Chloe Sevigny has been trying to do a fresh take on the Lizzie Borden tale for over a decade.
A fateful trip to the house in Fall River, Massachusetts, convinced her to look at Borden’s life through a different, more empathetic lens, pulling back the curtain on the suffocating circumstances surrounding the infamous 1892 ax murders of her father and stepmother and what might have driven her to do it. Borden was tried and acquitted of the killings, but continues to be a source of intrigue today.
After years of false starts, “Lizzie,” a tense and beautifully rendered psychological thriller co-starring Kristen Stewart as Bridget Sullivan, the maid and a pivotal figure in Borden’s life.
Sevigny, 43, and Stewart, 28, it girls of different generations, spoke to The Associated Press about the shoot, why the nudity in it is “punk” and directing short films before features.
The following remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: How did you decide to go after Kristen?
Sevigny: Bryce (Kass), the writer, said Kristen and I was like ‘Oh yeah. No one else.’ So then we went about trying to seduce her.
Stewart: I’m really easy. It was not difficult.
AP: Visiting the house helped you figure out the story?
Sevigny: It bore out our decision to tell the story this way. Not only were we interested in the love story, a tragic love story at that, and them both searching for freedom and finding each other, but also just the practicality that she (Bridget) was outside the house. There was no way she couldn’t have known what was going on.
AP: Kristen what did you find compelling about Bridget?
Stewart: I felt protective over her. She’s got truly no voice. I really liked the kind of lens that she provided us of Lizzie. The way she saw her was really sweet and kind of innocent but also pure.
AP: It shows women at that time of different classes.
Sevigny: They’re all Andrew (Borden’s) prisoners. Me and Abby and Emma and Bridget. We’re all prisoners in this household together with no options.
AP: Tell me about the decision to be fully exposed in this film.
Sevigny: The movie deserved it. That’s what the movie needed. I think it was even my decision. I wanted the movie to have that. And I think it’s kind of punk as a 43-year-old to be naked. I feel like we’re bombarded with these beauty ideals and I am trying to in my small way (with my Instagram) to say look at this woman, look at Anna Magnani, she’s a great beauty, and have girls see that and see more diversity and shapes and sizes and looks and know that these people are also appreciated for whatever they bring, not only their looks, but their talent.
AP: I saw on your Instagram that you two hung out at this bar, Original Pinkie Masters, during the shoot in Georgia.
Sevigny: That was I think the first gay bar in Savannah. And there’s an art school there so a lot of the art students and professors would be there. It was a nice generation gap. They had a great jukebox with all this amazing obscure music and it was just our local.
Stewart: It’s just a great bar.
Sevigny: Cool crowd. Nobody bothered her. They bothered me more than her.
Stewart: Which means it’s a REALLY cool bar.
Sevigny: It just means they’re older.
AP: Why did you both start out directing shorts before features?
Sevigny: I was frustrated as an actress, always giving myself over to someone else’s vision. Not that I didn’t always agree with their vision or wanted to be part of it or thought they were great filmmakers, but still you’re not in the editing room, it’s somebody else’s thing. I wanted to have my own thing and express my own ideas and visions and loves.
Stewart: Yeah same, I started so young, I’ve never felt more seen or expressed or like allowed to really be as when you’ve really told a story well, one that got inside you. I don’t draw a huge distinction between acting and directing. I think as an actor I love the indulgence, but I don’t want to say lack of control because I’m very controlling, I’m always in the director’s back pocket like, “How is this being seen?” I want to be able to fit into your frame perfectly. I want to know what it looks like.
Sevigny: I don’t. I become too self-aware.
Stewart: But I wanted to do a short before a feature because I had never done it before. Straight-up. And I love what shorts do for people’s willingness to do weird things. You’re not trying to entertain people, not that that’s something that I’m not into, I’m into that too, but it’s fun to do truly a free-verse poem.
Sevigny: More of an expression.
Stewart: It doesn’t have to be an hour and-a-half, it doesn’t have to be digestible. It just has to have a taste.
Sevigny: People are like why are you doing another short, why aren’t you doing a feature? And I have such reverence for feature filmmakers, I’m not prepared yet. I still am experimenting and learning.
AP: And as actors you both are often rebelling against the big business of Hollywood, consistently choosing interesting projects and directors to work with.
Sevigny: It’s called taste.
Stewart: And she strikes again! Dude! Honestly if I said that I would sound like such a tit, but because it’s her, because you genuinely actually have the pull, you can actually lift up that statement and (expletive) hurl it.