Chloë Sevigny and Natasha Lyonne play best friends in real life and in the new psychedelic cult-horror, Antibirth. Directed by Danny Perez, the film follows Lyonne as Lou, a hard-drinking, pill-popping slacker whose only goals in life are staying high and partying with Sevigny’s Sadie—that is, until she finds herself pregnant, by immaculate conception “or some shit.” What follows is a horrific acid trip of Lynchian proportions filled with everything from conspiracy theories, disgusting monsters and an even more disgusting blister scene.
Though beyond puss and guts, Antibirth showcases the tragic blend of hopelessness and apathy present in small-town America. In a post-recession era where everything is disposable, privacy is a myth and control is a façade. Lou literally lacks self-control, not just in her own over-indulgence and self-destruction, but over her womb—she’s an ambivalent participant in her own life and pregnancy, until she’s finally forced to claim authority over herself and her body. With Antibirth, Perez paints a jarring portrait of our current cultural climate, at the same time, offering up a technicolor mix of surrealism and irony.
As Lou, Lyonne’s gruff sarcasm shines, while Sevigny’s strength lies in her character’s aloofness and wilful ignorance. But above all, the actress’ natural chemistry makes for a hauntingly realistic portrayal of a depressed American reality. Driving together, dancing to Suicide in Lou’s beat up trailer, doing whippets in Sadie’s car—in some scenes, it’s hard to tell whether or not they’re acting, which makes Sadie’s betrayal feel all the more biting. Their palpable closeness makes Antibirth a celebration of female friendship and a testament to the power of women, especially in numbers. Hollywood needs more leading ladies like Sadie and Lou.
Last week, BULLETT called Natasha and Chloë ahead of the Antibirth premiere, to talk pregnancy and punk rock.
Tell me about Antibirth.
Chloë: I would describe it as kind of like cult material. It’s the kind of movie where people who are into that mix of genres—a little camp, a little horror, a little comedy a little over the top—kind of like a classic midnight movie or B-movie, where it’s kind of like everything in the kitchen sink thrown into one. I also like that it has these three strong female characters that aren’t really relying on men necessarily for anything, and are just kind of trying to make their way through this fucked up place that they live in and time that they live in.
Natasha: It’s just like, full oddball in the best sense. It’s a very original voice which is hard to come by in 2016—a real singular point a view, really strong aesthetics, a sort of fuck you punk rock attitude. The content itself could probably best be described as if Sam Kinison were playing Mia Farrow’s role in Rosemary’s Baby.
Do you think the movie is a commentary on pregnancy? On abortion?
N: I think it’s more of a commentary on living in a sort of increasingly Big Brother society, and the way we are all losing control over our own freedoms. The more mindless we become, the more at risk we are to lose any sense of self-destiny we might have left—even if that desire is simply to self-destruct, it should still be self-will, rather than imposed by outside forces.
C: I think it’s more about the sad state of affairs. We were all watching that Oxyana documentary where kids that live in these towns or even people in their 30s and 40s—there’s just no prospects. It’s also a lot about the disposable society that we live in, disposable culture—junk food, drugs, TV, how everything’s just kind of empty and not good for us—just a breeding ground. Natasha’s character, Lou, is literally the perfect breeding ground for this monster, because she’s just this shell of a person full of all this toxic stuff—all these actual viable things like drugs and food, but also the culture she’s taking in all the time.
In movies, it’s usually teenagers getting pregnant unexpectedly. Why was it so important for these character to be grown women?
C: I think if Natasha and I had been teenagers wandering around in this town, it would’ve been a very different movie. That we’re like, in our 30s and 40s, makes it more desperate and kind of tragic, in a way.
N: It’s a little bit more depressed circumstances for these people because they aren’t 20 years old. There’s a hopelessness that I think is very identifiable in our country right now. We’ve been totally abandoned by the government—even what happened recently in Flint—just these ways in which vast swaths of community are abandoned by the country, let alone speaking to the world at large and the fucking cripplingly terrifying times we are living in, where everyday there is another horrifying massacre, and there’s global warming and shit like that. So I think a lot of what Danny was successfully capturing, is what’s got to be the feeling in so much of the nation right now—just utter fucking despair and hopelessness.
Were there any specific inspirations you brought to your roles?
C: I was thinking of her as Ricki Lake’s sidekick with the pigtails in John Waters’ Hairspray, Penny. That’s kind of what I wanted this character to be like—kind of ditsy but nice, and loves her friends—kinda goofy.
N: I mostly thought of Denzel Washington in Training Day, and I definitely studied a lot of Dustin Hoffman as Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy. It was mostly the two of them that I was watching, as opposed to the stuff with Chloë—it was so organic. […] There’s something about [our characters’] approach to being a troublemaker that I really respond to, that it’s not such an event—their behavior moment to moment—it’s kind of just a way of life for them.
Denzel Washington in Training Day and Ratso Rizzo are both strong male characters, as opposed to female leads. Why is that?
N: I just started identifying early on with guys—they always had the more interesting roles. Who would be interested in being the fairer race, anyway? As soon as you’re fully committed to being a girl, then you have to play by a lot of girl rules, which means like, being polite and waiting to speak until you’re spoken to, and not wanting too much out of life, being demure and pretty and polished—ways in which of course, even in the past 5 years, women have made such massive strides in my field. But growing up, we were definitely still in an era where Michelle Pfeiffer’s job in Scarface is to be skinny and gorgeous, while Pacino’s job in Scarface is to be a fucking animal. I hope I can be pretty while I’m doing it, but come on, you at least want to be a combination of the two. [..] If you think about Jack Nicholson in Chinatown—I would think of that as a dream role for me, much more than I would think of Faye Dunaway’s part in that as dream role for me—I have no interest in ever being a victim or playing one. Even with someone like Lou, it was like, ‘How do I play this character that is essentially being victimized, but not as a victim?’ I mean, we’re all victims, life is fucked up. But if you don’t play by the rules, it’s not that fucked up.
So how did you make sure she wasn’t a victim?
N: That’s one of those great male/female aspects of Lou in the first place—she’s sort of treating a pregnancy like it’s as bizarre of an experience for her as if she was a 30-year-old man. That’s pretty great for my money relative to like 90 percent of things I see that have a female lead. But there’s a point in the script, where she sits up on the sofa, and Chloë walks in, and she kinda gets up, throws down her baseball bat slash walking stick-thing and is just like, ‘We’re going to go solve this case. She sides with herself for the first time in her life. Like, ‘I am forced against my fucking will to have to show up for myself and get to the bottom of this fucking thing, because no one else is going to help me.’
Is it difficult emotionally to prepare for a movie like Antibirth?
C: Antibirth was more fun, it was more tongue in cheek. But American Horror Story and Those Who Kill—I had existential crises over both of those as entertainment, and really grappled with that. […] Even though American Horror Story is campy and fun also, the violence is so realistic, it’s a little scary.
N: I’ve already had the bulk of my existential crises in this lifetime, I think—or at least, I’m covered for a minute. Also, there’s so many exciting things happening for me right now—I’m in a happy relationship and I have two movies coming out with my two best friends on the planet—Clea Duvall’s Intervention and this movie with Chloë—the TV show is great, I love my dog. I’m old enough and have been around long enough to know that this really is about as good as it gets. I’m in a happy, steady place—or as much of one as somebody like me can be. All that is really helpful when going to these darker places, and to have context for what true darkness is really helps to keep your eye on the prize. It’s very quick for me to be able to access that because I have such firsthand experience with so much of it. […] But I just happen to be somebody who primarily uses humor as a coping tool, no matter how dark my life’s ever been.
What was it like working together?
N: Chloë, for me, has always been like my big sister slash barometer of all things cool and all aesthetics. So I think there was something about living in a house in the middle of nowhere in Canada, with my best friend, feeling like if she was egging me on and telling me to fucking lean in, it was like, ‘Alright, if Chloë’s not going to think it’s stupid, then I’m in the clear.’ Having her on set really then freed me up to go all in. I’m still a child actor and a professional, so there’s always a degree of wanting to make sure that the boss is happy—like, ‘Well don’t let it all hang out.’ But on this, Chloë’s already seen so much of me in my personal life, letting it all hang out and then some, it would almost feel like a lie to half-ass it.
C: She’s just so great at improvisation, and it’s so nice to work with people you’re familiar with, because all those other walls or barriers are gone, and you’re with your friends that already know you. It’s very freeing in a way, and you know that they’re 100 percent encouraging and not going to be competitive and weird, or anything like that. Sometimes, when you’re doing TV shows, everybody wants you to play how high the stakes are, and that sometimes forces a performance that, to me, is not the best that it could be—I feel like the best work comes out of feeling like you’re in a safe place, and that’s what that is for us. […] We’d be like, ‘Oh wait—is the camera on? Are we still in the movie?’
Both of you have played multiple characters that have a really punk rock attitude. Is that something you bring to the character or are those just the kind of roles you’re naturally drawn to?
C: Since I was a small child, I’ve been anti-authoritarian. […] But I think I like to play out more of a punk fantasy of who I am in my work than in my life. In my life, I don’t want to say I’m a square, but I’m more of a good girl then people would assume. Everybody put this label on me as like, ‘a club kid,’ but I’ve never even done cocaine. I’m not straight and narrow, but I was raised a good Catholic girl, so I play out those fantasies by doing more controversial work.
N: I think it’s more about characters who have a sense of like feeling like they want to break out of themselves, feeling like their worlds and their bodies are a prison—just the general feeling of trying to reclaim self-will in a world that won’t give it to them. Thematically, that’s definitely something that really tracks for me on a personal level, so it makes sense to infuse things with that. All we can really do is bring what we know to things to give them weight. So even if each role has its own color, the way to give it emotional groundedness, is by bringing my own personal experience to it, so it has some depth and truth because I’m giving you what I got.
Antibirth is out in select theaters and online.