BlackBook Interview: Chloë Sevigny Talks ‘Lean On Pete’ and Evolving from Muse to Auteur

Dating back to the early ‘90s, Chloë Sevigny has held her position as the perpetually cool girl of film. Having attracted the attention and enthusiasm of writers and directors from get, today she continues to carve out her own path with challenging roles and even a transition to working behind the camera.

Her most recent turn is in Andrew Haigh’s Lean On Pete, based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin. Sevigny plays Bonnie, a horse jockey who takes a young Charley (Charlie Plummer) under her wing. With a maternal quality to the role, Bonnie is a fearless example of a woman in a man’s world, something the actress can very much relate to.

We recently spoke with her about Lean On Pete and how her career has evolved to where it is today. As women are more than ever claiming their rightful place in the industry, she remains a force to be reckoned with.

What was it like working with Andrew Haigh as a director?

I’m surprised at his humor, because his films tend to be a little more serious. He’s just so pleasant, he’s so confident, he knows what he wants. He has the respect of all the cast and all the crew. He really listens to you when you talk to him. You can tell there’s just a reverence for him from everybody on the set. He has this sensitivity toward the story, toward the characters, toward the animals, first and foremost. Being with him was just such a pleasant experience. Charlie [Plummer] had it much rougher than I did because he was on set every day with the extreme weather conditions, out in the desert and the rural, more difficult shooting circumstances. But for me, it was just a really pleasant set. Everybody just wanted to be there and work for him and do the best they could to make this movie.

What was it like working with these horses as scene partners, both in the physical and emotional sense?

I mean, for the physical part, there are a lot of handlers around. There’s a real hush that has to take over the set, and there are lots of different people with opinions on how to handle them. They’re all there for the benefit of the horse and for the movie, and they wanted the horses to perform to tell the story and help convey whatever Andrew wants out of a certain scene. But there are just a lot of people around when there are horses around. So, that was kind of the more difficult aspect, I guess.

Charlie’s character has an absentee mother in the movie. Would you say there was kind of a maternal quality to your character, as brief as their interaction may be?

I think it’s a little less maternal, a little more that she’s just been around these tracks. She’s probably seen other kids that have worked for Del. She sees how Charley is getting attached to the horse, and she just wants to remind him this is a tough world. “This horse doesn’t perform. This horse is getting fired.” That’s her line, I think. She just wants to teach him but not coddle him too much. He’s probably a grown man in her eyes. I think she’s been working since she was like eight years old.

You’ve worked with Steve Buscemi before. What was it like reuniting with him?

Steve’s so lovely, and he brings so much to the part. Being on set when he would improvise with the guys around, he would just ground the scene in a way and help everybody find a way into it. He’s just a great guy. I know he was giving Charlie bits of advice toward the end there.

You’ve done a lot of critically acclaimed films. How would you say you’ve come to choose the roles that you take?

I mean, I mostly gravitate toward auteurs. I mostly like writers or directors that I feel are visionaries or you know, want to tell stories in a different way and different kinds of stories. Those are the filmmakers that I’m attracted to. So, I’ve had a pretty lucky run so far. I don’t have a job right now, so I’m in that weird spot that an actor goes to, that dark familiar place. I’m hoping for another job soon. But I probably would have played any part in this movie just to get a chance to be a part of one of Andrew’s films. It’s kind of how I’ve navigated my career.

You’ve been directing a bit lately too. Do you see yourself moving more behind the camera?

I do. I’m developing my third and possibly final short – I don’t ever want to say for sure. I’m gonna do that in May. And I’m always looking for material for a feature. I’ve had some books that I’ve loved, but unfortunately other people beat me to them. I have some ideas myself, more like themes, less like stories. I wrote my third short, and that was the hardest part, translating these ideas that I had into dialogue or story. How do you tell this idea of a woman’s relationship to her power through her relationships? That’s the new challenge for me to figure out. Writing is hard – understatement of the year. I found it really challenging. A challenge is good, but I’m still trying to figure it out.

You’ve always been a really outspoken voice. How have you seen the power dynamics of Hollywood shift lately with all these viral movements?

Well, like my friend Natasha Lyonne, she wrote this new TV show that she pitched to Netflix with Amy Poehler. They’re in production now, and she hired all female writers, all female directors, I’m gonna do an episode on it. Personally, having more experiences where women and more people of color are in positions of power and being able to tell their stories, it seems there’s more opportunity for that. People are embracing that. I think that’s the only way to invoke change unfortunately, is to be in power. You’re seeing that, and more people are more open to that. There are more stories being told and more people going to the theater and seeing them and responding to them. There’s a wider audience out there, and I’m so enthusiastic about all those things.
I watched the Independent Spirit Awards, and that Timotheé Chalamet, his speech was just so positive. It was so refreshing. He’s like a wonder child. I feel Charlie’s a bit like that as well, just a lack of pretense. There isn’t this cocky bravado that used to be attached to young actors as much. I don’t know if it’s just this generation, but it’s really refreshing, and I’m in love with all of them.

Lean On Pete is now in select theaters. Watch the trailer below.

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