Wed, Oct 06, 2010 - Page 14 News List

No regrets

By Eva Wiseman  /  The Guardian, London

Chloe Sevigny’s laugh is deep and honking, like a seal drunk on punch. Once I’ve heard it, I’m slightly preoccupied with the thought of hearing it again. First laugh: at the image of the “right man” eventually falling into her lap, “Like: ‘Whoops!’” Second laugh: the thought of asking sex advice from her mother, Janine. Third: remembering Jay McInerney following her round Manhattan like a smell, researching the seven-page New Yorker profile of Sevigny, then 19, where he wrote that she was “the coolest girl in the world,” the phrase that was, in turn, to follow her round for the rest of her life.

Now 35, she was 20 when she first acted on screen, playing a 14-year-old with AIDS in Larry Clark’s controversial 1995 film Kids. She was lovely in it, luminous and wide-eyed, already a face on the New York “scene,” a model who’d appeared in videos for Sonic Youth and the Lemonheads since moving at 18 from the suburbs of Connecticut, a place called Darien. “Aryan Darien,” Sevigny likes to call it, where everyone was white, where it was frowned upon to sell a house to Jews, and where nothing ever happened. When she goes home to see her mother (her father died of cancer in 1996), she says it makes her melancholy. “There are so many memories there for me,” she explains, her voice, like her laugh, deep and odd.

“So many memories. I know every rock, every tree. I always feel ... despondent when I arrive, like the place has an aura of sadness.” As a child though, she found the blandness and safety “freeing,” if a little dull. She spent her long light evenings sewing her own clothes, integrating herself slowly into her skateboarding brother’s gang of friends. It was through these skaters that she met Harmony Korine, who wrote the script for Clark’s film and, when filming wrapped, became her boyfriend, later casting her in his directorial debut Gummo. The acting roles came slowly after that, but she still made her choices carefully, receiving an Oscar nomination in 1999 for her supporting role as Lana Tisdel in Boys Don’t Cry, the true story of Teena Brandon — Hilary Swank played the Nebraskan girl who lived as a boy, falling in love with Tisdel before being exposed and finally murdered. Again Sevigny shone, the director concentrating whole scenes on the movement of her hooded eyes.

She could have gone Hollywood then. She could have gone romcom, happy endings, sides of buses, but instead, after a handful of critically acclaimed roles in left field, “difficult” films including American Psycho and Lars von Trier’s Dogville, she agreed to perform unsimulated oral sex on co-star and director Vincent Gallo in 2003’s The Brown Bunny. The film was panned, loudly, with Sevigny’s scene the punchline to many critics’ jokes. The New York Times, however, asked readers to “give the woman credit ... She says her lines with feeling and puts her iconoclasm right out there where everyone can see it. She may be nuts,” wrote Manohla Dargis, “but she’s also unforgettable.” Her agents saw things differently, and after The Brown Bunny’s release at the Cannes Film Festival dropped her as a client.

It was reported that Gallo and Sevigny had a complicated relationship, with him admitting that he’s been “obsessed” by her since she was a pre-teen. Today they no longer speak, but Sevigny is careful to stress that she regrets nothing. “He’s a fascinating man,” she says slowly, “but we haven’t spoken for a while. Not that that’s unusual — actors rarely stay in touch with directors after they’ve filmed together. We go back to real life.”

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