'Big' Sister

Chloe Sevigny is relishing her time on the small screen -- and so are the critics

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Sitting in a cafe in New York's East Village in early May, Chloe Sevigny sounds disgusted.

"I found them both despicable and repulsive," she says. "They're the worst role models for girls I've ever seen in my life."

It might be one thing for a 34-year-old woman from the wealthy suburbs of Connecticut (which she is) to be a moral scold, but this is coming from an actress who has gone to the darkest and stickiest of places for a rogue's gallery of directors -- Larry Clark (1995's "Kids"), Harmony Korine (1997's "Gummo"), Lars von Trier (2003's "Dogville") and Vincent Gallo (2003's "The Brown Bunny"). And though it makes sense that the objects of her scorn are the "vapid" women of MTV's "The Hills" and the CW's "Gossip Girl," what best explains Sevigny's severe attack is her fa-la-la laughter which quickly follows, suggesting her criticism is more play than proselytizing.

"I'll tell you what I love most about Chloe," says Bill Paxton, Sevigny's co-star on HBO's "Big Love," which aired its season finale in March. "It's her drollness. And, man, she can roll her eyes like nobody's business. Think of all the actresses out there and you can usually group them into a few groups. But Chloe's completely different."

Sevigny has managed to apply her unique personal flair throughout a 15-year film career speckled with several memorable parts, including her debut in "Kids" and her Oscar-nominated supporting turn in "Boys Don't Cry" (1999). And though the character she's most popular for playing is herself -- delivering attitude and appearing as a style setter at downtown galleries or uptown fashion shows -- a new contender is her current role on "Big Love," as Nicki, one of three polygamist wives married to Paxton's Bill Henrickson.

Sevigny garnered accolades all season, as Nicki was increasingly torn by the painful confusion sown by her polygamous sect upbringing and her relatively mainstream life with Henrickson and his other two wives (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn and Ginnifer Goodwin). She lied, plotted and stole her way to becoming the agitating, driving force in the drama; and this season has given her a new layer of depth, revealing a defining crisis from her childhood. It's no wonder critics and blogs are calling this Sevigny's best performance since "Boys" -- and why an Emmy nomination seems within reach. (HBO has upped Sevigny's chances, shifting her, along with Goodwin, to the supporting actress category.)

"This season has really featured her story," says "Big Love" co-creator/co-writer Will Scheffer, along with Mark Olsen, who adds, "At the beginning of the year we took the temperature of the characters and we felt that Nicki needed a lot of attention."

"(Her veteran co-star) Grace Zabriskie said to Chloe, 'This was your year,' " Scheffer adds. "All the other actors know it."

Although the buzz is building, Sevigny has been happy to be out of Nicki's head since the third season wrapped in September. "August is coming too quick," Sevigny says of the start of shooting of the fourth season. "I want more time."

Between bites of egg and sips of herbal tea, wearing an eclectic ensemble of Pee-wee Herman-high blue jeans, a tucked-in checkered dress shirt and cardigan sweater, Sevigny is enjoying being back home in New York and is keeping herself busy. This morning, she did the DVD commentary for "The Last Days of Disco" ("I couldn't remember a thing"), and she recently got back from the West Coast, where she took in some of her favorite bands at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival while gossip Web sites took her in ("I hear my socks were very controversial").

She's also just finished shooting two indie films -- "Barry Munday" and Werner Herzog's "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done." "It was nice to go off and play those characters," Sevigny says, dismissing her roles as "just the girlfriends," but, she adds, "they were tender. (In contrast), Nicki is always up against the world."

Sevigny is finding her "Big Love" success a many-edged sword. "I've learned to love acting on a television show," she says. "But now it's harder to make movies. I get so comfortable playing Nicki. We get so many takes. And she's so fully realized. It's a dream part."

Last season, Sevigny says, the "Big Love" writers were thinking of making Nicki illiterate, which she would have liked, because it would have made her "more sympathetic," she says.

It's been a bone of contention. At the beginning of the second season, Scheffer and Olsen began to feel something wasn't quite right with her performance. "And then we realized that she was subverting the part," Olsen says. "She was finding opportunities to play her as a nice character."

It's become a source of humor, Olsen says, who imitates Sevigny on set, saying, "I know, I know -- be a bitch."

Sevigny signed on for six seasons, and she says she'll see it through, while making "as many" films in between.

"I tend to get off on directors who are crazy people," Sevigny says of her film choices. But that may be changing. "To tell you the truth, I'm so over directors. They're such egomaniacs. Their word is god -- it irritates me to all hell. I like the writers."

And though she concedes she likes being directed, Sevigny's finding a groove in television. "It's more of a writer's medium," she says. She relishes the regular table readings for "Big Love," where she likes to ham it up, getting some of the bigger laughs.

It's not unlike a family, she says, one in which everyone knows each other's quirks. Certain people are always late -- not her, she says -- or cheerful (Goodwin) while Sevigny, she says, takes on the role of the "cynical, cranky New Yorker."

Peering over at a reporter's notebook, Sevigny says she needs to go. In an hour, she has to interview one of her music idols, Depeche Mode singer David Gahan, for Interview magazine. "I'm soooo nervous," she says. "They said I should have 20 questions. How many did you have for me?"

About 20, so here's the last one: Could she rank which of the three top current news items -- the William Morris-Endeavor talent agency merger, Swine flu, or the global economic recession -- is most impacting her life?

"I guess the merger," she says with an inhale that sounds like a high-pitched cross between a laugh and a sigh. "I talked with my agent at Endeavor and she said she's not dropping me."

Not the recession?

"I work in television, so I think I'll be OK," she demurs. "And I'm very frugal."

Or Swine flu?

"Oh, Swine flu, SARS, that whole thing," she says, brushing it aside as her eyes glide toward the ceiling. "Not that scared."
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