By Max Berlinger
Sevigny knows she can be a veritable quote machine -- a bit too candid, a bit too real for mainstream Hollywood -- and shrinks before archly whimpering, “I’m just so sensitive these days. I’ve gotten in so much trouble. I’ve gotten emails from the GLAAD people.” (Well, really, who hasn’t?)
Sevigny’s imprint on pop culture is difficult to summarize, and it’s sometimes hard to distinguish where the It-girl mythology ends and the reality begins. Raised in the suburban town of Darien, Conn., she was drawn, like countless others, to Manhattan in her high-school years and settled in at the center of various early-’90s subcultures. Her discovery by fashion editors as a ragamuffin diamond in the rough while loitering with skateboarders in Washington Square Park was detailed in Jay McInerney’s 1994 profile in The New Yorker, when she was just 19.
She agreed to do it in exchange for a Helmut Lang dress.
The article describes Sevigny’s move from youthful doyenne to actress as she took on her first film role, in 1995’s Kids, directed by Larry Clark. Despite its meager budget, the graphic portrayal of adolescent drug use and sexual activity struck a nerve. The film went on to become a modest commercial success and has gained a healthy cult following. But it was a supporting role in 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry, based on the true-life murder of Brandon Teena, a transgender man, which served as her breakout role and earned her an Oscar nomination.
“I was intrigued by this girl in Nebraska who would masquerade as a boy and the tragedy of how his life ended,” says Sevigny, who played Teena’s love interest. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
Despite the Oscar nod, Sevigny avoided the expected Hollywood trajectory, working mostly on a string of art-house flicks helmed by outré directors like Lars von Trier and Jim Jarmusch, though not entirely by choice.
“Hollywood does not know what to do with me,” she says. “They do not like me. That’s why I end up in these seemingly difficult movies. That’s what is offered to me, and I need to make a living.” Indeed, Sevigny’s outsider status possesses a dark edge that excuses her from the Zooey Deschanel School of Quirk.
Hit & Miss, although decidedly niche, is likely to earn plenty of attention when it debuts July 11 on DirecTV. In an opening scene, Sevigny is shown nude, prosthetic penis and all.
“Being around the men on set, being naked, and having that on, I just felt insecure and uncomfortable. Plus the process to put it on was very involved. I had to shave myself, it’s glued on, painted, like any prosthetic. It’s not fun to have someone right up in your private parts,” she deadpans before letting out her hooting laugh, a signature Chloë-ism.
“I think the root of why I was so upset with having it on was that I wasn’t fully trusting of the producers and directors,” she admits. “Now I can rest assured, because I’ve seen it, and it’s not gratuitous. It shouldn’t be a show about a fucking penis.’”
As it turns out, Hit & Miss is about much more, as its true focus rests on Mia’s attempt to connect with her estranged son and build a family. “Of course people will go into it and have some preconceived notions,” she concedes, “but I think people will be really surprised at how melodic and lyrical it is.”
Sevigny’s body of work possesses an undercurrent of queer themes -- from Boys Don’t Cry to her role as Michelle Williams’s lover, Amy, in the 2000 HBO film If These Walls Could Talk 2 to sapphic cameos on Will & Grace and in the film Broken Flowers, playing the lovers of Edie Falco and Jessica Lange, respectively -- but these credits alone don’t fully explain why she’s been so widely embraced by the gay community.