From co-creators Michelle Dean and Nick Antosca (Channel Zero), the first season of the true-crime anthology series The Act (available to stream on Hulu) tells the shocking story of Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King), a girl who’s desperate to escape the toxic relationship she has with her overprotective and overbearing mother, Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette). As the sweet, naive and lonely Gypsy becomes more and more aware of the outside world, her quest for independence turns dangerous, threatening to reveal a never-ending list of secrets that ultimately lead to the drastic act of murder.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Chloë Sevigny (who plays the Blanchard’s neighbor Mel, a single mother who’s suspicious of what’s going on across the street) talked about her interest in this story, why she wanted to work with writer/executive producer Michelle Dean, how impressed she was by working with Patricia Arquette, creating a mother-daughter dynamic with AnnaSophia Robb, and how she approached finding her character. She also talked about what gets her interested in a project, branching out into producing and directing, and what people can expect from the upcoming Jim Jarmusch zombie movie The Dead Don’t Die.
Collider: This story is just crazy! Was this one of those projects where, when you read something like this, you just feel compelled to be a part of telling this story?
CHLOE SEVIGNY: I had watched the documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest on HBO. My friend was like, “You have to watch this. It’s insane!” So, I watched it, and it was so insane that I watched it again. I watched it two times, straight in a row. They say truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve been in numerous shows and/or movies based on real events, and that’s often the case. There are so many details in the real story that you have to pick and choose because it’s just so outrageous. I think that’s why, time and time again, whether it’s true crime or biopics, or whatever it is, we’re constantly taking from life, even in original programming.
So, when this came your way, you knew what it was and that it was a true story?
SEVIGNY: When this came my way, yes, I knew what it was. And when I heard that Michelle [Dean] was one of the main writers and producers, I became even more intrigued because while watching Mommy Dead and Dearest, I was fascinated with her, as a journalist. I find that kind of journalism, where you’re going somewhere and spending time there, so interesting. Not that I’m dismissive of other kinds, but I spend so much time listening to different podcasts, like In the Dark and Serial, and that kind of immersive journalism, where you’re putting your life on hold to delve into the story to bring it to the public. In the documentary, you could see her enthusiasm, but also how she seemed titillated by it while also being very respectful and empathetic, and the dichotomy of the story, where you love and hate both of them. There was her passion for the story, and her complete immersion and how comprehensive it was, because of the work that she had done, and I was like, “If she is gonna be a part of telling this story, then I’m in.” And then, there was Patricia [Arquette], and the other talent they had. There were also three female directors attached. Just knowing that a big concern for Nick, as a showrunner and producer, is having a lot of female directors and giving lots of opportunity to young filmmakers, it was the complete package.
SEVIGNY: I’ve known her. We’ve worked together before, on a little indie movie called Electric Slide, and I’ve been to parties at her house. We have some mutual friends. I’ve always been captivated by her, as an actress, before I knew her, with her mannerisms and her warmth, in almost everything that she does. She just has a calmness. When you’re on set with her, she’s so relaxed in her performance. I get very nervous and I’m like, “There are high stakes. Oh, my god, what’s going on?!” You can tell that she’s very comfortable, as a person, and she brings a depth because of that. Because of her confidence, the way that she thinks about things and her sensitivity, and she’s a mother twice over. Just being around her and her warmth, everybody on set was in love with her. Then, you have Joey [King], who’s this little rock star. She’s just this ball of energy, humor and enthusiasm, and she’s a firecracker and an amazing actress. It was just awesome to be around both of them.
How was it to work with AnnaSophia Robb on the mother-daughter dynamic that you guys have?
SEVIGNY: We found it challenging. Gypsy and Dee Dee are based on real people, and there’s so much there. There’s so much of that story they need to tell. We were obviously supposed to be a device for the storytelling. We were supposed to be the normal family. We’re also the observers and the audience. How do we help propel the story? What can we do, as actors and as characters, to show the opposite of what’s going on, in this house across the street? So, AnnaSophia and I spent a lot of time together, going over the scenes and bringing ideas to the writers and directors. We were like, “How can we make this more specific? How can we make this more real? How can we make this relationship really feel like something?” We also had to deal with a lot of exposition, which is not the easiest thing in the world to do. They think, “Oh, we can cast interesting actors, and they’ll make it interesting,” but we’re part of telling a bigger story, that we all thought was an important story to tell.
Because this sounds like a character that you had some freedom with, since they’re not based on one specific person, what did you want to bring to her?
SEVIGNY: I did a lot of research myself. I watched both of the Making a Murderer seasons, and thought about the peripheral characters, like the sisters, the aunts, and the women in that kind of socio-economic situation and that kind of region. A lot of women live check-to-check, especially single mothers, so I just tried to immerse myself in that world, and how Mel would be, and why Mel has become hardened, in the way that she is. She has three children with three different fathers and no child support, and she’s doing it all on her own. She has a combative relationship with her daughter, but she’s trying her best, which is also really no-nonsense. I thought about a lot of those things, going into the character.