Life and career
1974–1993: Early life
Sevigny was born Chloe Stevens Sevigny in Springfield, Massachusetts, the second child of Janine (née Malinowski) and Harold David Sevigny (December 28, 1940—February 12, 1996). She has one older brother, Paul. According to Sevigny, she added the diaeresis to her first name later in life, and it was not on her birth certificate. Her mother is Polish-American, and her father was of French-Canadian heritage, born in Vermont. She was raised in a strict Roman Catholic household in Darien, Connecticut, where her father worked as an accountant, and later a local art teacher. Despite Darien's affluence, Sevigny's parents had a "frugal" household, and were considered "the poor bohemians in [an] extremely prosperous neighborhood." "My dad worked in insurance and worked very hard to bring us up in that town," she recalled. "He wanted us to grow up in a really safe environment. And I never thanked him for doing that."
While a child, Sevigny was diagnosed with scoliosis, though she never received any surgical treatment. She often spent summers attending theatre camp, with leading roles in plays run by the YMCA. She attended Darien High School, where she was a member of the Alternative Learning Program. While in high school, she often babysat actor Topher Grace and his younger sister. As a young teenager, she worked sweeping the tennis courts of a country club her family could not afford to join.
Sevigny described herself as a "loner" and a "depressed teenager" whose only extracurricular activity was occasionally skateboarding with her older brother: "Mostly I sewed. I had nothing better to do, so I made my own clothes." Despite being "very well-mannered" due to her mother's strict expectations, she "did hang out at the Mobil station and smoke cigarettes." In high school, she grew rebellious and began experimenting with drugs, particularly hallucinogens. She has said that her father was aware of her experimentation with hallucinogens and marijuana, and even told her that it was okay, but that she had "to stop if she had bad trips". Despite her father's leniency, her mother forced her to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings upon discovering her drug experimentation. In 2007, she told The Times: "I had a great family life—I would never want it to look as if it reflected on them. I think I was very bored ... I often feel it's because I experimented when I was younger that I have no interest as an adult. I know a lot of adults who didn't, and it's much more dangerous when you start experimenting with drugs as an adult. In 1996, when Sevigny was twenty-two years old, her father died of cancer.
As a teenager, Sevigny would occasionally ditch school in Darien and take the train into Manhattan. In 1992, at age 17, she was spotted on an East Village street by Andrea Linett, a fashion editor of Sassy magazine, who was so impressed by her style that she asked her to model for the magazine; she was later made an intern. When recounting the event, Sevigny recalled that Linnett "just liked the hat I was wearing." She later modeled in the magazine as well as for X-Girl, the subsidiary fashion label of the Beastie Boys' "X-Large", designed by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, which then led to an appearance in the music video for Sonic Youth's "Sugar Kane".
In 1993, at age 19, Sevigny relocated from her Connecticut hometown to an apartment in Brooklyn, and worked as a seamstress. During that time, author Jay McInerney spotted her around New York City and wrote a seven-page article about her for The New Yorker in which he dubbed her the new "it girl" and referred to her as one of the "coolest girls in the world." She subsequently appeared on the album cover of Gigolo Aunts' 1994 recording Flippin' Out and the EP Full-On Bloom, as well as in a Lemonheads music video which further increased her reputation on New York's early 1990s underground scene.
1995–1998: Early film work
Sevigny encountered screenwriter and aspiring director Harmony Korine in Washington Square Park during her senior year of high school in 1993. The two became close friends, which resulted in her being cast in the low-budget independent film Kids (1995), which was written by Korine and directed by Larry Clark. Sevigny played a New York teenager who discovers she is HIV positive. According to Sevigny, she was originally cast in a much smaller role, but ended up replacing Canadian actress Mia Kirshner. Just two days before production began, the leading role went to Sevigny, who was 19 at the time and had no professional acting experience. Kids was highly controversial; the film was given an NC-17 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for its graphic depiction of sexuality and drug use involving teenagers. Despite this, the film was taken note of critically; Janet Maslin of The New York Times considered it a "wake-up call to the modern world" about the nature of the American youth in contemporary urban settings. Sevigny's performance was praised, with critics noting that she brought a tenderness to the chaotic, immoral nature of the film: "Sevigny provided the warm, reflective center in this feral film." She received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Female.
Sevigny followed Kids with actor/director Steve Buscemi's independent film Trees Lounge (1996), starring in a relatively small role as Buscemi's object of affection. During this time, director Mary Harron (after having seen Kids) offered Sevigny a minor part in her film, I Shot Andy Warhol (1996). Harron tracked Sevigny down to the SoHo clothing store Liquid Sky, where she was working at the time. Sevigny then gave her first audition ever, but ultimately decided to turn down the part; she would later work with Harron on American Psycho (2000). Instead of taking the part in I Shot Andy Warhol, Sevigny starred in and worked as a fashion designer on Gummo (1997), directed and written by Harmony Korine, who was romantically involved with Sevigny during and after filming. Gummo was as controversial as Sevigny's debut; set in Xenia, Ohio, the film depicts an array of nihilistic characters in a poverty-stricken small-town America, and presents issues such as drug and sexual abuse as well as anti-social alienated youth in Midwestern America. In retrospection to the confronting nature of the film, Sevigny cited it as one of her favorite projects: "Young people love that movie. It's been stolen from every Blockbuster in America. It's become a cult film". The film was dedicated to Sevigny's father, who died prior to the film's release.[a]
After Gummo, Sevigny starred in the neo-noir thriller Palmetto (1998), playing a young Florida kidnapee alongside Woody Harrelson. Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post lambasted the film for having "bad writing," ultimately deeming it "somewhat dull and sluggish." She then had a leading role as a Hampshire College graduate in the sardonic period piece The Last Days of Disco (1998), alongside Kate Beckinsale. The film was written and directed by cult director Whit Stillman and details the rise and fall of the Manhattan club scene in the "very early 1980s".[b] Stillman said of Sevigny: "Chloë is a natural phenomenon. You're not directing, she's not performing—it's just real." Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that Sevigny "is seductively demure" in her performance as Alice. The film was generally well received, but was not a box-office success in the United States, only grossing $3 million—it has since become somewhat of a success as a cult film.
Aside from film work, Sevigny starred in a 1998 Off-Broadway production of Hazelwood Jr. High, which tells the true story of the 1992 murder of Shanda Sharer; Sevigny played 17-year-old Laurie Tackett, one of four girls responsible for torturing and murdering 12-year-old Sharer. Sevigny stated she was so emotionally disturbed after playing the role that she began attending mass again.
1999–2003: Boys Don't Cry, breakthrough
Sevigny was cast in the independent drama Boys Don't Cry (1999) after director Kimberly Peirce saw her performance in The Last Days of Disco. Sevigny's role in Boys Don't Cry—a biographical film of trans man Brandon Teena,[c] who was raped and murdered in Humboldt, Nebraska in 1993—was responsible for her rise to prominence and her mainstream success. Sevigny played Lana Tisdel, a young woman who fell in love with Teena, initially unaware of the fact that he was biologically female and continued the relationship despite learning about his birth gender. Boys Don't Cry received high praise from critics, and was a moderate box-office success. Sevigny's performance was singled out as one of the film's strong points and was widely embraced as one of the best acted films of that year: The Los Angeles Times stated that Sevigny "plays the role with haunting immediacy", Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times stated that "it is Sevigny who provides our entrance into the story" and Rolling Stone wrote that Sevigny gives a "performance that burns into the memory". Director Kimberly Peirce echoed the same feelings of the critics: "Chloë just surrendered to the part. She watched videos of Lana. She just became her very naturally. She's not one of those Hollywood actresses who diets and gets plastic surgery. You never catch her acting." The role earned Sevigny Best Supporting Actress nominations for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. Sevigny won an Independent Spirit Award, a Satellite Award, and a Sierra Award for her performance.
Following Boys Don't Cry, Sevigny had a supporting role in American Psycho, based on the controversial 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis. Sevigny plays the office assistant of Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale, a 1980s Manhattan yuppie-turned-serial killer. The film, as was its source novel, was controversial because of its depiction of graphic violence and sexuality in an upper-class Manhattan society. In addition, she reunited with Kids writer and Gummo director Harmony Korine for the experimental Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), playing the pregnant sister of a schizophrenic man. Though it never saw a major theatrical release, it garnered some critical praise; Roger Ebert gave the film his signature thumbs up, referring to it as "Freaks shot by the Blair Witch crew," and continuing to say, "The odds are good that most people will dislike this film and be offended by it. For others, it will provoke sympathy rather than scorn". Sevigny followed Julien with a small part in the drama film A Map of the World (1999), opposite Sigourney Weaver.
Between 1998 and 2000, Sevigny moved back to Connecticut to live with her mother, and appeared as a lesbian in the Emmy Award-winning television film If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000), the sequel to the HBO television drama-film If These Walls Could Talk (1996). Sevigny reportedly took the role in the film in order to help pay her mother's mortgage payment, and credited it as the only film she ever made for financial benefit. Around 2000, Sevigny also entered a relationship with musician Matt McAuley of the noise-rock band A.R.E. Weapons. The two would remain a couple for eight years before separating in early 2008.
Following her appearance in If Walls Could Talk 2, Sevigny was approached for a supporting role in the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde alongside Reese Witherspoon and offered $500,000; she declined and the role was given to Selma Blair. Instead, she starred in Olivier Assayas' French techno thriller Demonlover (2002) alongside Connie Nielsen, for which she was required to learn her lines in French. Sevigny described shooting the film as "strange," in the sense that director Assayas hardly spoke to her during the filming, which she said was difficult because of the lack of "input." After spending nearly three months in France to complete Demonlover, Sevigny returned to New York to film the Club Kids biopic, Party Monster (2003); coincidentally, Sevigny in fact knew several of the people depicted in the film (Michael Alig and James St. James included), whom she had met during her frequent trips to New York City's club scene as a teenager.
Around 2002, Sevigny had an endeavor in fashion, collaborating with friend Tara Subkoff for the 2003 Imitation of Christ collection, serving as creative director for the series, which was referred to as being "more about performance art and cultural theory than clothes." Actress Scarlett Johansson also collaborated for the collection. In November 2003, during the time of the collection's release, Sevigny lost four of her teeth after tripping and falling in a pair of high-heeled boots; she was said to have been "play wrestling" with co-collaborator Matt Damhave.
In film, Sevigny had a role in Lars von Trier's parable Dogville (2003), playing one of the various residents of a small mountain town, alongside Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, and Paul Bettany; the film received mixed reactions, and was criticized by critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper as being "anti-American." Sevigny also re-united with former Boys Don't Cry star Peter Sarsgaard for the biographical film Shattered Glass (2003), also alongside Hayden Christensen, about the career of Stephen Glass, a journalist whose reputation is destroyed when his widespread journalistic fraud is exposed. Sevigny played Caitlin Avey, one of Glass' co-editors.
2004–2006: The Brown Bunny controversy
In 2003, Sevigny took on the lead female role in the art house film The Brown Bunny (2003), which details a lonely traveling motorcycle racer reminiscing about his former lover. The film achieved notoriety for its final scene, which involves Sevigny performing unsimulated fellatio on star and director Vincent Gallo. The film premiered at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, and opened to significant controversy and criticism from audiences and critics. Additionally, a promotional billboard erected over Sunset Boulevard, which depicted a censored still from the film's final scene, garnered further attention and criticism. Sevigny went on to defend the film, responding: "It's a shame people write so many things when they haven't seen it. When you see the film, it makes more sense. It's an art film. It should be playing in museums. It's like an Andy Warhol movie." After the film's screening at Cannes, news outlets reported that the William Morris Agency had terminated Sevigny as a client. The agency believed the scene was "one step above pornography", and claimed that Sevigny's career "may never recover." In an interview with The Telegraph in 2003, when asked if she regretted the film, she responded: "No, I was always committed to the project on the strength of Vincent alone. I have faith in his aesthetic ... I try to forgive and forget, otherwise I'd just become a bitter old lady."
Despite the backlash toward the film, some critics praised Sevigny's performance; Manohla Dargis of The New York Times said, "Actresses have been asked and even bullied into performing similar acts for filmmakers since the movies began, usually behind closed doors. Ms. Sevigny isn't hiding behind anyone's desk. She says her lines with feeling and puts her iconoclasm right out there where everyone can see it; she may be nuts, but she's also unforgettable." Roger Ebert, although critical of The Brown Bunny, nevertheless said that Sevigny brought "a truth and vulnerability" to the film.
I've done it in everyday life. Everybody's done it, or had it done to them. It was tough, the toughest thing I've ever done, but Vincent was very sensitized to my needs, very gentle. It was one take. It was funny and awkward—we both laughed quite a bit. And we'd been intimate in the past, so it wasn't so weird. If you're not challenging yourself and taking risks, then what's the point of being an artist?
– Sevigny discusses the sex scene in The Brown Bunny
Despite her agency's disapproval of the film (and fear that the actress might have forever tarnished her career), she continued on with various projects. Sevigny had a major supporting role as a Manhattanite in Woody Allen's two-sided tragicomedy, Melinda and Melinda (2004). Critic Peter Bradshaw described the film as "strange... a half-hearted experiment populated by undernourished lab rats." She subsequently guest-starred on the popular television show Will & Grace, and a string of film roles followed, including a small role in Lars von Trier's sequel to Dogville, titled Manderlay (2005), as well as a bit part alongside Bill Murray in Broken Flowers (2005). Sevigny also played one of several lovers of New York doctor Herman Tarnower in the HBO television film Mrs. Harris (2005) alongside Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley. Sevigny then had a major role as a Catholic nun visiting Africa in one of three stories in 3 Needles (2005), an anthology dealing with the prevalence of AIDS in various parts of the world. Sevigny's performance in the film was praised; Dennis Harvey of Variety called her performance in the film "convincing", while Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times also referred to Sevigny as "ever-daring and shrewd." Shortly after 3 Needles, Sevigny played the lead character in the experimental indie-film Lying (2006) with Jena Malone and Leelee Sobieski, playing a pathological liar who gathers three female acquaintances for a weekend at her upstate New York country house; the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006. She also had a leading part in Douglas Buck's 2006 remake of the Brian De Palma horror film Sisters (1973), playing a journalist who witnesses a murder.
2007–2011: Fashion endeavors; Big Love
Sevigny at the premiere of Barry Munday
in Austin, Texas, 2010
In 2006, Sevigny began her five-season run in the HBO television series Big Love, about a family of fundamentalist Mormon polygamists. She played Nicolette Grant, the conniving, shopaholic daughter of a cult leader and second wife to a polygamist husband, played by Bill Paxton. Sevigny found even more mainstream success with a role in her first big-budget production as Robert Graysmith's wife Melanie in David Fincher's Zodiac (2007), telling the true story of San Francisco's infamous Zodiac Killer.
In October 2007, the French fashion house Chloé announced that Sevigny would be one of the spokesmodels for their new fragrance. In addition, she appeared in the January 2007 issue of House and Garden titled "Subversive Spirit", which featured a spread on Sevigny's Manhattan apartment. In the fall of 2009, Sevigny released a clothing collection for the Manhattan boutique, Opening Ceremony; the collection included both men's, women's, and unisex pieces. The pieces were sold exclusively at Opening Ceremony boutiques (Manhattan and Los Angeles), Barneys (United States), Colette (Paris), and London's Dover Street Market. The collection received mixed reactions. Sevigny's designs for the collection have been worn by Rihanna and Victoria Beckham.
In 2009, Sevigny starred in the independent psychological thriller film The Killing Room, and Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, a crime horror film based on murderer Mark Yavorsky, produced by David Lynch. Sevigny also had a voice part in the independent documentary film, Beautiful Darling (2010), narrating the life of trans woman Warhol superstar Candy Darling through Darling's diaries and personal letters. Throughout 2009, Sevigny continued working on Big Love's fourth season; when filming the series, she spent six months of the year living outside of Los Angeles near Santa Clarita, away from her home in New York City.
In January 2010, Sevigny won a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film for her performance in the third season of Big Love. The series itself also received nominations in two other categories. During a press conference following the award win, Sevigny addressed the repressed women living in the fundamentalist Mormon compounds: "These women are kept extremely repressed. They should be helped. They don't even know who the president of the United States is." In a later interview with The A.V. Club, Sevigny was asked if she felt that the show's message was that polygamy was "wrong". In response, Sevigny stated: "No, absolutely not. I think there are more parallels to gay rights and alternative lifestyles within Big Love—more so than 'Polygamy is wrong'. I think they actually condone people who decide to live this lifestyle outside of fundamentalist sects." During the same interview, Sevigny stated her disappointment with the series' fourth season, calling it "awful" and "very telenovela"—though she stated that she loves her character and the writing, she felt the show "got away from itself." Sevigny later regretted making the statements, saying she was very "exhausted" and "wasn't thinking about what [she] was saying"; she also apologized to the show's producers. "[I didn't want them to think] that I was biting the hand that feeds me, because I obviously love the show and have always been nothing but positive about it. And I didn't want anybody to misunderstand me or think that I wasn't, you know, appreciative."
While working on Big Love, Sevigny also landed major roles in two independent comedy films: Barry Munday and Mr. Nice. In Munday, she plays the sister of a homely woman who is expecting a child by a recently castrated womanizer (opposite Patrick Wilson and Judy Greer). Her role in Mr. Nice, as the wife of British marijuana-trafficker Howard Marks, had Sevigny starring alongside Rhys Ifans; the film was based on Marks' autobiography of the same name.
In March 2010, Sevigny attended the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin for the premiere of both Barry Munday and Mr. Nice; Barry Munday was picked up for distribution by Magnolia Pictures several months later. In June 2010, it was announced that Sevigny would be starring in a leading role in M. Blash's second film The Wait, alongside Jena Malone and Luke Grimes; it is a psychological thriller about two sisters who decide to keep their recently deceased mother in their house after receiving a phone call that she will be resurrected. The film marks Sevigny's second time working with both Blash and Malone, following 2006's Lying. Filming began on June 20, 2010, in Sisters, Oregon.
2012–2015: Television projects
Sevigny in 2015 at the premiere of #Horror
In 2011, Sevigny traveled to Manchester, England, to film the British six-part drama Hit & Miss where she starred as Mia, a transsexual contract killer. Mike Hale of The New York Times wrote of her performance: "Her naturally deep voice is a plus, and her characteristic mix of loucheness and gravity makes sense here, though it’s less interesting in this role than it was in the bitterly voracious wife she played in Big Love." Upon returning to the United States, she guest-starred on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on April 18, 2012, and also landed a guest starring role in the second season of American Horror Story, which premiered in October 2012. Sevigny also starred as a journalist in Lovelace, a biopic about pornographic film actress Linda Lovelace. In 2013, Chloe Sevigny was featured as a satellite character, Alexandra, in the TV show Portlandia during its third season on IFC. Kristi Turnquist of The Oregonian praised Sevigny, whom she felt "instantly adds dimension and interest" to the series. The same year, Sevigny had a 5-episode guest role on the comedy series The Mindy Project, portraying the ex-wife of the titular Mindy's love interest (played by Chris Messina).
In March 2013, Sevigny sold her apartment in Manhattan's East Village (which she had purchased in 2006) for $1.85 million, relocating to a classic six apartment residence overlooking Prospect Park in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which she purchased for $2 million. In 2014, she starred as Catherine Jensen in the crime drama Those Who Kill, which aired on the A&E Network. It was then re-launched on A&E's sister network, Lifetime Movie Network, on March 30, 2014, after being pulled from A&E after two episodes due to low ratings. The series was subsequently cancelled by the network after its 10 episode first season run. During the 29th International Festival of Fashion and Photography, which ran from April 25 to 28, 2014, Sevigny served as a judge of the fashion jury, along with Humberto Leon and Carol Lim.
In March 2015, it was announced Sevigny would be returning to American Horror Story, for its fifth season Hotel, as a main cast member. Sevigny portrayed the role of Alex Lowe, a doctor. That same year, she also starred in the Netflix original series Bloodline, which focuses on a family's grappling with a murder in Florida. In the spring of 2015, Sevigny published a picture book chronicling her life, containing photos of her as a high school student, on film sets, personal scripts, and other ephemera. Sevigny also appeared in film in Tara Subkoff's directorial debut #Horror, playing the opulent mother of a teenage girl whose get-together with friends is interrupted by a murderer.
2016–present: Directing and other projects
In early 2016, Sevigny appeared in the Canadian horror film Antibirth opposite Natasha Lyonne, which follows a small-town woman who becomes pregnant through unknown circumstances. Sevigny reunited with The Last Days of Disco director Whit Stillman on Love & Friendship, an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Lady Susan. Both films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2016. In 2016 and 2017, respectively, Sevigny also reprised her role in Bloodline, becoming a main cast member in the third and final season.
Sevigny made her directorial debut in 2016 with the short film Kitty, which she adapted from Paul Bowle's 1980 short story. The film was selected to close the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The film was subsequently acquired by The Criterion Collection and made available for streaming on their user subscription channel. In late 2016, she directed her second short film, Carmen, which was shot on location in Portland, Oregon. The film, released as part of a Miu Miu campaign, focuses on comedian Carmen Lynch.
Sevigny appeared in multiple films in 2017, playing supporting parts: She co-starred as a horse jockey in the drama Lean on Pete, based on the novel by Willy Vlautin, which was shot in Portland, Oregon and the eastern Oregon region; in the ensemble drama Golden Exits; the comedy-drama Beatriz at Dinner, about a Latina housekeeper who is invited to a dinner held by her wealthy employers; the drama The Dinner, concerning a dinner between two couples recounting their children's involvement in a murder; and The Snowman (2017), a Norway-filmed crime thriller in which she portrayed a victim of a serial killer.
In the spring of 2017, it was reported that Sevigny had sold her Brooklyn apartment for $2.75 million. She subsequently starred as Lizzie Borden in Lizzie (2018), which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, co-starring with Kristen Stewart. Sevigny had first expressed interest in developing and starring in a miniseries based on Borden in 2011. Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post wrote that Sevigny "is something of a closed book, delivering a stolid performance that can be read as either strong-willed or stonyhearted." Sevigny also appeared in a supporting role in The True Adventures of Wolfboy, which was filmed in Buffalo, New York in late-2017.