Chloë Sevigny Steps Behind the Camera for a Film About a Kitten
by Derek Blasberg
She talks to ‘Vanity Fair’ about her directorial debut, which will screen at the Cannes Film Festival.
“It girls” may come and go in this town, but as far as “coolest girls in the world” are concerned, there’s just one: Chloë Sevigny. (Can you believe it’s been 22 years since Jay McInerney bestowed that title upon the then 19-year-old in a profile of her in The New Yorker?) Lest I had any doubt about Sevigny’s reign, when I called upon the Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe–winning actress and style icon at her house in Brooklyn to ask what led to Kitty, her short film that debuts next week at the Cannes Film Festival and marks her first work as a writer-director, her explanation was a pogo stick of cultish auteurs and creators from the late 1990s until today.
In 1997, when she made the indie darling film Gummo with then-boyfriend Harmony Korine, she stumbled upon a collection of short stories called Midnight Mass by American expat writer Paul Bowles. One was “Kitty,” which tells the story of a melancholy little girl who wishes to become a kitten. On set, Sevigny made collages about the title character, which drew the eye of renowned French cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier, who said if she ever wanted to do something with that story and her imagery he’d do it with her. Sadly, he died in 2003. But when she saw Let the Right One In, “the Swedish vampire picture,” as she calls it, her creative juices were reignited.
Sevigny has been helping tell other people’s stories—either as actress or muse—since she was a teenager. (She was still in high school when Larry Clark cast her in Kids.) But recently, she realized she had ended up in the driver’s seat of her more fulfilling works: She published a self-titled book with Rizzoli about her lifetime of artful collaborations and created a critically acclaimed fashion line with downtown retailer Opening Ceremony. “I was so fulfilled by the presentation aspects of those collections, even doing the look books,” she says of the collaboration, which she disbanded after several collections. “I liked everything apart from actually making the clothes.” So, on a day off the set of the Netflix TV series Bloodline, she dug up Bowles’ six-page story and was determined to bang out a script. “I sat on the beach and downloaded Final Draft, which was probably the hardest part of the process.”
Doing something solo wasn’t easy, though. “It takes guts to complete something, to actually sit down, do it, put it out there.” Funding for the project came in part from website Refinery29 and their ShatterBox Anthology series, which is focused on promoting female filmmakers. At times, Sevigny dipped into her own piggy bank. “Some things you just don’t bend on: I always dreamed of shooting on 35mm and we had budgeted for digital. It wasn’t in the budget, so I thought, ‘Alright, it’s going to come out of my pocket,’ but I’m lucky I get to do that.”
Although Sevigny is quick to ascertain that she’s still a working actress, she hopes Kitty becomes a filmmaking calling card. “I’ve been approached by fashion brands who want me to direct commercials, but I wanted my first thing to not be attached to something like that. I don’t have a handbag or sunglasses [sponsor] in it. I wanted it to be clear form,” she says, adding with a smirk, “I don’t want to be a commercial maker. I want to be a filmmaker first. And then the inevitable selling out much later.”
How did it feel to be on the other side of the camera? “Liberating, empowering, a little nerve-racking. It requires a lot of focus and decision making.” The story is bittersweet: newcomer Edie Yvonne plays the girl who wants to be something she’s not. “She manifests this and then has to deal with it. It has to do with transformation. It’s about a mother ignoring something about a child. She’s stuck as a little kitty cat, so it’s very tender but also a little sad. I want to show people I can tell a story. I know that half of it is from the perspective of a cat, but it was still a good performance.”
And, because this is Sevigny, I had to ask how the first-time director dressed on set. “The first day I actually wore a skirt, which I think was unheard of, and a black leotard and fur-trimmed leather coat. I’m a woman, I’m not going wear to cargo pants and a puffer! But, the next day I was in a Chloé suit. A feminine suit, and it had a big bow on the front, with my hair up because I fiddle with it.”
The Cannes Film Festival, which is screening Kitty on the closing night out of competition — “which secretly bothers me because I’m so competitive by nature” — is known for its red carpet, and Sevigny doesn’t plan on disappointing. “I’ve been thinking of having a Chanel moment: absolutely dripping in gold chains and boater hats and white camellias!”
© Vanity Fair 2016