Director Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die is out now in theaters, and audiences are already raving about the funniest, weirdest zombie flick to come out in ages. And what everyone seems to agree on is that the film’s strength comes from its cast of characters, with folks like Bill Murray playing bumbling cop Cliff Robertson, Adam Driver playing his partner, Robbie Peterson, and Tilda Swinton playing katana-wielding mortician Zelda Winston, plus many, many more. But the person grounding all of these oddball characters is level-headed police officer Mindy Morrison, played by the fantastic Chloë Sevigny.
Nightmare on Film Street sat down recently with Sevigny to talk about zombie films, the funniest moments on set, and the role her character plays in the film. Here’s what she said.
Grant DeArmitt for Nightmare on Film Street: I read that you have a very loud, infectious laugh. What’s the hardest you laughed while filming this movie?
Chloë Sevigny: When, toward the end of the film, Bill [Murray]’s character, Adam [Driver]’s character, and my character are driving around in the cop car. We shot that on a soundstage, when we’re in a car with the grips, you know, making it bumpy. And Adam and Bill were doing some riffing and I lost it. I think we had to halt production for a minute until I could compose myself again. I feel like there are always one or two days in every film where I just get the giggles. And it’s really irresponsible because everyone’s waiting around, but there’s nothing you can do when you have the giggles! You just feel super guilty for wasting everybody’s time because you can’t stop laughing. But also, what do you expect when you’re with Bill Murray and Adam Driver? They’re doing their shtick that they do in that movie that is so dry and hilarious. I lost it, and I felt bad. I’d look over at Jim, trying to get the fear of god in me to squelch the giggles.
NOFS: You can’t be blamed though.
Sevigny: No, no. Everybody knows once it happens, it’s hard to stop. I’ve had directors yell at me before on set. I remember (The Last Days of Disco‘s) Whit Stillman got furious. He was like, “What is with the giggling??” It’s high-stakes for the directors sometimes.
NOFS: Do you think we’ll get a blooper reel?
Sevigny: I don’t know if they were running the camera. Probably. We were shooting digital, so they might have been able to capture some of those improv moments. I mean, Bill, just looking at his face you want to laugh and cry. He’s so moving.
NOFS: Did any of those improv moments make it into the film?
Sevigny: I don’t remember. I’ll have to see the film again. I’ve only seen it once. And I think I was taking in so much that I wasn’t really thinking about the script. I didn’t do much improvisation, it was mostly between Bill and Adam.
NOFS: Speaking of Bill Murray and Adam Driver, you’re working with a lot of kooky characters. When I was watching this movie, I got the sense that your character, Mindy Morrison, was the only sane character in this film.
Sevigny: Yes, the moral compass of sorts. The only one really playing the actual stakes. Well, me and Caleb Landry Jones, as Bobby Wiggins. But he’s not playing the trauma as much as he is playing the “fighting for your life” stakes.
I was really nervous about that going in; I thought, “am I going to look like I’m in a different movie?” Because I felt like she wasn’t written in the same way that all the other characters were written. She was less, comical isn’t the right word, but less of a character? Maybe that was just my interpretation. Or maybe I just didn’t know how to make her into a character because there wasn’t that much on the page. So I decided to just to give over, to acquiesce to what it was and play the scenes as they were, be in the moment, and make it as real as possible. As I was there, I was realizing that she’s a way in for the audience to be like, “oh yeah, this is actually happening.” A way to try and make it a little more moving than it already was. So I just tried to play it like it as real as I could.
NOFS: Yeah, you definitely need a character like that. One that’s actually reacting to how things are going on.
Sevigny: Yeah, but I was nervous I was going to look like I was over-acting. Or acting like a fool. Especially since the other two [Murray and Driver] were so removed. But I think Jim took care of me. He found the right balance. so I just put my trust in him and knew that he knew what he was doing.
He kept saying, “You’re going to be the Scream Queen.” And I said, “Hardly any screams happened in the movie! I should be screaming more!”
NOFS: What do you think he meant by that?
Sevigny: Just the trope of “woman in distress.” Like every horror film, or zombie film, has a woman in peril and I was playing that part. You know the scene in Night of the Living Dead where the girl is freaking out on the couch, the blond one whose brother dies? She’s in the opening, then she’s kind of mute for a while, then there’s this scene when she’s on the couch and bugging out for two minutes straight. And I remember watching that and thinking, “that looks so hard. That would be such a hard scene to pull off.” And I only have, luckily, a five-second version of that at the end of the film. When I have to do that “freak out” and make it as real as possible. And that was tricky, but we did it.
NOFS: And very well.
Sevigny: Thank you.
NOFS: Speaking of Night of the Living Dead, what is your relationship with zombie films?
Sevigny: I haven’t watched that many of them. I think Night of the Living Dead is a masterpiece. And then I got sucked into The Walking Dead for about the first four or five seasons. I was into that show for a while.
“..Night of the Living Dead is a masterpiece.”
NOFS: What do you think is the appeal to zombie movies? Or even the deeper meaning?
Sevigny: This has been written on extensively, but I think it’s about survivalist skills. The idea of starting over. The threat of zombies is that, really, they’re us. They’re not some other creature. So I think all of that plays into it. But I think for the most part viewers are thinking, “how would I react? Who am I rooting for?” I think it’s a way to project yourself into that situation. In simplest terms.
NOFS: In a way, then, your character is the quintessential zombie movie character. Because if the audience is putting themselves in someone’s shoes…
Sevigny: Yeah. I think me, Chloë the person, would act more along the lines of Adam’s character. I wouldn’t be removed like he is, but I think that I would be more into gathering the townsfolk into one place. You know the scene when they drive by the hardware store? And he wants to help the people inside, but my character is like “no, no, no.” Because she sees the horde. And the horde in zombie pictures is always when you go down. It’s a numbers game. But I like to think that I would gather people together, and find the strength within myself to do some zombie killing.
NOFS: So, you’ve worked with a lot of these people before, like Jim Jarmusch, Bill Murray, and Tilda Swinton. I’ve noticed that you’ve worked with Steve Buscemi quite a bit too. Can you give me a little window into what your working relationship is like with him?
Sevigny: Well, I was in the first feature that he wrote and directed. Which is my second film, Trees Lounge. That was in 1996. And we’ve maintained a friendship since then. We did a film a couple of years ago called Lean on Pete. Andrew Hayes directed it, it’s the “dead horse movie,” as my agent likes to refer to it. We’re just chill. We go out after work, I’ll see him around. I actually saw him yesterday at a barbecue that this mutual friend of ours had. You know, he’s kind of always been in my life. And I really just admire him as an actor. His career is perfection to me. You know what’s surprising about Steve Buscemi, is that he’s more reserved than he is on screen. You know, his choices on-screen are kind of out there. In real life, he’s very quiet. It’s surprising.
NOFS: That is surprising. Is there anyone else in the cast that is surprising? From what you get on screen?
Sevigny: I was surprised by Selena. We had one little scene together. We were on set for a few hours together and she was super cute. Really playful, really down for whatever. She was pleasant with everybody and not a diva in any way. I was like, “no wonder this girl is such a big star.”
“If I have one material addiction, it would be vintage clothing. So I think I would probably be a zombie going, “vintaaaaaage.”
NOFS: Alright, last question. The zombies in this movie are unique in that they pursue the things that they loved during life. What would zombie Chloë be like?
Sevigny: If I have one material addiction, it would be vintage clothing. So I think I would probably be a zombie going, “vintaaaaaage.” I find it very relaxing whenever I’m on location in a different town, or if I’m here in New York, and I just want to do something mindless. I love just walking through a vintage store and going through the racks. It’s very relaxing to me; I don’t even necessarily have to buy anything. I just like looking. I don’t know if it came from being a kid and doing that, or the stories of garments, or the information that you get from the garments that you look at. I don’t know, it’s always very meditative for me. I’ve always been drawn to that.
You know, some of the zombies in this movie groan with stuff like “Wi-Fi.” I have a computer, I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve looked at it (laughs). I’m always like, what do I do on the internet? I have no interest. So cigarettes, Chardonnay, coffee, I don’t know. I don’t have any addictions like that. I guess… boys? (Laughs) I’d be the sexed-up zombie.
To see Chloe’s brilliant performance as the only sane cop in a zombified town, make sure to get your tickets to The Dead Don’t Die, in theaters now. For more interviews with the best voices in the film world today, keep an eye on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. And for all your horror movie interviews, reviews, and news, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.