“If you’re not challenging yourself and taking risks, then what’s the point of being an artist?”
– Chloë Sevigny
American actress Chloë Sevigny is known for her work in experimental indie films like Gummo and The Brown Bunny as well as mainstream films such as David Fincher’s Zodiac. She has several awards to her name, including a Golden Globe Award, a Satellite Award, an Independent Spirit Award, as well as nominations for an Academy Award and three Screen Actors Guild Award as she carved out a niche area of the film industry for her unique approach to the art of acting.
Chloë Sevigny, who worked as a model after graduating from high school, appearing in music videos for Sonic Youth and The Lemonheads which helped establish her as the “it girl”, would eventually make her film debut in 1995 as part of Larry Clark’s highly-celebrated project Kids. From that moment on, Sevigny has gone on to direct works of her own, including White Echo which competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
Sevigny admitted, “I was more of a cinephile when I had a video store at my disposal, like Kim’s Video & Music, it was easier for me to browse in that way: just being in the store and having the sales people help me. I watched a lot of movies when I was younger and I feel like in recent years I don’t know… I don’t have enough time and I feel like I am really having to step up and go to the movies more and not fall prey to all these TV series.”
She added, “I saw Nadine Labaki’s film Capernaum and then I met her recently. Thank God I saw the film because I then had this opportunity to talk with her about the film’s subject matter, about what’s happening in Lebanon, and about what she has done to help the young Syrian refugee boy who stars in the film. I came up in the movie Kids so I feel like exploitation versus opportunity is very important to me.”
On her 46th birthday, we take a look at ten of the best film performances by Chloë Sevigny as a tribute to her acting talents.
Chloë Sevigny’s 10 best film performances:
10. Julien Donkey-Boy (Harmony Korine – 1999)
Another manifestation of Harmony Korine’s unique artistic sensibilities, this 1999 experimental drama features Ewen Bremner as Julien, a schizophrenic young man and his nightmarish family life. Sevigny plays the role of Julien’s childlike pregnant sister Pearl while Werner Herzog stars as Julien’s father.
While speaking about the character of Julien, Korine said, “He’s based on my Uncle Eddie. I spent five years with him and my grandmother when I moved to New York, before he was institutionalised. The character’s based on that aspect of schizophrenia where you’re basically a normal person until your early 20s, and then from nowhere, you start hearing voices. So this is him right on the cusp.”
9. The Last Days of Disco (Whit Stillman – 1998)
Whit Stillman’s 1998 comedy-drama follows a group of Ivy League and Hampshire College graduates falling in and out of love in the disco scene of New York City, in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Like Mark Christopher’s 54 (1998), the film is an investigation of complicated relationships and popular culture. Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale co-star as recent Hampshire College graduates who work as poorly-paid readers for a New York City publisher
“I’m a good girl from Connecticut. I can relate to that aspect,” Sevigny said in an interview. “My experience was much edgier but still relatable… just struggling in the city, living with roommates—there’s so much to relate to. I wasn’t necessarily that girl, [but] there were some parallels.”
8. The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo – 2003)
Vincent Gallo’s experimental road film is a self-indulgent and controversial work which was critically panned, famously by Roger Ebert. It stars Gallo as a motorcycle racer who drives across the country while being tormented by memories of his former lover, Daisy (played by Sevigny). It is hard to decide whether The Brown Bunny is an important chronicle of a man’s loneliness or an attempt at onanistic posturing but it still counts among Sevigny’s best works.
When asked about the critical reception of the film, Gallo said, “They’re missing what children miss when they’re in a car traveling to a place they want to go. They’re missing the experience of getting there. They’re missing all the beautiful things that are happening on their way there, and they’re missing the continuity of what the entire trip as a whole means to them.”
7. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman – 2016)
Based on Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan, the film stars Kate Beckinsale as the recently widowed Lady Susan who tries to secure suitably wealthy husbands for her daughter and herself. Sevigny plays her confidante, the American Alicia Johnson who prefers living in England and listens to Lady Susan’s elaborate plans.
Sevigny said, “I think Whit’s adaptation really heightens the material. I read the novella and loved it. It was all in letter form, and he lifted so many segments, straight from the book into the script, but the way that he wove it together with the little bits that he added, like making my character from Connecticut, making it a Whit Stillman movie, were so great.”
6. Gummo (Harmony Korine – 1997)
This was the directorial debut of indie king Harmony Korine. Set in the tornado-ravaged town of Xenia, Ohio, Korine takes us on a beautifully grotesque tour of a lost generation, full of ugly teenagers who sniff glue and kill cats. It is one of the most striking films ever made because it absolutely destroys the voyeuristic binaries between what is pleasurable to look at and what isn’t. The film features two sisters Dot (Chloe Sevigny) and Helen (Carisa Glucksman), modelled after Cherie Currie.
“I started to think of films in different ways,” Korine said. “When I really thought about it, what I remembered about great films, what moved me most, were specific scenes and characters. I never really cared about plot or narrative drive.
“So, with Gummo, I wanted to make a film that consisted entirely of scenes and characters, so that you could stick your hand into it blindfolded and pull out any scene and get something from it.”
5. Dogville (Lars von Trier – 2003)
This 2003 avant-garde crime tragedy is the first part of von Trier’s projected USA – Land of Opportunities trilogy. Nicole Kidman has a starring role as Grace, a woman on the run from the mob who hides in a small town only to realise that the residents of Dogville are hostile too. Sevigny plays the secondary role of one of the locals, Liz Henson.
“I had a book like Winnie the Pooh in mind when I was writing the screenplay,” the filmmaker revealed. “One of my favourite films is Barry Lyndon, which is also divided into chapters, although I don’t remember if there are any clues as to what the chapters are going to contain. The screenplay of Dogville is divided into scenes.
“It might say, ‘The scene where this or that happens.’ ‘Scene’ is a word with a lot of meanings, and I chose it on purpose. But later on we switched to calling the scenes ‘chapters’, partly because of the word’s literary associations.”
4. American Psycho (Mary Harron – 2000)
One of the most iconic representations of psychopathy in popular culture, American Psycho is the case study of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a wealthy investment banker whose perverse fantasies lead him to a world of violence and bloodlust. In what was Sevigny’s first blockbuster hit, she played the role of Bateman’s innocent assistant.
Harron reflected, “At the time [it came out], people who didn’t like the film or were dismissive of it were saying, ‘Oh, well, we knew all that about the ’80s.’ But to me, it was never just about the ’80s.
“It was about American vulture capitalism—and not just American, really. Bateman is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with [this system], all the worst and craziest forces—obsession with surfaces, obsession with status, obsession with acquisition.”
3. Shattered Glass (Billy Ray – 2003)
Based on a 1998 Vanity Fair article of the same name by H. G. Bissinger, the 2003 biopic follows journalist Stephen Glass’ (played by Hayden Christensen) scandal at The New Republic and his subsequent fall from grace when everyone realised that he made up his stories. Sevigny plays Caitlyn Avery, one of Glass’ colleagues who listens to his confessions about his insecurities.
The director spoke about his understanding of the protagonist Stephen Glass, “The relentlessness of it was really fascinating. That he could be caught so red-handed and still refuse to confess. That he would admit to just enough to buy himself a teeny bit of credibility, but then make a bigger lie, to compound the first lie. And then get caught at that and make a third lie to compound the first two…I understand this guy. I know that need to be recognized, to be patted on the head and told how smart you are.”
2. Kids (Larry Clark – 1995)
Written by Harmony Korine, this 1995 coming-of-age exploitation film marked Sevigny’s film debut and still remains one of her most iconic performances. Set during the course of a day, the film features Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloë Sevigny, and Rosario Dawson as teenagers trying to navigate the hedonistic world of sex and substance abuse. Sevigny plays Jenny, a young girl who tests positive for HIV and makes it her mission to save other girls from the guy who infected her with it.
“When I was growing up, all the films about teenagers were played by Tony Curtis or John Cassavetes when they were 27, 28 years old,” Clark said. “We would see these teenage movies in the theatres and I would say, ‘They don’t look like they’re my age at all.’ So I wanted to make a movie that was real and I wanted to make a movie that wasn’t about me. I wanted to explore something I never knew anything about: contemporary teenagers.”
1. Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce – 1999)
Kimberly Peirce’s 1999 biographical film is based on the real story of Brandon Teena (played in by Hilary Swank), an American trans man who tries to make sense of his identity but ends up being subjected to a brutal hate crime. Sevigny co-stars as Lana, a single mother who becomes romantically involved with Brandon. For her performance, Sevigny earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress and won multiple awards, including the Satellite Award and the Independent Spirit Award.
Sevigny said, “If I am recognised for one film it’s probably Kids, but for me Boys Don’t Cry is still so relevant and I think it’s the most important. And people are always crying and emotional at the Q&As. Everyone, especially from the LGBTQ community, has a very emotional attachment and response to it and I am really proud of it. It’s the most important film I’ve made, I think.”