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Chlo Sevigny Has a Message for the People Leaving New York City During the Pandemic

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Illustration by Lyne Lucien/Getty

The actress opens up to Marlow Stern about her new HBO series We Are Who We Are, premiering Sept. 14, and the state of the city she loves the most.

Marlow Stern

Senior Entertainment Editor

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Chlo Sevigny is very apologetic. Her babysitter arrived late, forcing her to push our interview back 15 minutes. Shes a 26-year-old in Bed-Stuy so, you know she says by way of explanation.

It is understandable, of course, given that on May 2, as the COVID-19 pandemic was claiming the lives of hundreds of New Yorkers a day, Sevigny gave birth to a baby boy in a New York City hospitaland at 45 years old, no less.

Shes gone from the short-haired It Girl raving the night away to the mom in Warby Parkers and designer duds pushing her stroller through the streets of Manhattan, and seems more than happy with the evolution.

Im not going to be doing what I was doing then, and I did it well when I did it, so its never going to be what it was and Im happy were moving on to something else, she tells me.

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In the 25 years since her splashy debut in 1995s Kids, Sevigny has stuck to her artistic guns, opting for auteur-driven arthouse fare like The Last Days of Disco, Boys Dont Cry and American Psycho over films like Legally Blonde, which she famously turned down. Her latest project, the HBO series We Are Who We Are, is no exception. Helmed by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name), the limited series centers on Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer), a hormonal 14-year-old American boy coming of age on an Army base in Italy. Sevigny plays Sarah, the mother who, along with her partner Maggie (Alice Braga), juggles managing her sons erratic behavior and her job as an Army colonel. And shes excellent, her trademark naturalism blending in seamlessly with the vrit proceedings.

ishonest spoke to Sevigny about the show and New York Citys new look.

Im sure this is something you get asked a lot but how have you been passing the time during the pandemic?

So... I had a baby. After the hospitalhe was born May 2ndwe quarantined for a couple weeks in our apartment and then spent some time in Connecticut with my mom, because shes older, we didnt want her going back and forth, and we wanted her to spend some time with the baby. So, in all honesty, we kind of went back and forth to where I grew up in Fairfield County.

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How is your mom doing? She must be happy to be a grandmother to your baby.

Shes good! My brother lives there and he has two kids. In the beginning, she wasnt really seeing them so much because we were all hyper-concerned about, you know, everything. And now that everyones loosened up a little, shes better. And yes, shes thrilled. She can probably manipulate me and my child more than my brother and his children, if you know what I mean. [Laughs] Mothers, daughterstheres a different sort of dialogue.

Geez though, you delivered a child on May 2nd. Things were still quite bad then in New York City with COVID.

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Luckily, the day before they retracted one of the rules they put into place and the father of my child and our doula lady were allowed to come, so I was able to have all the support that I wanted and needed there with me. I felt really lucky that we just skirted around that, because I know someone who had children more at the height of it when they werent allowed partners.

Itll be quite the story to tell your son one day.

Yes. Born under a bad sign. Ive seen these T-shirts online saying, COVID Ruined My Birthday. I need to get him one of those!

I know a lot of women in their thirties who are a bit anxious about their ability to have kids, and you had a child at 45. How smoothly did that process go?

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Umm Ive had ups and downs with that in the past, where I had more difficulty trying [to get pregnant], and I even tried to harvest eggs and I wasnt producing enough, so Ive had a really rough road as far as trying and not being able to. But this was a happy accident. I think for me, one of the more difficult parts was the testing in the beginning, and if something had been wrong with him, that sort of decision-making and wrapping your head around that, because its more high-risk. So after the amnio, when they do all the genetic testing, that was a very tense couple of weeks waiting for all those results.

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Im so glad everything went well. And now you have a little companion to navigate this scaled-down New York City with.

Oh yeah!

It does seem like the various reports of New York Citys death are greatly exaggerated, no?

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Yes. Im west of SoHo, so Ive seen some storefronts closing, and the outdoor restaurant scene seems to be bustlingat least to the fullest extent that it can but Im really concerned for all the mom-and-pop stores. The bigger places that mostly sell online, Im like do we need another Dunkin Donuts on Sixth Avenue? Maybe not? Is that bad to say?

I think all those people can just leave. For me, thats fine. I know we want the economy to keep doing well but as a tried-and-true New Yorker, Im fine for those people to go. Whats hitting home for me the hardest is my brother owns two nightclubs, Pauls Casablanca and Pauls Baby Grand, and those have been closed and are his only sources of income, so hearing his anxiety around that, and having to let his employees go and his financial situationhearing his agony around that has been hard.

I will say, I frequent all the parkswhen Im not working, one of my favorite pastimes is sitting around and people-watching in parks, and now with the baby even more soand its getting pretty wild out there. Washington Square is usually pretty staid and collegiate while Tompkins is the wild park but its pretty wild in Washington Square right now. The people shooting up everywhere, I hate to play that up but its pretty prevalent.

It does seem to be an economic thing, with a lot of people out of work and struggling right now.

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Yeah, it does.

Youre a fashion icon and social butterfly. Do you feel a void not being able to dress up and go to events, because that seemed to be a source of joy for you, and how have you been able to fill it?

Ive gone to some little events. There have been some downtown art events in parks, and I love seeing the girls and their looks. Even the Met Ball, seeing the girls in their dresses and the garments in person is always one of my favorite parts. Ive been slowly going out a little to the outdoor dining. Last night, we had dinner with a friend of ours and its only been a handful of times that Ive done that, so Im just dipping my toe in. I feel for the staff. Is it safe for them? I dont know. We were just doing the delivery or the takeout because we thought that was the best way we could support. But do I miss it? Not right now, because Im really overweight! Im like 30 pounds more than I normally am, so trying to dress up I saw the Venice Film Festival is happening and I cant imagine, after just having a baby, having to leave him to go somewhere and/or bring him, and managing all that.

Yeah, Ive heard of parties where its no photos and no gramming so nobody gets in trouble. For us, the hardest part is my boyfriends parents live in Australia so they havent been able to come to see the baby and we havent been able to go there. Thats rough for them.

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Alice Braga and Chlo Sevigny in We Are Who We Are

HBO

You filmed We Are Who We Are in Italyand during your first trimesterright?

In the north of Italy near Vicenza, and I went initially for fitting and to do some training and I was not pregnant, and I left for a month and came back and I was pregnant. The first month was all Aperol Spritzes and these crazy gin and tonics that they drink with rosemary and juniper berries in it, and when I came back, I was not smoking and not drinking. I was like how obvious is this for everybody? I told them, Im trying to quit smoking and I cant drink and not smoke. That was the line that I used. It was hard with the costumes that got tighter, that kind of thing. It was a lonely time to go through that and not really tell people, because you dont know whats going to happen, and because we were all staying in different locations around the set there just wasnt the proximity. Alice and I became quite close but we couldnt hang out after work because we were living 45 minutes away from each other. It wasnt conducive to that kind of hanging out, so that was tough.

Its a fascinating relationship between you and your son in the seriesa rather Oedipal one. Theres a sequence where hes sucking blood out of your finger after you cut yourself, and when he catches a glimpse of you in the nude and trains on you a bit.

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Very complicated! [Laughs] I think hes also at that age, from boy to teen, which is a strange transition, so often shes kind of babying him and wanting to hold on to that relationshipwhich I think happens? I guess Ill find out in 12 years! But thats how I was playing it. She cant help but spoil him and hes an only childwhich also plays into it, as well as guilt about the father not being there. Theres a bunch of different things I was playing with.

Theres a quite jarring scene where he slaps you out of nowhere while youre carving meat. That slap looked very real. Was it?

It was. He was pretty wild, Jack. Hes unpredictable and thats super fun to act with, and Luca loves that sort of realism, so Im sure he told him to slap me. There were a couple of real slaps. We didnt do too many takes but yeah. It was a real slap.

We Are Who We Are does do a fine job of capturing how adrift you feel as a teen. Did it conjure any Proustian flashbacks to your own teenage years?

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I dont know if its a specific thing. Maybe theres a paranoia where I feel that because now Im an adult, and even going to dinner with all the kids on set, I think, They dont want to talk to me. You know? Im an adult to them!

They dont want to talk to Chlo Sevigny? I dont believe it.

[Laughs] I dont think so! Or Ill walk through Washington Square with the kid in the stroller and Ill see the kids looking at me, and I think, I wonder if they know I was in that movie that takes place in this park. And one of them slams on a skateboard next to the carriage when the kid is sleeping and I think, Damn! I wish he hadnt done that. He just landed that trick and now the kid is going to wake up!

That was a pretty ugly beatdown in the park in that movie. How nostalgic are you for 90s New York City?

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You know, I lived it. I dont know if Im nostalgic for that. Maybe the sense of freedom there was then, and the sense of lawlessness a little bitalthough I dont necessarily want that back, but it fit my age then. Im not going to be doing what I was doing then, and I did it well when I did it, so its never going to be what it was and Im happy were moving on to something else.

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Im a little jealous because Im a bit younger and missed out on things like Limelight.

I will say, I wish there was a Limelight or big nightclub, because there would be older, interesting people and then young underage people. It would run the gamut. My brother tried to do that. He had this club, The Beatrice Inn, and there would be a whole age range there of older people just chatting and then younger people bouncing off the walls. I wish there was a place where there was more of a mix. Because Im not going to go to, like, Tao or anything. If there was still an edgy placelike a goth nightI would still go to that at 45. [Laughs] We go to The Pyramid and you almost feel like youre at a nightclub in Ohio. But its very sparsely populated and not a big, booming club.

You mentioned Kids and I remember seeing that at like 13 with my friends. And it turned 25 this year. How do you feel about the film now?

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At the 20-year anniversary there was a screening at BAM, and I was pretty shocked, I have to say. I was like, Wow. This movie is crazy. I wish there had been a stronger female element.

Its weird, because in some ways its subversive and in others its quite conservative. Its idea of sex is pretty conservative. Although it does show you how terrible teenage boys can be.

Yeah, it really does.

And its the 20th anniversary of American Psycho.

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Which I tried to watch the other night, and which was also really shocking the stuff with the prostitutes. We didnt finish it. When hes like, Were not finished yet, and then they stumble out all injured, and then they come back again. I didnt like the violence towards women. Thats very hard for me to swallow.

That was supposed to be Leonardo DiCaprio starring instead of Christian Bale, right? That would have been a very different movie.

It was, yeah. That would have been very controversial for DiCaprio. He doesnt ever do anything that controversial. I think hes a great movie star, you know? [Laughs]

There was a very funny article in The Cut the other day about Leos hotness in movies, and about how hes really been fighting the hot in movies since his Romeo + Juliet and Titanic heyday.

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Right. But he also turned into a man, and his face changed. He was that beautiful boy.

Its weird that hes never worked with a female director or a first-time director. Youd think you would want a different perspective. And many filmmakers have made one of their best films the first time out.

Yeah. For me, most certainly some of my best ones have been with first-timers. Larry [Clark], Kimberly Pierce, Harmony [Korine]. And I also triedon several occasions. Often Ive failed!

Yeah, youve helmed a few shorts so is feature directing something you want to pursue?

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It is. Im just still trying to find the right story. I felt like I had something, and then Trump was elected, so it didnt seem like it was as relevant or right to make. Im trying to think of something else.

As a New Yorker, I was always aware of Trump but almost as this comic-book villainthe big, fat guy in an apartment in the sky in a boxy suit.

I sat next to him and Melania at a Cirque du Soleil function where they had all these celebrities come out, so I took some friends for a fun New York night out. Melania asked my friend where she got the popcorn, and my friend pointed, and I said, Why dont you tell her youll give her the popcorn for a hundred bucks? [Laughs] She was broke at the time.

He was almost a foil to your crew in the 90s. You guys were out clubbing and dressing wild and he was the tacky real-estate douchebag erecting these gold- building eyesores.

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Very nouveau riche. I honestly didnt think about him very much, in all honesty. He was like this funny New York character. A real estate mogul who you just assume is crooked.

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And you supported Bernie in 2016 and 2020.

Yes. And Liz [Warren] before Bernie in 16, when they were trying to pressure Liz to run. Run Liz Run! I went to some events when they were trying to rally her. But this last go-round I really felt for Elizabeth Warren.

It seems like they went for the safe choice. Are you worried about the 2020 election?

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Im super worried. I think we have to get everybody to rally behind Biden and Kamala, even if they are the safe choice. Any of the little swing voters that are left, I dont know if they want to keep hearing all this rhetoric from the left. I have all these friends who are like, This fascist! Yada yada yada. Should they tone it down? They dont think we should. It feels like youre bombarded now from both sides and theres no calm.

It can seem overdone at times. I try to watch Rachel Maddow now and again but its sort of the same thing every nightthis clown-fascist-criminal. But what can you do, I suppose.

I prefer Chris Hayes, who goes on before her. And I like John Oliver but even hes getting a bit heavy-handed.

Ive followed your career since Kids and admire how youve stuck to your artistic guns. Not a lot of people do that.

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Thank you. Im surprised I still have a career and that Im still getting work! [Laughs] I remember all these actresses in the 90s and I was so envious they were getting all this work, and now Im like, Thank God Im still around and making a living at this! What would my pivot be if I had to make a living doing something else?

I remember all the pearl-clutching over The Brown Bunny. American audiences are so weird when it comes to sex.

Unless its two girlsthen people love it.

I was having a discussion with a friend and we were trying to think of the last sexy American movie we saw and it was really hard to come up with a recent one. Its sad. And it feels like its almost gotten more conservative in Hollywood when it comes to sex.

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Yeah, its true. Call Me by Your Name was sexy but I guess that was Italian so it doesnt count? Id have to think on that! I dont even know if theres very many romance movies. Wheres Adrian Lyne now? What movies is he making? No movies. Wheres the next one like him? Are there any indie-sexy teen things?

It seems like TV is the place for that now with shows like Euphoria and We Are Who We Are. Just to bring it back to New York City, have you considered leaving during all this?

No! Im never leaving.

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