Despite being real-life, decades-long best friends, Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny had never appeared onscreen together before making director Danny Perez's subversive, pregnancy- and experimental-drug-themed body-horror trip of a feature-film debut, Antibirth, which Lyonne also produced. The movie is a perfect addition to Sundance's "Midnight" section, and features Lyonne and Sevigny as hard-partying best friends in a desolate middle-of-nowhere Michigan town overrun with drug addiction.
Lyonne's character Lou blacks out at a warehouse rager, and the next morning, as she's taking her usual five bong hits, she starts feeling a little weird. Like, her titties and her uterus are hurting, but she hasn't got laid in forever, so she can't be pregnant — right? What follows is a trippy mystery filled with body horror and supernatural elements, as Lou's face starts peeling off and her belly starts growing. We eventually learn that the men of the town have taken it upon themselves to use Lou's body to their own evil ends; one reviewer described the movie, favorably, as what might happen if "the Dude from The Big Lebowski somehow ended up in David Cronenberg’s The Brood." It is, at the very least, feminist to its core. We spoke with Lyonne and Sevigny at the Sundance Acura lounge about being New York dames in Mormon country, their future movies together, and what they will or will not do to their own wombs.
You guys are really killing it this Sundance. Chloë, you’ve got two movies — this one and Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship — and Natasha, you have this, Clea DuVall’s The Intervention, and Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers. How are you holding up?
Chloë Sevigny: This is my third and final day. I’m having a great time, and I'm also very excited to get home. Both. It’s kind of all happening at once. I have a hard time unwinding. So it’s very difficult for me to fall asleep. I got home from the Yoga Hosers party at two-something, and I’m still, like, thinking about the interviews and the bad photos, and my mind is like, 100 miles an hour. Anyways, we’re hanging in there.
Natasha Lyonne: We’re ready to rumble. I just sent her a photo of a nice young man who came up to her on the street as we started our dinner. He said, “Hello, I'm an actual, real-life Mormon. Can I take a picture of you?” His outfit was excellent.
Chloë, having been on Big Love, is coming to Sundance a special experience for you?
Sevigny: It’s funny — on the plane I was sitting next to a guy who was like, “I have four wives.” For some reason, I’d forgotten that I was coming back to Utah, and there are a lot of people who probably have a real relationship with that show here. We went to a Planned Parenthood thing the other night, and a few women came up and they were like, “We live here and love Big Love.”
Lyonne: When you think about it, could there be a stranger choice of locale for, ultimately, what is a weirdo-fest? Kevin Smith last night gave a nice speech about Robert Redford, talking about how this is a place for weirdo movies. It really is a reminder that there is so much celebrity in our culture in general that you kind of forget, really, what this is meant to be about is strange movies. I remember, a decade ago, being here with But I'm a Cheerleader and, like, young girls from Utah coming up to me and Clea [DuVall] on the street and just being like, “I’m so grateful. This is the first time I’ve seen anything about gay people, and I am gay.” It’s a wild town to do it in. That’s my speech.
[Chloë and I applaud.]
Lyonne: Honestly, if I don’t get the applause at the end when I talk — you know how much I love monologuing.
So, Antibirth — why was this the movie that you guys finally decided to do together?
Lyonne: Well, because we know [director Danny Perez], and he wrote it for us.
Sevigny: Let me preface: This isn’t the only [movie] we want to do or are ever going to do, but this one just happened to come along.
Lyonne: We’ve had big plans, Jada. We’re going on almost two decades for a remake of California Split. So we hope to get the financing by the end of the festival. We have a lot of plans. Two serious women! We always are thinking. I had an imaginary movie I wrote just the title of when I was like 19 for me and Chloë called Jazz Hands. It’s a period piece that’s, in my mind, based on the original To Be or Not to Be. I would be the Mel Brooks to Chloë’s Anne Bancroft, and we sort of go through Depression-era New York together.
Sevigny: I want to make that movie so bad.
Lyonne: At one point, I used to really get drunk and tell Chloë about it until five in the morning, the plot of Jazz Hands, the movie that never got made.
You basically at this point could just start making movies with only each other.
Sevigny: Oh, I hope.
Lyonne: I would love that. I think everyone has the Altman/Cassavetes/Fassbender fantasy.
Sevigny: Even Woody and Martin Scorsese. There’s so many filmmakers that have this troupe.
Lyonne: Chloë would be my top pick if I had my own fantasy troupe that I got to be in.
Why did Danny write Antibirth for you? Do you talk about pregnancy as horror on a regular basis?
Lyonne: I don’t know if this is really a horror movie. It’s definitely more of a cult, weirdo movie. But Danny came up to me — I used to date the tour manager for Animal Collective — and Danny’s done a lot of the visuals and stuff for them, and for our friend Lizzi Bougatsos, and this band IUD. He’s like a fancy, proper artist friend of ours, and he came up to me after a show and he was like, “I’m gonna write a movie for you.” He’s a real character, Danny.
Sevigny: Very charismatic and passionate and driven.
Lyonne: It was before Orange Is the New Black, so I was also like, “Holy shit! Somebody still wants to write a movie for me?” [Laughs.] That hadn’t happened to me in like a solid decade. There weren’t a ton of people walking around, being like, “You’re the one!” I couldn’t believe it when he actually showed up and all of a sudden he had a script. We loved the dialogue, we loved those characters, we loved the world that they live in, of this kind of desolate wasteland. And we believe in Danny enough that we were game for kind of whatever. So we went off to try to get it made. It took a long time.
Is it commenting on pregnancy? Abortion?
Lyonne: I think it is sort of commenting on women’s role in society, and how we perceive their value. I think of this documentary Oxyana, about oxy in America, and it’s sort of taking over this shitty town, and the sort of hopelessness and addiction.
Sevigny: And the meth epidemic.
Lyonne: And also this weird drug Krokodil. Have you heard of it? It’s a Russian drug where you basically get gangrene of the arm, and people are just willingly killing themselves because it’s such a hopeless situation they’re in in life. It’s not, like, fun, recreational drug use.
Sevigny: Yeah, our characters are not teenagers kicking around a town. We’re women our age who live in this hopeless loop.
Lyonne: Yeah. I think Danny wanted to comment on the state of America. He loves weirdo conspiracy shit, so he would send us a ton of weird, deep internet references for this thing. And we definitely were referencing a lot of movies we all like a lot, like Possession and Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby and Jacob’s Ladder. Then, for me, I was also thinking about, like, how would Ratso Rizzo live in this world, as opposed to a fragile Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby.
What do you think it’s saying about pregnancy or abortion or women’s control over their own wombs?
Lyonne: What do you think, Chlo-mo?
Sevigny: I don’t know. There was a lot of sensitivity around that when we were working on the script with Danny. And we have a lot of friends that are aging and trying to have kids.
Lyonne: I’m sure you’re that age, too.
Yeah, of course.
Sevigny: So we’ve been through the miscarriages and the abortions; we all know women who have been in all sorts of different circumstances. So we have the jokey moments about it, but then there’s also the sensitive moments. It’s all different.
Lyonne: Danny is one of these real feminist characters. He has a sort of organic, loving take on women being the rulers of the world. So I think it’s almost using our sort of main visual metaphor for existence. The essence of the woman is sort of her fertility. I mean, we’re the ones in control of our destiny. On some level, basically the whole rebellion at the end is like saying, “You don't get to fucking inseminate me. I get to fucking choose who inseminates me.” That’s the culture we’re moving into, along with the free will of, You don’t get to tell me at what age I get to have a kid anymore.
What about that resonated with you in terms of how you view your own fertility, or the pressures of being your age and not having kids? As a 37-year-old woman, I know I feel that. Am I supposed to be procreating right now, and do I even want to? And if I wait, will I lose my chance?
Lyonne: It’s an interesting place that we’re at as a feminist society. The microcosm the three of us are living in is pretty pro-female, and it’s an interesting issue for all of us at this age. In all other respects, I'm meant to be self-supporting, self-sufficient, and self-determining. I pay my own bills. Like a man! I have boyfriends, and then, like, a year later, I get bored of them and move on to the next one, and I treat my life like I’m more passionate about my career.
Sevigny: Of course, everyone has a different experience, or different desires, and dreams, and whatnot. But me, talking to girlfriends who I knew wanted to have children, they all thought it was just going to happen. When it doesn’t happen, you’re faced with all this: It’s the drugs and the egg thing and the embryos, and it just becomes so scientific and forced. That all makes you rethink, what does being a mother really mean to me? Does it mean actually birthing a child? Does it mean adopting a child? Does it mean having a surrogate? There’s almost so many options, which are great, but it also becomes confusing.
Lyonne: I will tell you, I definitely feel like my internal organs have been through enough in this lifetime. Same goes for my knees, my neck, my lower back. Like, I am fucking done. So I will tell you this much: If I ever have a kid, I am definitely using a third party. It is not coming out of my body. I have no interest in having a child move through my organs. I can’t even imagine how I would get out of my bed. I don’t know how people do it. I mean, we were so tired this morning. Imagine being pregnant and having to wake up and there’s a kid there. I don’t know that I could do it! What I would like is a third party to have the kid, a nanny, and a stay-at-home dad, so I could go work on projects at the office, come home, hang out with the kid and the dog, watch some cartoons in the morning. Go to work, make another movie with Chloë.
Lyonne: Fucking call it a day. You know what I mean? My knees can’t hack it, let alone my uterus. My uterus is actually my only interal organ that is in tip-top condition, so I am not planning on messing with that one! That one is going to stay intact, ladies and gentlemen!
And yet in the movie [SPOILER ALERT], Lou gives birth to a whole human.
Lyonne: That is actually what I feel like actual childbirth is like. Ahhhh!!! This 18-year-old, six-foot creature just came out of me. I’m not taking care of this thing! But that’s just me.