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It's nice to be an artist, but she's ready to be a star

Chloe Sevigny wants to be known for more than indie film roles and her distinctive style.

October 05, 2003|John Clark | Special to The Times

NEW YORK — One of the ironies about Chloe Sevigny, who has a reputation for being a clotheshorse, trendsetter and transgressive downtown person -- to the exclusion of her eight-year acting career -- is that she doesn't try nearly as hard to be any of these things as some women known only for their acting.

Today Sevigny is dressed unobtrusively in jeans and a vest. The only feature that stands out is her sunglasses, which are of the sort worn by fashionistas indoors and out. She takes them off, revealing blue eyes.

"Yeah, I'm some sort of downtown-style girl," says Sevigny, settling into an East Village cafe. " 'Oh, she's the fashion girl.' People see my fashion pictures more than they see my independent films because they don't get distributed very widely. I used to get really angered by it, but I think my work stands for itself. There's nothing wrong with being a fashion icon. With Marlene Dietrich and Audrey Hepburn, even Anjelica Huston, there's a great tradition of that. So I'm trying to embrace that now." Sevigny is embracing another thing she once held at arm's length: commerciality. She candidly admits she wants to be a star.

With a couple of exceptions, notably "Boys Don't Cry," she's labored in films nobody has seen.

"I'd like to have the opportunities to get the parts that I want," she says. "You have to be a big star to get that, like in a Nicole Kidman or Julianne Moore sort of way."

She's certainly been working. She plays a club kid in Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's "Party Monster," about a New York club impresario who committed murder; a Machiavellian secretary in Olivier Assayas' newly released "Demonlover," about corporate intrigue, pornography and the Internet; and a hard-edged reporter in Billy Ray's coming "Shattered Glass," about a reporter who was caught fabricating stories.

The directors of these films believe that Sevigny's ambitions are realistic and that it's only a matter of time.

"She's sort of a 21st century movie star," Barbato says. "Whether it's the part she's playing or what she's wearing on the red carpet, she's a little bit ahead of her contemporaries."

"I think Chloe is one of the greatest screen presences in cinema," Assayas says. "There are actresses who pop out, and she really has it."

"Chloe is ready for her close-up," Ray says.

Why these qualities haven't been appreciated by Hollywood has to do not only with Sevigny's image but with the choices she has made and continues to make -- though she's trying to change that.

"I was pretty young when things started happening," she says. "And I was a real idealist and a real cinephile and kind of a snob about the kind of work that I wanted to do. I wasn't as open to more commercial work when I was younger. I'm more conscious of a career path than I was when I first started out."

A famed sense of style

Sevigny, who is now 27, started out with Larry Clark's "Kids" (1995), playing a teenager who loses her virginity to a boy who infects her with HIV. She had already made waves in New York, however, because of her sense of style, which was immortalized by a Jay McInerney piece in "The New Yorker." She was the girl from tony Darien, Conn., who shaved her head in high school, lived in Brooklyn Heights after graduation and became a club kid during the '90s, which made her perfect for "Party Monster."

Barbato says they discussed how her character would act under the influence of such drugs as coke, "K" (ketamine) and Rohypnol -- though he insists, laughing, that their knowledge of these effects was "strictly observational."

She followed up "Kids" with a series of below-the-radar films, including "Gummo" (1997) and "The Last Days of Disco" (1998), before emerging again in "Boys Don't Cry" (1999). Here she played Lana, the small-town girl everyone wants who falls in love with a girl passing as a boy. This portrayal of a tough but tender girl in deep denial earned her an Oscar nomination, but it didn't earn her more high-profile work. She subsequently appeared in "A Map of the World" (1999), "American Psycho" (2000) and "If These Walls Could Talk 2" (2000, for HBO).

According to Barbato, Sevigny's performance in "Boys" demonstrates the key to her appeal, on screen and off. People respond to the vulnerability beneath the glossy exterior, although in life that can sometimes take a while.

"I think lots of people find her intimidating," Barbato says. "She's a total glamazon. She's the girl next door in couture, the Connecticut Couture Club. On her way to a family dinner, she showed up to do ADR [dialog looping] decked out in autumnal furs."

"Chloe can be very intimidating," Ray says. "It's one of the things I had to get over as a first-time director. It's like she's staring through you when you first meet her. It comes from insecurity. Hers." When apprised of Ray's nervousness, Sevigny responds, "Yeah, sometimes people can be intimidated by me. I don't know. Maybe because I'm quiet. Maybe he just respects my acting."

Here she laughs.

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