CHLOË’S SCENE, 2022
interview by olivier zahm photography and style by haley wollens sculpture by lizzi bougatsos
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, Chloë, considering your success as an actress over the past 30 years — since Kids, in ’95 — you could have left New York to go to LA, but you stuck with New York. What’s the reason?CHLOË SEVIGNY — Well, there are many reasons. First and foremost, right after Kids, around ’96, my father died, and my mother was alone in Connecticut. So, I didn’t want to be far from her. I was very young, and I had a lot of responsibility within my family and the household. I wanted to be there for her. So, proximity has always been important for me. I would go to LA to work but I never felt comfortable in my skin. I didn’t know how to own myself there. It felt like a re- turn to the suburbs, hav- ing grown up there, being in cars again. [Laughs] It felt foreign in a way that didn’t excite me.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you not fully welcomed by the film industry in LA?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — At that time, being an outsider in the industry wasn’t celebrated, especially if you were a woman. If you were Johnny Depp, you could get away with it. You’re an eccentric man, and you’re still somewhat commercial, and people can understand or grasp your eccentricities. When I showed up to a party in strappy patent heels and sweatpants, which is very much the look now, people were very confused, and I wasn’t embraced, or I didn’t feel embraced. It was hard for me to find my comfort zone in Los Angeles. At the time I had friends who were going to UCLA art school, and I would stay with them, but it felt like a city that was about the industry to me. My world seemed very small in that way, and that did not excite me. Now it has changed, I’ve worked a lot there, I have friends, the art scene is big, but I al- ways come back to New York.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Plus, you’re very opinionated, and that’s not exactly the Californian mentality. You weren’t exactly playing the diplomacy game.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — No. Now it’s changed, but in the early ’90s and even the early aughts, I think there were different levels of acceptance from Hollywood. In the end, I’m always in love with New York, my friends, and how stimulating New York is, and being with other people on the street, on the subway, every time you leave your house. I like that constant stimulation and surprise. A spontaneous meeting on the street is very rare in LA, but it happens.
OLIVIERZAHM— Too much sun to stand and speak on the street. How would you de- fine the New York spirit? Because you’re very New York in your attitude. It’s quite intellectual, too.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes, I think there’s a certain drive. NewYork’s attitude is hard to define as one thing. It can be so many things. Because of where it is located geographically, it just has a lot of variety.
OLIVIER ZAHM — New York also has an underground tradition.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — People are very down in New York right now, but I see the silver lining. Many people are leaving, but the true New Yorkers stay. Throughout the pandemic, when everybody else was heading for the hills and upstate and whatnot, I was like, the real New Yorkers are going to stay. We’re going to hold it down. We’re going to show them what’s what, and we did. We had parties on the river, and it got wild, fun, and passionate again.
OLIVIER ZAHM — At the very beginning of your career, Jay McInerney titled an article about you in The New Yorker “Chloë’s Scene.”
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. Thanks, Jay!
OLIVIER ZAHM — I think he was right because, almost 30 years later, being invited to your wedding… Thanks for the invite, by the way.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Thank you for coming. Your presence was really felt.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It was a beautiful wedding. So, Chloë is a scene, and the scene was at your wedding. Your friends make up a portrait of you. Let’s start with Kim Gordon because you’ve known her since the very beginning. Who is she to you?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — She was one of the only women’s pictures I had on my wall in high school. I had a kaleidoscope black-and-white image of her hanging on my wall. I met Kim while I was in high school. I felt very intimidated. It was for Sonic Youth’s video “Sugar Kane.” I was a fan, and she was a very intimidating figure. And after I did this music video, I started doing work with Sonic Youth and also her brand, X-Girl.
LIVIER ZAHM — Yes. I remember that.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — We were in and out of each other’s lives for years at shows, at events and dinners. Then, after she and Thurston Moore broke up, she opened up to me, and our friendship grew much tighter. She’s someone I have always looked up to, who gives me advice, and who holds a high bar, a work and punk-rock and intellectual ethic. She’s very steadfast, and I have a lot of respect for her.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And Lizzi Bougatsos, the artist and musician from Gang Gang Dance — she’s been one of your best friends for so long.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes, she was one of my bridesmaids, ands he’s like my eccentric sister. I feel more complete when I’m with her. She helps define me. A lot of my friends do. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing sometimes — feeling more strength when I’m with people. I wish I could have that on my own, that I felt complete enough as is, but maybe that will change.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And Lizzi created the swan ice sculpture for your wedding, right?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. We did it together. Lizzi and I have a collaborative, artistic relationship. I titled her book: Her Perfume Tears. I’m always there to support her emotionally, financially, whatever she needs. I really believe in her as an artist, and as a musician. The way she sees the world and navigates the world is so different from almost anybody else. It’s like going on vacation from normality whenever you spend time with her.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I compare her to Dash Snow — people who live their art fully. They live without fear, totally in the present…
CHLOË SEVIGNY — She is a true bohemian.
OLIVIER ZAHM — We have a common friend in your scene: your brother Paul Sevigny.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Chloë’s scene. Yeah.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s your relationship with your brother like? He’s an in- credible DJ, musician, and nightlife entrepreneur. He created the cult club Beatrice in the West Village and now runs Paul’s Baby Grand and Casablanca. He’s also a painter now.
CHLOËSEVIGNY—And a father, a husband.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is he still with his band?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — He was in A.R.E. Weapons, but they stopped. He’s not in it anymore. I think they have another band called TV Baby.
OLIVIER ZAHM — For a long time, they were really the underground music scene of the East Village. Does he play an important part in your life?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yeah. He’s one of the smartest persons I know and the first person I go to for advice. He can calm me down in a second. He’s my blood, he’s my brother. When I was young, I wanted to do everything that my brother did, and he was not so interested in me. He was protective, but we didn’t have a close friendship until after my father passed away. And he was so charming and handsome, and I was quite shy. I was going to many film festivals around the world, and I would bring him so I wouldn’t have to talk to people. [Laughs] Because he would do all the work. He’s so thorough and curious. If we went somewhere new, he would want to know all about the person and the place we were in.
OLIVIER ZAHM — For a past issue of Purple, he gave us pictures of himself when he was a young skateboarder in New York.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Those photos are so beautiful. He was a hard-core kid, and he was going to nightclubs in the city when he was 15. He was very into the early New York hip-hop scene, and he set the bar as to what is cool or alternative.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And did you meet Harmony Korine through him?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — No, I met Harmony on my own. He was not at the wedding. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — I noticed that.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — I was going to invite him, but then I thought… I don’t know if I want to have too many exes there, even though it’s been a hundred years.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Harmony was a big, important moment in your life.
CHLOËSEVIGNY—A huge influence. Other than my brother and father, the most influential male figure in my life. What he taught me, how we navigated early influences, how I approach my business and my life.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Harmony is still an example of total freedom to me. I see him as a free artist. He really does what he wants, the way he wants, and doesn’t compromise. Being around him is a real stimulation in that sense, no?
CHLOËSEVIGNY—Yeah. I think that also, in a way, he was so celebrated that it made me feel like what I was do- ing wasn’t so important.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Really?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yeah. It fucked with my head a little bit. Like, I was just the actress. I still think that way a bit. On my Instagram, I was doing a series called “I Heart Actresses,” with different women across time, and trying to give validity to what the actress does as opposed to the director. I went through a period where I had a really hard time with how celebrated directors are. At the same time, I want to direct myself, but I feel like there’s a certain arrogance that comes along with it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But one day or another, you will direct your own film, right?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. Well, I’ve done three shorts…
OLIVIER ZAHM — I’ve seen Carmen, the one you shot for Miu Miu.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — That was what was great with Miu Miu — you didn’t have to have all this branding. There was a lot of freedom. To me, it was the most anti-fashion fashion film ever made. [Laughs] You should watch the other two. Lizzi Bougatsos is a character in White Echo, the third one. And the director and journalist Hailey Benton Gates, who was at the wedding, plays Lizzi in the film. I’m working on a feature script right now.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you writ- ing it yourself?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — No. A friend of mine wrote it, and I’ve been developing it with him.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Well, that’s a serious step.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — That’s the next step. I think people have been interested in me as a director. There’s been a lot of interest from TV and in doing more fashion and commercial work. I want to start out from a pure place and do an indie feature as my first serious film.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you know when you’ll start shooting?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — No, we still have to get financing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — One word about your friend the actor and filmmaker Natasha Lyonne. She’s like a sister to you. She’s the ironic one?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Is she ironic? I think she’s very heartfelt.
OLIVIER ZAHM — She has an incredible sense of humor, and she’s a really fun per- son to be with. So, you’ve known each other for years?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. I think I was in my early 20s. A mutual friend introduced us, and then our friendship grew over the years. I don’t have that many close friends in the business, but she is my confidante, and the first person I turn to, to talk about the business and offers and navigating the film industry.
OLIVIER ZAHM — She’s an amazing actress, and she also directed Season 2 of the Netflix show Russian Doll, right?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. She wrote, directed, and starred in it, and I play her mother.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you tell us more about that experience? It’s uncommon to have a group of friends working on a project like that.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes and no. I think some people find their people and use them over and over again. But the whole crux of Russian Doll revolves around Natasha’s relationship with her mother, and her real mother was very complicated — she had a mental illness. So it was profound, emotional, and heavy for her to ask me to play her because, in a way, I am kind of her…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Her mother?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Chosen mother. Yes. I helped her through her sobriety and in countless ways, and I’m always there for her. She often says we’ve picked each other up and dropped each other off at the hospital on many occasions, which is what a true friend does. At five o’clock in the morning, bringing someone to the emergency room and then waiting there all day for them to come out. But yeah, she works so hard, and I’m always in awe of her stamina.
OLIVIER ZAHM — She has incredible energy and a great sense of ’70s and early ’80s style.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — She’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I was happy to see Jim Jarmusch at your wedding. Is he part of the Chloë scene? He’s a real New York figure. And you were in his last movie, The Dead Don’t Die.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — When I saw Down by Law in high school, it really changed my perspective on what a movie could be or what cinema is. He was just up there as far as the bar of New York cool. The first film we did together was in 2002 or ’03. So, I’ve been in three or four of his films, and we’ve remained in touch over the years and done other projects. He was the first per- son to photograph me when I was pregnant, for the Agnès b. book. We do little projects outside of films together.
OLIVIER ZAHM — He’s a photographer, too?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. He’s a photographer and a musician and an artist. He’s another one like Kim Gordon.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And are you still in touch with Larry Clark?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — No. I think he lives in Paris, doesn’t he? Actually, when I was talking to Luca Guadagnino about the wedding, I was like, “Who do you want to sit next to?” And he said, “Larry Clark.” And I was like, “Oh, I don’t think he’s coming.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s funny.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — I know. I don’t know how well he is. I think he’s been sick.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Really? Last time I saw him, he looked like an old man but had an amazing look. He was walking with a cane.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — But there was a time when I was very close to Larry. He really involved me in his life. He invited me to every opening at Luhring Augustine, every dinner. I went to his son’s bar mitzvah. I was part of his life for years after, and he set me up with a man- ager and a publicist. He really wanted to take care of me.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yeah.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you feel your way of acting has changed with this new period, with TV series, new media, new formats, fashion films?
CHLOË SEVIGNY —Well, with any art form, you grow and develop your craft. And sometimes you want to lose everything you’ve learned and get back to a purity you had at the beginning, a non-self- consciousness. I try to keep my acting instinctual and emotional.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you agree that your style of acting remains very much yourself, regardless of the director. It’s always Chloë, like it’s always Bill Murray.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Well, not really. With every director I like to adapt to their way of working. Some directors are very precise, like Jim Jarmusch or David Fincher. And you have to figure out how to inhabit the role within those confines. And other directors don’t want you to say anything on the page, to come up with your own thing. Therein lies the challenge. How to stay true to yourself and interpret a character in a way that you find right, but also be open to collaboration.
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