In the ’90s, Tara Subkoff and Chloë Sevigny were frequently referred to as “it girls,” which would now make them “it women.” Actors who began working in their teens, both were darlings of indie film and starred in queer roles: Tara was the ubiquitous and unattainable best friend to burgeoning lesbian Claude in All Over Me; Chloë shined opposite Hilary Swank in Kimberly Peirce‘s Boys Don’t Cry and went on to play a butch heartthrob in If These Walls Could Talk 2.
Tara Subkoff & Chloë Sevigny in 2013Photo Credit: Charles Eshelman/Getty
After more than 20 years of friendship, the two have collaborated in Tara’s first feature as a director. #Horror, opening this Friday, is an artistic and contemporary slasher that has a largely female cast. Chloë plays Alex, a rich but lonely Connecticut mother to a 12-year-old girl, Sofia. Alex’s gorgeous, middle-of-nowhere home is the setting for a sleepover that turns into a massacre, as Sofia’s friends turn on one another, using their phones to humiliate each other with photos and hashtags and other modern horrors.
“I think it’s more about where we are headed as a culture and a cultural addiction to our phones, and a confusion around that and a confusion around what to pay attention to,” Tara said when I asked if the intention was to show us scary teenage girls can be. “I really think, for me as a filmmaker and a writer, I want people to come away with what they come away with. If I tell someone what I want them to come away with, then I don’t think I’m doing a good job as a storyteller.”
Tara also said she thinks that it’s the adults (largely Chloë and Timothy Hutton, who plays a truly terrifying father of one of the other girls) that are more fearsome.
“If you notice how we set up their own obsession with their phones, whether it would be they couldn’t find their phone or looking at their phone in odd moments, I wanted to show that before you get into whatever happens with the girls,” she said. “Usually the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”
The part of Alex, Tara said, was written with Chloë in mind.
“I think Chloë is a phenomenal actress. A raw talent and also so disciplined and such a hard worker. She’s really willing to go to scary places and really go there,” Tara said. “It’s incredible to work with her, and I loved it.”
“I was up for the challenge,”Chloë said. “I’ve known Tara for 20 years, as she said, and we’ve worked together in lots of capacities, the fashion line and other short films we’ve made together, projects we’ve done as artists. I’ve always believed in her and not only is she my friend, but I think she has a great deal to say and I think not that many people do. I like how glamorous and how flawed the character was, to play this part that was this woman who was kind of crumbling and trying to hold it together. It was really a tricky role. I thank her—I’d go to the end of the Earth for her—for casting me and having the faith that I could do something interesting with this.”
As someone who grew up an actor, Tara said she now knows the struggles of directing firsthand.
“This is my first feature, I’ve done a lot of shorts and performances before this, but I will say it’s incredibly challenging,” she said. “And I think as an actor, when I was acting in the ’90s, I was working with a lot of first-time directors and having had that experience, I have so much compassion for what that is because, in some ways, as an actor, breaking the fantasy is becoming a reality.”
What Tara means is that directing is not nearly as easy as it looks. So many actors have a fantasy of “what’s it like to become a director and have your first feature and how brilliant you’re gonna be,” Tara said, but in reality, there’s “all the problems and making days.”
photo credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty
“I think a lot of directors suffer from—luckily I don’t because I usually know what I want, always—but I think a lot of directors don’t and they’re trying to find it,” Tara said. “You don’t really have time or budget or schedule, so I really get why the experiences went the way that they did and have a lot more compassion for what it takes to direct a film; all the challenges that occur and especially as an actor, not having [directed] before and you think, ‘Oh my gosh, I could do such a better job.’ Every actor who hasn’t directed a feature film has went, ‘I can do this.’ And it is really hard, I will say that.”
Especially, Tara said, as a woman, a sentiment echoed by many female directors as of late in what is hopefully a sea change for the industry. But besides just getting hired or being able to be in the position of making a film, it’s also about finding that level of respect on set.
“Because you’re dealing with a lot of male crew who do not want to listen to a woman; they want to listen to men,” Tara said. “And they’re kind of in cahoots with each other and it can be a real boys club and I don’t think many female filmmakers even talk about that because they want to be part of the boys club so much they pretend like they’re one of the guys. You never are; you’re still a woman. And it’s challenging and it’s tough and it’s tough to get respect and it’s tough to be heard, and it’s tough to say ‘No, I’m going to push for that’ and have people listen to you. It’s being in a position of power, still even in almost 2016 is a real challenge, even though we make up half the human race and I find that pretty incredible.”
Chloë, who has worked with several women filmmakers in her career, wants to find that balance, too.
“I think it’s really important for women to stand up for each other and for us to really push for more female filmmakers to have a voice and since we make up half the human race, that we should be telling half the stories,” she said. “I feel really strongly about that.”
Chloë admits she has a love/hate relationship with acting; that she goes through “lots of periods where I get down on acting and directors.” “But when I get to work with someone like Tara, who I just find so inspiring and she believes in me so fully and I can feel that, it just gives me faith in working as an actress and in films again,” she said. “That was really great and I appreciate that so much.”
Chloë and Tara are thrilled about their queer women fanbases (“Oh I love it. I’m so happy about it! I’m a feminist and I believe in equal rights and I have many, many friends who are lesbians,” Tara said.) and are most happy about the idea of women who are in support of other women. Ironically, #Horror is very much about that lack of support, and how the young girls at its center suffer from the spoils of being privileged and without much empathy for even their closest “friends.” Among the insults they sling at each other are “lesbo” and “dyke,” which Chloë said she can identify with.
“I was bulled in high school—more junior high school and then high school—and everybody would bully me saying, ‘You’re a lesbian, you’re this that and the other thing,’ because of what I wore, and I embraced that. I thought it was great,” Chloë said. “It didn’t really hurt my feelings, even though they were trying to. [I thought] ”I don’t think I am, but if that’s what you want to think, then that’s fine.’ I do remember those words specifically being thrown at me countless times, in a way that was intending to hurt me. Luckily I was strong enough and self-aware enough to not have it bother me.”
Chloë, who is currently starring in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Hotel, said she’s always has an attraction to gay culture, which is certainly a mutual attraction.
“Gay culture was always pushing the envelope, from [gay filmmaker] Kenneth Angerer on—before him and post-him,” Chloë said. I just think that community have always embraced things that are more challenging and otherwise.”
#Horror does not have any explicitly gay themes, but the presence of two other queer female icons, Natasha Lyonne and Taryn Manning, might also help to entice queer viewers. Tara doesn’t want to just be behind the camera, she wants to put women in front of it, too, and her friends just happen to be some of our favorites.
“When we we were on set, we got to improvise a lot and try to do the scenes with different intent and different ways, and that was really fun to do with Tara,” Chloë said. “She’s really concerned with performance—it’s performance first, and I got to play with the girls and do some improving before we started. It was such a fruitful experience as an actor.”
#Horror opens this Friday from IFC Midnight.