"Do I look like I'm in a seventies horror film?" asks Cloë Sevigny as she trundles into a Moroccan café in the East Village, loaded up with shopping bags. And you have to admit that, yes, the plaid flannel shirt, green turtleneck, and bra-high jeans might be more appropriate for a chain-saw massacre than a VIP room. If you don't get her particular brand of cooler-than-permafrost irony, which extends to her outfits, you might find it hard to believe that this is the same girl who was spotted on the street by a fashion editor at age 17 and has since been featured in enough photo spreads to wallpaper a cineplex—even if her movies have rarely played in one.
"None of my films have ever really been that successful," admits Sevigny, crunching through a Greek salad. "Except for Boys Don't Cry. But it was never a film that played in the mall." This fall she will get some living-room exposure when she co-stars with Bill Paxton in Big Love, a much-anticipated HBO series about Mormon polygamists. And this month she turns up as a yuppie housewife in Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda, a tragicomedy of errors with Will Ferrell and Amanda Peet. Being tapped by the Woodman provides a seal of credibility that Sevigny, who just turned 30, is more than ready for. "I feel like my time is going to come now that I'm older," she says. "Like Jennifer Connelly."
It was Kids, the bleak 1995 urban-delinquents drama, that made Sevigny America's alt–teen queen. She was 20, and it was a lot to live up to. A façade of cynical detachment became her trademark. And although she got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance as Hilary Swank's girlfriend in the gender-bending Boys, it seems what she really wants to do is sell out. "I think I've dug my own grave a little bit, being so 'indie,'" she says, wrapping the word in air quotes. "I audition for dumb comedies all the time—I wanted to play the girlfriend in School of Rock, but they wanted a comedienne. I met with Ben Stiller about Zoolander. I even auditioned for Wes Craven!"
Such bald opening-weekend ambitions render even more puzzling her decision to fellate egomaniacal director Vincent Gallo in last year's interminable Brown Bunny. Might that have been a bit of a miscue for someone aspiring to be Jennifer Connelly? "Did you see her ass-to-ass dildo scene in Requiem for a Dream?" Sevigny retorts. "Pretty graphic." Fair enough, but Sevigny's close-up, non-simulated oral sex ended up displayed on a giant billboard above Sunset Boulevard for all of L.A. to see. She's not without some regrets. "My poor mother," she says. "But she always knew I wasn't going to be the prom queen. I'm never going to be Gwyneth Paltrow."
If her self-assessments seem frank, she's equally revelatory about her lifestyle, especially the benefits of It-girlness: "There are deals, like, go here and we'll pay you this amount," she says, lowering her voice and glancing quickly at a nearby table. "I'm sure Paris Hilton gets much more than me, but I can get $30,000 to $50,000. I mean, I've been invited to the opening of a gym for even more money. But I say no because it's a gym—it's tacky." Nor is Sevigny afraid to be blunt about others: "I really liked The Pianist, but I think Polanski's an asshole for sleeping with a 13-year-old girl." Then another blast of truth so uncensored it's practically Tourettic: "And, you know, I don't really agree with the fact that Woody Allen slept with his daughter and married her." Whatever he thinks of Sevigny's value judgments, her new director—who, by the way, married Mia Farrow's adopted daughter, not his own—is sticking to the usual niceties. "She's a very gifted actress with a unique persona," says Allen.
She's so candid she makes your eyes bug out, but that's not why she does it, according to her Kids co-star Rosario Dawson. "It's not 'I'm hip and indie and you don't get it,'" says Dawson. "She does things because she wants to. She doesn't play anything safe." Everything about the umlauted actress seems destined to be a mixture of complexity and candor. Take her love life. She just ended a four-year relationship with a rock bassist, and now she's looking for someone who's "willing to play second fiddle." The other night, Sevigny says, she was "flirting with this really cute guy, but he didn't ask for my number. My friend found out he was too scared." She snorts. "Men are such pussies."