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Rainbow Crew is an ongoing interview series which celebrates the best LGBTQ+ representation on TV. Each instalment showcases talent working on both sides of the camera, including queer creatives and allies to the community.
Next up, we're speaking to Chloë Sevigny about We Are Who We Are, one of the best shows of 2020.
"His voice is pretty singular. There’s a very strong aesthetic, but there’s also this pervasive naturalism." Chloë Sevigny is talking about her most recent collaborator, We Are Who We Are (WRWWR) director Luca Guadagnino, but she could just as easily be describing herself.
Since starring in Harmony Korine's Kids, Sevigny has proven time and time again that she too has a singular voice in Hollywood. Following her mid-'90s film debut, a New Yorker profile dubbed Chloë "the coolest girl in the world", and while nothing's changed in that regard, it's refreshing to see how natural and honest she remains in an industry that all too often suppresses such impulses.
Discussing her early transition from film to TV, Chloë laughs and tells me, "Well, that was where the money was. In TV, it was more independent actors or theatre actors."
Despite her considerable reputation on the American indie scene and that Academy Award nomination for Boys Don't Cry, Sevigny moved into TV long before that became a popular trend in Hollywood. "But now, even the movie stars are getting in on the television action. It’s kind of unfortunate for us, but what can you do?"
A post shared by Chloë Sevigny (@chloessevigny) on Apr 17, 2020 at 7:21am PDT
Looking back at that time, Chloë picks out her role on Big Love as the one she's probably most proud of. "I grew so much as an actor doing that show, and that character was the most complicated I’ve played on TV. It was really challenging... I miss playing her," she laughs.
When Big Love ended, Sevigny took on a whole new challenge in American Horror Story, playing two characters who couldn't be more different from each other. Asylum's Shelley is the more memorable of the two, and while she didn't appear in every episode, the character still left a mark on everyone watching, including Chloë herself.
"I loved Shelley's character in Asylum, and her trajectory – as brief as it was, at least there was a real arc to her. I think I have like five lines in total in the entire season. But I still think she made such an impact."
Eight years have passed since Shelley's disfigurement was revealed in a scene no Horror Story fan could ever forget. But when asked about this moment, Sevigny remembers it being quite "shocking" for another reason entirely.
"That was a really insightful sociological experiment – coming to set, and being a slutty girl. The crew would be kind of flirting with me. And then when I came as the monster, nobody would talk to me. It was crazy to see how a disfigurement like that — even when people know it’s not real — really affects how people treat you. It was really upsetting! It was a real emotional rollercoaster."
For better or worse, Chloë's return to the Murphy-verse in Hotel was less eventful. Despite appearing in more episodes this time round, Sevigny says her character Alex Lowe was "not so realised" in comparison to the others.
It should come as no surprise then that Chloë hasn't been back since. When asked if she would ever return to American Horror Story, Sevigny seems unsure: "I think if there was something a little bit meatier for me to do, I would be interested." And that's why We Are Who We Are is such a gift for Chloë.
After starring in a wide range of queer and "queer-adjacent" stories, WRWWR is one of Sevigny's most inclusive projects yet. Drawing on the kind of pervasive naturalism that Kids pulled off so well, Guadagnino's show is a gorgeous coming-of-age-story that revolves around two American teens who live on a military base in Italy.
While Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón) bond, testing the limits of their gender and identity, the adults around them contend with the patriarchal demands of army life. Chloë plays the base commander, Sarah Wilson, who juggles her job and raising Fraser with her marriage to fellow soldier Maggie Teixeira (Alice Braga).
On set, Sevigny "really leaned" into a military advisor who gave expert advice and helped "make the situations come alive" for her. "He really helped place me there." Discussions with queer military women provided further insight, including with one particular officer who was caught having a relationship before 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was repealed in 2010.
Queer expression and army life don't necessarily make natural bedfellows. That's not to say they can't work together, but of course, there's a historic tension between the two, and this manifests itself in the restless energy Chloë brought to her character.
"Can you imagine? Just being surrounded by all these men; how they look at you, whether or not they’re objectifying you, if they’re critical of you, or if they don’t want to serve under a woman. All of those dynamics are at play, especially as a gay woman, because a conservative attitude is pervasive in the military."
On top of all that, Sevigny also tried to match the defiant energy Jack brought to the role of her character's son, Fraser. "We’re both rebels. There’s a lot of similarities between them. And I think just being around him, and his energy, kind of seeped into what I was doing – not even consciously, you know?"
As anyone who's seen the show can attest, the energy Fraser and Sarah share is almost too similar at times, colliding in volatile and even physical ways. Chloë tells me that all her scenes with Jack were her favourites, including that slap from episode one which seemed to ring through the whole army base. "I just loved being around him, and feeding off of him."
Both she and Jack were somewhat confused by the dynamics of this relationship at first. "We would want clear answers from Luca about the relationship. Why he would behave like that? Why would I allow that? Maybe it’s just them striving for physical contact, but not willing to hold each other? I don’t know. It’s complicated. In all honesty, I’m still not sure," Chloë laughs.
Amidst all that friction, WRWWR is also intensely romantic and intimate in ways rarely seen, at least, on TV. The nearest equivalent is probably Call Me By Your Name, a film Sevigny was "really taken" by. In fact, it's one of her favourite stories from the last "however many years", and the same will undoubtedly be true for anyone who watches WRWWR to the end as well.
As each episode progresses, it becomes harder and harder to avoid drawing parallels between the two. Despite a distinct lack of peaches, the show's queer themes, Italian settings, and one particular moment in the finale all seem to evoke Luca's most popular project yet. But WRWWR is so much more than that, pushing the boundaries of teen identity in ways CMBYN never could.
Looking to the future, Chloë reveals there's been some talk of renewing the show for a second season, even though that was never part of the original plan. "If it does really well, we would maybe do another season, either with Luca or another filmmaker." According to Sevigny, season two would likely revolve around a new path for Sarah, one where she starts a political career outside of the military.
Towards the end of our talk, Chloë says "Looking at myself always makes me uncomfortable." While she's referring to the pop-up window which appears during our Zoom chat, it's exactly this kind of candour which makes the world want to look at her even more.
Whether that's in future episodes of WRWWR, Russian Doll season two, or maaaybe even another season of American Horror Story, expect to see plenty more of Chloë Sevigny's singular talent in the years to come.
We Are Who We Are airs on Mondays in the US on HBO. Season one will soon air on BBC in the UK.
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