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Chloë Sevigny Talks Playing Two Very Different Moms in Russian Doll and The Girl From Plainville

6 minute read

Warning: This story contains spoilers for Russian Doll season 2

After 27 years in Hollywood, Chloë Sevigny, the original indie It Girl, is showing her incredible range in two very different TV shows: Hulu’s The Girl From Plainville, a limited series based on the true story of Michelle Carter’s “texting-suicide” case, and season 2 of Netflix’s time-loop dramedy Russian Doll, streaming April 20. The two women she plays couldn’t be more different on paper, except for the fact that they’re both mothers. Sevigny, who gave birth to son Vanya in 2020, says that the back-to-back maternal roles were merely a coincidence. “It might be a result of my age,” the 47-year-old, known for her roles in the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry and the HBO drama Big Love, told TIME. “But I also think moms are interesting characters, and I want to see more mother-child dynamics on TV.”

In the second season of Russian Doll, Natasha Lyonne—the show’s creator, writer, director, and star—dives deeper into her character Nadia Vulvokov’s mommy issues. The new season, which takes place four years after the events of the first, begins with sweet birthday baby Nadia preparing for her big 4-0. The fiery-haired New Yorker is no longer trapped in an endless existential death spiral, which forced her to relive her 36th birthday party over and over again. Yet, in the season 2 premiere, Nadia finds herself once again lost in time, staring at a bathroom mirror only to find her late mom, Lenora “Nora” Vulvokov (played by Sevigny), staring back at her. The moment, played for pure comedy, forced Sevigny to channel her inner Marx Brother.

“At first we were trying to wing it,” Sevigny explained of the complicated Duck Soup-esque mirror routine she and Lyonne pull off in the season 2 premiere. “But almost immediately I was like, ‘This is not working.’ So then we had to choreograph the bit with [help from] someone off screen saying, ‘Now, move your hands this way!’ because a lot of it was really, like, rudimentary effects.” Two identical bathrooms were built so Sevigny and Lyonne could pull off the complicated comedy act using the “Texas Switch,” a filmmaking technique in which an actor is seamlessly swapped out of a scene for another performer as the camera keeps rolling. “[Natasha would] duck out and I’d have to run in,” Sevigny said. “Often, it was like, ‘Who’s in charge here? Is this working?’” She laughs. “It was fun, but challenging.”

While the rules of time-travel in Russian Doll’s first season were reminiscent of Groundhog’s Day, the show’s second season has more in common with Back to the Future. Nadia doesn’t hitch a ride in a DeLorean, but hops on a magical subway that takes her back to the East Village in 1982, the year she was born, to stop her pregnant mom from making the biggest mistake of her—and Nadia’s—life. All of the decade-hopping meant that Sevigny wasn’t always playing Nora, who was loosely inspired by Lyonne’s own late, estranged mother, Ivette Buchinger. “I don’t do impersonations. It’s not my strong suit,” Sevigny said of the double act she performs this season, the details of which we won’t spoil here. “I was always concerned I would screw things up.” Yet despite her fears, Sevigny wanted to help her longtime friend Lyonne achieve her vision of this season, which is even more personal to Lyonne than the first eight episodes of the series—and even more impressive in scope. “Finally,” Sevigny said, “the rest of the world is getting to see what a genius she is.”

Sevigny felt a similar sense of responsibility when signing onto The Girl From Plainville. The series, an adaption of Jesse Barron’s 2017 Esquire article, offers a closer look at the case in which Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of her boyfriend Conrad “Coco” Roy III over text messages that, prosecutors argued, appeared to encourage the teen to kill himself. Sevigny plays Coco’s mom, Lynn Roy, who, in the aftermath of her son’s tragic death, is trying to understand his actions. Lynn embarks on a heartbreaking journey toward forgiving herself for not saving her son. “I think Chloë deserves an enormous amount of credit for the humanity in the show,” said Liz Hannah, who co-created The Girl From Plainville. “She’s really carrying a heavy load there.”

Sevigny was a late addition to the cast, signing on five days before the Elle Fanning-led series began filming in Savannah, Georgia, in August 2021. The day Sevigny got the part, she watched Erin Lee Carr’s two-part HBO documentary I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter, which covers Carter and Roy’s complicated relationship and the court case that followed his death. “I was very struck by the way Lynn spoke of wanting the world to know that Coco was a whole person,” she said. “If I could help her keep her son’s memory alive and bring awareness to what happened. I wanted to do that.” But it wasn’t easy occupying that headspace for months. “I was breaking down every single day,” she said. “What happened to Lynn is the worst thing that could ever happen to someone. I didn’t speak with her [for the project], but even if I did, I couldn’t get the extent of how she feels.”

That might be why Sevigny’s performance in The Girl From Plainville, which concludes on May 3, cuts so deep. She wasn’t interested in doing an impression of Lynn Roy, who gave her blessing to the series. She wanted to tap into the sadness, anger, regret, and shame that comes with the unexpected and often unexplained loss of a loved one. Sevigny knew what that felt like. She, like many other people, lost friends and family during the coronavirus pandemic. “For anyone struggling with loss, I hope Lynn’s story will make them feel less alone,” she said. “I want them to know they can find a way out of grief, because somehow Lynn did.”

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