Chloë Sevigny, 43, stars in Lean on Pete, a sensitive drama opening April 6 about an Oregon teen who bonds with a vulnerable racehorse. Sevigny plays a veteran jockey who competes in low-stakes races.
TIME: So I saw the movie—
Sevigny: Did you cry?
Oh yeah. I love crying in movies.
Me too. So cathartic. How many times did you cry? I’ve seen it three times and sobbed every time. I’m always like, this is going to get easier as I see it more, and then even though I know what coming, every turn… I tell everybody, “If you love a good cry, go see this movie. Don’t wear eye makeup, and bring tissues.”
Performers seem to have varying feelings about watching themselves onscreen. Are you able to have enough remove from your own performance to cry in a movie?
The smaller the part, the easier it is to watch, and the more I can just enjoy other people’s performances. This movie is kind of told in chapters—you have this life with Charley [played by Charlie Plummer] and me and Steve [Buscemi]’s characters, and then he moves on. And that’s early in the film, so it’s easy to let go and immerse myself in the film and the other characters and Charley’s journey.
What made you want to do this film?
I love [director] Andrew [Haigh] as a filmmaker. I love the way he sits with his characters. It’s a very immersive experience. When you’re watching his films, I think you’re not that aware of the camera, or at least I’m not, and I just kind of lose myself in the characters and what they’re going through. I was just moved by this boy’s journey, a kid searching for a family, for a home, whatever that means to him.
What was your relationship to horses before this?
I was really frightened of horses. They’re so large, and I’ve never really had any experience around them. I got to spend a lot of time learning to ride and take care of them. A lot of them were old racehorses and they had past traumas that would come up when they’d see the track again. I have so much reverence for them.
How did you immerse yourself in this world of low-stakes, Pacific Northwest horse-racing?
I read the book [the movie is based on], which was very helpful and much darker than Andrew’s film, and goes more in depth into that world. Willy [Vlautin], the author, provided me with all this research on the woman who inspired my character. She grew up in it—her mother was a jockey. It’s a male-dominated world, as most industries are, so it was very easy for me to understand where this woman was coming from. And then being at the track and talking to the real jockeys, both male and female—it’s the lowest rung of that world. There’s gambling and addiction and all kinds of dark things going on. When you’re surrounded by that, it’s easy to get wrapped up.
You star opposite Steve Buscemi, who directed you in the ’90s.
My second film, Trees Lounge. It was lovely to be around him again. My mother is in love with Steve for giving me that part. I always say that’s when I became a real actress. We’re both New York actors—it’s hard to imagine us as these Pacific Northwest, salt-of-the-earth types. But Andrew was like, “I like the intimacy that you guys already have. I think that’s more important and that’ll come across.” And I think it did.
You’ve directed two short films, Kitty and Carmen. Do you get something different from being behind the camera than in front of it?
It’s much more fulfilling. It’s my dream, it’s what I want to say, it’s my voice. I love acting and sometimes I love just being told to hit my mark and say my line. There’s a comfort in letting go and putting yourself in someone else’s hands. But directing is a whole other thing. I’m doing a third short which will be a little more dialogue-heavy and story-heavy and hopefully just practice a little more before venturing out into features.
You’re best known for your work in the indie world, with a few exceptions. Have you avoided big studio movies intentionally, or do those opportunities not come your way?
Yeah, sadly those offers aren’t pouring in [laughs]. I wouldn’t mind an occasional one, just as an experience. I think Zodiac was the biggest film I’ve ever been on, and it felt kind of indie in the way that we were shooting.
Would you don spandex and a cape, if asked?
I would. I would like to play a villain. I’d be into that. It would depend on who was at the helm and the script and stuff like that, but I’m not averse to it.
Having worked in independent film for 20-plus years, how do you feel about the state of indies?
I’m excited about all the talk of inclusion riders and Time’s Up—it feels like there are more opportunities for people who didn’t have a chance to tell their stories before. I worked in TV for a long time and there were very few female directors. Now I’ve been doing shows with all female directors. It feels like that’s changing. I feel like maybe there’s too many movies? And so much good content on TV that it’s kind of like a watering down. Everything’s just kind of diluted by too much content. I feel like that’s kind of unfortunate for some movies. It’s harder to stand out.
It feels like Netflix puts out 20 new movies a week.
And then I scroll through the menu for like an hour, and I just could have watched something [laughs].
You’ve been in music videos throughout your career, starting with Sonic Youth and up through Pussy Riot, more recently. Are there any bands you’re dying to be in a music video for?
Never dying to be in a music video. Music videos are so hard to pull off and do well. I only appear in music videos of a) my friends, or b) if my friend’s directing. I’ve been asked to be in countless music videos and I’ve turned down countless. I’ve been asked to direct a bunch as well. I heard this new Drake one’s really amazing [for the song “God’s Plan”], where he’s giving away money.
Oh yeah. I cried.
I’m going to watch it as soon as we’re done!