cannes 2019

That Time Chloë Sevigny Stole a Prop Cop Car With Bill Murray and Adam Driver

Photo: Focus Features

Last time Vulture talked to Chloë Sevigny back in 2018, the actress told us she “needed a job.” Good news: She got one, playing one of the leads in Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, which premiered at Cannes Tuesday night. Sevigny is fantastic as Mindy Morrison, a nervous cop horrified to be tasked with slaying the zombies that have invaded her small town. Mindy vomits at the sight of her first disemboweled body, weeps openly when Bill Murray’s police chief Cliff Robertson mows down a pedestrian zombie, and consistently verges on a nervous breakdown every time she sees her fellow townspeople — and dead relatives — reanimated and bloodthirsty. For Sevigny, who usually plays women with a bit more bite, the part is against type, which is something that, at first, made her a bit apprehensive.

After the film’s premiere and press conference, I met Sevigny at the InterContinental Hotel to talk about why playing Mindy felt, at least initially, like “taking one for the team” — as well as what it was like to temporarily steal a prop cop car and drive around upstate New York with Bill Murray, why it’s “so annoying” to sit at dozens of Cannes dinners surrounded by men ignoring her, why she “can’t stand” watching herself on camera, the one time she was convinced she had experienced a past life, where to find the best vintage in New York City, and why she wasn’t at the Met Gala this year.

Let’s talk about the movie — you said in the press notes that you felt like this character was “taking one for the team.” Can you elaborate?
Did I say that?

Yeah, in regards to the character being a bit more nervous and damsel-y than usual for you.
Oh, yeah. I’ve never played that. I remember when Jim and I sat down to talk about it, he was like, “I know she isn’t the strongest or most feminist of characters. But she’s the trope of the damsel in distress, a woman in peril, whatnot.” Actually, when I saw the film, she came off stronger than I anticipated. I think you really feel for her. She’s the only character really playing the stakes in the movie. I was really pleased with the performance — normally I can’t stand watching myself.

Really? Why?
I don’t know. Just, yuck. I overact. I’m like, “Why didn’t anyone tell me I look so stupid?” [Laughs.]

Do you feel that way about all of your movies? Your old movies?
Not my old movies, no. More recent years. Adam Driver doesn’t watch himself, ever. Ever.

What’s your favorite performance you’ve ever done?
Probably Boys Don’t Cry because I was so in it. It’s so emotional and I was so invested in it, and one of the bigger parts I’ve had the opportunity to play. And I love Nicki on Big Love.

But your newer roles …
Eh, they’re here and there. I loved Lean on Pete.

The last time you talked to Vulture, you said you wanted a job —
Did I? [Laughs.] I mean, I’m always looking for a job! I’m an actor. Our jobs are inconsistent.

Is there anything else on the horizon?
I have another film coming out Thanksgiving, Queen & Slim, directed by Melina Matsoukas and written by Lena Waithe. And I have a miniseries that we’re negotiating, that’s very … prestigious. I hope it all comes together.

What is it?
I can’t tell you! What if it falls apart? [Laughs.]

Can you give me a hint?

Everybody has sort of a meta arc going on in The Dead Don’t Die, a self-referential moment or character tic. What was yours? I couldn’t figure it out.
I don’t think I had one! I wasn’t at that party. I was at some other party. I’m like in a different movie. I know. Jim gave me the same hair and the glasses that I had in Broken Flowers. But he just wanted Bill, me, and Adam to all be in glasses. I don’t know why I didn’t get anything. I’ll have to complain.

You guys filmed in Fleischmanns in upstate New York last summer. What was it like for you up there — did people notice or recognize you?
Oh my God, I love being up there in the summertime, staying in Woodstock, shooting outside of Woodstock. Fleischmanns is this small Hasidic community. They were really enthusiastic. They love Bill; they love Jim. They were all coming out and really excited about us filming there. It felt really nice to be embraced like that! Usually people hate film shoots.

Do they?
Well, you know, in New York. People are always complaining about the trucks.

I still get excited!
I always do, too, but I’m in the business. Though if I’m on the street and there’s a huge delay, I get mad. But it was great, spending the summer upstate. There’d be bear warnings on set around base camp. It was like, “Oh my God, we’re in the woods!” [Laughs.] And driving home at night, the teamsters would be like, “Be careful of the nocturnal creatures, and the deer.” And they had these weird things to put on the grill of your car to deter the deer. And I had a little house where my friends would come and stay, and they’re in a band, and Jim loves the band, and it was really sweet.

Were you guys all hanging out a ton while you weren’t filming?
We weren’t really so much. Adam has a house in — I don’t know if I should say. Further away. Steve [Buscemi] has a house up there. Jim has a house up there. Bill has a house up there. And the rest of us were put up in different spots. I hung out with Caleb Landry Jones a few times, took him out with my friends. We went to see Kim Gordon play in Kingston, and I took him out to dinner the other night. We hung out.

Caleb Landry Jones is a kook.
You’re telling me!

What was it like to see Kim Gordon with him?
She’s an old friend of mine. She has this band called Body/Head. He’s very … curious. He’s a very curious young man.

What is he curious about?
Everything …

Did Bill do any sort of Bill Murray–ish stuff around town?
Oh, God, are you kidding me? One day we were shooting outside the diner in the pouring rain. So we had to wait for the rain to pass, and Adam and Bill and I were in the cop car, in uniforms. Bill’s like, “Wanna go for a drive?” We’re like, “Okay …” He pulls out without telling any of the producers.

In the fake cop car?
Yes! And in uniforms, which is probably illegal. He’s like, “Does anyone have their phone on them?” And we’re like, “No.” “Does anyone have any money?” “No.” We’re driving around upstate in a cop car, no money, no phones. But he’d gotten a map in a restaurant, you know, one of those that’s to scale, like, “here’s the corner store.” He was like, “I remember this farm stand I went to!” He pulled up to this farm stand, with the lights on. Joyriding with Bill Murray. He got free shit at the farm stand. He’s like, “I’ll come back and pay later.”

Do you think he went back?
Who knows. I’m sure they were thrilled.

Just like the Hasidic Jewish people.
All of them. One was a super cinephile. Another person in the community would come out with DVDs and ask us to sign them.

The film is pretty political. Did you guys discuss that on set, the Trump references?
No, no. And Jim denies that it’s political. He doesn’t see any Trump references, besides Steve Buscemi’s [“Keep America White Again” ] red hat.

The whole thing felt pointed to me.
I don’t know if it’s just Trump — the state of the world in general, what’s happening in America, which is pretty universal right now.

So what do you think happens when we die?
[Laughs.] When we die?! God. I don’t know; I guess I’m still trying to figure that out. One would hope to be reunited with loved ones. But I do feel like I’ve had — once in my life, and I’m not this kind of person at all — I met someone and felt like we had unfinished business. That was the only time I felt a strong sense of “past life.”

Who was it?
This Italian kid.

A kid?
That’s what I call young men. [Laughs.] I always call young men “kids.” I don’t know why. Maybe because it feels dismissive, which is comforting. And I’m not into calling women “girls.” I say “women.” “All right, women!” “Let’s go, women!” But boys are kids. Anyway, what was I saying?

Your past life.
We had unfinished business.

Did you know what it was?
No. I’m not sure what it was. But the afterlife. Sheesh. Being raised Catholic, there’s some deep-seated …

Have you ever had a ghost experience?
No. Unfortunately. My Catholic force field keeps them at bay. I’d like to! I made a short about it, premiering here [White Echo]. But the ghost in my film is the woman’s fears and desires, encapsulated in this figure.

Where did that idea come from?
Experiences I’ve had with friends and my own desire to be a director. It’s basically about me. Do I think I can be a director? How do I convince other people, and when I have that opportunity, what do I do with it? Will I be afraid or will I embrace it?

And having made the film, did you answer that question?
I’m still learning. Still trying. I think I have certain abilities, but it takes some work.

What are those abilities?
I think being malleable and thinking on my toes, problem-solving, decision-making.

Do you feel ready to do a feature?
If I had the right material, I would be. I’m so OCD to a fault that I think it’d be nice to do another short really run-and-gun, really loose. Everything is so preplanned because I’m worried about time, which is money. And my shorts have been expensive.

Every zombie in the film has their one-word capitalist fixation, the thing they’re obsessed with both in life and in death. What would yours be?
I think my character says “Ronnie” at the end. Because she loves Ronnie [Adam Driver’s character]. Who doesn’t? He’s so handsome on the screen.

So handsome. So large.
Both of them. I’m five-foot-eight, and I look like a shrimp next to them. I’m not small! Is that tiny?

You’d make it on America’s Next Top Model. That’s the height cutoff. But what would your word be in real life?
Vintage. [Laughs.] When the [zombie who’s obsessed with fashion] came up at the end of the film, I was like, Oh God, that’s kind of me. How embarrassing.

Where’s the best vintage in New York that we don’t know about? Tell us a vintage secret.
Depends on what you want. What period? Do you want consignment? Vintage designer? You don’t want ’30s or ’40s?

Let’s go with ’70s.
’70s! I’d go to Ritual on Broome Street. Really good ’70s.

Speaking of your iconic fashion: Why weren’t you at the Met Gala? I was sad not to see you!
I wasn’t invited! [Laughs.] I’ve been … enough times. I’d love to go again if anyone ever wants to invite me; it’s really fun. It was really refreshing this year. The theme was great, and the sense of inclusion — it’s unfortunate we even have to mention it — it was nice to see so much diversity, when normally it’s just a parade of you-know-what. But yeah, I wasn’t invited.

How many times have you been?
Ten times or something.

And Cannes?
Similar. It has its challenges, but it’s fun. I like the glamour.

What’s been your favorite?
Probably my first one. Or, no. Cannes 69. 69th year. All of the merch was great. [Laughs.] I bought like 100 hats and bags. Duh. I played Kitty, my first short, out of competition. Being here for the first time as a filmmaker was really great.

What are the challenges?
Jet lag, lack of sleep. If I don’t have seven to eight hours I’m useless, and right now I’m on four to five, so I feel pretty rough. I still feel like the male dominance is challenging. Certain dinners, all these fucking men are just kissing each other’s asses, and you’re nonexistent. It feels pretty real in that sense. Not that that’s a challenge, it’s more of an annoyance.

It’s the same for journalists. I had a dinner like that the other night. We should be having our own dinners, women only.
Yes! If you have one, invite me.

Chloë Sevigny Stole a Cop Car With Bill Murray, Adam Driver