The director sits down with Chloë Sevigny, who first appeared in his cult classic Kids, to discuss his film Marfa Girl, underage sex scenes and dating someone with roommates for Document's Spring/Summer 2013 issue.
After the 1995 cult hit Kids, which received an NC-17 rating, director Larry Clark continued to make provocative films such as Bully and Wassup Rockers which analyzed the roles teenagers play in contemporary society. His use of unknown actors and non-professionals for his low budget films’ main roles set apart his body of work in relation to the big-budget, big-star, big-profit machinery of today’s blockbusters. Now in conversation with Chloë Sevigny, Clark talks to the actress he discovered about his film Marfa Girl, the microcosm of west Texas, and the magic of on-set teenage puppy love.
Larry Clark: Hi, Chloë. How are you?
Chloë Sevigny: Hi, Larry.
Larry: So you’re in Los Angeles?
Larry: Nice, Nice.
Chloë: I just got a little guesthouse because I was dating a boy out here and he lives with a roommate and I was like, “I don’t do roommates,” so I had to find my own situation. I’m 38 years old now; I’m not going to do roommates.
Larry: That’s funny. I’m actually going to Marfa in the morning to photograph Adam [Mediano] and Mercedes [Maxwell] for a Japanese magazine, more press for the film; I’ve been very impressed with this film, almost like every day, it’s amazing.
Chloë: You’re really inundating everywhere. You went viral with the Rome Prize.
Larry: I was a model this month for Italian Vogue and I felt like a piece of meat. I know what it’s like now.
Chloë: Who was taking the pictures for Italian Vogue?
Larry: Lele Suvari. He was very nice. They dressed me in Louis Vuitton by Marc Jacobs, and you know the suits are so tight you can see my balls it was like the ’60s; a 70-year-old man wearing these ’60s skin tight suits. I just did what I was told.
Chloë: That reminds me of when we did that Details shoot. Before we even made the movie. We all had to wear those bad clothes.
Larry: That’s right that’s before we made the film. We all needed money and it was good press for the film. That was funny. And here we are and now it’s 19 years later.
Chloë: We should have a 20-year anniversary party or something.
Larry: Yeah, we should do that. You’re the most interesting. I just got an email from somebody. I never got money for Kids for all these years. I never saw a penny. It made $50 million. Every year since then it’s been one of the top DVDs sold. I just got an email from someone who was trying to get a hold of it, the rights go back to the producers. I’m going to get a hold of them and say, “Now motherfuckers it’s time to get some money out of it.” The guys that produced it were those two venture capitalists. They were young and their fathers were like Washington millionaires and gave them $10 million a piece to play with. So they wanted to make movies. That’s how Kids got financed. And they made one more movie and that was it. I don’t remember what it was. What they did, when we went to Cannes, was sell it territory by territory and what Miramax would do was package it with all their losers. So whoever bought Kids would have to buy like five other films. They have all these ways to mix up how much money the movie was making. They’re all fuckers.
Chloë: They’re all fuckers.
“[Hit and Miss] was my first time starring in something. It was my first time carrying something and feeling that responsibility.” — Chloë Sevigny
Larry: I never got a penny. When I won the Best Film at the Rome Film Festival and stood up and said fuck you all the corporate producers, the first guy to shake my hand when I came off the stage was my lawyer back then, who had one foot in production, but he was a lawyer,
Chloë: I remember, he worked on The Last Days of Disco.
Larry: He smiled and said, ‘I hope I wasn’t one of those guys.’ He made a lot of money. I had a great contract for Kids, I was supposed to get 15 percent or 12 percent and then my contract said that he negotiated that I had all the rights, but when I never got paid, a few years ago I looked at the contract with my attorney now and said this is a great contract but there’s no auditing rights. Even my lawyer was a crook. I remember it was you and me and it was trial by fire. And there would be scenes where we didn’t quite know what to do. With all the crew standing around and we would take 15 minutes or half an hour and discuss how to play the scene. It was really interesting.
Chloë: Who financed Marfa Girl? Did you self-finance it?
Larry: A young guy who has family money financed it. It was very good, it was very clean, because whatever movie comes into the website after he gets paid back, we split the money 50-50. It’s very clean. Family money, he’s an heir, which is good. He’s a very nice young man. He’s 34. They’re all kids to me.
Chloë: Thank God for family money, huh? The trilogy is all Marfa?
Larry: Yeah because at the end of Marfa Girl so much has happened to the kids in the last 10 minutes of the film, you know physically some stuff is going to happen but psychologically you don’t know what’s going to happen. Marfa Girl is lying on the floor. It just kind of ends. It’s fun now writing what might happen to them in the second one. I’m making it all up. I’m really having a good time. Since it turned out that Adam and Mercedes, that it was their 16th birthday, and he’s one day older than her. I want to do Marfa Girl 2 on their 17th birthday, I want to follow them.
Chloë: Are they real life boyfriend and girlfriend?
Larry: I cast them both separately. They are locals from the town. It turns out when I brought them both in that they had known each other since they were 8 years old, and had that kind of puppy love on set. I told the DP to stay on them on set, shoot through all these people and stay on them. They were playing around and falling in puppy love. That really helped the film. I really liked their love-making scene because it was so pure and innocent and fun. It was difficult to do.
“When I went to Marfa and I had the idea to do this film, it was kind of like a microcosm of what was going on in America with all the racism and everybody picking on the Latinos. It was like the ‘50s there, you couldn’t buy a condom in the town.”—Larry Clark
Chloë: You can’t really show them naked, you have to show them simulating right because they are under eighteen? I remember all that controversy from Kids.
Larry: It was really tender and innocent, because they were doing it for the first time. It was a really funny scene too. I turned around during it because I was directing them and the producer was the only other guy in the room in the corner, and I said, “am I going too far?” I wasn’t sure. I was starting to get scared. They were just barely 16.
Chloë: They’re like the most beautiful girls in the town. They’re so beautiful. That scene where they are standing at the fence, and they both have the holes in their jeans. It was so beautiful.
Larry: It was actually an improvised scene with them standing there. I saw it and told the crew to get in front of them. I’ve always been really aware. When we had the scene with the four guys on the couch in Kids, that was the only improvised scene. We made up that scene on the couch.
Chloë: That guy Javier [Nunez] works at Supreme on La Cienega.
Larry: He was 12. Wow, 19 years, he must almost be 30.
Chloë: People come up to me and go, “do you remember me?” And it’s like “No!” We were children.
Larry: We’ve done a lot since then. You’ve done so much work. Did you do the English TV drama?
Chloë: Yeah it was a series called Hit and Miss that I did over there. I think it’s going to be on Netflix.
Larry: Was that fun to do?
Chloë: It was really hard. It was my first time starring in something. It was my first time carrying something and feeling that responsibility.
Larry: Well I want to see it. That’s really good.
Chloë: But in England, with TV, they are all about the directors. It’s a director’s medium. Whereas in America they are all about the writer’s medium. Do they have any professional actors in any of these movies you’re doing?
Larry: The young people from Marfa in the film were all first-timers. The people in the band were all local musicians. They were young. They were all 20, 22 years old.
“[The Smell of Us] actually goes back to Cannes when I spoke with Harmony Korine, we met some kids there in France and I photographed them. We met the only skateboarder in Cannes I think.”—Larry Clark
Chloë: How about Adam’s mom? Was she an actress?
Larry: Yeah she was living in Marfa, and that was her house with the birds and the chickens, she hadn’t actually acted but I knew her in New York 21 years ago. She was Matthew Barney’s first wife. I had known her.
Chloë: Oh right, the bird breeder.
Larry: Yes. Mary Farley. When I went to Marfa and I had the idea to do this film, it was kind of like a microcosm of what was going on in America with all the racism and everybody picking on the Latinos. It was like the ‘50s there, you couldn’t buy a condom in the town. It’s a little town of 1,800, there’s white ranchers. There’s still corporal punishment where they paddle the kids in the school. But they still have internet. The kids know what’s going on. Their dream is to get the hell out of west Texas. Mary went to Austin for the weekend to see her boyfriend and then stayed a month. So I had the house to myself, and I had fresh eggs every morning. I would go out and talk to the hens, talk to the chickens. And I had the idea why not have Mary play Adam’s mother? Adam would live there and get up and do his chores. All the other actors, like Donna and the border patrol agents, were all professional actors that I cast in Austin which is about a seven hour drive. There’s a very good acting school near there. Robert Rodriguez is near there. There’s a lot of actors there and it’s kind of an acting community. There was a mix of actors and first timers.
Get this, I’m going to Paris to finish preparation on this French movie I’m going to make [The Smell of Us]. We start shooting at the beginning of March. It’s kind of like a French Kids. But it’s different. There are all these roles for French actors. There’s this role for a 65-year-old woman. I’m going over to cast the professional roles in France. It will give me a chance to work with some of the great French actors we’ve seen over the years. Then I make the film. We have five weeks more prep, then shoot for five or six weeks and then edit. I’m doing it in French, and I don’t speak French. It’s going to be an adventure.
Chloë: Better get a good translator.
Larry: I’m confident. The kids speak English. The French are not so hard to figure out. I’ve been working with these kids. And I’m really excited. And it’s a challenge that I’ve always wanted to do. It actually goes back to Cannes when I spoke with Harmony Korine, we met some kids there in France and I photographed them. We met the only skateboarder in Cannes I think.
Chloë: He kind of stalked Harmony for years after that.
Larry: Yeah. That’s right. I remember that. Harmony and I met his parents and everything, and his friends and it was really interesting. I remember telling Vince that I would love to make a film in French, and he said “Nah, you could never make a film in French.” If someone tells me I can’t do something, I always want to do it. I’ll try and prove you wrong.
Chloë: You know Jim Lewis called me and said he was friends with one of the girls in the movie and said, “would you get on the phone with her and talk to her and maybe give her some tips on working with Larry?” and I said “No Way!”
“[Adam Mediano and Drake Burnette] are locals from the town. It turns out when I brought them both in that they had known each other since they were 8 years old, and had that kind of puppy love on set.”—Larry Clark
Larry: Drake Burnette was really great. She was in Louisiana. Jim kept telling me there was this girl you have got to see. He kept saying it and he wore me down. I was having trouble casting it. We actually Skyped for about four hours and we brought her in and she’s wonderful. She’s living in Brooklyn now and modeling.
Chloë: I feel like there’s a lot of press on her. Like with Kids, they are focused on the white girl. You think 20 years later we would have moved on from that.
Larry: That’s true. There’s a lot on Mercedes too, she’s lovely. It’s going to come out, starting this month. An Italian magazine went down with me and photographed her and taped a conversation with her and Adam and I. I’m going down tomorrow to photograph her and Adam. She’s really lovely and quite beautiful and growing up. She was just 16. They’re teenagers. I went down a few months ago, I had to do a couple of lines with them. I needed to fill it in. I went down there and I met her. And I said, “you look tired, did you have a big night last night?” And she said, “yeah I went to a keg party last night.” I’m sure she’s going to be invited to any party in west Texas. The kid is going to have fun. I turned vegan five months ago and I’ve lost 20 pounds, it melted off of me.
Chloë: I know you’ve been on this big health kick for a couple years.
Larry: Yeah, I have so much more energy. I wake up and my energy is way up, it is through the roof. I’m strong and I’m healthy. I quit sugar too.
Chloë: Good luck with that in France. That’s going to be difficult.
Larry: I have found a few vegan restaurants there and they make great meals. So time’s are changing. You’ve like known me for 20 years. It’s extremes. How long will you be in California? Are you coming back?
Chloë: I’m going to Paris on Monday to do press for the mini-series because it’s going to come out there. Then I’m going back to New York. And then I might come back and give it a whirl with this boy. Try to get work in the movies again, it’s been very difficult.
Larry: I certainly hope you and I can work together again. It would be great to do it again. The gallery is having a birthday dinner for me on the 20th. Hopefully you can come.
Chloë: Not at the Austrian place. Somewhere vegan.
Larry: It’s the great Italian place in the Village, Sant Ambroeus. Leo will come. The usual suspects.
Chloë: I’ll be there.