Chloë Sevigny is known best for her iconic roles in films like “Boys Don’t Cry” and TV show’s like “Big Love”. In FX’s “American Horror Story: Asylum” Chloë plays the role of “Shelley,” one of the inmates at Briarcliff Manor committed because of nymphomania. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Chloë about the show and what we can expect this season.
Adam Lawton: What drew you to the project “American Horror Story: Asylum”?
Chloë Sevigny: I guess it was having watched the first season and just being a fan of the show. I just thought it was so rich, the production design and costumes and how much detail went into it and I just thought it was wildly entertaining. I was hoping the second season would be as much so. I didn’t get to read any scripts prior to signing on, so I was kind of going in on blind faith hoping that it would be what I wanted it to be and it’s proven so.
AL: Were you able to work with Ryan [Murphy] with your character and develop Shelley” along, or was everything kind of fed to you week by week?
CS: Yes, it was more week to week. I mean I think that’s mostly how television works. It’s a real writer’s medium and it’s not so much collaborative. It’s not like a film, so it’s pretty much all on the page. There were some bits where I asked Ryan for more lines, so that seemed to beef it up here and there and they tried to do that for me. That was probably the extent of it.
AL: What is it working with James Cromwell? I don’t know what he’s doing to you, but it’s really scary.
CS: Oh, it gets much scarier. He was good. I mean I was a huge fan of his. I actually saw him in a café right before we started shooting and I went up to him introduced myself and he just like, “I’m so looking forward to chopping off your legs.” Yes, he was great. I mean you know he was really into rehearsing the scenes before and really exploring it to its fullest, so that was kind of nice. Sometimes people just go in and just hit their marks and he really wanted to work everything out before. He was really … in that regard.
AL: Can give us some insight into preparation you do with James Cromwell, who’s “Dr. Arden,” and if you discuss the scene ahead of time. These are not just typical scenes. There’s a lot of almost physical abuse, and if you can give us some insight into your conversations with these actors to prepare?
CS: Well, yes, there’s always a stunt guy on set also, and you go through all the motions. You kind of block out the physical bits, the throwing and the pulling and tugging and if it gets too rough, because sometimes an actor can lose himself in a scene and so I always remind them I’m supposed to sell it. Whoever is getting the brunt of it is supposed to do all the acting, do all the selling of the violence and whatnot, so there’s a lot of—especially in the scene in the office with Tim and I, there was a lot of—I think we blocked that scene for like three hours, far longer than it took us to shoot it even just getting all the action down. I mean it’s quite scary because James was so big and he was wielding this big kind of paperweight at me. He was getting really close and it was pretty frightening actually doing that scene. I was really exhausted at the end of that day, and it was quite scary while we were in it. His arms are so long I was so afraid he was actually going to knock me out.
AL: Could just talk about the challenge of acting with no legs?
CS: Well, the prosthetic pieces that they put on made it impossible to straighten my legs, so I had to keep my legs bent all day and I had to be wheeled around in a wheelchair and I was feeling quite helpless. It was a strange feeling to have to need assistance to do lots of different things. And that was probably the most challenging part, feeling kind of helpless in that way.
AL: Can you give your take on Shelley’s character. She’s obviously billed as a nympho, but then there’s that question of whether she truly is addicted to it, or she just likes it more than other people. What’s your take on that?
CS: I don’t know if people truly are addicted to that. There’s so much talk about it as of late. I think that she was a little wild and her husband had it within his power to commit her and I think kind of once she’s in there, she kind of goes with it to come to who she is and how she identifies herself. So I think that she probably yes really likes sex. All the reaction, I don’t know if she’s quite a real nymphomaniac.
AL: You’re playing a very specific character here, an inmate in a sanitarium and then for your next role you’re playing a driven detective, and that seems like a more grounded part. I’m wondering how you shift as an actor from one role to another? Do you have to shake off Shelley before you play Catherine in “Those Who Kill”, or you find moving between roles to be an easy transition?
CS: I find it pretty easy. I’ve already wrapped “American Horror Story” a couple of months ago. I think they might have me come back for something else. I’m not sure, so I’ll have plenty of time and then of course delving into the scripts and research and … with playing “Catherine” they’ll probably be some training involved also, so just trying to immerse yourself in whatever you’re doing at the time. While we were shooting “American Horror Story”, I was also shooting “Portlandia”, so I was going from one set to the next, and I’d never really done that before. And “Portlandia” was so new for me because it’s all improvisation and trying to be funny and all that, so it was quite difficult when you’re shooting two at the same time. But I think having basically … is a better way to go.