CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 21: Chloe Sevigny attends the screening of “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
  • Interviews

Chloë Sevigny on Pregnancy, Work and Motherhood in the COVID Era

Ever since Chloë Sevigny rose to fame in the 1990s, she has been able to forge a career in both independent and mainstream films and television. In her latest project, she plays Army Colonel and mother Sarah Wilson in Luca Guadagnino’s first TV series, We Are Who We Are. We spoke to the actress about becoming a mother herself and her love for independent cinema.

What attracted you to the role of Sarah Wilson in We Are Who We Are?

What attracted me most was her relationship with her son and exploring the mother-son dynamic, especially with an absentee father. I don’t think we see many relationships like that on screen, or just how much a character like Sarah was taking on, being the commander at a new base, facing the gender dynamics there, and what it’s like to be an out gay person married in the US military. It must have been hard for this woman, showing up on this base, taking over, and also raising a teenage son. She has a lot going on and I thought she was such a rich character and there was so much to explore. I was so curious and intrigued by her, and that made me really want to play the part.

What was it like shooting this without any glamor (hair and make-up)?

I had to trust my director, hoping he would make me look okay. It was right for the part, and whatever is right for the part I’m committed to. I couldn’t see her getting glammed up even when she’s at a funeral or, like, in moments where she maybe would be. So it seemed right.

Did you talk about your specific look?

We talked a lot about the hair because my hair was quite long: it was, like, below my breasts when we shot, and Luca was obsessed with this feminist theorist Judith Butler, and he wanted my hair to look like hers. He thought it would give the character strength and be more convincing, which I think was right. I’m glad that I cut my hair. I spoke to women in the military and a few gay women in the military, and they said it’s a very common thing to cut your hair like that, so it seemed truthful.

You shot the series in Italy while you were pregnant, which was unexpected. Did you tell anyone about it?

I was only in my first trimester, but I had to tell the producers for insurance purposes. And they also had to organize my doctor’s visits. I went there initially for rehearsals and fittings and training, not pregnant, drinking the Coronas and Spritzes, smoking cigarettes, out every night with everybody, and then I came back on set and was like a monk. They must have known something was going on.

How did you feel?

I was very tired. I luckily wasn’t very sick but I was very drained all the time. It was also difficult not being in your own country and trying to navigate the food, because all of a sudden you have to be careful of all these bacteria, which made me nervous about the food on the set. Your first trimester is quite fragile, especially at my age. And I couldn’t be so vocal with everyone about it – I only confided in one woman on set. Not speaking the language and having to go to a pharmacy also made it a little tricky.

Your son was born May 2, in the middle of the pandemic. Were you worried?

To be honest, it was a good thing as far as that his father was home from work, and we really got to make our little nest and be here with very little distractions or obligations, because we both are quite busy with work, and so it was nice to not have to turn anything down or not be present at other things, just be fully present for our child, and that was really special. At the same time, the dilemma of wanting to share him with my Mom but being afraid of exposing her or other loved ones to something was the more difficult part, of course. After the hospital, we quarantined for two weeks before being with my mother.

Do you think motherhood has changed you?

I’m not sure yet. I mean, other than feeling fiercely protective and all of that over him and his father. I guess you know that perspective is changing, the importance of things is changing, but also, with the pandemic as well, priorities are shifting. I think that also happens when babies are this age because they are so helpless, you know – and then, like, once they get a little older and they’re on their own, then there’s a return to your own work and your own career, because you know they’re kind of able to manage somewhat on their own. I’ve been working since I was 19 years old, and I’m 46 now, so it’s nice to be able to be, like, I can just be here with the baby: he’s only going to be this tiny for so long.

You’re one of the few actors who has managed both to have a career in independent cinema and also to find success in mainstream movies and television shows. How important is that balance for you?

I think I’ve found more success in mainstream television because television has changed so much, and working with someone like Luca in television has been amazing. I think what’s always been important for me is working with someone who has a vision, whether it’s Ryan Murphy or Lars von Trier. I’ve always looked for a strong creator and showrunner.

How important is independent cinema to you?

I’ve always loved independent cinema. It’s an important place where people can come up and experiment and kind of have a wider breadth to make more challenging work, and I think we need to maintain that and give back in the best way that we can by joining these streaming services that celebrate these kinds of movies, and downloading them and watching them to support that kind of filmmaking.

Have you had a mentor in your career?

I think it’s been just me and maybe some of my boyfriends, because I always wanted to impress them. I’ve always loved cinema and had a certain taste and aesthetic. When I was younger, I really loved realism, that’s all I wanted to do, and then I was, like, “Oh, but I like magic and I like fantasy,” and then I kind of shifted, and now Spielberg is my favorite director, so I’m kind of growing and changing and learning. I like a wide variety.

You are often called a style trailblazer. Have you always been into fashion?

When I was young, I couldn’t really afford it, but I would pore over old magazines at the library in town. When they threw them out, I would take them home and cut them up and make collages, and I was very into dressing as a form of expression from a very young age, probably from like three or four. I was very into what I wore. My Mom would bring me to the thrift stores and I would pick out my outfits and I would go through different phases, like phases where I only wore cowboy boots and dresses like I was on the prairie, and other phases where I only wore braids and ribbons and tried to look like the girls in the Esprit catalogs. I just would see something and that would become the ideal, and then I would, like, mimic it or be inspired by it, and then it would morph into something else, and I just always found it, like, a really great way of expressing myself. Being labeled the “It Girl” by New Yorker magazine just kind of stuck with me, and people gravitated to me because I wasn’t using a celebrity stylist, and so they thought that I had some magic or whatever.

Do you ever regret any of the choices you made?

I regret a lot of the things that I passed on and turned down for various reasons: either I was, like, cutting it too close between finishing one project and moving on to another project, or it was something I didn’t think was in me, or that I’d be scared that it was too challenging. I still kick myself for certain things that I passed on.

Do you think your choices will change now that you’re a mother?

I think as far as, like, long-term commitments, they will. If I was offered a series and it shot in Vancouver, for instance, that would probably be unmanageable, just because of the distance – and now, too, with COVID, like, if you even have two weeks off, you’re not allowed to go home. They have this new rule where you have to stay in your bubble on set. I think location will have lots to do with my future decision-making.

Any plans on directing a feature after your three short films?

There have been some books that I’ve been interested in, and then every time I ask, or inquire they’re already wrapped up, somebody else already held the rights. There’s one idea I’ve been kind of kicking around, but I just have to sit down and try and write it and – I don’t know, kind of where to begin. I was talking to Michelle Dean who wrote The Act, the show that I was on, and I might ask her to try and help me, because I think she’s really a smart lady.

How much fun was it to direct the three shorts?

It was so much fun. I loved doing the shorts, and I also wrote all three of them. I think the problem-solving was one of my favorite aspects. With the shorts, we only had a certain amount of time, so you can never, like, move something over to another day. I liked communicating with the different departments, the collaborative aspect and getting people excited about your idea. I’m just bringing the vision to life. Communicating with the actors, coming up with the makeup, developing relationships with people, were some of my favorite aspects.