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Chloe Sevigny Bio
Chloë Sevigny (born November 18, 1974) is an American actress, fashion designer, and former model. She established a reputation for her eclectic fashion sense, and developed a broad career in the fashion industry in the mid-to-late 1990s for modeling and her intern work at New York City‘s Sassy Magazine. In 1994, she attracted the attention of journalist Jay McInerney, who wrote a 7-page article about her for The New Yorker, in which he called a then 19-year-old Sevigny the “coolest girl in the world.”
Sevigny made her film debut with a leading role in the controversial film Kids (1995), written by Harmony Korine, which led to an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance. A long line of roles in generally well-received independent and often avant-garde films throughout the decade established Sevigny’s reputation as “Queen of the Indies.” In 1999, Sevigny won eight acting awards and gained serious critical and commercial recognition for her role as Lana Tisdel in Boys Don’t Cry, earning her Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress. Sevigny continued acting in mostly independent art house films, such as American Psycho (2000), Party Monster (2003), and Dogville (2003). Her role in the art house film The Brown Bunny (2003) caused significant controversy because of a scene in which she performs unsimulated fellatio. Her films since then have included Melinda and Melinda (2004), Manderlay (2005), and Zodiac (2007).
From 2006 to 2011, Sevigny played a leading role in the HBO television series Big Love, for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in 2010. She then appeared in several television projects, including a lead role in Hit & Miss (2012), and recurring roles on American Horror Story: Asylum (2012–2013), American Horror Story: Hotel (2015–2016), and Portlandia. Sevigny has two Off-Broadway theatre credits, and has starred in several music videos. She has also designed several wardrobe collections, most recently with Manhattan’s Opening Ceremony boutique.
1995–99: Early work
Sevigny encountered young screenwriter and aspiring director Harmony Korine in Washington Square Park in New York City 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). Directed by Larry Clark and written by Korine, Sevigny plays a New York teenager who discovers she is HIV positive. According to Sevigny, she was originally cast in a much smaller role in the film, but ended up replacing Canadian actress Mia Kirshner. Just two days before production began, the leading role went to the then-19-year-old Sevigny, who had no professional acting experience; she said of her casting in the role, “Harmony [Korine] just thought I was this sweet, cute girl and he liked my blonde hair.” Nonetheless, Kids was controversial; the film was given an NC-17 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for its graphic depiction of sexuality and recreational substance and drug use involving teenagers. Despite its controversy, Kids was taken note of critically and commercially: respected film critic Janet Maslin considered the film a “wake-up call to the modern world” about the nature of the youth in urban life at the time. 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 ended up receiving 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 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.
After Gummo, Sevigny starred in the neo-noir thriller Palmetto (1998), playing a young Florida kidnapee alongside Woody Harrelson. 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”. 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 was reportedly so emotionally disturbed after playing the role that she began attending Catholic Mass again.
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, 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 designated female at birth. Boys Don’t Cry received high praise from critics, and was a moderate box-office success. Sevigny’s performance was particularly embraced: The Los Angeles Times noted 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 movie 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 has credited it as the only film she ever made for financial benefit. Following this appearance, 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 kid 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 met during her frequent trips to New York City’s club scene as a teenager.
Sevigny then obtained a role in Lars von Trier‘s parable film 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 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 was exposed. Sevigny played a co-editor of Glass’s.
2003–06: The Brown Bunny and aftermath
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
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 Cannes Film Festival, and opened to significant controversy and criticism from audiences and critics. She went on to defend the movie, “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 release at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, the William Morris Agency 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 noted that Sevigny brought “a truth and vulnerability” to the film.
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 fellow Manhattanite in Woody Allen‘s two-sided tragicomedy, Melinda and Melinda (2004), which Sevigny referred to as being a “pleasing” experience. 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).
2006–11: Big Love
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 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 addition, she had various screening credits that year: Sevigny landed major roles in two independent comedy films: Barry Munday and Mr. Nice in Munday, Sevigny plays the sister of a homely woman who is expecting a child by a recently castrated womanizer (opposite Patrick Wilson and Judy Greer); in Mr. Nice, she had a leading role as British marijuana-trafficker Howard Marks‘ wife, alongside Rhys Ifans; the film was based on Marks’ autobiography of the same name. 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.”
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.
2011–present: Post-Big Love
In 2011, Sevigny traveled to Manchester, England to film the British six-part drama Hit & Miss where she starred as Mia, a pre-op transsexual contract killer. Upon returning to the United States, she guest-starred on Law & Order: SVU 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 2011, it was reported that Sevigny expressed interest in developing and starring in a mini-series about the infamous accused axe-murderer Lizzie Borden. With Tom Hanks reportedly backing the production of the series, it was reportedly due to begin filming in late 2012. In 2013, Chloe Sevigny was featured as a satellite character, Alexandra, in the TV show Portlandia during its third season on IFC. Also in 2013, Sevigny had a 5-episode guest role on The Mindy Project.
She starred as Catherine Jensen in the crime drama Those Who Kill, which aired on the A&E Network in March 2014. The show was pulled by the network after mediocre ratings in the first two weeks. It was then re-launched on A&E’s sister network, Lifetime Movie Network, on March 30, 2014. The series has received mixed to positive critical reviews. The series was subsequently cancelled by the network after its 10 episode first season run. In March 2015 she returned for American Horror Story: Hotel and earned one of the leading roles in the Canadian thriller film Antibirth. In February 2015, Sevigny reunited with The Last Days of Disco director Whit Stillman to film Love and Friendship, an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Lady Susan which is being shot in Ireland. In March 2015 she also starred in the Netflix original series Bloodline.