SHATTERED GLASS written and directed by Billy Ray, produced by Craig Baumgarten, Adam Merims, Tove Christensen, Marc Butan and Gaye Hirsch, with Hayden Christensen, Chloë Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Melanie Lynskey, Steve Zahn, Hank Azaria and Rosario Dawson. 95 minutes. A Lions Gate release. Opens Friday (November 28). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 104. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
In kids she was rudely deflowered. In Gummo she took electrical tape to her nipples. She's the dead girl giving Vincent Gallo head in The Brown Bunny. She's the town skank in Lars von Trier's Dogville until Nicole Kidman shows up. For nearly a decade, Chloë Sevigny has staked out a place as Reese Witherspoon's worst nightmare. She's the anti-sweetheart, the dark star of left-field festival films, three of them dreamed up by her ex-boyfriend, Harmony Korine.
Now she's ready to go straight.
"I don't even like independent cinema," she protests. Then she admits, "I always say that."
It's 11 am, a cruel hour for Sevigny today. It's smack in the middle of the Toronto film festival, and she's had a late night.
"I don't wear a watch, and time just flew by and I didn't realize it was 4 o'clock and there were all these people in my room," she explains all in a rush. "I didn't invite them."
She flips off her very pointy patent leather shoes as soon as she sits down. "Never invite the party to your room," she counsels, "because it never ends."
You get the sense that with Sevigny, never is always relative.
These days she's trying to exit the party that crowned her America's it girl for abjection. Her new film, Shattered Glass, is her chaperone.
She plays a perfectly sensible, if deluded, staffer at The New Republic, where Stephen Glass is busy writing brilliant articles made entirely of lies. Like the parable of Jayson Blair at the New York Times, Shattered Glass is about need taking advantage of faith.
For Sevigny, accepting the role opposite Hayden Christensen meant new possibilities.
"One reason why I took it was because it could appeal to a wider audience," she says. "But it's such a smart film. It's suspenseful. I just thought it was a great story, and I love true stories."
It was the true story of Brandon Teena that won Sevigny her Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Boys Don't Cry. But that was still an indie movie that crossed over. Not enough.
"I want to explore different genres," Sevigny says. "I'd love to do sci-fi or some big-budget blowout movie, to see what that's like."
But she doesn't want to leave the circuit of cool, sexy movies altogether.
"I love what Julianne Moore's done with her career," she says. "Nicole Kidman. Even Toni Collette, who I adore - she seems to have an even balance between the two.
"What is it about me?" she asks as if she's truly puzzled. "I don't know, I'm digging my own grave. I want to get some commercial work, and it's hard now to make the cross."
The key may be that Sevigny is not primarily an emotional actor. She doesn't give howling performances that beg for attention, or subtle ones that do the same. It's not emotional fireworks that made her an indie star. It's her seductive lack of affect. In her best performances, Sevigny delivers lines in a baleful drawl that clearly doesn't give a fuck.
It's the same stance found in lots of art video and indie rock, where it can be read as everything from a refusal of feeling to full-blown late capitalism. So what is Sevigny doing when she goes before the camera? What is it about her?
"God, I wish I could tell you," she laughs.
"I don't have any methods," she claims. "I never studied. I see lots of other actors I've worked with go through these crazy processes before every scene. I'm always intrigued, like, maybe I should do that, too."
In person, Sevigny speaks and laughs plainly. She comes across as a normal 28-year-old and seems surprised by her reputation for the outré. But she turned 29 on November 18; if you're horoscopic, that may be a clue. This morning she's dressed in a black napkin of a halter top, cut to expose all but a triangle of skin at the front. She seems oblivious to its daring.
In the same way, she swears that the swirl of sex and limit-pushing around her is "just sort of coincidence - the people who approached me to work with them and the stories that I liked."
In some other cases, she says she signed on to movies that took "directions I didn't quite know they would.
"I worked with Olivier Assayas last year making a film called Demonlover. I thought it was just a strange French spy movie, but then I went to see it and it was the most disturbing film I've ever seen!" she laughs. "I was shocked! There was all this violence and sex - not in any of my scenes, but in the others. It didn't translate that way in the script. So I was duped a little bit," she says sotto voce, "but it's a great film."
Better duped by Assayas, she figures, than over-groomed by Hollywood.
"I did one film with HBO, and that was my one studio experience," she recalls. "We had to have, like, five hair tests. Studio people talking about my hair for days on end. It's just ridiculous. And we'd get script notes every day and have to change the dialogue every day. They really had a grip on what was going on."
She thinks she might miss the freedom and the focus of independent filmmaking. Then she reconsiders.
"Is there anything I'll miss?" she asks. "No. I will not miss the paycheques."