Nine minutes into my phone call with Chloë Sevigny, she abruptly hangs up.
Not ten seconds after she calls me back, she hangs up again.
You should know that Sevigny was not being rude—far from it. It’s just that her newborn son, Vanja, only recently went down for a nap, and to be fair, she did warn me that he might get noisy. “I can handle him and talk to you on the phone, but there might be some ga ga goo-ing,” she cautioned.
“Do you have a child by any chance?” the actress asked me when I called her on a particularly sweltering summer day, just a borough apart from one another. “You sound very young.” I do not have a child, and I’ll admit I am young, but I only told her the first part. “Okay, because I have a small child, and I’m not very young, and he might wake up,” she said.
When I spoke with Sevigny, Siniša Mackovic, the “father of my child, baby daddy, boyfriend, fiancé, all of the above,” had given her a gift: just enough time to do daily chores. While Mackovic took on the parental duties that morning, Sevigny was allowed to sleep in until the “late” morning hour of 9 AM. She spent the cherished quiet time when her baby was down for a nap “thinking of all the things I need to do for work and for myself that somehow always get put on the back burner. Maybe I should prioritize those instead of the laundry—because the laundry is just forever,” she joked.
Instead of going out like the former professional party girl she used to be, these days the new mother hardly leaves her house. Sevigny may have secured the title of one of the last great It Girls of our time, but during the coronavirus pandemic, she’s been living her life just like the rest of us: she abides by social distancing rules, wears a mask every time she steps outside, and still feels iffy about eating at restaurants. With only Mackovic and her mother helping her out at home with the baby, Sevigny has remained “overly protective as far as venturing into the outside world,” she said. “I would say that my neuroses around that have really amped up because of the small child and my mother. I guess it’s not even neuroses at this point, it’s just what everybody is doing. It’s common.”
Sevigny is as eager to talk about her life in quarantine and her predilection to keep everything around her home tidy as she is to discuss her role on Luca Guadagnino’s new HBO series We Are Who We Are, which premieres on September 14. The series follows a teenage boy named Fraser Wilson (Jack Dylan Grazer) and his friend Caitlin Poythress (Jordan Kristine Seamon)—two teenagers grappling with their sexualities and gender identities as they grow up on an American army base in Italy.
Last spring, a time that now seems almost unimaginable, Sevigny met Guadagnino in Cannes. She was there to promote Jim Jarmusch’s zombie film The Dead Don’t Die and a short film she directed called White Echo, while the Italian filmmaker was there debuting his short film produced in conjunction with Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccoli. Her agent told her that Guadagnino was working on a series in Italy, and had gone out to big names like Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore for a lead role. “I had read the scripts, and we sat down and got on like a house on fire,” she said. “I’ve always been drawn to directors that are doing work that’s a little outside the box—auteur-ish types.”
Sevigny was cast as Fraser’s mom, Sarah Wilson, an out lesbian married to her wife Maggie (Alice Braga). The actress said she felt compelled to tell a story about a woman in the military and her dynamic with other male soldiers on the base, as well as the story of a mother raising her only son. Her only concern at the time was that she wanted to portray everything about her character—an American colonel trying to mother her ill-tempered teenager on an army base outside of Venice—as accurately as possible, and she felt that her natural shyness might impede upon her ability to play a very loud character. Ultimately, she just pressed Guadagnino for a military advisor to help her nail Sarah’s demanding attitude, and he obliged.
In We Are Who We Are, the mother-son dynamic between Sarah and her petulant teenage son is an unusual one. Fraser pushes every boundary he can by getting wasted on and off the base, and misbehaving at school. He even goes so far as to slap his mother in the face during a scene in which she is simply trying to mother him the way she always has, with concern and care. “I think things with Fraser are very complicated, and she gives him a lot of leeway,” Sevigny said. Sarah doesn’t respond to Fraser with rage, and is hardly successful at disciplining her son, which is incongruous with the tight ship she runs with her fellow soldiers. “Because she had such a strict upbringing, she’s like, I’m going to do everything the opposite way,” Sevigny explained. “It’s also revealed later that she feels like she’s the mom and the dad, or whatever those constructs are. I think she plays rough with him, and is also very tender. She feels like she has to encapsulate it all in one.”
Over the four months that Sevigny filmed We Are Who We Are in Italy, she knew she was in her first trimester, and had to keep her pregnancy a secret from most of the cast and crew—with the exception of a few people, including the producers, who would need to be able to call a doctor to set at a moment’s notice. “It was a little awkward,” Sevigny admitted. “I love going out with the crew and the cast and having drinks, but I was very tired all the time. I wasn’t so sick, but I did have other, hormonal side effects. Navigating that was tricky.”
Another snag of filming while pregnant: Sevigny’s baby bump eventually began to show. Guadagnino was interested in filming a nude scene when they first began shooting, but by the end of four months on set, there was no denying that the actress was with child. “I told Luca, ‘Listen, you’re going to have to do some CGI or we’ll have to reconceive the shot,’” she laughed. “He was obsessed with me taking off all my clothes in front of this whole office, and what a power move it would be, me saying ‘We’re all just soldiers!’”
The experience of playing a mother on screen while becoming a mother to her first child in real life did prepare the actress for some aspects of motherhood. “It’s funny because—and this is weird to say—I always thought I’d have a girl. I just felt like it would be, I don’t want to say easier, but that I would have more in common. I’m a big girly girl and I’d love to have a tea party. I hope to god he wants to have a tea party!” Sevigny said.
But somehow the stars aligned, and playing a mother to a son on We Are Who We Are gave the actress insight into the type of child she might one day raise. “[While on set,] I was really examining Jack. He’s energetic, smart, maybe gifted. I was like, if I had a boy like him, I’d be okay with that,” she went on. “And then I ended up being pregnant with a boy, so there you go.”
Baby Vanja has been in the world for just a few months, but he’s met some of his parents’ friends thanks to “a socially distanced in-the-backyard thing” where people were allowed to hold him if they washed up first and wore masks. “I’m walking around a lot, I like to push him around in the stroller, and a lot of people walk by shouting without masks on,” Sevigny noted. “Like, just put it on! Is it that hard? I know it’s hot and that’s miserable, but bring an extra one so you can change, or don’t shout.”
Sevigny has remained a style icon who can make just about anything (even a pandemic face mask) look chic for the better part of three decades, but if there is one thing that has thrown her for a loop when it comes to wearing clothes today, it’s her postpartum shape. “My body has changed a lot. I’ve never had this kind of body before, so it’s been hard,” Sevigny said. “I wish I had more cute babydoll dresses and muumuu-style things, but when I was pregnant, those made me feel 10 times as big. I was more of the bodycon pregnant girl because I was like, ‘Oh I can finally just let my belly hang out. It’s cute.’ But now it’s not so cute,” she said self-effacingly. “Now I’m trying to hide the fact that I’m 30 pounds more than I ever was in my life.”
Still, just before giving birth, Sevigny’s maternity street style looks made her a bit of a paparazzi magnet. The actress recently sold most of her pregnancy outfits at a stoop sale coordinated by her friend and stylist Haley Wollens, whom she also consulted for postpartum sartorial advice. “I was like, what do you do? Help me, fix me, do something!” she said.
When it comes to dressing her child, though, she’s had no issues. “I have two nephews, and my brother and sister-in-law have great taste,” Sevigny told me, noting that Vanja has been wrapped up in hand-me-downs and “mommy gifts” like the Miracle Blanket, which is supposed to help with swaddling, and MAKIÉ, a Japanese clothing store in SoHo that sells minimalist baby clothes. “I haven’t really invested in that many things yet because he grows so rapidly,” she said.
Toward the end of our conversation, I had to ask Sevigny one lingering question about something that has nothing to do with motherhood, nor the television show she’s promoting. An old photograph of the actress posing with Maggie Gyllenhaal at the the 2004 grand opening of Target located at the Atlantic Avenue Terminal mall in Brooklyn made the social media rounds last spring. (The event was also was graced with appearances by Alan Cumming and Sandra Bernhard.) Earlier this summer, the image experienced a resurgence. Sevigny, being as online as she is, had to be well aware of the popularity of this early Aughts time capsule, right?
She told me she was, but had no idea why it took 15 years for people to circulate it online. “I saw that the other day,” she laughed, remembering a meme that someone made out of the image and added text that read, “My two moms at Target!”
Sevigny could recall exactly what she wore to the event—a vintage Chanel top and Balenciaga platforms—but couldn’t quite remember the purpose of the event. “We were probably getting paid [to be there],” she said. “I wonder if [Maggie] was going out with Peter [Saarsgard]. I had a fling with Peter after Boys Don’t Cry, so we were always a little catty with each other,” she admitted with a laugh. “I like Maggie, I think she’s cool. I guess we were both the ingénues that were paid to go to the party in style.”
After that quick nostalgia trip, we discussed the future. Sevigny is cautiously optimistic about when New York City will dip back into some semblance of normalcy after the pandemic. What does she look forward to the most? “Just feeling relaxed. I’m sick of being on edge around everything. What can I touch? Can I see movies? Where can I go? Even this morning, Siniša had to go somewhere and I was like, can I take an Uber? Do I go to the garage and get the car out to drive to Brooklyn? To go to work?,” she said. “I love taking the train, I love hanging out with my friends. I’m wanting that back. I want to take the subway, how about that! But with the baby, I feel hyper nervous.”
And just like that, at the mention of baby Vanja, he starts crying—signaling to us both that it’s time for her attention to turn back to him once again.