New York City’s status obsession, gossip and drama are on full display in the new eight-episode FX series “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans,” which debuted on Wednesday.
The series set in 1970s New York revisits a scandal that was the talk of the town and features an all-star cast, including Naomi Watts, Chloë Sevigny, Jessica Lange and Demi Moore.
The story follows author and U.N Plaza dweller Truman Capote as he drinks and enjoys the trappings of fame with his “swans” — a group of upper-class socialite friends.
The swans include Barbara “Babe” Paley, wife of CBS President William Paley; Lee Radziwill, sister of Jackie Onassis; and C.Z. Guest, who was married to a Churchill and regularly graced magazine covers and “Best Dressed” lists.
But the swans cast Capote out of society after he airs their affairs and indiscretions in a tell-all article published in the November 1975 issue of Esquire. According to the show, this was the blow that sent him spiraling to his early death from liver failure in 1984.
Sevigny, who plays plays Guest, spoke to Gothamist about canceled friends, raising a child in New York City and spending decades as an “it girl.”
C.Z. Guest is a fascinating character. She was rebellious and iconic, written up in the press constantly from the time she was a teenager. Were the comparisons in casting you deliberate?
Chloe Sevigny: Ryan Murphy and I share the same decorator, David Cafiero, who has a store in the East Village called Cafiero Select. And David used to say that me and my mother really reminded him of C.Z. For whatever it’s worth, I credit him. He always keeps me in Ryan’s mind and in conversations.
The women in the show are both liberated and confined by their public personas. I imagine that’s something you know a bit about. Does it ever irk you to have to say “hey, I’m an actor and a director, not just an ‘It girl’?”
Oh, for sure. I feel like I’m constantly having to kind of prove that. But I hope my new acting work speaks for itself — the choices I make and the directors I work with.
Growing up, even in the ’90s, the way actresses and women were treated was so different. Today, when I hear young actresses talking about the business, there’s so much more power for them. I remember being so much more scared about navigating spaces and places because of people saying inappropriate things over and over and over again in auditions, even the women executives saying inappropriate things.
That was just the culture of Hollywood, and now that’s all changing. I think these young actresses are so lucky they can be individuals and be celebrated for that. Whereas when I was younger it was more like you had to fit into this mold and be more of a cookie cutter.
C.Z. Guest came from wealth herself. And she had her own businesses and wrote gardening books. She was entrepreneurial, she didn’t just laze about or just throw parties. If she had been alive today, obviously it would have been very different for her. Would women in that position take advantage of it in all the ways that we can these days? I don’t have the answers to that.
It’s sweet, in the show and in real life, that C.Z. is one of the only swans that stuck by Truman the whole time.
Well, she’s also one of the only swans that wasn’t thrown under the bus in “La Côte Basque” [Truman’s Esquire article].
I think she was torn between her loyalty to her girlfriends and to Truman. But I think she knew her girlfriends were going to be alright, and she felt sorry for Truman. She loved him and saw how much he was suffering. Also I think they were still both very curious about each other’s worlds: The ladies always wanted to know what Truman was up to. So she was like a spy and a confidant.
Have you had any friends get canceled in a big way like that?
Yes. Yes, I have. I don’t know if we want to get into those particulars [laughs].
I do remember having a house party and inviting one of these particular friends over, and they were like: “Is anybody going to talk to me? I’m so nervous.” And they were wildly popular at the party, I will say. I think people are attracted to scandal and how people navigate it. And they also want to be on the inside, they want the scoop. So yeah, this particular person had a whole gaggle of people surrounding them.
“Kids” [a 1995 film starring Sevigny] turns 30 next year. I feel like there’s gonna be a ton of press looking back. Is the idea of that exhausting at all?
Isn’t there always a bunch of press around “Kids?” It’s never ending [laughs]. I’m a little resigned but I’m still really proud of it, and it’s great to be part of something that has such staying power. It really captured certain aspects of a time in New York City and helped catapult myself and Rosario [Dawson].
But thank God it happened, because it was my foot into my career. I’d wanted to be an actress since I was 5 years old and I’d done commercials and after-school specials and catalog modeling in Connecticut — it was very regional business. “Kids” was my lucky break. They always say it’s a cautionary tale, but everyone tells me “that’s why I moved to New York.” I still have my VHS copy.
For years, you were a star in the underground scene. And now you’re doing “Good Morning America” and “The Tonight Show.” Is that ever surreal?
It is funny. Early in my career I said “once I appear in the pages of People magazine, I’m quitting.” Because I was really early ’90s — very indie, underground to a fault, I think. I really held fast to that ethos. Nowadays you’re just part of this bigger machine.
The quote that’s making headlines this week is from Rolling Stone [which ran a story headlined “Chloë Sevigny Is So Over NYC’s Women Walking Their Dogs in Athleisure.”]
Thanks, Rolling Stone. [laughs]
We’re all thinking it, but you can actually say it. You have the street cred.
No I don’t! I’m going to get skewered. I don’t know how all the people in my building with dogs are gonna feel about it. Oh lord, when I get in the elevator. I’m scared to leave the house! [laughs]
Listen, it’s not the owners. It’s the owners that don’t pick up — a few bad apples. I don’t have anything against dogs, just pick up after them is all I’m asking. It feels like nobody is doing that these days.
And now walking around, all the empty storefronts, I think that’s part of the problem with the dogs and the garbage. Half the stores are closed, there’s nobody going out front to spray the sidewalks down.
I saw you at the Salem show last summer [a legendary witch house band that played its first show in more than a decade last year]. That show made me think “wow, New York’s still got it.” Is there anything lately that gives you that feeling?
That Salem show on Coney Island was really special. And I don’t think I go to enough of that kind of stuff — it’s just the 7 a.m. wake-ups with the kid and wanting to be present — but I want to. That was one of my New Year’s resolutions, to try and fulfill myself more. Even just going to the movies. I went to see “Maestro” at 10:30 [p.m.] at IFC.
I think there are cool scenes popping up around vintage stores, like Big Ash on Delancey [Street]. There’s always a cute group of kids hanging out there, and they do pop-up sales with friends. And Women’s History Museum opened a vintage store on Canal [Street], there’s a little scene around that. But I don’t even know if the kids are drinking a lot now, other than, like, at [East Village bistro] Lucien.
They love Lucien.
They love Lucien! For me, it’s like, if I’m not going to a nightclub, I’ll just go to Lucien. Because it’s basically like dinner at a nightclub.
Can I ask about raising your son? You moved to New York when you were young, but Vanja is going to be from New York, which is different. Do you think much about him being a city kid?
I do. I have a lot of friends that are from here and I consider them, especially the ones that were single children. I think a lot about how much time I spent outdoors in nature. I wish I could give him more of that, so we’re trying to figure that out.
And when you can provide for them, what do you do? Are they automatically entitled? How do you make them just be …good? ‘Cause when I say “you want spaghetti and meatballs?” and he says “yeah I wanna go to Bar Pitti!” — I’m like, oh my God, kill me now. It’s just what he knows because we live around there. But I’m like, “does he sound like an a–hole? Are we a–holes?”
He is a Pepe [Rosso] devotee though. Pepe is his spot. So, we still got that going for us.