Chloë Sevigny is back in Cannes this year, pulling double duty with a role in Jim Jarmusch’s opening night zombie ensemble, The Dead Don’t Die, and premiering her third short as director, White Echo. Black comedy The Dead Don’t Die marks a re-team for Sevigny and Jarmusch, with whom she’s made three films, including 2005’s Broken Flowers, which also bowed in Cannes. This year’s pairing unfolds in the peaceful town of Centerville which finds itself battling a zombie horde. During a recent chat, Sevigny admitted to not being a big fan of the genre—despite having gone down the “crack cocaine loophole” of The Walking Dead, but said she’d “do anything with Jim.”
You’ve been up those red-carpeted steps a number of times before, but do you get an extra kick out of it when you find out you’re in the Cannes opening night movie?
It’s so fun. In fact, I was offered to go to a press screening prior to Cannes to see the film, but there’s nothing like that feeling of seeing the movie for the first time with the cast in the Palais, and everybody’s so emotional. So I was like, “I want to wait, I want to have that magical experience that’s like nothing else.” It’s always so overwhelming and so fun.
Can you describe your character in the film?
My character is the scream queen. I’m playing the trope of the frightened girl in the town. It’s very Jim. It’s very funny. Everybody’s really deadpan, but I’m really playing the stakes. I’ve only just realized, why am I the only one playing the stakes? I’m going to look like an idiot.
How did Jim approach you for the role?
He sent me the script a while ago. He was like, “I’m making this weird zombie thing. Will you look at it?” And I said, “Of course.” I don’t even like zombie pictures; I haven’t even seen many. I did watch The Walking Dead for a little while. I got caught in that crack cocaine loophole… But I was like, I’m not insane about the genre, but I’m insane about Jim. I’ll do anything with him.
You’re also in Cannes for short film #3. How did the White Echo story come together for you?
I was just thinking of wanting to become a director and how you convince people, or convince yourself, that you have that ability. I was also thinking about girls in Los Angeles I know who are into tarots and witchcraft and whatnot—there’s this whole LA movement with millennial witches and crystals in the moonlight—and how I find them kind of full of it. And then there’s girls in New York I’m friends with who are also into the same thing, but I find them very convincing. So it’s like, how do we convince other people of our beliefs, or to believe in us, or convince ourselves of our own power? And when confronted with that power, how do we use it?
You’ve tended to tell strongly female-driven stories.
I think I’m more interested in telling stories about women because I understand women. There’s also, all these films are about myself. All these films are about wanting recognition or people to see something in you, and finding your own confidence to be who you are. They’re all ultimately about me [laughs]. I mean, I like boys, I like sleeping with boys and flirting with them. But I’m more interested in hanging out with girls and talking to girls. And also, I still have a bit of that thing about the patriarchy, or that sexual tension, or whatever it is about being objectified. It always kind of gets in the way for me when I’m talking to men, and I’m trying to learn how to get around that and not care about that. With women, I just feel more at ease.
Is that in a general everyday sense or more specifically within the film business?
More in the film business. We’re talking about it, we’re more vocal about it, but it still feels pretty old-fashioned. Especially when you walk on set. I was making The Act in Savannah and there are female filmmakers and producers, and a lot of women involved, but I still walked on set and I was the only woman in the room and there were like 40 men around me. And you’re like, “Oh yeah, right. Where are all the ladies?” And that’s very hard.
Doing Jim Jarmusch’s movie, the day when I was a zombie was the most comfortable day for me because I was like, “None of these men are going to be sexualizing me or looking at me in that way.” Not that I’m thinking, “Oh my God, all these men are judging me all the time.” But in a way they are, you know? And I don’t know if that’s more telling about who I am or how I see things, but that was the best day.
Previously you’ve said one of the things you’ve learned while directing was having to be a resourceful problem solver. What are your thoughts now that you’ve directed three shorts?
I still think being malleable is kind of the most important aspect of filmmaking; and being open to other people’s ideas, and being collaborative. As far as other filmmakers and actors I’ve worked with, when they get stuck in something they’ve envisioned [a certain way], you can see how frustrated they get when you’re not doing it the way that they propose. I feel like that’s very discouraging as an actress. It’s not a good place to be in and I don’t think it benefits anyone. So I was very open to the girls’ ideas on the set [of White Echo]. Being prepared as much as you can be and having your own arsenal of ideas to throw at them as a director, which you always hope a director would, and then also having the patience to let them try things as well.
Are you looking more towards directing features?
I am, and especially with White Echo, I wanted to hammer it home that this is the kind of movie that I wanted to make. That I could make something compelling but also entertaining. Everyone at WME has been really fired up by it, and it’s been really encouraging. All the other departments have been sending scripts and setting up meetings, so I think it’s kind of serving its purpose so far.
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