay McInerney wrote a glowing, 7-page feature on her in The New Yorker dubbed “Chloe’s Scene,” anointing her one of the “coolest girls in the world,” and the year after that, she starred as Jennie, a troubled teen in the zeitgeisty indie film Kids, written by her close pal (and later boyfriend) Harmony Korine. She received an Oscar nod for her gripping turn in 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry, and took home a Golden Globe award for the HBO series Big Love.
In addition to The Cosmopolitans, which marks her reunion with Stillman 16 years after their celebrated indie flick The Last Days of Disco, Sevigny has been traveling back-and-forth from New York to the Florida Keys, where she’s shooting an unnamed upcoming Netflix series about a dysfunctional family. She’ll be playing the love interest to Ben Mendelsohn, and the show also stars Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, and Linda Cardellini, and comes from the makers of Damages.
Have you and Whit wanted to hook up again since The Last Days of Disco?
We have! We met back up while doing the commentary for the Criterion Collection of The Last Days of Disco, and we’d meet up at Cannes and around town periodically, and I always told him I wanted to do something with him again. In Damsels there was nothing, but now he’s trying to get this feature off the ground, Love and Friendship, with Sienna Miller and me. It’s a Jane Austen-like period film with lots of dialogue. I love him.
What was it like shooting The Cosmopolitans in Paris?
It’s very glamorous, and beautiful. I’d shot there before—a French film called Demonlover by Olivier Assayas.
Ah, yes. That’s the movie you’d allegedly accepted over Legally Blonde.
Oh, I don’t know. I mean… I wasn’t offered the lead in Legally Blonde. It was, I think, the friend [eventually going to Selma Blair]. But when I made that movie I was quite young, really in love with this new boy, and I chose to live in St. Germain, and it was too stuffy for this twenty-something. But this time, we also shot in St. Germain, as well as the Marais, which is filled with all these beautiful coffee shops.
Had you ever had a wild time in Paris in your younger years, prior to Demonlover?
After I did Kids, which I was paid $1,500 for—and no royalties—I took the money and used it to visit a friend of mine who was studying in London at art school, and then we took the ferry to Paris and spent the weekend there—doing the Musée Rodin, the Tuileries, tour Eiffel, and all those things high school kids are into. And now, I get to go back every so often when I get invited out to fashion shows, so it’s on someone else’s dime, which is really nice. They’ll give you a first class ticket and you can turn it into two economy ones so your friend can go with you, or you’ll stay a few extra days after.
What are your thoughts on French men vs. American men?
I’ve never dated a French man! I want to be the sexy one. I feel like they do an overtly sexy thing—at least the ones I know—but I’d rather have me be the sexy one. I like more of… a macho dude.
You don’t see too many films these days being filmed abroad, unless it’s a country-hopping spy thriller. I guess the tax incentives they offer in North America are too attractive.
Or Woody Allen.
Right. You had a Woody Allen experience with Melinda and Melinda, but that was in New York. Weren’t your scenes shot inside a restaurant… was it Pastis?
I did. It’s like a right of passage. We shot our scenes in Il Buco. I love me some Il Buco.
Any other favorite restaurants in NYC?
Love me some Raoul’s—the true autentico, not the McNally/Disneyland autentico. Although now, this place seems autentico since it’s been here so long. But I went into Cherche Midi the other day, and I wasn’t feeling the vibe so much.
You moved to Brooklyn recently, right?
Two weeks ago. I just sold my apartment a year ago. After ten years of living in the East Village, I was on 10th St. between 2nd and 3rd, I was like, “Get me the fuck out of here.” I was looking around a lot in Manhattan, but the prices were exorbitant. And then I looked in Brooklyn, and I didn’t want to live in “hip” Brooklyn, so I moved out to the dorkiest, hokiest neighborhood— Park Slope—and I’m really feeling the vibes out there. But the flight patterns out there are constant. I’d read a bit about it in the New York Times, but I didn’t realize how bad it was ‘til I moved out there—planes constantly buzzing overhead.
I read that they were investigating the L train for bedbugs the other day.
On the trendy train? [Laughs]
Yup. What’s your take on the state of New York City?
I’m trying to stay positive. A lot of people are hating on everything that’s going on. But I love New York so much. The rent’s high for people and for the mom-and-pop shops, so there needs to be more balance—which I hope will be one of De Blasio’s big initiatives, or so he claims. But walking around the East Village, I just want to cry at the state of it. There are so many fuckin’ jocks everywhere! It’s like a frat house everywhere. There are all those terrible bars like The 13th Step, and it’s just spreading over to A and B. And now, in Williamsburg, you have all these frat guys dressed as alternatives. I don’t know if it’s a sign of the times, but where are the real weirdos? The real outcasts? They’re a vanishing breed here. Maybe New York isn’t drawing that anymore because it’s too expensive.
Vintage clothing shops are sort of a metaphor for the state of New York City, because they’re not “vintage,” and they’re expensive as hell now. So people are essentially paying top dollar to look, like you said, “alternative.”
That’s what I call “Fashion Goths.” You see these kids walking on the street and think, “Oh, look at that Goth kid,” and then you realize it isn’t a Goth kid, it’s just a “Fashion Goth” who’s dressed as a Goth kid. It’s so disparaging.
Let’s talk about Kids. I remember renting it with my friends in 9th grade, and it’s almost this cultural artifact now, since New York City’s changed so much since ’95. Do you still keep in touch with the gang?
Yeah, next summer will be 20 years. Harmony [Korine] occasionally, Larry Clark occasionally, and Leo Fitzpatrick I see around because we travel in the same circles and have a lot of similar friends Downtown. He’s really big in the art scene right now—has this gallery, Home Alone 2, that’s really cool. I see Rosario at some events. I feel like now that Max Fish has reopened, I’ll run into some of the old characters—the skate kids—from the movie. They all hang out there. I’m actually working on a book now with Rizzoli…
…What is it?
This “Chloe Book.” Sounds really narcissistic and annoying. [Laughs] But I went to Japan a few years ago and saw this “Chloe Stylebook” that was apparently kind of popular there, and I had no idea who made it, and it was just these horrible paparazzi shots of me. I was a bit depressed about it, but curious, so then this girl called me from Rizzoli and I figured I’d reclaim it, and do it in the way that I’d want to do it. It’s photos through the years and weirdo fashion; not a “style guide,” but more an art book and collection of images and ephemera. There are a lot of photos from around the time of Kids, so I’ve been having to reach out to everybody asking for photos and permission. Facebook’s been very helpful for that kind of thing. It’s been a real nostalgia trip.
But I love Kids. It really is a cult film, and it seems like every day of the week someone comes up and asks me about it. I feel I’ve been in a few movies like that, which have really hit the zeitgeist, like Party Monster, or Boys Don’t Cry, or American Psycho. I wish I could only be in movies like that, but you’re at the mercy of the business, and “numbers.” Even in the indies, people say, “Oh, you can’t cast Chloe because she hasn’t been in any movies that have made money.”
You get that still?
Oh, yeah. All the time.
Many of those films you mentioned fall in the $2-10 million range, and that range for indies is really disappearing. Now, you’ve got microbudget films or tentpoles.
Yup. They’re all gone—like the disappearing middle class. They’ve gone away with the ‘90s and early aughts.
Do you find yourself nostalgic for the ‘90s?
I’m always going to be nostalgic for it, since it was my youth. It was a cooler New York pre-Giuliani, and it was also pre-Internet, so it will always serve as this dividing line, for me, between—what are the Internet-savvy kids called?
[Laughs] Oh God, right. I’ve never had a Twitter, and my Facebook is private. Maybe I should do a promotional, Instagram-y thing… but I don’t even have an iPhone yet. I have a BlackBerry. I like to evolve with the times, but it just seems like over-sharing. I already have to share too much with all the vampires of the world. I have this girl I’m friends with on Facebook, and even she talks about “wanting likes.” It’s weird that creative minds like hers are striving for this sense of approval, and this dopamine release. It’s really dangerous.
You mentioned Boys Don’t Cry earlier, and that film was pretty ahead of its time in tackling issues of transsexuality and gender identity. And you’ve appeared in a lot of projects featuring gay or trans characters, including that, Party Monster, Beautiful Darling, and Hit & Miss.
I’ve always been interested in the gay community because they were so on the fringe. Now, the identity of it seems to be a little muddled for me—probably because the struggle is dissipating, which is great and positive, of course, but… I was watching I Am Divine, the Divine documentary, and John Waters was saying, “Five minutes ago, it was so tough to be gay,” and nowadays, these kids don’t understand or have the reverence for what the older generation had to go through. I’ve been in projects that have tackled those issues over the years because they’re very important to me, and they were really good scripts.
You also spent a lot of time within the gay community back in your ‘90s club days, at places like Limelight.
Oh, yeah. In ’93 I moved to Brooklyn Heights with five kids, and they all worked for Peter Gatien, so I could go to all those places—Limelight, Club USA, Palladium, Tunnel—for free and get free drink tickets, even though I didn’t drink that much.
That was when the club scene was fun in New York, now…
…Is there a club scene? Although, I think all those ghetto/goth kids are doing something with Melissa Burns; all the weirdo kids. She’s got something going on with all the kids who are all future-future or past-future or… I don’t even know what you’d call them. They’re so modern, and weird. But it’s not like it was. I’m nostalgic more for seeing the energy of creative people in the city, and what cool things come out of struggle, and all that stuff. I miss Kim’s Video. It should’ve been made into some sort of cultural institution. How many kids basically went to film school for $3.75 a week? It was my film school. I shed a tear for that, and other institutions that have had to shut down because of the rising rates. I am nostalgic for the pre-mauling of Manhattan. It’s true. But I don’t want to hate on it too much. I still think it’s the greatest city in the world.
Have you spoken to Michael Alig since he’s gotten out of jail?
No. No. No. I feel like there was this weird thing when he did get out where everyone was posting about it. I knew him, but he never graced me with any acknowledgment. There was a big hierarchy in the club scene. He would never deign me with any sort of acknowledgment, because I was too low on the totem pole. But I was close with people that were close with him, and I always thought he was an asshole. And poor Angel, God rest his soul, he was an asshole, too. He would never sell me drugs because the pretty gay boys liked me. I would have to have my pretty gay boys go and get my drugs from Angel if I needed some sort of downer, because he wouldn’t even sell to me. Freeze was like that, too. He was an asshole, too. It was really… a crazy scene. But Richie Rich, James St. James, a lot of those guys were really lovely.
I’ve got to ask about The Brown Bunny. You got an unbelievable amount of crap for that scene, and William Morris allegedly fired you.
I did—but that’s not true, the agency thing. I love Vincent. I’ve known him since I was really young, and I’m a big fan of his work, and how controversial it’s been. I’ve always been attracted to controversy. I was interested in doing something really transgressive, and I was really shocked by how much of a hoopla it was—I didn’t think it would turn into such a hoopla—and it was really painful to go through. In the end, I think the stress will have taken a few years off of my life. It’s an art film. I stand behind my choices, Marlow.
At this point, Sevigny has to run. She has an appointment at the SoHo Apple Store to fix her 15-year-old Macbook. As we stroll through SoHo, we spot a tall, thin, pale man dressed in all black with bottle-blond hair. “FASHION GOTHS!” she scream-whispers in my ear after he passes.