1996 winter
streets of Manhattan and them exposed larger-than-life on the silver screen, Chloe Sevigny has become a celebrity of very Nineties design. But what does her success say about our generation's cult of cool?

Even as a small thing, Chloe Sevigny had some idea that it was bad to look like everybody else. Which is to say, it was bad to be like everybody else. And my, just look where it's got her: in trouble, in London, in winter, carrying all her possessions in a limp blue plastic bag, the kind of bag you'd be given for your one tin of tomato soup in the cornershop.

Two limp grey bags swing under both of her pale blue eyes. A woven basket of reeds has crash-landed on her head in the guise of a hair cut. She's wearing a shoulder-pinched red slim-line coat which screams 2.75 from Cancer Relief. Woolly legs poke out at the bottom like two brown, oblong pegs in the square holes of black, strappy shoes. No make-up. She looks like a matchstick sketch entitled "Why Can't Everyone Have A Home?" by a sensitive seven-year-old. She looks around 17, freezing cold, lost and bamboozied.

"My friend's disappeared!" she wails, stabbing a finger at the entry-phone outside a block of council flats in Chinatown. "All my money's in there and all my clothes. Oh God. I dunno what to do!"

And she laughs-and you wonder who stood on the dog.

"Heu!" it goes. "Heu! Heu! Heu!" in a great big alarming, inward whine, like a beleaguered pup pining for its mum -except it's a work of comic genius. (Later she'll say her father insists the first thing she did when she came into the world was laugh. And he didn't even send for a specialist.) Last night she was forced to stay in Clapham with another friend and, at 5.05pm, she's not long woken up. One's inclination is to take the poor wretch for a bowl of potato soup, but she declines.

"Shall we go to a bar or something? I don't know anywhere good. I don't know anything . Heu! I'm from New York! Heu! Heu!"

So we do and she teeters along the street, crashing into your shoulder, oblivious, the whole way there.

The coat is Miu Miu, the friend in Clapham is Dennis Pennis, last night's club was gay-indie glamathon Popstarz (before that she dined with kylie Minogue), and Chloe Sevigny, 22, is the coolest girl in New York: a young actress of natural, understated, outstanding ability as viewed in her acclaimed Aids-sufferer/rape-victim performance in the near-outlawed Kids; the girl that novelist Jay McInerney dubbed "The It Girl!" over seven pages of trumpeting sociological profile in the New Yorker; she who, according to Interview magazine, "specifically inflects the times". If the cool of our times is the cult of uncool, then no wonder: Sevigny's cool is so uncool it makes Jarvis' cool-uncool look like he tried really really hard to be cool. No one who makes this little effort to be this uncool could be anything else than the coolest person in the world. Tell that to Chloe and it sounds like a bomb just went off in Battersea Dogs Home.

She's been here two weeks now, to attend the London Film Festival and promote her second film, Trees Lounge, co-star Steve "Mr. Pink" Buscemi' s semi-autobiographical directorial debut, a tragicomic tale of disappointed small-town lives blurred by the booze, in which Chloe triumphs as a flirty, style-conscious teenager whose front belies her vulnerability.

Now the work's over, Chloe is trying her best to avoid going home. She wants to live here, in fact, finding New York full of "jaded people sitting around staring at each other". Here, she sees "so many young people out all the time having a good time". She won't be moving, though; London's too far from her mum, too expensive and, besides, "there's no work here for an American actress. There's no work for anyone because there's no films. Heu!"

Tonight we're in the Phoenix Bar on Charing Cross Road, nee Shuttleworth's, media/pop-strel haven once beloved of Pulp before fame smoked them out, where she orders a Scotch and soda and flings it away in horror at the fly which has alighted on an ice cube.

"A Scotch and soda, " she booms at the barmaid, finger arched at the offending glass. "There was a fly in it."

No "sorry", "please" or "thank you". She's from New York all right.

Chloe used to make her own clothes. Then she wore all black. Then everyone else wore all black, so now she wears, well, disgusting, frankly, and wears it more beautifully than anyone else. And this is why, initially, she became famous: approached aged 18 in Washington Square, New York, hanging out with the skater kids (the entire cast of Kids in waiting) by an employee of Sassy magazine to appear alongside the editor on the opening credits of a talk show. What a lark! She got paid and everything.

"I was just a skate girl," she shrugs, chain-smoking through the contents of her plastic bag, all flapping hands and asphyxiated whippets. "I thought I looked like a boy, hair down to here (waist), put up under a woolly hat down to here (nose), big baggy clothes. It was before the whole skate thing blew up. Now I'm really embarrassed.; I can't believe I ever wore anything like that. All the boys were wearing it but the girls hadn't dared, yet."

Chloe had dared. And Chloe would thenceforth be photographed by for Sassy itself, become Sassy's fashion assistant, appear in videos for Sonic Youth's "Sugar Cane", naked, and the Lomonheads' "Big Gay Heart" (Evan, naturally played her billions of songs on his blasted acoustic guitar) before she was approached by McInerney for his thesis on hip, young New York street culture, which she did "because it was the New Yorker. And it was only gonna be on the stands for a week" - and because he promised to buy her this fabulous dress she couldn't afford, a rubberised lace Helmut Lang number. She never got the dress; she got The It Girl albatross instead.

D'you think you're an extraordinary person or an ordinary one? "Pretty ordinary," she blinks. "I dunno (shoots her bottom lip out to one side), I think I'm a nice person. Heu! Oh God, I'm really insecure so I can't... uh... I get really paranoid if people don't like me a lot."
Why wouldn't people like you?
"I dunno. I just get shy. Especially in England. A strange accent. Oh I dunno! Heu! Now I'm playing with your coins. Nervous habit. But y'know, I hope to do extraordinary things."

Trees Lounge. Chloe, for once, loved the script. She's damagingly choosy, is offered roles all the time and hates them, even the ones that cite Trainspotting as an influence: "It's a sort of horror-Trainspotting movie'... Oh, Really? (rools eyes) I never want to do anything I can't be proud of. I'd rather not work." Buscemi's was "funny"; she also had "a crush" on him (she has a thing about wonky teeth), and it had the same non-judgmental attitude photographer-turned-director Larry Clark gave to Kids; the same refusal to judge and condemn which caused the Trainspotting hoo-haa. Chloe describes it simply as "a look at some people's lives for a while", which applies, of course, to all three films. Reality - it's all the rage. The Trees Lounge controversy, mind, is a perennial family affair, Chloe's coquettish Debbie, 17, making a wilful play for the wonky teeth of Buscemi's Tommy, a 31-year-old charismatic alcoholic loser who happens to be Debbie's aunt's long-term ex-boyfriend. Chloe's character, who appears in the film halfway through, is far more assured than that of Kids. Her secret? "I didn't know what I was doing." Buscemi deems it thus: "There's just something very real about her." Chloe has no truck with philosophical analysis either, and hasn't really thought what a film like Trees Lounge is trying to say.

"Hmmn hmn, " she muses, then snorts and squeals afresh. "Don't become an alcoholic and sit in bars all day, I guess, or you really are gonna go nowhere."

Mind you, that's what we all do until something saves us from doing it for ever. Chloe was saved through the "chance meeting" of her skater boyfriend Harmony Korine and Larry Clark in Washington Square (Harmony started chatting to him about his camera equipment).

Clark wanted to make a docudrama film about people just like them; Harmony wanted to write scripts: and so Kids came among us. Before then, Chloe had no idea what she'd do with her life ("maybe something to do with costumes"), but thought she'd just as easily stay in the clothes shop where she worked or go back to school. "So it was luck, I guess."

Is that all it is, luck? "Well...I guess they wouldn't have asked me if they didn't think I could do the best job of anyone. So. Part luck."

Chloe's mum didn't much care for Kids: she found it sad and depressing even though Chloe made her read the script first, so she'd know what to expect.

"She wasn't really appalled," notes Chloe. "She just doesn't wanna see her daughter get raped on screen." Chloe agrees that rape scene was even more traumatic to watch because it was an act of violence without the aggression - this sickening, creepy , quiet violation, while she was passed out on booze and dope. Must have messed with her head, surely?

"It actually... I ... hmeheh," says Chloe, who is, unfeasibly, stifling the latest guffawfest, "it actually didn't, I feel so ...pthrtheueueu!" You weren't laughing at the time, were you? "Well, I feel really bad about this... Heu! Because I mean (clears throat) rape is one of the most horrible things that can happen to any woman, but really it was my easiest scene to do because I just made my body completely limp; I didn't have to do anything. And Justin, who played Casper, I'd sort of been romantic with in real life. In the end we were like, 'Oh, I fancy a shag, actually!' Heu! Eueueueueue! That's horrible! I'm sorry!

Harmony Korine and Chloe have been friends since she was 17, in high school in what she calls "Aryan Darian", the suburb she grew up in 90 minutes outside Manhattan. Appalled by the mentality of her peers (aspirations: Jeeps/BMWs/Ivy League education), she fled to New York City at weekends, finding friends in the skaters (her brother was a skater, had two ramps in the back yard which became Darian's skater oasis. Chloe would hear the wheels from afar and think "Yes! The boys are coming!"). She moved, the day after she left school, aged 18, to Brooklyn; "Heaven, everything I ever wanted in the world was there."

Chloe is the kind of person who is more likely to be laughed into bed than charmed: "Definitely." An even greater aphrodisiac human quality, however, is talent.

"Yeah," she grins, "yeahyeahyeahyeahyeah. That's true. I was always after Harmony before he even looked at me." Did she notice? "No."

It took two years of a friendship burgeoning to "best friend" proportions before, post-Kids, "it sort of just happened". She moved into Harmony's apartment and they've been together ever since (he's the slob, she's the "neat freak". Sometimes the first thing she does when she wakes up is mop the floor - even before she's put her clothes on).

While she was working part time at Liquid Sky, a New York clothes-and-techno-record shop disguised as a hang-out joint, Chloe embarked on her swish and super modelling career.

"Aaaaargh!" she screams and slaps herself in the face. "I never once wanted to pursue that. I don't want anyone to think I'm a model/actress - I hate that more than anything."

You can't be the girl about town, of course, without being noticed, and so she was asked - for one season only - to be the face of Prada's young Miu Miu label. She got to walk down a catwalk and everything (in rehearsal she was forced to remove her head from her chest) "and I turn around at the bottom and there's Kate Moss walking out behind me. That's when it really hit me: 'I'm walking down a runway with Kate Moss - fucking scary!'"

Chloe's never really worried about the way she looks (apart from when she wore braces, aged 14-16 - she'd score her mouth out on school yearbooks), but the film business makes her paranoid.

"You read the press and it's all 'She's not really that pretty or sexy, she's sort of unpretty pretty' and you try not to let that affect you but it's hard not to. I'm still young so I guess I'm still not too full of confidence. I think I'm ... all right. I'm just not a beauty queen, that's for sure."

She sips her drink quietly. Then wails. "It's so hard! I get... insecure and everything. But... I won't let it happen. Fight those insecurities.!"

At the age of 16 Chloe's parents found her bong in her bedroom. It was up to dad to have the word.

"I went out to eat with my dad." she's saying, "and he's like 'Are you doing acid?" and I said 'Well, I have' and he said 'That's all right, but if you start having bad trips, stop because there's really no such things as bad trips, just bad trippers, so it wouldn't be a good idea to continue with your acid exploration if this this happens to you.' Sort of gave me... ehmmn... the bones of psychedelic experience. Heu!"

She can't continue. Elbow on the table, palm on forehead, fag aloft, smoke whirling into her hair, she is squealing into the crook of her arm. For reasons which remain unfathomable, this pivotal teenage moment is a matter of profound jocularity.

"But I was never a really big drug taker," she's musing, breathing once more. "I was always too paranoid, always afraid the high would never stop. I did valium, stuff like that. I've never liked people on uppers, coke and speed, ug, it scares me, they're...exploding. I haven't smoked pot in years now; I just didn't like the high any more. My heart would beat really fast and I'd feel like I was moving in slow-motion frames. I don't like those altered states." She thought she'd do heroin, just once, to see what it was like.

"Me and my friend were plotting out for ever how we were gonna do it." she says. "When and what way, and we never did, thank God. But I think kids should experiment with drugs; drugs are good for you. Just be careful."

This, too, from a person who has recently lost an ex-roommate to a heroin overdose. She despairs over the "fashionable" US heroin epidemic; even sees it in Darian these days. "And when I grew up the only person who did heroin was Keith Richards, y'know?"

Chloe may personify our times, but don't ask her what she's supposed to represent. For her, being part of the "underground" means just living it, because it's never occurred to her to live any other day.

"I have to answer all these questions! Things I've never even thought of! Especially because of Kids being my first movie, I have to answer all these moral questions and answer for my generation. Why should I? Bollocks to that!"

That's terribly British of you. "I know. I keep finding myself doing that: 'Fancy a fag?' 'Fancy a shag?' I have to get out of England."

The coolest girl in New York has never considered herself cool in the slightest "and I still don't. Except for being a part of Harmony's new film." Gummo is Harmony Korine's latest project. It's his directorial debut, and Chloe plays one of the leads, a "real goofy girl", as well as having taken on costume-directing duties herself. (They're hoping to premier it at Cannes this year, distribution coming through the weighty New Line in the States. It's her only new film, all other recent scripts being "shit".) In Gummo, Chloe sports the "Poison, Bon Jovi" look of bleached white hair and white eyebrows. Those offers for the "classically beautiful" roles will elude her sill. It was filmed on location in "unbelievably poor" middle America, Harmony paying locals to let him film inside their homes, and is, loosely, about young people, poverty, and murdered cats.

"The area we were filming in was outrageous," she shivers. "So poor, men of 32 with no teeth, shotguns, human waste - one house I couldn't even go in because I gagged. We were trying to cast locals on the street and half of them couldn't even read or write." From what she's seen so far, the film's "beautiful".

She attempted some "Method stuff" for her role, put her all her things away, stayed in the same clothes and weird accent. Then the film company behind Trees Lounge said she had to go to the Tront Film Festival to promote it. She refused to go , to come out of character, and was "totally threatened. They said, 'You'll get the worst reputation! No one will hire you!" and she still refused. "I was like, 'People aren't going to remember me for my fucking press. I'm sorry, my performance is way more important to me." They're sill "really angry" with her. Chloe, evidently, doesn't really care whether people like her or not any more; at least not in the everyday sense. This is what's known as growing up.

Sometimes, when she's really thinking, Chloe weaves in her seat like a snake arisen from a charmer's basked, and this evening she's put her hair up in a ponytail and taken it down again at least three times. The tape recorder's been switched off for ages and she's talking about how she's almost killed herself in her friend's flat in Soho several times by getting up too fast out of a boiling hot bath.

"I'm sorry!" she yowls. Whatever for?
"I'm terrible at interviews!"
What makes you think that?
"I don't speak in paragraphs," she wails.
"How can people do those long speeches? Be so funny? Maybe when I'm older. I just don't feel like I have that much to say to the world right now."

You find this "saying things to the world" stuff ridiculous, don't you? "Yeah," she grins, and a hand springs aloft, flapping on the end of her wrist in finest camp frivolity. "I'm anactress. Heu! I say other people's lines." There's just one other pressing regret: that, this time around, she still didn't find time for the Crown Jewels. Now that, if we're not very much mistaken, is uncool.