A Golden Globe winner for her buttoned-up portrayal of Nicki Grant, the dowdiest sister-wife in HBO’s polygamy drama Big Love, Chloë Sevigny has been in style since her 1995 film debut as an HIV-positive teen in Kids. Killer supporting roles in edgy fare like American Psycho and Party Monster made her big, but it was her Oscar-nominated turn in Boys Don’t Cry that made us fall in love. Revisiting her many lesbian roles, the 35-year-old fashionista confesses the one food group that’s kept her from jumping the fence.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: The last time you spoke to The Advocate was for a 2000 cover story after you’d just been nominated for the Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry. So this is good — we should check in and catch up every 10 years.
Chloë Sevigny: Sure, why not? A gay fan base is a very good fan base to have — is that a terrible thing to say? They’re very loyal. They’ll stick with you through the ups and downs because they’re not fair-weather fans. I love being a gay icon; I totally embrace it.
When did you first feel that love from gay people?
Right after Kids came out. I was working in this store called Liquid Sky on Lafayette Street, which was rave central in New York City, and I had a lot of gay boys coming in and coming up to me in the street. The first person who ever came up to me was actually a really young, very sweet boy with AIDS. But even way before that I used to make out with a lot of girls and gay boys when we were on Rohypnol — which I probably shouldn’t say. [Laughs] There was a lot of kissing in the club scene — boys, girls, gays, straights, and all the rest.
When you spoke to us in 2000 you had already filmed but hadn’t seen If These Walls Could Talk 2, so you were worried about how your lesbian fans would react to your butch lesbian character. You said, “I’m so scared they’re all going to turn on me and hate me for a bad representation.” How was the response?
When I first met with [executive producer] Ellen DeGeneres about it, she was like, “You can’t play butch.” I said, “Just watch me.” I feel like the lesbian community really liked that film and liked me in it, so I think I did them proud. But I still haven’t seen it! I should ask for a DVD. I’d probably love it now because I probably look really young and beautiful.
I’ve read that If These Walls Could Talk 2 was the only thing you’ve ever done just for the cash. Why was that project unappealing without the paycheck?
I wasn’t excited about the other two stories in the film and some of the other people involved. But at the time I was broke, and I needed a paycheck immediately because I was helping my mother pay her mortgage.
I’d think that kissing Michelle Williams would be all the payment you need.
But remember back then she was just a girl from Dawson’s Creek, and I was super-indie, so I was like, “Ew, gross.” She was still beautiful, but she wasn’t the Michelle Williams she is today.
Whenever I read about you turning down big-budget films like Legally Blonde to maintain your indie cred, I think, Why does Chloë hate money?
[Laughs] Well, it wasn’t the Reese Witherspoon part — let’s set the record straight — it was the Selma Blair part. But I was offered a Joe Orton play off-Broadway, What the Butler Saw, which I thought would be more challenging. I guess I didn’t realize the full potential of Legally Blonde at the time, but now I love those films — they’re hilarious.
Selma Blair interviewed you some years later for Interview magazine. Was the fact that you turned down her role an elephant in the room?
Aw, no, that stuff happens all the time. And so many girls have been offered parts that I’ve ended up doing, and I see them all the time — like the girl [Mia Kirshner] that got fired from Kids, which was the reason I got the role. Those are the breaks.
What attracted you to Monet, the apartment-flipping lesbian, on Will & Grace — Edie Falco as your sugar mama?
I was a huge Will & Grace fan! I loved Sean Hayes, and I just wanted to try a sitcom and see what that was all about. But what’s funny is that after I appeared on the show I could never watch it again. It lost the magic. We shot for two days, and the first day I was doing my quiet-whatever kind of acting that I do, but then I was like, If I don’t turn it up 10 notches, I’m just going to blend into the walls. So the next day I went in rip-roarin’ and ready to go, trying to ham it up, but it’s really hard to ham it up next to that cast.
You played Jessica Lange’s lesbian assistant in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. Were your characters lovers?
Oh, I forgot that! Yeah, it was extremely nuanced, but they were totally lovers. I just saw her walking her dog on Fifth Avenue and she said “hi” to me, and I was so excited. Frances Farmer!
You also kissed girls in the Lemonheads video for “Big Gay Heart.” When lesbians hit on you, do you break their big gay hearts gently or shoot them down quick?
I have to shoot ’em down quick. [Laughs] They always want to buy me drinks, but I’ll be like, “Save your money. I get free drinks here.” It doesn’t happen all the time, but it may happen if I go to certain gay spots — like on Saturday night, when I was at this super-lesbo party [Choice Cunts] downstairs at Santos Party House. It was fun.
You’ve said that people thought you were a lesbian while growing up in Darien, Conn. Why do you think that was?
I was a tomboy and went through a lot of different phases. When you shave your head and pierce your nose during your junior year in high school, that’ll do it. But you didn’t need to do much back then.
In a 2000 New York Times profile, you said, “I’ve questioned issues of gender and sexuality since I was a teenager, and I did some experimenting.” Did you mind that some people branded you as “bisexual” after that?
There were a lot of articles that made reference to that, but at this point I couldn’t care less what people call me. I still kiss girls occasionally, but I wouldn’t say I was bisexual.
Could you ever see yourself in a relationship with a woman?
Probably not, no. I need more meat and potatoes — with more of the meat part, I guess. [Laughs]
When celebrities like Lady Gaga, Fergie, and Ke$ha have discussed being bisexual or having bisexual tendencies in recent interviews, they’ve often been accused of doing so just for attention or to seem cooler. Has bisexuality become fashionable in Hollywood?
No, I wouldn’t say it’s fashionable. You have a lot of gay power players, but when it comes down to it, Hollywood is more homophobic than anywhere else. And I would never say something like that just to seem more interesting — that’s just the reality of who I was — but our society is a lot more forgiving of women than it is of men when it comes to that sort of thing.
You played Michael Alig’s girlfriend Gitsie in Party Monster. Would you have any interest in looking up Michael when he gets paroled in a few years?
Ooh, I’m not so sure. I mean, he did a bad thing. But I knew all of them and hung out with all those guys, which is why I did the picture. I was looking through my brother’s photos and mementos the other day, and I found this letter that I’d sent to him from back then. I wrote, “You won’t believe what happened in the club scene! This guy Michael Alig killed this other guy…” I go on and on about what happened, and this was even before it was in the papers. I remember that Freeze and Angel would never sell me whatever drugs I was into, so I’d always have to ask my gay boyfriends to buy them for me. Those guys were threatened by me — especially Michael — because all the gay boys loved me.
Some view Big Love’s portrayal of Mormon fundamentalist polygamists as a metaphor for all alternative families, gay marriage, and anyone who feels shoved in a closet by mainstream society — especially since Will Scheffer and Mark V. Olsen, the show’s creators and executive producers, are a gay couple. Do you see it that way?
I do, very much so, and you see that even more this season. It comes out really strong with the political issues we’re dealing with, and it’s really spelled out with what Alby’s going through right now.
I recently spoke to Matt Ross, who plays Alby, Nicki’s brother, about how he’s often had to fill in the blanks for himself when it comes to his character’s backstory. As for Nicki’s backstory, how much did she know about Alby’s homosexuality before the fourth season’s revelations?
Surprisingly, she didn’t know anything up until this season. At first it’s hard for her to comprehend, but then she accepts it, and there’s a very sweet scene where she finds out and tells Alby it’s all right and that she still loves him. I had actually always assumed that she and Alby had had some sort of incestuous relationship, because that’s really rampant on those compounds between brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters.
Nicki looked sexier and more fashionable than ever during the fourth season. Was that any thanks to your influence?
No, and I prefer the old Nicki, actually. She’s going through some growing pains and she’s having her adolescence a little late in life, so she’s experimenting and finding herself through different hairstyles and fashions. I’ve kind of grown accustomed to the old hairdo, strangely enough. It’s easier to get in character with the old Nicki; with different hair, it’s not as easy.
Having a gay icon and a fashion icon to play dress-up with must be awfully tempting for Mark and Will.
[Laughs] I guess so. They are very involved in the costumes, hair, and makeup.
Did you have much interaction with Milk’s Dustin Lance Black when he was a writer on Big Love?
I did. The writers are always around, and they’re on set every day when their particular episode is filmed, so I saw him a lot. I was very happy for him with all his accolades, and I’m looking forward to his next picture.
Another gay Big Love writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, did an impressive job of fleshing out the Alby and Dale relationship in the “Strange Bedfellows” episode earlier this season.
He did. He invited me to some bowling benefit for Second Stage Theatre the other night, so I went out to support them and hang out with him. He’s actually writing a musical version of American Psycho right now, which is really odd.
You don’t want any part of that?
No. [Laughs] But I would love to do Broadway. I guess I’m waiting for the right thing and the time. It’s hard to commit to anything like that when you’re on television.
Could you pull off a musical?
I’m not sure, but I think I could if I had enough training and practice. I’d actually love to dance. Cabaret is my favorite musical, but I would never attempt it. Besides, they just had a revival not that long ago.
A few days after the Golden Globes ceremony, when I discovered on Greginhollywood.com that the escort who stepped on your dress, Joe Everett Michaels, was gay, I thought, Great, another reason for people to hate us: As if our pesky demands for equal rights weren’t enough, now we’ve gone and ripped Chloë Sevigny’s Valentino!
Oh, geesh, I know. He actually found me in the ballroom afterward, came up to me, and was going on and on, like, “I’m so, so, so, so sorry!” The poor guy. Accidents happen, so of course I accepted his apology. You know, I had a feeling something was going to happen. I thought I was just going to stain the dress or that I was going to trip, but leave it to the gays! [Laughs]
The Advocate, April 2010 issue; extended online version.