Since breaking out in the Harmony Korine-penned Nineties cult classic “Kids,” Chloë Sevigny has become a Cannes regular, earning a reputation as a sometimes controversial indie muse. This year, she is making her directorial debut at the festival with a short titled “Kitty,” screening as part of the Critics’ Week lineup.
Sevigny was a guest speaker at one of the Women in Motion talks organized by Kering at the Majestic hotel on Wednesday, together with Amy Emmerich, chief content officer at Refinery29, which executive produced the film as part of its growing lineup of original programming.
The actress wasted no time establishing that she supports Kering’s agenda of promoting female film talent.
“I think it’s just important to surround yourself with as many women as possible. Sorry, I really love men, too, and I love sleeping with men, I love hanging out with men — but I prefer working with ladies,” she said, citing communication and multitasking as female skills she values in the workplace.
Based on a short story by Paul Bowles, “Kitty” is a story about a little girl who transforms into a cat. It’s one of 12 short films in the Shatterbox Anthology series by female directors that will start running monthly on Refinery29 this summer, and will also include the directing debuts of Kristen Stewart and Gabourey Sidibe.
“It’s a lifelong dream and here I am doing it, and I’m so proud of it. I feel like it’s like the first step toward telling more stories about women that don’t have to do with men or finding a man. That’s what I want to do,” Sevigny said. “Features are what I’m striving to do, but I’d never shot anything on film before. I wanted to practice and this story, I’ve been in love with for so many years. It’s about a mother and a daughter, and I just wanted to make a really nice concise short. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, and it’s a sweet little tale and it’s very cinematic.”
The film features newcomer Edie Yvonne alongside Ione Skye and Lee Meriwether, best known for her portrayal of Catwoman and her long-running stint as secretary Betty Jones on the Seventies television series “Barnaby Jones.” Ignoring the adage of never working with children or animals, Sevigny added five cats into the mix.
“Half the movie, you’re playing off a cat and trying to tell this really emotional tale off a cat’s face. This proved more difficult than I imagined, but our cats were great and really good performers and very expressive — weirdly — for cats. So I hope it works,” she said with a laugh.
Sevigny said she first considered directing 20 years ago. “What prevented me? I think my insecurities, mostly,” she admitted. “At 40, I overcame all of that.”
Still, she offered a harsh vision of the film industry, ranging from the poor quality of material offered to female leads to the “crossing-the-line weirdness” of casting directors.
“What I’ve seen the most is that when women on set become a little emotional or impassioned even, they’re labeled as hysterical or crazy and have a hard time getting hired again,” she said. “I know many women who have been labeled that way, and the double standard of the man being the wild, crazy mad director is so embraced.”
She said fear of losing work prevented many women from speaking out about issues including income inequality in Hollywood.
“It’s just so political. I mean, we all read the fluff pieces. Nobody ever says anything bad about anybody else because you never know who you’re going to work with or want to work with in the future,” she said. “So we all have to keep it kind of general — unless you’re, like, Rose McGowan. She’s awesome, but it hurts you, so that’s a real fear.”
Though often seen as intrepid because of her willingness to take risks in movies like “Boys Don’t Cry” and “The Brown Bunny” — the film in which she famously performed oral sex on Vincent Gallo — Sevigny revealed she feels vulnerable when doing press and struggles with the media’s obsession with beauty.
“I’ve been frustrated for, like, over 20 years, so you just kind of learn to navigate it,” she said. “I think that’s part of why this whole fashion thing comes in it for me, because I feel it’s a way to distract or deflect from that. I just have to walk away from it as often as I can and be myself in my own skin.”
She suggested her status as a style icon — with a clothing collection for Opening Ceremony and campaigns for fashion brands including Miu Miu, Chloé and Jimmy Choo — was starting to wane now that she is 41.
“I’ve already felt like a little bit of a slowing down around that, even with lending dresses and things like that. It’s really unfortunate. I think I was probably, like, the oldest woman to ever appear in a Miu Miu campaign at, like, 39,” she said.
“And I love Miuccia [Prada,] I think she loves celebrating actresses, but usually it’s, like, ingénues. This is what people like looking at. I can’t even look at fashion magazines anymore because the images do my head in. I wish there was a way to change it,” she added.
Still, she qualified this as a positive time for women in film, with the emergence of Millennial talents such as Lena Dunham and Jennifer Lawrence. “They seem stronger and empowered,” she noted. “I think it’s an exciting time and I feel like change is upon us.”