For nearly a decade, actress and producer Chloe Sevigny dreamed of bringing one of America’s best-known tales to the big screen, a Lizzie Borden biopic that delves deep into the psyche and motivations of the notorious (alleged) axe murderer. What became “Lizzie” — directed by Craig William Macneill — bowed at the Sundance Film Festival this past weekend, featuring Sevigny as the infamous maybe-murderer, with Kristen Stewart in a restrained supporting role as the Borden family housekeeper that Lizzie falls in love with. But it’s not the film Sevigny always dreamed of.
In a revealing new interview with HuffPost, Sevigny opened up about the long process to get the film made, and why Macneill’s final product isn’t exactly what she envisioned for all those years. Originally imagined as a miniseries scripted by Sevigny’s long-time friend Bryce Kass, the pair first took the project to HBO, home of Sevigny’s “Big Love,” and readied to make the project there.
From the beginning, Sevigny and Kass had a clear vision of what they wanted their Borden movie to be, and the unique point of view they were bringing to the character.
“So much has been said [about Borden]. But I think that we just really wanted to focus on how she went about finding [her freedom] and how important that was to her and what that meant to her,” Sevigny told the outlet. “Whether it was through the relationship with [her maid] or ultimately killing her parents for money ― because money equaled freedom then. It still does. I wanted it to be this rousing, smash-the-patriarchy piece.”
As HuffPost reports, “HBO dawdled on the film’s production, and when the powers that be finally opted to move forward, they were scooped by Lifetime, which released ‘The Lizzie Borden Chronicles,’ a TV movie starring Christina Ricci, in January 2014.” That film later spawned a follow-up miniseries, while HBO scrapped Sevigny’s project.
“You can’t imagine how heartbroken I was,” Sevigny told HuffPost. Still, the actress and producer didn’t give up, and she and Kass eventually got the rights back to the project, which Kass then set about cutting down to feature-film length. More problems followed: The first director backed out, leading to the pair to hire Macneill.
As Sevigny told HuffPost, Macneill brought his own vision — one that cut out some of her favorite parts, scenes she felt were necessary to her vision, billed as “Black Swan” meets “Capote.”
“It was very hard,” Sevigny told HuffPost. “I was like, ‘If you have another scene with Kristen Stewart and you don’t put it in your movie, you’re stupid. What’s your problem?’ But almost every movie goes through that. Almost everything that was on the page was filmed, and a lot of it didn’t make it in the movie.”
She added, “There was more to the relationships that made them more complicated, and also then informed why Lizzie [commits the murders]. Now it’s a little more vague than what Bryce and I intended originally to do.”
As for Macneill, Sevigny told the outlet, “I think Craig is very restrained. Craig has a lot of vision. I think he’s a great filmmaker. But I think maybe the movie could so easily go camp because she is also a camp figure. I think he was very frightened of pushing emotion in that direction, where it might turn into that. So he was really pulling the reins on a lot, performance-wise.” Later, she added, “But we hired him, and this was his vision and this was his interpretation of what we gave him.”
You can read the full HuffPost interview right here.
“Lizzie” premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.