Cannes is the place where Chloë Sevigny gained notoriety in 2003, when The Brown Bunny featured the actress and Vincent Gallo in an unsimulated fellatio scene. How times have changed in the intervening period; this week I met with the 41-year-old in Cannes, where Kitty, the short film that she directed, is closing the Critics’ Week section of the festival.
Given the number of guises that she’s had in her career, perhaps the move into directing was inevitable. “I love acting, but I don’t think that I’ve ever really been that fulfilled," she says. "I never feel like it’s been my own thing, obviously.”
This "obviously" seems to be a nod to the illustrious career she’s had outside of acting. Even before her movie debut in Kids in 1995, author Jay McInerney profiled her for The New Yorker, labelling her "the coolest girl in the world" after she modelled for Sassy magazine and appeared in a video by rock band Sonic Youth. She lived up to the cool moniker by appearing in edgy film roles and several seasons creating fashion lines carrying her name, for her friends at the fashion retailer Opening Ceremony. There was also an autobiographical book on her personal fashion style that came out in 2015.
Yet the early fame also meant she suffered from casting-couch problems. She vaguely mentions incidents rather than directors’ names at a public talk on filmmaking by women, recalling inappropriate comments made in auditions, such as advising her to wear more revealing clothes. She handled the situations when they arose. But I ask if, looking back, she feels she had too much fame too soon?
“It happened," she says. "I wish I had the confidence I had now. I was insecure. Everyone says, ‘what do you regret?’ And I know that they want me to say The Brown Bunny, but I won’t.”
What she does regret is all the acting jobs she let pass by. She made Demonlover with Olivier Assayas, but then said no to another of his projects. She also turned down Todd Haynes, John Waters, Claire Denis and Catherine Breillat. Why would she turn down some of the biggest filmmakers in the world? “I was too judgmental and too scared,” says Sevigny. "It was timing. I was tired. I was scared I was not a good enough actress to play the parts. I turned down one of the films because there were a lot of sexual things, and I didn’t want to do that again."
Arguably, Sevigny is still one of the coolest girls in the world. She looks fabulous in a short blue dress and matching hat – although she laughs at the suggestion that this inimitable, constantly praised style must come as an offshoot of fashion designing. “I’m not like Yves Saint Laurent or Alexander McQueen,” retorts the Massachusetts-born star.
Kitty is a 15-minute short film about a young girl who feels ignored by her mother. Seeing her mother doting on her pet cat, the girl begins to transform herself into a cat. It’s poignant and at times sad, but also in the age of Internet memes, any short film with a cat somehow seems adorable – although, at the suggestion of this, she interjects: “I don’t know if it’s so cute; I think it’s quite sad and a little strange.” I ask why she would want to make a film about a young girl who yearns for attention. “Or perhaps it’s about her mother not recognising something in her daughter,” says the director. "Her daughter having to deal with the consequences. I think it’s about a lot of things.”
She sounds like a fun director for actors to work with. She wore a floral dress on the first day of the three-day shoot and says the set was delightful. "You know why? Because I surrounded myself with delightful people, who I enjoy being with, who I already had a relationship with. That process was great. The post-production process was hard. There are just too many highs and lows. I don’t like that. I’m kind of a little even-keeled, until PMS.”
Her own mother is Polish American and father an accountant turned interior painter. Does the maternal nature of the film say something about her own upbringing? “I think I like the mother-daughter relationship, and obviously I have a mother," she says. "There are not enough mother-daughter stories.”
She continues, “My mum is dying to see it. She will die because the teddy bears were my teddy bears, the dolls and the tea set too, a lot of things are very me."
The films to know about at Cannes 2016
The films to know about at Cannes 2016
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Adriana Ugarte, Emma Suárez
What's it about? The Spanish filmmaker's 20th film is based on three short stories from Alice Munro's 2004 book, Runaway which tracks a woman's search for her missing daughter.
2/14 American Honey
Director: Andrea Arnold
Starring: Sasha Lane, Kate Mara, Shia LaBeouf
What's it about? In British filmmaker Andrea Arnold's (Red Road) American road movie - her first film set and filmed outside the UK - a teenage girl who gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying as she crosses the Midwest with a band of misfits.
3/14 Personal Shopper
Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Nora von Waldstätten
What's it about? Stewart reteams with French filmmaker Assayas following Clouds of Sils Maria for this ghost story set in the fashion underworld of Paris.
4/14 It's Only the End of the World
Director: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel
What's it about? Xavier Dolan (Mommy) returns with this film based on the play Juste la fin du monde which tells the story of a terminally ill writer who returns home after 12 years to announce his impending death.
Director: Jim Jarmusch,
Starring: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani
What's it about? An original film from Amazon Studios that follows Paterson, a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey who lives an inhibited life compared to that of his wife, Laura.
6/14 I, Daniel Blake
Director: Ken Loach
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Micky McGregor
What's it about? Written by Paul Laverty (the man behind Loach's Palme d'Or winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley, the film follows the titular protagonist, a joiner who seeks financial felp from the state following an illness.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas
What's it about? Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special follow-up tracks an interracial couple based in Virginia sentenced to prison in 1958 for getting married.
8/14 The Handmaid
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Kim Tae-ri
What's it about? The Oldboy director's latest South Korean film follows an heiress who falls in love with a petty thief.
9/14 The Neon Demon
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks
What's it about? Winding Refn's third consecutive film to compete for the Palme d'Or, this horror thriller follows an aspiring model who moves to Los Angeles where 'her vitality and youth are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means to get what she has.'
10/14 Café Society
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively
What's it about? Woody Allen's latest will open the Festival. It is a New York romantic comedy set in the 1930s with a cast including Steve Carell, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll and Judy Davis.
11/14 The BFG
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader
What's it about? Based on the Roald Dahl classic, the story follows a young girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who befriends a friendly giant.
12/14 Money Monster
Director: Jodie Foster
Starring: George Clooney, Jack O'Connell, Julia Roberts
What's it about? A money-oriented live TV show is interrupted when the presenter is taken hostage by a blue-collar worker compelled to turn to violence following his recent financial losses.
13/14 The Nice Guys
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe
Reason to see: Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) and his razor sharp wit return in a comedy set in 70s LA.
14/14 Captain Fantastic
Director: Matt Ross
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn
What's it about? In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father who devoted his life to raising his six kids with an irreverent education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the 'real' world.
She quit her Opening Ceremony gig to concentrate on acting again, because after five or six seasons she disliked “all the judging, being nervous. And people not responding to it".
British cinema audiences can soon enjoy her latest role, in Whit Stillman drama Love & Friendship, based on the Jane Austen novella Lady Susan. Sevigny plays Alicia Johnson, the American confidante of Kate Beckinsdale’s Lady Susan.
Initially Sevigny was displeased when the decision was made to make her character American: “I found it hard because I had studied the lines in a British accent and when I got to Dublin for the shoot [Stillman] said 'I want to make her American, I think it will be funnier and there will be a character for the American audience to grasp onto', and he was right.”
But she’s not a fan of the number of Brits playing Americans. “I think a lot of British actors do bad American accents. It’s too Elma Fuddy. They go too flat. They forget the jazz.”
When she mentions music, I tell Sevigny that when I spent time in New York in 2003, I would always see her out in clubs. She challenges me to name some. And I pull out a Smiths night in a pub that used to happen on Sundays. “Oh Sway, that closed last year,” she recalls. “People love The Smiths. Morrissey is a huge influence on me. I admire his provocation, intellect, his talent, he’s always been a hero of mine. Prince died, Bowie died; if Morrissey died, I would be crying and stuck on the ground.”
‘Love & Friendship’ is out on 27 May. ‘Kitty’ is at the Cannes Film Festival until Sunday
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