We catch up with the actor and icon about working on Luca Guadagnino’s hit show, becoming a mum, and her fashion evolution
In the opening scene of We Are Who We Are, Luca Guadagnino’s sun-drenched first foray into episodic television, 16-year-old Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) is having a tantrum at the airport. Dressed in a bright orange and leopard print getup, he hovers anxiously around his two mums, who are waiting patiently at the lost and found. “I saw you slip that bottle under your bag,” he says to Sarah (Chloë Sevigny), to which she responds, “It’s a bit early for that don’t you think?”
“I’m thirsty and my fucking bags aren’t here,” he hisses back. She hands him the small flask of alcohol, which he proceeds to guzzle down at speed. “Thank you mummy,” he says, smiling.
Stretched across eight languorous episodes, We Are Who We Are is a coming-of-age story about a group of teenagers living on an American military base in Italy. Typical of Guadagnino, the show thrums with sex and longing; each episode is a one-hour vignette, characterised by long gulfs of tense silence, lingering, aesthetic shots of empty beer bottles and cooked spaghetti, and a lusty score by Dev Hynes. The audience observes the lives of a group of teens navigating the complexities that come with identity, sexuality, and tumultuous family dynamics.
Between the snapshots of zesty youth, long scenes of awkward adolescence encounters, and nascent queerness, rests the matriarchal presence of Sevigny. It’s an interesting evolution, given that she made her debut in Larry Clark’s generation-capturing 1995 film, Kids. Sevigny plays base commander Sarah Wilson, who juggles her job and raising Fraser with her marriage to fellow soldier Maggie (Alice Braga). As a parent, her relationship with Fraser is steeped in contradictions; she spoils and coddles him, though they collide in volatile and, at times, physical ways. In one scene, Fraser slaps his mother across the face and screams, “I hate you!”. In another, Sarah cuts her hand on glass, to which Fraser runs to her aid, sucking the wound of its blood.
It’s this pull-and-push dynamic that makes Sarah and Fraser’s relationship so absorbing to watch. As with Call Me By Your Name and A Bigger Splash, Guadagnino doesn’t shy away from the nitty gritty of human emotion; his characters are messy and imperfect, enrapturing to watch.
As the show gets its UK release, we caught up with Sevigny over FaceTime from her Manhattan apartment, where she’s been locked down with her boyfriend, gallerist Sinisa Mackovic, and their new baby, Vanja.
What were you most excited about when working on We Are Who We Are?
Chloë Sevigny: Mostly, I was looking forward to being around Luca, watching the way he works and learning from him. I was also really excited about Jack, because I’d seen some of his performances before and he’s such a new talent. He has so much energy and his level of professionalism really helped the other kids. So many of them were first-timers and his energy and enthusiasm was just pervasive. It’s great to play opposite a young person too – it’s been a while since I’ve really been around someone his age. Honestly, I don’t hang around that many 16 year olds. (Laughs).
How was it meeting the rest of the cast?
Chloë Sevigny: There was a real ease. Luca was really smart in his casting, and everybody felt really on board. We all met at this little get together Luca had in this beautiful house he was staying at in the countryside. It was very casual, like lots of little snacks and cocktails. Meeting the girls was very flattering, they were very excited about me. It just felt good to know that they even knew who I was, or that they were as excited to work with me as I was with them, you know?
I can imagine. How would you describe Luca as a person?
Chloë Sevigny: He’s like a romantic, a provocateur. He has this really biting sense of humour and he’s a big flirt – all of my favourite things. I would marry him if I could. He’s such a charmer it’s no wonder he’s so successful. All you want to do is bask in his energy and be around him as much as possible.
Did you guys ever hang out between filming?
Chloë Sevigny: There was one night I was invited to dinner in his house, and he didn’t tell me, but Martin Scorsese was there because his daughter’s in the show (Francesca Scorsese). I showed up, looking somewhat like a dirtbag and I remember thinking, ‘I wish he would have told me, I’d go brush up a little bit’. But hearing the two of them talk about film at that dinner was an experience I’ll never forget.
Wait, so Martin Scorsese was just there?
Chloë Sevigny: Yep. Eating pasta.
I heard that the filming took place in a small area near Padua. What did you get up to between filming, besides eating pasta with Martin Scorsese?
Chloë Sevigny: We were staying in this village with lots of spas; people would come for the benefits of the natural springs. So the hotel that I was originally staying at, before I moved to an apartment in the city, was full of old people. We’d be eating in the restaurant and it feeling like The Shining or something. Really, it was very odd. We were there off-season too, so it was empty. It was kind of creepy, honestly. But then we moved to an apartment and it was very different.
“Right now, the way I look at things and what seems appealing has changed. I’m often seduced by a story that a brand is selling and now it all feels a little trivial to me and more excessive” – Chloë Sevigny
Kid Cudi plays Caitlin’s dad in the show. Did you see him much?
Chloë Sevigny: I’ve known him for years, just from New York and stuff. He’s always super lovely and generous, and maintains this aura of like mystery to him. (On set), he was more reserved. He had a crew of people that were there with him, he mostly stuck with them.
I heard that the crew didn’t know you were pregnant while filming. Were there any near giveaways?
Chloë Sevigny: No, but towards the end I was shooting a nude scene. I mean, it was pretty obvious that I was pregnant at that point, so I had to tell Luca and try and figure out how to shoot around it. He said he was gonna fix it in post which, in the end, I don’t think that he did, which is kind of unfortunate because I feel like, as a colonel in the army, I should look really fit. But that’s okay!
The show challenges binary notions of gender and sexuality, especially in its portrayal of Fraser and Caitlin. How was it playing a mum while being pregnant yourself?
Chloë Sevigny: I was really taking in (Jack’s) essence, the boy essence, because at that time, I didn’t know what sex my baby was going to be. He’s a boy – though you never know what his path will be and who he’ll want to be – but people are so gender-obsessed. Like you go to the playground and all the boys have short hair and all the girls have long hair – the gender stuff is really amplified. It’s part of the reason I was drawn to the show. I feel like it’s such an important topic right now and people need to have a greater understanding of that. Hopefully it’ll bring some tolerance.
You’re obviously a style icon. Are you going to introduce the baby to fashion as a way of expressing himself?
Chloë Sevigny: My mother did that for me, she had a toy chest full of clothes. Plus there’s his father’s various fashion as well – so it’s unavoidable (laughs). I hope he’s into dresses and all kinds of stuff. He has a few already.
How do you think your approach to fashion changed since the beginning of the pandemic?
Chloë Sevigny: Right now, the way I look at things and what seems appealing has changed. I’m often seduced by a story that a brand is selling and now it all feels a little trivial to me and more excessive. So I think that the way I’m looking at things is changing and what I feel like I need or desire is changing. I mean, I still want to look cute. I’m also dealing with a different body shape that I’m used to having. But yeah, I think my desire for any sort of material goods is diminishing, thank the lord.
How have you been keeping happy over the pandemic?
Chloë Sevigny: I just looked at my baby’s face; I cuddle and hug him; I’m with my boyfriend and I think of our little unit. I feel so proud to have the show coming out now and what it’s addressing. It just seems important and I feel lucky to be doing good work with good filmmakers.
We Are Who We Are is available to watch on BBC Three iPlayer now