Shooting on HBO's contemporary polygamy drama Big Love is about two-thirds done for season two, which means if you happen to pass by Chloe Sevigny's trailer, try to make sure she's not banging her head against the wall. "Last year at this time, I really started to lose it," reveals the 32-year Connecticut-born actress, who plays Nicki, the credit card challenged and arguably most manipulative of Bill Paxton's trio of wives. "I was not prepared in any way, shape or form to be shooting for six months," says the TV newcomer, who burst onto the scene in Larry Clark's Kids in 1995 and has since carved out a niche for herself in indie fare like Gummo, Dogville , Party Monster and Boys Don't Cry for which she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. "After four months, I just couldn't stand being the character. I couldn't stand the sound of my own voice. Anytime I heard myself say a line it was like fingernails on a chalkboard. And it's starting to happen again."
For someone who claims to be falling apart, Sevigny--in a white blouse, gray cardigan and tight black jeans--looks remarkably put together. But then, she's always had a knack for putting a look together, even, she says, as a child. "I remember in third grade, I was really into Esprit and I would go through their catalogues, which had these crazy braids," recalls Sevingny, who gets a 70's makeover in her new film, Zodiac , in which she plays fed-up girlfriend to Jake Gyllenhaal's killer obsessed journalist. "I was always making my own clothes in high school and wearing a lot of hats. My mother took me to thrift stores so I was always getting weird things."
Though the die-hard New Yorker prefers to hang in the funky Los Feliz when she has to be in LA, she's come to Beverly Hills today on a fashion errand that's a world away from the thrift shops of her youth. "I had to return my jewelry from the Golden Globes to Bulgari," she explains, over lunch at the L'Hermitage hotel a few days after Big Love lost out on the Golden Globe for Best Drama Series to Grey's Anatomy . Wait, doesn't she have a stylist to run those errands for her? "No, I don't really like the whole stylist thing," says Sevigny , who chose a yellow gold vintage bracelet in the form of a snake to wear with her vintage Yves Saint Laurent gown. "People who have no style suddenly look incredible because they have handlers that make them that way. That's kind of frustrating. It bugs me that people play it so safe these days. Even that dress I wore the other night to the Globes. It was patterned and everyone was like, 'Ooh, nobody wears patterns!'"
Chloe Sevigny does. And we like it that way.
DENNIS HENSLEY: Does dressing for a big event stress you out?
CHLOE SEVIGNY: Oh my God, yes. I have anxiety dreams leading up to it.
You're known for your modern, hip sense of style so it's odd to see you in the simple, dowdy get-ups Nicki wears on Big Love . Do you hate her clothes?
No. When you put on the outfit and do the hair, it's easier to fall into the character and I love that. I'm kind of jealous, though, that Margene (Gennifer Godwin) gets to wear sexy outfits. Not that I think I have the hottest bod, but why can't I show off my legs? Why do I always have to have skirts to the ankle?
I find your character maddening sometimes but she's also the most compelling character on the show. How do people on the street talk to you about her?
People see her in such a simplistic view, like, "She's such a bitch," which is disappointing. The end of the second season they're going to release some information about her upbringing that's going to make everybody more sympathetic. I hope so because I'm sick of people saying, "She's such a bitch."
Can you give us sneak preview of Season Two?
I get into a lot of trouble again with Bingo. The scenes are really hilarious.
What would happen in your fantasy episode of Big Love ?
The three of us wives would gang up on Bill. They'd never do it but I'd like that a lot.
Are you a jealous person in real life?
Yeah. It's not that I'm bitter, but sometimes I think 'Why her?'
Professionally or romantically?
Both. In romance, forget it. I'm extremely jealous in my relationships. I'm trying to get over that. I've been in a relationship for 6 years (with musician Matt McAuley) and I used to be really bad but I've gotten better.
Do you feel competitive with other actors?
There are careers that I aspire to have, like Cate Blanchet's or Kate Winslet's. I think Hollywood is a little too much enamored with British or people with accents. I think they think they are more master thespian than their American counterparts and give them a lot more leeway in taking more complicated parts. I find that very frustrating.
Tom Hanks is one of the Big Love 's producers. Does he come around a lot?
Sometimes. When he comes to set we all get nervous and a little bit crazy and it's hard to act but he's really supportive. At the Golden Globes, he was presenting to Warren Beatty and they asked him to sit with Warren Beatty, but he said, "I want to sit with my pals at Big Love ."
In Season One, Nicki indulged in a good deal of retail therapy. Do you ever try to shop your troubles away?
I do that constantly. In New York, I have a route that I take in the East Village where there's shops that I always hit.
Do you have an L.A. shop route?
Not really, but there's so much good vintage here. I'll go to The Resurrection or Decades and be like, "Oh, I'm going to buy everything," but a lot of it's extremely expensive so I'll go to Wasteland and satisfy that urge and it's not too hard on the pocketbook. Then there's this place called Studio Wardrobe where everything is like 3 dollars.
What's your favorite thing about LA?
Radio. I love Indie 103, KXLU, NPR. We don't have good radio in New York.
Your new thriller, Zodiac , is directed by Fight Club 's David Fincher, who's known for doing a lot of takes. How'd you cope with that?
Nobody warned me so the first day, I went home and I cried. Jake Gyllenhaal and I shot a scene in a phone booth and literally, it was a hundred takes. I was scared that I was going to get fired, but the next day, David called and said "I just want you to know it wasn't you. That's the way I work. I'm so happy you're in the movie."
Did you happen to see your co-star Jake on Saturday Night Live a few weeks back belting out a ballad from Dreamgirls in drag?
I heard about it. Jake can do anything. On set, there was one of those teeny pianos for children and he was jamming out on it. He's this brilliant mind and he comes from this family that encouraged every aspect in that way.
You were plucked from obscurity to star in your first film, Kids . At what point did you say to yourself, "Acting is what I want for my life"?
It was after Kids . I knew I had an in and I had to take advantage of it. I had wanted to be an actress since kindergarten when my mother brought me to see Annie and I saw these young girls up there onstage. I went to summer theater camp.
I read that you played Annie Oakley and the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz?
I did. And Topher Grace was in all those with me. He was the Tin Man.
You've described your childhood in Darien, Connecticut as idyllic?
It was. We knew everybody in town. My parents were extremely loving. My brother was protective of me if I'd be like riding my bike to the corner store to buy a Hello Kitty eraser.
What were some of the first movies you saw as a kid?
Tootsie and Gremlins were very big. I grew up Catholic and I remember going to my priest and expressing fear over The Exorcist and him telling me it was all true and never to play with Ouiji Boards or practice witchcraft because you're inviting the devil into your soul. I never did play Ouiji Board.
When did you move to New York City?
The day after I graduated. I lived in an apartment in Brooklyn Heights with five kids. It was a mess. I would try to clean but when you have five kids it was very hard to keep up, especially when they're all heavily into drugs and the club scene.
Looking back, do you see that as a romantic time?
Oh yeah, it was so much fun. I lived on buttered rolls. I got a job at a clothing store. The rave scene was happening and it was really fun in the beginning, like a hippie revival, and then heroin came into the scene and things got really dark.
Did that part of the scene ever appeal to you?
No, I was never a big drug user. I never liked drugs or getting too out of control. Just a few months ago I got pretty drunk at this little club in New York. This guy shoved me and I ran to get the bouncer to get him kicked out and I was so not in control of what was going on. I couldn't get drunk like that again. It's just too scary.
Were your parents worried about you in those days?
I don't think they really knew so much what was happening. I had a good head on my shoulders and I would always call and check in. My father's passed away but I still I speak to my mother every day.
Were your parents always supportive of your career and the kinds of projects you chose?
I think my mom would like me to be Reese Witherspoon but she knew I was never going to be Reese Witherspoon. She'd like me to do more romantic comedies, like she loved when I did Will and Grace .
Which of your roles got under your skin the most?
Lana from Boys Don't Cry , because she was alive and was a real person.
Did you ever interact with the real Lana?
No. She wanted some big movie star to play her, like Cameron Diaz or Julia Roberts. I remember going through all the awards and all that and I just felt it was kind of icky because she was still at home in a trailer or wherever and she had lost all these people that were close to her and here we were galavanting at awards ceremonies. I don't know. At least we told Brandon's story and hopefully it built some sort of tolerance somewhere.
What role were you the happiest to learn you got?
I was really happy when Woody Allen called for Melinda and Melinda because I've met with him before for other projects and not gotten them.
What was your favorite memory of working with him?
We were shooting in this sound booth and I started having a little space issue anxiety attack. I explained to him what was going on and a smile crept across his face. Seeing the pleasure on his face while somebody else had a real neurotic moment was kind of nice.
What's something you're good at that might surprise people?
I'm a good homemaker. I can cook and sew. I'm very into domesticity. I've never had a maid. I always clean my apartment myself. It's very relaxing and therapeutic. I feel like nobody ever does it as well as I do either. Vacuuming, mopping, dusting, laundry, I do it all. And I like fussing over my boyfriend. When he wants something, I go get it for him. When he comes home from work I let him unwind for an hour before talking to him.
You've done your share edgy fare like Kids, American Psycho and The Brown Bunny , which had a very controversial oral sex scene. Do you think the powers that be look at your work and think, 'Great, this girl takes chances,' or do they think, 'This girl's too out there for us'?
A little of both. Some people admire that and other people just think, 'Maybe she's too weird.' I might have caused more trouble for myself.
Do you regret any of those decisions?
I can't beat myself up anymore. I have for so long and it's just not worth it.
It's interesting. In person you seem quite vulnerable, but your choices seem to say, 'I doing this because I believe in it and I don't care what people think.'
I've always wanted to be more of the artist, which I think I am in a lot of ways. I've always believed in filmmaking as the greatest art form today. I've always wanted to make movies that push boundaries and I think I have been unfairly criticized a lot.
But it doesn't seem to stop you.
I have to keep doing my thing.
Do you wish you had thicker skin?
Oh always. I wish I had more confidence. I wish I could be ballsy like Johnny Depp or Sean Penn, but I think for girls to be like that--unless you're Angelina Jolie, the most beautiful woman on the planet--you can't get away with it.
And maybe if you met Angelina, she might feel the same way you do.
I have met her. She's very sweet and soft spoken. She said, "You always look so great. How do you do it?" I was like, " Me ? What about you ?"
What designers are you into right now?
The Frenchies. Nicolas Ghesquiere from Balenciaga, Stefano Pilati from Yves Saint Lauren, Alber Elbaz for Lanvin. They're my top three.
I know you also love art. Who in the art world are you excited about now?
I have a lot of friends in New York that are kind of coming into their own right now. A few of them ( Dash Snow, Dan Colen and Ryan McGinley) were just on the cover of New York Magazine and they were called "Warhol's Children." They're friends I've known for years. It's nice to see all these kids that were struggling for so long selling pieces for $300,000.
It must be surreal to see a friend go from totally unknown to Next Big Thing status.
It is. Some of them, especially ones in music, you have to give them a year to go crazy.
What's next for you?
I'm trying to focus on smaller parts in bigger movies the way so many girls came up, like Charlize Theron. Paying your dues in the studio system somehow.
Do you have any nightmare audition stories?
I remember I went in for some sort of whore-y film and I was dressed a little tight thing and I was in pretty good shape at the time and the director said, "You should really show off your body more. Don't wait till you're Meg Ryan's age to go naked." I couldn't believe he was actually saying that! I also had another director ask me what I was doing later.
Does that kind of stuff get to you or are you able to shrug it off?
Oh please. I kind of like that sleazy old Hollywood aspect of the biz. I mean, I hate that it's chauvinistic and I hope girls don't fall prey to it, but I miss that old, wild, debauchery that you hear about back in the days of Marlene and Greta, all these girls sleeping with each other. I kind of like that kind of wild world of Hollywood and I don't know if that happens anymore.
What's something that you think people get wrong about you?
I think people still think of me as this club kid girl but I'm not that and I haven't been for a long time.
How would you describe time in your life?
I don't know. I was just reading an interview with Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep and Judy Dench and they were saying how being in your 30s is the hardest time in Hollywood because when you're younger you get a little more leeway to be crazier because you're young. Then when you get older you have an excuse because you're older. But in your 30's, you have to be what they want you to be. I feel a little bit of that. But I love the work I'm doing.
Now if you could only stand the sound of your own voice.
I know. It's like, "Can't we put some cotton in my ears?"