"DAZED & CONFUSED"


BACK TO TOP MAY 1996
Interview: Jefferson Hack
Photography: Rankin
Styling: Jennifer Elster
Hair: Linda Daniele for Louise Vicari
Make-up: Christine Hoffman at Kramer and Kramer

Chloe STAR OF KIDS

Chloe is the girl of the moment.
She is the unaffected actress who puts in an amazingly affective performance in Kids.
She is the girl who, styled like a northern slag, is crouched in a pissing position,
replacing Drew Barrimore for fashion company Miu Miu.
She is the girl of the moment because the moment needs her more than she needs the attention.
In a world obsessed by the face plastic tits of Hollywood babes in fake plastic film,
Chloe and Kids couldn't have come at a better time.

The first thing you notice about 20 year-old Chloe is her eyes. Where most people divert their gaze after a split second of contact, Chloe hold her stare. It is a brief invitation to look behind her eyes, where a refracted sensibility lies, establishing her natural physical presence before she has even said a word. This subtle character trait shows Chloe's modest, unblinking amazement at being courted for fame after only one film and at the same time suggests a momentary lack of invitation, an instinctual desire to just take life as it comes.

Kids is a tightly scripted story of a day in the life of a loosely connected group of New York skate kids. They get stoned to kill the boredom, see sex as competition and skate for sense of achievement. They live like most other inner city kids in an environment without consequences. In the city's concrete streets, responsibility is rejected in favor of personal freedom, adults aren't around and moral codes become as twisted as the reason the film's main protagonist Telly only fucks virgins; so he can have unprotected sex and not catch AIDS.

The first time we see Chloe's character Jennie is during an all-girl chat with her friends as they colorfully describe multifarious, often hilarious sexual experiences. We discover that 14 year-old Jennie has only had one sexual encounter. The girls are portrayed as a more tight knit group than boys; they get stoned to fit in, gossip to kill the boredom and generally acquiesce with the boy's aggressive sexual advances. It's ironic that Jennie is the one who, after accompanying her far more promiscuous friend to an AIDS clinic for a test, is confirmed as HIV positive. The rest of Kids is seen through a series of flashbacks, following Jennie's search for the boy responsible, the self-described "virgin surgeon", Telly.

Chloe was brought up in Darian. "Aryan" Darian, as it is known, is a small town in Connecticut, a suburb of New York, about an hour and a half 's drive from Manhattan. Her parents had chosen Darian for the sake of her and her older brother Paul, and it's something Chloe has never been able to understand. "It's a really white bread, blue blood town. It's pretty gross." She went to the local high school, where she insists she had very few friends. She used to sneak to New York at the weekends and soon moved there permanently; escaping the small town mentality of Darian, to hang out with the skate kids in Washington Square Park and party at clubs like Nasa. She'd live with friends or, occasionally, she'd go to raves and stay there all night, "because I didn't have anywhere to go. I'd just stay until the next day and keep going."

Chloe worked over a Summer as an intern at Sassy magazine. Daisy Von Furth, who styled the Sonic Youth video for "Sugar Kane", had heard about Chloe's natural style and oddly seductive good looks and cast her in the video. This led to Chloe modelling at New York launch of Kim Gordon and Von Furth's X-Girl fashion label. The Lemonheads followed suit, featuring Chloe in their video for "Big Gay Heart". She also appeared in her first fashion shoot for New York's Paper magazine, while working part time at Liquid Sky, a clothes and techno record shop -a pit-stop hang out for club kids, or "New York Rave Central" as she puts it. At the height of grunge and at the time of the rave culture explosion, it was as if Chloe had been adopted as an accidental ambassador for underground New York youth culture.

Larry Clark, a 53 year-old veteran photographer with a worldwide reputation for documenting his own youth in books such as Tulsa and Teenage Lust first met Harmony Korine and Chloe in 1992. He was sporting a mohican and a Leica, photographing the skaters in the park. Korine told Clark about a short script he had written. It was the story of a boy who is taken by his estranged alcoholic father on his 13th birthday to visit a prostitute for his first sexual experience. It wasn't until a year later that Clark, remembering Korine's script talked him through a brief outline for the idea of Kids. The then 19 year-old Korine finished the script in three weeks. Clark enlisted the help of executive producer Gus Van Sant and Kids was eventually shot in the summer of 1994.

Larry Clark's realist, documentary style direction, the use of real kids instead of actors, the beautiful hand-held cinematography by My Own Private Idaho's Eric Edwards and Korine's natural gift for dialogue makes Kids engaging, forceful, purposefully direct and as powerful as a kick in the head. The last line of the script sums up the film when Telly's best friend Casper says, "Jesus, what happened?"

Korine had been a friend of Chloe's since high school. Initially, when the role of Jennie was cast, a professional actress had been hired, but she stood out against the backdrop of the skate kids with no acting training. It was then that Clark and Korine asked Chloe. She was the natural one: after all, the role had mostly been written with Chloe in mind. There's a poignant scene in Kids when Chloe is riding in the back of taxi. As she looks out of the window, her reflection in the rear-view mirror frames her eyes. She doesn't say anything; instead her eyes do the talking, filling up the screen. She realizes that she's doomed, that she's going to die. It's a moving moment; a testimony to Chloe's understated but engrossing performance in the film. Most actors whit without the necessary dialogue and action to keep their characters fuelled, but Chloe is able to glide effortlessly across huge emotional landscapes without saying a word.

Since Kids, Chloe has worked with Steve Buscemi on Trees Lounge. Buscemi wrote, directed and also stars in this semi-autobiographical story about where he might be, had he not become an actor. It is set in Buscemi's home town of Long Island, predominantly in and around the Trees Lounge bar. Chloe plays Debbie, a 17 year-old with a crush on ex-mechanic turned ice-cream van driver Buscemi. The film also features performances from Elizabeth Bracco (Mystery Train), Eszter Balint (Stranger Than Paradise), Debi Mazar and a brief appearance by Samuel L. Jackson. Buscemi recounts his first impression of Chloe from the auditions, before she had seen her in Kids.

"I could tell that she was nervous and a little bit shy and I just know that feeling so well from when I started out. A lot of the other actresses I saw for that role just seemed to be so at ease with the process of auditioning, but Chloe had something that was very real about her."

After seeing her in Kids, Buscemi knew she was right for the part. He describes the methodology of her performance during the filming of Trees Lounge. "There was something very real in her approach, and it throws you off initially, because you're so used to having actors going for the result. I think she has a lot of talent and is the type of actress that can do anything. She's also the kind of actress who delivers once the cameras are rolling. I could tell that she needed the realism of being on the set, of being in the moment."

Chloe has received dozens of scripts and offers for more films, but only one opportunity has really excited her since Trees Lounge, the chance to work with French director Leos Carax, who made one of her favourite recent films, Les Amants du Pont Neuf. Chloe displays a rare integrity and idealism at the choices and compromises she's willing to make, avoiding obviously commercial films that could bring her more money and wider recognition for films that she believes in; films that she would like to go and see.

Most recently Chloe has been preoccupied with the recent death of her father, who was a major influence and love in her life. She now lives with her mother at home in Connecticut and, when she's in New York, with Korine, her boyfriend since they finished filming Kids.

Dazed & Confused: The documentary visual style and the 24 hours in the life narrative make it easy for people to assume that you're just being yourself and that you're very similar to Jennie. What are the similarities?

Chloe Sevigny: I'm still pretty reserved and I can't voice my opinions. If I don't like something it can be really hard for me to get up the nerve to say we have to stop. Jennie's the same, she's just going through the motions.

D&C: So do you want to be a bit tougher with people?

CS: I'd love to. (laughs) I always say, 'OK I'm going to be more punk now'.

D&C: Do you admire people who are?

CS: Yeah, I do. But I don't want to be too abrasive.

D&C: It must have been very helpful to have spent so much time with Harmony and Larry, talking about the role and working that closely with them. It always shows through in films when actors have a strong relationship with the director or writer. Is that something you want to continue?

CS: Yeah, like after reading Harmony's scripts it's so hard for me to enjoy other scripts, because it all seems like shit. He's a total bastard though. (laughs)

D&C: What was that?

CS: He's a bastard, but he's a brilliant writer.

D&C: When I saw Kids, it gave me hope that there were people who weren't just buying into the commerciality of film and pretending, with an independent budget, to try and make a blockbuster. It gave me a sense of hope for the term 'Independent Cinema' in the US.

CS: And it was ironic that it was Miramax, because a lot of people were blaming Miramax for killing independent film because they brought it to the mainstream.

D&C: What other films have you seen recently that you've liked?

CS: (Long pause. Starts laughing) I don't really like any films! I saw Dead Man Walking, that was good. Sean Penn is one of my favorite actors.

D&C: I like Susan Sarandon. I find her oddly sexy in an older woman way.

CS: I find her husband (Tim Robbins) oddly sexy myself. (laughs)

D&C: Why do you laugh so much?

CS: (laughing) I don't know! (laughing) That's a silly question.

D&C: No, I think it's a really important part of you, and what you're about...

CS: ...I guess so. I never really thought about it...

D&C: ...that you've got a sense of humor.

CS: Yeah, I hope so.

D&C: 'Hope', in the sense that it isn't lost amongst all the madness?

CS: Yeah. (pause) Sometimes I think it might be a nervous laugh too. That's not good.

D&C: It's always good to laugh, even if it's out of nervousness.

CS: Yeah.

D&C: Do you wish you were older?

CS: No, I wish I was younger.

D&C: Do you feel older?

CS: No, I feel my age. But now that Harmony and I live together, I'm tiling the floor and doing all these domestic things which makes me feel a little too old.

D&C: Have you ever been to London?

CS: After we did Kids, I spent all the money I made on this trip to London and Paris. I lived with an old boyfriend of mine, Misha, who was at Chelsea College of Art. While he was at school, I would just go to see different sights. And then at night we'd just hang out at his flat. He didn't really know that many people, 'cause he had just moved, so we didn't really hang out.

D&C: You must have gone out at lease once.

CS: Last time I was in London I went out with my friend Sophie and we went to a few clubs and did a little dancing. (laughs)

D&C: Are you a good dancer?

CS: I'm sort of like the person that doesn't move her feet, but just sways from side to side.

D&C: Did you ever go through a period when you were strung out on drugs; going out a lot at night and sleeping during the day?

CS: When I first moved to New York, the first year I used to go out every night before I had an apartment.

D&C: Was there a big ecstasy culture with the kids you were hanging out with in the park?

CS: I wasn't so big into ecstasy.

D&C: And you were up all night?

CS: I guess I was, (laughing) but then I was more into downers; never heroin or cocaine. I've never snorted any drugs. I'm pretty proud of myself for that.
(pauses)

D&C: Are the skaters still hanging out in Washington Park?

CS: No, they don't hang out there anymore. (laughing) They hang out at Astraplace; The Cube it's called. They couldn't skate in the park anymore, the cops were hassling them all the time, so they hang out at The Cube, plus it's closer to the East Village, where they all live.

D&C: Tell me about the last dream you had.

CS: My father passed away, in February. He came to me in my dream.

D&C: I'm really sorry to hear that. Was it sudden?

CS: He had cancer. We expected him to be out of the hospital, but he didn't.

D&C: I'm sorry.

CS: It's OK, I'm fine.

D&C: Let's talk about Kids. I expected Jennie to go ballistic when she found out she was HIV positive; to start punching the telephone box...

CS: You mean when she's in the clinic?

D&C: No, when she goes to phone her mother and she can't speak to her...

CS: But who really knows how someone would react? How would you react?

D&C: I don't know; that's what I'm interested in.

CS:

You never really know. It's like how people deal with death. Nothing's right or wrong; it's personal.

D&C: Do you know anyone who's died of AIDS?

CS: My friend is in bed really sick right now. I knew one boy who got it and committed suicide. He never got into the slow death of it.

D&C: Have you ever thought of committing suicide?

CS: I did once.

D&C: Was it serious?

CS: It was pretty serious. There was this one girl in school who everyone picked on, and one day we were at a football game in the town, and my friends and I didn't want to hang out with her. We were supposed to give her a ride home, but we ditched her at the high school. I was only like nine or ten at the time. I came home, and her mother called and asked where she was and I started feeling really guilty about everything and tried to strangle myself with a jumper, but it didn't really work.

D&C: Are you bored with people coming up to you and talking about Kids?

CS: In film when people stop you in the street, it's really only applause. Seymour Cassell once said that to me.

D&C: Who's he?

CS: He worked on most of Cassavetes' films, and I worked with him on Trees Lounge. He said, 'If people recognize you, you can't be mean to them because it's your only applause', and it's true.

D&C: Do you feel that people's attitudes to you have changed?

CS: People I was close to, like friends, and more so with acquaintances.

D&C: In a bad way?

CS: Definitely.

D&C: Do you find they put up barriers that you have to break down?

CS: Yeah, it's not fair at all. Like I just spoke to a friend of mine on the telephone and I was oh, you know, "When you come back to New York, let's go out for lunch' and he was like, 'Oh I don't do lunch yet, I'm still just 19 and hanging out, and you're a big movie star', or whatever, you know. It's not like that at all. That's frustrating.

D&C: Do you think you have a responsibility in terms of the roles you chose to do?

CS: Sometimes, but sometimes a film is just enjoyment. This is part of the problem with Kids and the press on Kids. Everyone was just, 'Is this really true to reality?'. Why not just take it as a film? It was beautifully shot and hardly anyone ever says anything about that. I think it's a really funny film too.
(laughing)

D&C: I've read quotes where you've said that before, and Larry saying he thinks the film 's really 'comic'. I think that's getting too close to something. If something is as powerful as Kids, after seeing it a few times and coming over the shock, one of the natural reactions may be to laugh.

CS: It's difficult to be objective.

D&C: Did you ever talk to Harmony or Larry about what the reaction to the film might be like?

CS: We didn't think it was going to cause as much controversy. At least Harmony and I didn't.

D&C: Have you found yourself personally affected by the controversy surrounding the film? Do you want to say anything about the censorship to anyone, like maybe even a 'fuck you' to the politicians?

CS: Yeah, 'fuck you' to the British Parliament. I heard they denounced it on the floor after the screening at London Film Festival. When Harmony and I were going over to London to do Miu Miu shoot, Miramax were really afraid because there was picketing I guess, or something, even though no-one I knew heard anything about that, and they were worried that something would happen to us. They wanted us to go with, like, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis' security guards and we were like, 'what?'. (laughing her head off) and the film had only played once in London. I got into a huge argument with them about it, and they were like, 'You've got to go with these people, you've got to go on all these different flights so they don't know when you're coming in', and I said, 'This is so fucking ridiculous'.

D&C: What did you think when you first saw Kids?

CS: I was pretty shocked.

D&C: Shocked for what reasons?

CS: It is just seeing yourself on screen for the first time.

D&C: And?

CS: I still can't watch my scenes. There's only one scene in the film that I can watch, that I like of myself. That's the elevator scene, the only scene that I thought I was any good in.

D&C: Do you remember when you lost your virginity? How old were you?

CS: I was 15 (long pause)

D&C: In Darian?

CS: (pause

D&C: Was it something you were forced into?

CS: No, it was really special. It was with my first boyfriend, who I was with for two and a half years or so. So I was sure that he was the one I wanted to be with. It was a good thing. But then I also think that maybe I was too young. I really think you should wait. D&C: How old was he?

CS: He was 18.

D&C: Have you ever fallen in love?

CS: I don't want to get in trouble.(laugh softly)

D&C: Are you still searching for what love means to you?

CS: 'Specially since my father has died. Because he was the greatest man I'd ever known; not that any love with a spouse can be like what you have with your father, but just to have someone like him, someone to have children with, a husband that is as great as my father. I don't think I'll ever find someone as great as that.

D&C: Do you get on with your older brother?

CS: We get on now. When I was really young I idolised him. He was really skate punk.

D&C: Did you steal all his records?

CS: No, he was into hardcore, and I still have never gotten into that. I was more into what his girlfriend was like. I wanted to be new wave, like she was. (laughs) When I was young, in junior high, she had blue hair and Doc Marten boots and I thought she was really cool.

D&C: Did you ever have a nickname when you were at school?

CS: Never. (laughs)

D&C: That's a lie. Everyone has had a nickname. Yours must have been too dreadful to repeat.

CS: It is. My older brother and his friends used to call me something that wasn't very pleasant.

D&C: I promise I won't print it if you tell me.

CS: OK. (pause)

D&C: Go on then.

CS: My brother used to call me Schmo. Schmobrain, all the time. Then all his friends started calling me that.

D&C: So am I allowed to print it?

CS: Yeah, you can. But that's the only nickname I've ever had, though.

D&C: How long was the shoot for Kids?

CS: A month.

D&C: How did you meet Larry?

CS: Harmony had called me and said, "I've met this photographer, he's asked me to write a script, I'm taking him out to Nasa tonight', which was this rave club; and then I met him.

D&C: It was interesting the way it happened that it wasn't about his status or his work, because none of you really saw that until later. It was about the trust he had from you for being a cool person.

CS: We all really liked him. It didn't feel at all weird that he was around.

D&C: What's the best advice he gave you?

CS: He really didn't give me a lot of direction at all. He just let it go.

D&C: Did you disagree with anything to do with Jennie's character?

CS: I really thought that she should have had more dialogue, and should have been able to express how she was feeling.

D&C: You were initially supposed to do another role, as one of the girls in the swimming pool. How did that come about, especially as Harmony said that he'd always written the part of Jennie with you in mind?

CS: They thought I was too old for it. They thought it should be someone younger. I guess they just overlooked me.

D&C: How could they overlook you?

CS: I know! (laughing) But that's what they said. They had hired a professional actress, but she stood out against all the other kids, of course.

D&C: Tell me about Trees Lounge. That must have been a very different acting experience to Kids.

CS: It was the first time I was working with real actors, so I was really paranoid, thinking, 'Am I going to be able to compete?'.

D&C: And how did you think you did? Are you confident about the result?

CS: Yeah. But then I think back on certain scenes, where something happened, and I could have improved and I didn't, and I think, 'Oh, why didn't I do that?'. We'll see. But this character's like the complete opposite to Jennie.

D&C: What kind of music do you like?

CS: At the moment I'm really into prog rock stuff like Can, and I've just got the Pretty In Pink soundtrack, 'cause I had it on vinyl when it came out, that was like my whole introduction to the new wave.

D&C: Do you and Harmony have similar musical tastes, or do you fight over who puts the CDs on?

CS: We're pretty similar, but there's some stuff I don't feel comfortable playing in the house 'cause he'll make fun of it. Any of the riot girl stuff.

D&C: You know Kim Gordon, don't you? How did you meet her?

CS: I was in a Sonic Youth video once, 'Sugar Kane', and I had to walk naked through a showroom, and I was so nervous, of course, being naked and having to walk through all these people and I just kept looking at Kim; she's such a strong female figure and I thought that if I looked at her, she would be like some sort of supernatural support or something. (laughs)

D&C: Divine inspiration.

CS: Right.

D&C: Have you ever met any of your heroes?

CS: I don't really have any heroes. I think more of my friends as my heroes. Some of my girlfriends are really strong women who I really admire.

D&C: Are they older than you?

CS: Uh huh.

D&C: Is that because you're interested in learning more?

CS: I guess so. But lately I've really wanted to hang out with young kids again. In Connecticut especially, because the only kids around are these kids in high school. The other day I saw a boy reading a magazine in a magazine stand and I really wanted to go up to him, and wanted to approach him somehow, and I just couldn't.

D&C: When did you start going out with Harmony?

CS: Since after Kids finished shooting.

D&C: But you'd known him for a long time?

CS: Yeah, since high school.

D&C: Did you always fancy him?

CS: Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't.

D&C: So who asked who?

CS: (laughs) I think we'd kissed once before. I can't even remember how it all happened. I think I started staying at his house a lot.

D&C: What did you mean about him being a bastard.

CS: He doesn't like anything, and he's really mean a lot.

D&C: You mean he's got a different outlook to yours; like he's more cynical?

CS: Yup. Exactly. He's making me jaded. (laughs) I'll have to break up with him I guess.

D&C: I'm not saying anything.

After our interview, Chloe takes me to her apartment to meet Harmony.

As she opens the door, Harmony, realising he has an uninvited guest, tries to hide. The smell of weed hangs freshly in the air. She pulls him out of the other room to meet me and we sit on the bed.

He talks excitedly about his love of directors such as Fassbinder and Cassavetes and especially the British director Alan Clarke. Chloe picks up from him: "Clarke's my favourite director. Road is my favourite film." Harmony points to Chloe's work as a stylistic reference for Kids. He's angry because there's no sense of authenticity or originality in films anymore.

He's driven by an idealism that is rarely given the chance to surface in the overly commercial film industry, but perhaps through the uncompromising triangle of Korine, Clark and Van Sant, we may see more of the same. Ken Park has just been given the green light by Miramax, so Larry Clark will again be directing a Korine script. This time it's all about the adults, the ones we didn't see in Kids.

Korine is also now directing his own script, Gummo. It hasn't started shooting yet, but initial preparations and casting are underway. For this film, Chloe will be turning her hand to styling, choosing and arranging the costumes, as well as appearing in a small role. "It's about these boys in Ohio, where the biggest earthquake in US history hit. And they basically sit under bridges and sniff glue all day, and it's sort of their lives in the aftermath of the tornado. I get breast cancer. (laughs)

"I always have to have a disease if ever I'm in a Harmony film," she explains enthusiastically, and laughs, and laughs, and laughs.


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