Clea DuVall on “Lizzie Borden” and her most important roles


It’s hard to believe Clea DuVall and Christina Ricci haven’t worked together before the Lizzie Borden Took An Axe, as they’ve had similar career trajectories, coming up through the ’90s as actresses who didn’t quite fit the “Hollywood” mold. They both took roles that made them counter-culture icons: Christina in provocative indies like The Opposite of Sex and Buffalo ’66, Clea in dark features like Girl, Interrupted and HBO’s Carnivale. The actresses went on to star in more mainstream offerings like Sleepy Hollow (Christina) and Argo (Clea), broadening their scope as actors and gaining wider recognition.

Still both of them continued to maintain very queer fanbases from their work in LGBT storylines, including The Laramie Project, in which they both starred but did not share any scenes.


Lifetime’s made-for-TV-movie about the infamous alleged murderer Lizzie Borden aired last year to high ratings, and now Clea and Christina are reprising their roles (Christina as Lizzie, Clea as her sister, Emma) for the eight-part sequel series, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles.


The new series, premiering in April, is a fictional look at Lizzie’s life after she was acquitted for the murders of her parents. We spoke with Clea about returning to play Emma, working with Christina, and her beloved role in Jamie Babbit‘s But I’m a Cheerleader. I really loved the original movie and was happy to see it was reprised. It seems like your character is a little more supportive of her sister. I am wondering if you could tell me why you think that is.

Clea DuVall: I think when we were making the movie, we were playing with the “is she or is she not innocent,” and had to question her innocence so much that it affected how closely she could get to her, and in the show, she is in denial about her being guilty but believes that she is innocent and that allows her to be really protective of her and be a big sister.


AE: When I was watching it, I couldn’t tell if she was in denial or was going to support her no matter what. How big is Emma’s storyline does she have a life outside of what her sister is doing?

Clea DuVall: Yeah, in the later episodes she branches out a little bit more from just being the sister.


AE: What did you know about your role in the TV series before signing on?

CD: Not much. The first I heard of it, Christina texted me about it and asked if anyone contacted me about a miniseries. And they hadn’t, then a couple months later I got the call asking if I wanted to do it. I didn’t know anything about it but I loved working with Christina on the movie and I have a great deal of respect for her as an actor and I wanted to work with her again. So that felt good to me to be able to do that.


AE: So you’ve worked together before this, or were you just aware of each other?

CD: We met forever ago in that miss mosh of ’90s movies. But, yeah, never worked together before. 


AE: So you’ve done some TV but mostly movies, so what was it like shooting this because it seems to have a more cinematic quality, so did it feel like TV?

CD: It felt like TV in that it was very fast. We didn’t have a lot of time. But I have such a movie brain that I always feel like I’ll just treat it the same. And after 700 years of doing it, you’re like, whatever. [laughs] It did feel cinematic because the costumes were so dramatic and the set was so dramatic.  It feels a lot bigger than a TV show.  


AE: What was it like working with different directors for every episode?

CD: Confusing. It’s a little bit confusing. I think because in TV it’s more about the writers and the show runner, and we didn’t have anyone there doing that,  so it was like having a new dad every episode. And getting used to that, and their style and knowing what they wanted. TV is really difficult, I think. It’s the hardest on the directors because they’re coming into a machine that’s already operating and having to fit right in and still have their point of view, but keep in mind the things that are already established. 


AE: I saw you’re working on Jamie Babbit‘s new movie, Fresno.

CD: I’m not really in it, I make a cameo! I’m in it for like two minutes. I said, “Jamie, you can’t make it look like I’m really in this!” Whatever, Jamie. [laughs]


AE: Do you still get recognized from But I’m a Cheerleader? What do people say to you about it?

CD: Oh yeah. They’ll say that it changed their life, that it meant so much to them coming out. By far that movie and The Laramie Project are the two most important, actually important movies that I’ve ever done.


AE: And you were on American Horror Story. Did you know Ryan Murphy before that did they call you specifically for the part? What was your experience on the show?

CD: I do know Ryan Murphy, I was on his show Popular many years ago. Jamie directed a lot of the episodes and I would go visit because I was friends with Leslie Grossman. I forced her to be my friend because I thought she was so funny. I did a few episodes of that then he hired me to do this. It was fun! Working with Jessica Lange was amazing, and I’ve known Sarah [Paulson]I just saw her the other night. We figured out that we’d known each other for 15 years, so that’s kind of crazy. 


AE: He often brings people back. Do you think you would be a part of another American Horror Story?

CD: I would! It hasn’t happened yet. Maybe that was a moment in time.


AE: I know you’ve directed some Tegan and Sara interview videos. Is directing still something you’re still interested in doing?

CD: I wrote a movie that I’m going to direct hopefully later this year. 


AE: A feature?

CD: Yes! 


AE: Can you talk about it yet?

CD: It’s hard to because we’re just putting it together. I have amazing people we’re working with. Hopefully we’ll be able to say next time we talk about it. 


AE: You worked on the short Maddy with Devon Kirkpatrick. Was that a passion project of sorts? 

CD: Well, Devon is such a good person and I really liked her, I wanted to support her. I thought it was a cool to do. Mel Shimkovitz is really funny and we had a lot of fun. 




AE: It seems like now you get a lot of different kinds of roles you get to play. Do you get a lot more variety of characters sent your way?


CD: Yeah, I think when i started I was 18 year old I was very broody! You’ve seen But I’m a Cheerleader. That was literally exactly me. That was my thing. Now that I’m a woman and grown up, even though I don’t always feel that way, it is changing. I’m doing a lot of roles that I never had done before. It’s fun, I like it!


AE: Are there any dream roles? Something you’d love to do?

CD: I really want to…I don’t know. I’m not that interested in myself. I have things I would love to be a part of. Something like True Detective I thought was so amazing and being on a show with a great group of actors is what I would love to do. And hopefully this can be that. Doing something unusual, working with people you like on something you care about as an actor, is something you are always going for. And whatever that looks like, I’ll take it. I don’t have that thing, for me this is what I want for me. I think the older I get the less important it becomes to have to do something just for myself. 


AE: What about something funny?

CD: Yes! I take it all back: I would love to do comedy. 


AE: Because most of what you do is dramatic, but But I’m a Cheerleader had definite comedic elements. 

CD: Yeah, forget all the stuff I said. I do care about myself. I want to do a comedy. 



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