By Max Berlinger
Photography by Terry Richardson
Styling by Grant Woolhead
Chloë Sevigny is the best-dressed person in the room. Granted, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon on a mild Thursday and the dark, wood-paneled lobby of the Bowery Hotel is empty, save for a man at his laptop and two tourists yapping near the front desk. Still, were the room teeming with downtown P.Y.T.s, as it likely will be later this evening, Sevigny’s striped, cap-sleeve T-shirt tucked into faded, high-waisted denim shorts and white wedged sneakers would turn heads. It’s surprising, then, that she feels off her game.
“I’m a bit molasses,” the actress admits while settling into a sagging, tapestried sofa. She thinks she caught something during a recent flight from Europe, where she was shooting the fall campaign for Miu Miu, because, well, that’s what you do when you’re Chloë Sevigny. “How in-depth is this interview supposed to be?” she asks, narrowing her saucer-like eyes, and when she hears that it is, in fact, supposed to be quite thorough, they widen with alarm. “Oh fuuuuck,” she sighs, before placing her BlackBerry facedown on the table, as if to gird herself for a proper interrogation.
Not that Sevigny is a stranger to being interviewed, talked about, or carefully monitored. She’s been in the public eye for nearly 20 years, having carved out a singular niche for herself with a mix of daring film roles, a distinctive sense of style, and the ability to stay commercially visible without losing underground credibility. At 37 years old, she’s still the downtown ingénue ne plus ultra, but today she’s here, despite a wheezing cough, to talk about becoming transgender.
When news broke last summer that Sevigny would be taking on a role as a pre-operative transsexual hit man in the British series Hit & Miss, the Internet crackled with snark, chalking the project up as yet another eccentric outing.
“Who doesn’t love a challenge?” she says of the show, which premiered on the U.K. channel Sky Atlantic in May. “My manager called me and said, ‘I got some scripts today, and they’re fucking crazy. I’ve never read anything like them, and I kinda think you’re going to be into it,’ ” she says with a laugh. “A little way into reading the first script, I knew I was in.”
Sevigny stars as Mia, a hired assassin who discovers she’s a father. And because the child’s mother, with whom she was involved before she transitioned, has died, Mia is now legal guardian of a son she’s never met.
The role required Sevigny to take part in firearms training, accent coaching, kickboxing lessons, and a six-month sabbatical in Manchester, England, far from her usual East Village environs. But those weren’t the things that troubled her.
“I was worried people would be angry that they didn’t cast a real person who was transitioning,” she says. “I asked why they didn’t, and the producers said they didn’t find the right person. It’s a big responsibility toward that community, and I wanted to do them right.” The show’s writer, Sean Conway, was more categorical. “I don’t think anyone else could have played the part,” he says. “She’s hypnotizing and perfectly balances the tender with the brutal. I could watch her forever.”
Sevigny’s unaffected demeanor has earned her a reputation as a wild card with the media, but there’s a tinge of self-consciousness as she discusses the particulars of this character. Last year, she came under fire for describing Mia as a “tranny” in an interview with BlackBook magazine.
“I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to use that word,” she says. “There are all these tenses, too. Look, it’s a complex process to go through, and it’s a complex thing to talk about. I’m still not even sure if I’m doing it right, and I really don’t want to offend anyone.”