Chloë Sevigny made a grand entrance into the public eye in 1994 when a New Yorker writer dubbed her the "It girl" of New York. Now, after more than 20 years of a successful modeling and acting career, she's making a new debut — as a director at Cannes.
Sevigny's short film Kitty — which, in full transparency, Refinery29 will distribute later this year — is based on a 1980 short story by Paul Bowles in which a little girl named Kitty turns into a cat. The actress read the tale in her early 20s and felt connected to the female coming-of-age theme. "I remember being a young girl and discovering looks and having a sense of ego and vanity and all those things kind of creeping in," she tells us, calling from France. Sevigny also loved the magical realism of the story: "I thought it was so visual and cinematic and so delicate I could make a really beautiful whisper of a film."
The idea that no one believes Kitty when she tells them she's turning feline also resonated. “I guess I felt misunderstood in a lot of ways," Sevigny says. "Of course I was always heard, having been in the public eye. People always want you to say more, but it was almost like I wanted to hide more as a result. People wanted me to speak as a voice of a generation, and I had no interest in doing that. I didn’t want that responsibility.”
Sevigny says she wasn't nervous about directing her first film, but acknowledges that she's making her debut amid a larger conversation about the lack of female directors in Hollywood. “I mean it’s just kind of shocking," she says.
And now that she's a filmmaker herself, the issue is perhaps more top of mind. “I feel invested in it in a way of wanting to give advice," she says, citing friends who have developed TV shows and felt belittled by their male producers. "Why don’t you just surround yourself with ladies?" she suggests. "That’s what I did. Because then you don’t have to be afraid of being emotional in front of them and having them judge you for that — not that we're all so emotional." Indeed, for Kitty, Sevigny hired two female producers, all female department heads, and a female first assistant director.
She's been directed by women before — in films that were major milestones in her career, especially Boys Don’t Cry (with Kimberly Peirce) and American Psycho (Mary Harron), but was disappointed that she didn't get to work with more women behind the camera while she worked on TV. "You’d be doing a series of 14 episodes, and there’d be not a single female director," she says. The lack of parity certainly isn't unique to movies and TV. "I went to the Met Ball the other day and I wore Simone Rocha. I’ve been to the Met Ball like 10 times, and this is the first time I wore a female designer," she says. "So many fields are dominated by men, and it’s very frustrating. I think the conversation that’s happening now is great and hopefully we’ll start breaking down those walls.”
Enjoy the full film for Kitty below or on Refinery29.com/Shatterbox.
Women accounted for only 13% of the directors on the 700 top grossing films in 2014 — and only 7% of the top 250 films. Refinery29 wants to change this by giving 12 female directors a chance to claim their power. Our message to Hollywood? You can't win without women. Watch new films every month on Refinery29.com/Shatterbox and Comcast Watchable.