Film: The savviest kid on the block
Thursday 27 August 1998
Chloe Sevigny is the very model of indie film cool.
Now, starring in Whit Stillman's `The Last Days of Disco',
Hollywood beckons. Will she just say no?
IF THE controversy-laden Kids is to remain emblematic of this decade's Generation Xers, Chloe Sevigny is a perverse reminder of the limitations of director Larry Clark's slice-of-life. A descendent of the 18th century French court gossip the Marquise de Sevigne, the actress who burst on to the screen three years ago in Clark's depiction of wasted youth is hardly heading for oblivion.
Like her on-off boyfriend (and Kids screenwriter) Harmony Korine, Sevigny is a self-taught, street-literate product of the Nineties, a symbol of the disparate influences that feed into youth culture. A maelstrom of contradictions, in the same breath she can talk of her love for Alan Clarke and Sissy Spacek, and her fear for the Millennium, or Y2K as she dubs it. The savvy 23-year-old, an ex-model for Prada, is no Heather Graham wannabe, more an anarchic Jean Seberg.
Sevigny is in London to talk about Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco, a shrewdly scripted and preppie-populated take on the exclusivity of the early Eighties NYC Studio 54 scene. Claiming to have "no interest in playing the leading lady", Sevigny does just this - alongside Britain's own belle du jour Kate Beckinsale. As the naive clubber Alice, it's the role closest so far to revealing the layers beneath the actress.
"Coming from Connecticut, I can understand arriving in the big city and being shellshocked by the whole experience," she admits. "When I first moved to Manhattan I would go to discos every night of the week. I was living in a flat with five other kids who all worked for this `club-lord' who owned Club USA, the Paladium, the Limelight. I had a lot of connections, so it was easy for me. I knew everyone on the doors. But the clubs just aren't quite as fabulous any more. It's not as big a production as it used to be. I don't think as much money is pumped into the nightly events".
Calling herself the "irresponsible actress", Sevigny admits to doing little research of the milieu for her latest film - set in a time when she was only seven. "I do remember when I was a girl, my father worked for a company where he had this pretty wild secretary who invited him and my mother to a disco. They got all dolled up to go to Studio 54 - and came home with a Polaroid of them with an ape."
Raised in Darien (a town where residents are forbidden to sell their houses to Jews), her early years were far removed from city glitz, spending summers at theatre camp, with dreams of a part-time Broadway musical career ("ridiculous as it sounds - I don't have a voice") alongside costume design for period films. She moved to New York when she was 18 and garnered the attention of the style press while working as a seamstress at fashion outlet Liquid Sky.
Compared to Audrey Hepburn and Twiggy, Sevigny was putting together a charity-shop chic long before the high street chain stores molested the look. Fashion is now an industry she dislikes fiercely, but pigeon-holing is proving the bain of her life. From fashion guru to teen seductress, Sevigny was last year's Dominique Swain, following an appearance in Steve Buscemi's loser comedy Trees Lounge. "The whole Lolita thing after Trees Lounge - that I was a sexpot girl - I don't think of me in that way at all. It's so hard to get perspective on it. I'm trying not to work a lot now. I prefer to remain anonymous. People don't recognise me from one film to the next."
Almost rejected from Kids because she was seen as too old, Sevigny is perhaps suffering from this chameleonic approach, missing out on a part in the much-hyped (and Disco precursor) Glam tribute Velvet Goldmine. "I wanted Toni Collette's role, and they said I was too young. So whenever I see Todd [Haynes, the director] on the street, I give him a hard time."
Sevigny, unafraid to present herself with new challenges, has just finished her first stage experience, the Rob Urbinati play Hazelwood Jr High, based on circumstances leading up to the trial of four Indiana teenagers who beat up, tortured and burned to death a 12-year-old classmate. It was a chance to overcome her fear of live performance.
"That was the most fun, the most challenging, and the most far from myself. I played a really bad girl, a murderess. She was really evil. I became an insomniac because of the part I was performing on stage. It was the first time I brought a character home and had to deal with that." Director Scott Elliott, whom Sevigny credits greatly, will also be shepherding her through the next film role, based on the Jane Hamilton novel Map of the World. Alongside Sigourney Weaver and Julianne Moore, Sevigny is back to playing the bitch, as a young mother who manipulates her child into accusing the school nurse of abuse. No stranger to Hollywood, Sevigny even made an appearance in Volker Schlondorff's dismal neo-noir Palmetto, a spy in the enemy camp it would seem.
"I think the US Indie scene has rather turned in on itself. I'd rather go see a bad studio film than a bad independent film, at least it will look good. Indie films can look so drained. The true independents have a vision: they're trying to break new ground, make a new kind of cinema."
Unsure yet whether she will appear in Harmony Korine's follow-up to the radical Gummo (in which Sevigny featured kissing a bunny-eared boy in a swimming pool), she may just hit Hollywood again and shake them up. Giggling with her infectious laugh, she adds: "I've met Joel Schumacher, y'know. I've sat in on those meetings. I went in and auditioned for I Know What You Did Last Summer, if you can believe that."
`The Last Days of Disco' screens tonight at the Edinburgh Festival and is released on September 4.
The part that made her name, but strange to say, Sevigny's one of the worst things about Kids. The rest of the cast tingle with street life - she looks like someone stuck on a conveyor belt in the airport lounge.
Sevigny didn't rate this performance but it's by far her best. She plays young suburbanite Debbie, whose loose-limbed, bug-eyed wisdom intrigues and ultimately overwhelms cowardly, insecure Tommy, played by Steve Buscemi. The scene where they almost have sex is superb.
Chloe's performance is more of an aesthetic shock than a creative one. Normally as gangly as a foal, she's transformed here into a hulking, white- trash goddess who is given woefully little else to do.
And why are 'southern' ways of speaking spreading north?
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