Sam Whitehead / Time Out New York / February 26 - March 5, 1998
Kids star Chloe Sevigny teaches a lesson no one will forget in Hazelwood Jr. High.
"Oh god," worries Chloe Sevigny. "Nobody's going to come see this show. My first play, and I end up torching little girls."
The talented, bewitching 22-year-old actress would almost have a point - if it weren't for the fact that she's the star of that play and is making her theatrical debut in a site-specific production by the New Group, under the direction of Scott Elliott. The combination is bound to make the torching of little girls highly exciting to a New York audience.
Based on a grisly incident that shattered the predominantly Pentecostal quietude of southern Indiana in January 1992, Hazelwood Jr. High, which is Rob Urbinati's first play, involves a clique of teenage girls whose lives are forever changed when a 12-year-old newcomer hits town. There's no denying the story's compelling ingredients. From lesbian love triangles to a horrifying crime, Hazelwood appears to have it all. Sevigny's character even practices black magic - but, the actress explains, "The witchcraft has nothing to do with the crime. It's that I'm obsessed with blood and drinking people's blood, and, well, you know, that sort of thing. At one point I suck on a girl's scab. Actually, she's got a hickey now from all the attention."
That sort of attention may sound appealing to some, but consider the work behind the hickey. Although she's having a great time with Hazelwood, Sevigny admits that she's "never dealt with this whole rehearsal process before, and there have been times when I was going crazy and wanted to kill the other girls. They were wanting to go over this line and go over that line. I mean, I had to walk out of the room and breathe. But Scott [Elliott] was just so patient. Especially with six young girls all on their period and getting bummed out with their bodies and how big they are. They're actually not big, but they feel that they are. I mean, they're teenage girls."
Another thing Sevigny hasn't really dealt with is having to project her voice onstage. "Scott," she confesses, "yells at me every scene, 'Louder! You're not in film anymore.' And I trust him 100 percent, more than any other director I've ever worked with. Harmony will hate me for saying that."
Harmony is, of course, Sevigny's old pal (and one-time boyfriend) Harmony Korine, the controversial young filmmaker who wrote the screenplay for the movie that put Sevigny on the map, the Larry Clarkdirected Kids. Recently, he also featured her in the notoriously bizarre Gummo. "Harmony was pissed at the treatment of Gummo in this country," Sevigny says, "because it's been to a lot of film festivals in Europe and grabbed first prize. Yet in America... It's really just Janet Maslin and her New York Times review. She called it the 'worst movie of the year.' She's a strange bird."
Of her recent, intensely steamy portrayal of a scamming teenage sexpot in the new twist-and-turn film-noir feature, Palmetto, by Volker Schlöndorff (Death of a Salesman, The Tin Drum), Sevigny talks straight. "Volker didn't really take control," she recalls. "He was like, 'Whatever, wear whatever, do whatever.' And then Woody [Harrelson] came in demanding rewrites and insisting things be done this way. And I was like, 'Ugh.' But what am I going to say? He's Woody. He's the star. I mean, when I first read the script, it wasn't all about tits and ass. But now it's like a late-night HBO soft pornography movie. But I felt I did good work. I created a real character because" - and Sevigny drops into a highly self-mocking accent of a grande dame - "I'm a character actress, goddamnit!"
And what does an exceptional character actress have to say about her nonexistent training? "Scott was telling me about some school of acting. It's named after a guy. Oh God - I don't know what I'm talking about. I sound like an idiot." She then lunges at my tape recorder, madly pushing buttons - fast forward, rewind, record, everything.
"I always talk so much trash," she explains. "I have to learn to keep my mouth shut." Don't even think about it, Chloe.