For Designer Hussein Chalayan, the Medium is the Message

Through his designs, Hussein Chalayan tells wondrous, fantastical stories—even if few people can decipher them. “As with great art and films, whose concepts can be obscure but still appreciated, my designs don’t need to be understood in order to be enjoyed as garments,” says the 41-year-old British designer. “If the end result of my work is a range of nice dresses, I don’t really mind if the consumer understands it or not.”

In his self-titled monograph, which is out this month via Rizzoli and features the sartorial daredevil’s complete body of work, Chalayan groups together collections from di erent periods throughout his career (beginning with his senior collection in 1993 for Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design) under esoteric umbrellas such as Transcendence, Disembodiment, and Metamorphosis. Of his own evolution, he says, “I don’t mean this in an arrogant or self-important way, but I’ve finally come around to thinking of myself as an artist who happens to use clothes as my main medium.” Chalayan, who’s also a photographer and video-installation artist, has dressed over-the-top style pioneers like Lady Gaga (the pop icon’s bubble dress and the pod in which she arrived at the 2011 Grammy Awards) and Björk (for the album cover to 1995’s Post). “I would totally agree that less is more, but in my own work people often only look at the monumental pieces and don’t even notice the minimal pieces,” he says. “But they’re always included in the collections.” Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, especially when those trees are made into paper dresses that fold into airmail envelopes and can be sent across the ocean.

A Life Less Ordinary: Actress Brit Marling Emerges with Two Astonishing Films

Brit Marling is leaning over a plate of fried eggs, the silver flatware in her hands clattering against the china in front of her. She’d be enjoying her breakfast were her trim frame not shaking so violently. “I feel like we’re at a pretend restaurant,” she says between fits of innocent laughter, after a bumbling waiter at the Crosby Street Hotel tries to clear her plate mid-bite. “When I was in elementary school, they had a thing called Biz Kids. One day a week for something like two months, students would go to the mall, where there was a Biz Kids store run by—oh my god, this is so f-ed up—8-year-old cashiers. This place feels very Biz Kids.”

Over the course of a balmy New York afternoon in late June, Marling, the engaging, 28-year-old co-writer, producer, and star of the virtuosic sci-fi drama Another Earth, plays fast and loose with colorful analogies. Visiting her real-estate developer parents at their home in Orlando, for example, isn’t unlike “rebooting the computer.” Georgetown University, where Marling graduated in 2005 with a degree in economics and studio art, felt like “a four-year incubator that kept the world at bay.” Acting, meanwhile, is like going fishing. “Some days you catch a fish and some days you don’t,” says Marling, who currently occupies a house in Los Feliz, a hilly neighborhood overlooking downtown Los Angeles. “Regardless, it’s important to show up, because you start to learn your own weather conditions and to understand where to go looking for fish.”

Marling saves the most hallucinatory of her many metaphors for the art of screenwriting. “Before putting pen to paper, Eudora Welty used to stand outside, where she said that poems came to her like wind blowing across the plains. She could see them moving in the grass, and so she’d turn around and start running to her house, then to her desk, and the poem would actually come through her so that writing it was like grabbing the tail of a tiger and pulling it back to her,” she says. Realizing how wonderfully unhinged that sounds, she adds, “Unfortunately, Another Earth didn’t come to me as a wave straight from the Zuma shore. It wasn’t as easy as running back to my Malibu guesthouse and opening my first draft.”

Instead, Marling’s path from Biz Kids to Sundance whiz kid (Another Earth took home the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film prize at this year’s festival) has been littered with hard work and more than a few dog-eared how-to manuals on establishing shots and slug lines. “I studied screenwriting by reading a lot of books,” says Marling, who only began to seriously entertain the idea of a film career after spending the summer following her junior year in college interning at Goldman Sachs. “I so narrowly avoided that life,” she says, humbly relieved by her last-minute career switch. “Maybe it’s naïve, but I’ve always had this weird feeling that I could learn anything if I were disciplined enough to put in the effort. Even if I wanted to be a doctor, I could just get the books and learn organic chemistry—it would be a stretch, but the switch would eventually flip.”

A flipped switch provides the emotional nexus of Another Earth, which Marling co-wrote with her friend and the film’s director, Mike Cahill. In it, she plays Rhoda Williams, an aspiring astrophysicist who causes a fatal car accident on the night scientists discover an alternate Earth. After spending four years in prison atoning for her mistake, Rhoda reaches out to the man (William Mapother) whose family she killed, from which evolves the unlikeliest of romances. The other planet becomes a receptacle for Rhoda’s deferred dreams: How would her life have been different on Earth Two? How would she be different? “I was really interested in the insurmountable chasm between where people find themselves and where they’d intended to be,” she says. “Does a cataclysmic tragedy necessarily denote a life misfiring? From there, how do you let go of the person you so desperately wanted to be?”

Marling asks these questions not as a writer sketching out plot ideas, but as Rhoda or even Maggie, the otherworldly cult leader she plays in first-time filmmaker Zal Batmanglij’s upcoming thriller, Sound of My Voice. “I don’t read scripts analytically,” says Marling, who recently finished shooting Arbitrage, a financial drama, of all things, costarring Richard Gere, Tim Roth, and Susan Sarandon. “I’m not looking for themes or statements about class and gender. I’m actually inside these characters. The shit that’s happening in these stories isn’t happening to someone I’m playing, or someone I might one day play—this shit is happening to me, to my actual cells.” Marling waits a beat and then, grinning, adds, “It’s just like the imaginary games I used to play as a child.”

Photography by Alexander Wagner, Styling by Shandi Alexander.

‘Conan the Barbarian”s Rose McGowan’s ADD Playlist

When Rose McGowan has trouble sleeping, she doesn’t turn to the sounds of a Brazilian rainstorm or fornicating dolphins for help. Instead, she flips on an episode of True Crime with Aphrodite Jones. “It’s basically all murder and mayhem, but with soothing voiceovers,” she deadpans from her suite at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, where she’s staying while her house undergoes renovations.

That the 37-year-old actor finds solace in savagery isn’t too surprising when one considers her career. McGowan, who has starred in such seminally twisted films as The Doom Generation, Scream, and Jawbreaker, will next appear as a wicked enchantress in the big-budget remake of Conan the Barbarian, out August 19. “I’m so impressed by how insane and magnificent I look in the film,” she says. “I was in prosthetics for five hours each day, from 2 until 7 in the morning. The whole experience was otherworldly and beautiful, and I really loved what was being created. It was nice to feel that way.”

McGowan hasn’t been involved in a high-profile project since the 2007 release of Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s giddily trashy double-feature. When asked about her absence, she says, “I took two years off because my father died. I pulled out of three films to deal with it. We had $85 million to shoot Barbarella in Germany, but Robert [Rodriguez, to whom McGowan was engaged until they split in 2009] didn’t want to shoot there.”

Her personal tumult over the past few years seems to have colored her taste in music (with, perhaps, the exception of the final entry on this list), but McGowan politely dismisses the idea. “It’s basically just the ADD playlist in my brain,” she says. “I can go from listening to Eminem to AC/DC to Patsy Cline in a half hour.” Or, you know, a song about bloodsucking vampires in the Big Easy.

Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” How sexy is this song? It’s so playful and dark, and it’s very New Orleans. I’ve often thought I’d make a pretty great vampire, and I always feel at home in New Orleans—with the spirit and the people. When you’re walking around Oak Alley Plantation at night surrounded by the heavy scent of magnolia trees, playing this song on repeat, it’s pretty heady stuff.

Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait” This one reminds me so much of waiting by the mailbox. My parents are divorced, and when I was a kid I used to wait for letters from my mom when I was at my father’s house. He had a winding driveway and I remember taking long walks down to the end of it, and sitting out there by the mailbox all day. There’s such longing in this song for a time when you’re young and things are simple. Forget waiting by the mailbox—who even writes letters anymore? It makes me so sad, because it’s such a classy, genteel thing to have a nice set of personalized stationery. Not long ago, some douche at a restaurant sent over to my table a bottle of wine, so I sent him back a bowl of soup. You have to be creative in your thanks sometimes.

La Roux’s “In for the Kill (Skream Remix)” This song is so dusty. Listen to it while lying on your couch after you’ve been up all night having fun with your friends. I’m not involved in nightlife—never really was—but that’s often been a great misconception about me. I’d rather spend time at my friends’ houses playing backgammon. I love backgammon.

Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman” This one can make me cry. We’re no longer in an era when people dedicate things to each other on anything but AM radio, but somebody I used to love—I won’t tell you who—would play this song and say that it was all about me. The woman Billy Joel is singing about clearly has the upper hand.

Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” Haven’t we all had that relationship? The one I apply it to wasn’t so much about my being scorned; it was more like he scorned a situation that could have been so amazing and beautiful, but this is what he did and this is who he left. It was a case of this person being unable to be anything but himself, which was unacceptable. I didn’t want to include too many crybaby songs, but that’s exactly what I’ve done, huh? I’ll sit in my car playing this one over and over again, crying, and then I’ll think, My garage smells funny and I’m feeling awfully lightheaded! Oh, yeah, I’ve been sitting in here with the engine on, crying to this song for 30 minutes.

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” Featuring Kylie Minogue When I was little, I used to choreograph ballets in my head that I set to pretty much any song I’d been listening to. I still do that, but now it’s with ideas about how it would look on film. I can no longer separate film visions from my audio pleasure. When I go on a trip and see something—a view or a landmark—I think, It looks just like it does in the movies. I just got back from Auschwitz. I truly think, had I heard a German accent anywhere in my vicinity, I would have lunged at them and killed them. There was a point, when I came across the room filled with all the babies’ shoes, where it took everything in me not to fall to the floor and start screaming like a madman. By the time I hit the gas chambers, I never wanted to stop screaming.

Belinda Carlisle’s “Avec Le Temps” This song feels like when you’re by yourself and you sink to the floor heaving with sobs, but you feel strangely cleansed afterward. Music is often a really personal experience for me. I don’t really go to shows, but I did see Dolly Parton at the Greek Theatre a few years ago. Dolly’s music resonates with me because it’s all about being underestimated and misinterpreted, which is common in my life. Lots of people vomit up so much information about themselves, and I find that to be so repellent. Since I don’t really talk about myself, people make up stories about me. I am strong—this is true—but I hate when people say, “She’s definitely not the girl next door.” I’ve lived next door to somebody my entire life.

Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” This song is so beautiful. I always say that I believe I’m a gay man in a woman’s body, which my boyfriend [financier Rob Adams] doesn’t like. I’ve known this to be true for a long time, but I only realized I was even gayer than all of my gay friends when I made one of them go to a Zac Efron movie. He was like, “Seriously? You’re dragging me to see a Zac Efron movie and you’re playing the Flashdance soundtrack?”

Kay Starr’s “Wheel of Fortune” This one reminds me that life is like one big pair of crossed fingers. That’s sad to think, isn’t it? I hide sadness well. Put on some bright lipstick and nobody will ever know. That’s how I live my life, darling. I’m not even sure what I’m wistful for—I’ve just always felt a bit out of time. It’s a fish-out-of-water feeling, like I’ve gotten lost in some stitch in time and deposited in the wrong place. My mannerisms, my everything, just feel… wrong.

Lady Gaga’s “Telephone (Crookers Vocal Remix),” Featuring Beyoncé I wanted to end this list with something highbrow. I do fight training five to six days a week, for about two hours each day. I tend to do a lot of martial arts in movies—for whatever reason I’m either trying to save the world or kill the world, so I figure I’d might as well be good at it.

Industry Insider: Gregg Coyle, Mixx Master

On any given evening, Gregg Coyle, the director of nightlife for the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, arrives at the sprawling den of hedonism well before the revelers roll in. At roughly 9pm, he dines in one of the hotel’s six celebrity-chef restaurants, often with one of his visiting DJs, big-name draws like Jermaine Dupri and David Guetta.

When his two clubs, MIXX and mur.mur, open an hour later, “it’s all business from then on,” he says. And he’s not kidding. Coyle, who has worked at the Borgata for the past seven years, typically doesn’t get home until 7am. “You have to be a bit insane to work in this industry” he says, “but it’s the unforgettable nights that make the hours entirely worth it.” Recent highlights have included a surprise performance by Busta Rhymes, an impromptu dance-off between Janet Jackson’s back-up dancers, and the after-party for a No Doubt concert, where Gwen Stefani arrived at the DJ booth on her bodyguard’s back. Fear not, however, for the well-being of the bodyguard–or Coyle for that matter. “A night out is a bit like a workout,” he says, betraying a Pan-like lust for debauchery. “if it doesn’t hurt the next day, then it probably wasn’t good.”

Liv Tyler Takes A Giant Leap in ‘The Ledge’

Liv Tyler is cold. Really, really cold. She also has a headache, she needs a caffeine boost, and, truth be told, she’d walk out the door if she could. “Would you like an Aleve?” asks one of her publicists while retrieving a small bottle of pills from a designer handbag of indeterminable animal-kingdom origins. “Would I like to leave?” says Tyler, her exhaustion suddenly replaced by a gleeful, half-joking outburst. But no. The 33-year-old actor will endure more than a few interviews before heading to the premiere of her new film, a taut thriller about infidelity and evangelism called The Ledge (which opens July 8), in which she plays Shana, a woman torn between her Christian fundamentalist husband Joe (Patrick Wilson) and her atheist lover Gavin (Charlie Hunnam).

To ward off the room’s oppressive central air system, we struggle to open every window from a suite inside Manhattan’s Crosby Street Hotel. Tyler, the star of such varied films as Stealing Beauty, The Lord of The Rings, and, most recently, Super (in which she portrayed Rainn Wilson’s drug addict wife), kicks off her Louboutin heels and settles into a plush settee. Her kind smile and a slight nod suggests she’s ready to begin. Over the course of our conversation she subtly cracks her toes.

Press days can get really tedious. How are you holding up? I don’t mean to complain because it’s part of the job, but press junkets are hard. I can’t help but give sincere answers and I feel like they’re always so manipulated and very rarely used in the way they were intended. I also feel like I’m just an actress—I don’t necessarily want to share all of my thoughts and views with the world, but it’s almost expected.

Did this part scare you as an actor? Absolutely. That was part of the draw. But it’s very frustrating shooting a movie in such few days with not very much money, especially something that’s so detailed and intense and dense, story-wise.

Although sometimes fewer resources and less time can contribute to greater creativity. If that’s the case, that’s great. But when quality has to be compromised, it can be tricky. [Pause.] I’m not saying that happened in this case, but when budget gets cut into all these little pieces it does somehow… you think, If we only had that it could be better. I don’t necessarily mean spending loads of money. I mean, like, three million dollars versus one million dollars.

The movie raises some tough questions about faith. Did it cause you to reassess your own perspective on religion and spirituality? For me, it was more about people and the things that happen in our lives, the decisions we make, how they effect us, and how we cope with that.

But it does, ultimately, question the importance of trust in something bigger than ourselves. It didn’t change my existing belief system, but it definitely expanded my understanding of the things other people believe in. It’s so easy to judge people and think, They believe in this so they must be like that. How we cope with the world and how fragile we are, well, it’s what makes us individuals. In this film, that idea is taken to such incredible extremes because Patrick [Wilson’s character] is completely insane—or is he?

Paired with Super, The Ledge seems to suggest your desire to tackle more challenging material. Was this a conscious decision after your hiatus from acting? That sounds so cool but, honestly, these just happen to be the two things I read and fell in love with. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but it was an incredibly liberating experience for me to see what I could do. I’m an actor—that’s all I am. I’m not anything else. I’m just an actor and I love my job, and I like the people I work with. I don’t think too much about “career moves,” I just want to have experiences.

Has the process always been that organic for you? If I’m being honest, yeah.

That’s really surprising. They call it the movie business for a reason. That hasn’t been my experience. I’ve just always enjoyed making different kinds of films and playing different characters. I don’t know that I’ve ever tapped into one schtick. I’m still learning and exploring. There’s something magical about leaving those decisions up to chance, and watching where they then take you in your life.

Had you been reading scripts during your break from acting? Since having Milo, basically, I haven’t worked nearly as hard on films as I had leading up to that point. I’ve had the incredible luxury and amazing opportunity to have a cosmetic contract with Givenchy for almost eight years now—which is unheard of! And that’s made it possible for me to be home with Milo, and it’s given me something very solid to fall back on.

Were you itching to get back? I am now, in a crazy way. I’ve always had a tendency to work very hard on a couple back-to-back movies and then say, I need to not do that again for a while. I don’t feel like I could ever just make one movie after the next after the next. I’m not built like a machine. As a parent, especially this year because Milo’s starting kindergarten, I need to find a balance between work and family. I’m always aware of this beautiful little person who needs me to be around.

You’ll be on The View tomorrow. Excited or terrified? I’m not terrified, but I’ve always had a little bit of stage fright. There’s just something about a live talk show, but I’m getting much better at it.

I think the pre-interview is so weird, the idea that you’d call in before appearing on the show to settle on funny anecdotes with one of the producers. It’s really funny when it’s someone like Jay Leno, because based on what you talk about in that pre-interview he creates very specific jokes and punch lines, and even suggests responses to jokes. I’m always so worried I’m going to miss my mark.

There are stories floating around online that you’re co-writing an etiquette book with your grandmother. Well, my grandmother’s writing a book, but I wrote the foreword and I’m very involved in the process—dealing with the publishers, the look of the book, and everything that’s in the book. I’m also writing little sidebars about the things she’s taught me and how they’ve affected my life. But it’s completely her book.

Summer Movie Reviews: ‘The Trip,’ ‘The Devil’s Double’ & ‘Project Nim’

The Myth of the American Sleepover David Robert Mitchell’s directorial debut begins when Maggie (Claire Sloma), one of the film’s four teenage leads, decides to skip an end-of-summer sleepover party to chase after an older boy she likes. The camera then cuts to Rob (Marlon Morton), who’s looking for a girl he saw in a grocery store earlier that day, and then to Claudia (Amanda Bauer), who’s taken Maggie’s place at the all-girl soiree. Finally, it settles on Scott (Brett Jacobsen), a high school senior whose recent breakup has him contemplating the meaning of life. Nothing really happens in the film: there are no moral lessons, no life-altering revelations. There is, however, something familiar about the group’s adolescent vulnerability, which can be felt in the actors’ clumsy, monotonic delivery. Mitchell hired real kids instead of pros, and it shows. Whereas John Hughes understood that high school was still recognizable under a Hollywood shellac, Mitchell knows that you don’t need good lighting or a Glee star to create something authentically emotional. —Cayte Grieve

Project Nim In Project Nim, Academy Award–winning filmmaker James Marsh (Man on Wire) turns his camera on Columbia University in the 1970s, when an animal language research group tried to close the book on the nature-versus-nurture debate. Marsh’s exposition-heavy documentary introduces audiences to an infant chimpanzee named Nim Chimsky, the subject of what amounts to a real-life version of The Truman Show. We witness a diapered Nim curiously exploring the complex human world—and his caretakers’ optimism about his initial linguistic progress. As the years pass, however, disagreements within the group proliferate in tandem with now-adolescent Nim’s increasingly unpredictable and violent behavior, which eventually forces the project’s premature termination and Nim’s return to the primitive cages where he was born. Project Nim is an important testimony to the often cruel cost of science, and a telling reminder that chimps and humans aren’t so different after all. —Rory Gunderson

The Trip In this gorgeously shot but otherwise spartan comedy, director Michael Winterbottom sends his two leads, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon—playing exaggerated versions of themselves—on a road trip through picturesque northern England. Coogan has agreed to review a half-dozen upscale restaurants for The Observer, an assignment he initially took to impress his foodie girlfriend. But when she abruptly returns to America, he reluctantly invites his actor friend (Brydon) to take her place. Coogan plays a frustrated thespian entering midlife, hoping to land more meaningful roles while easing his pain with weed and women. Brydon is an able foil as the somewhat annoying friend—happy family, successful career—who becomes more likable as his unwavering optimism infects his recalcitrant partner. Over the course of 100 minutes—culled from a six-part BBC series—the duo exchanges insults, compares impersonations (their Michael Caine battle was a minor YouTube hit last year), and samples some of the finest cuisine ever prepared in the British Isles. It’s a buddy comedy, a road movie, and food porn all rolled into one. —Victor Ozols

The Devil’s Double An unfortunate resemblance to Saddam Hussein’s eldest son, Uday (Dominic Cooper), forces Iraqi army lieutenant Latif Yahia (also Dominic Cooper) to serve as the loathed progeny’s body double in Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double. Under looming threats to his family’s safety, Yahia consents to plastic surgery, dental work, and a wardrobe makeover that casts him as Saddam’s “third son,” a carbon copy of Uday, a coke-snorting sadist with a murderous temper and a habit of preying on underage girls. A respectable and level-headed man who first told his real-life story in a 2003 memoir, Latif’s is the only voice of reason in an otherwise trigger-happy, amoral world. —Nadeska Alexis

Ewan McGregor Delivers His Most Vulnerable Performance Yet in ‘Beginners’

While balancing atop the back of a broad, wooden elephant, Ewan McGregor’s Christian, a penniless poet dressed in a black tuxedo, desperately implores the courtesan with whom he’s infatuated to share his passion. “Love is a many-splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love,” he pleads to Nicole Kidman’s Satine, whose rippling hair, fleshy lips, and flowing gown are drenched in a shade of red normally reserved for Valentine’s Day cards. He breaks into song, she responds with heavy breaths and heaving breasts, and eventually they kiss under the soft, seductive glow of the moon. The heart of bohemian Paris, it seems, beats with theirs.

Despite some obvious similarities to the Baz Luhrmann musical, McGregor’s latest film, Beginners, is the anti-Moulin Rouge. Instead of sweeping gestures and histrionic declarations of amour, the Scottish actor’s character, an emotionally shut-off illustrator named Oliver, stammers his way through his courtship of Anna, a mysterious French actor played by Mélanie Laurent. While navigating the dating scene with self-conscious ineptitude, Oliver is also coming to terms with his father Hal’s second life as a gay man, a revelation he shared at the age of 75, following the death of his wife and Oliver’s mother. Hal, played by Christopher Plummer, soon falls for a much younger man (Goran Visnjic). Together, the unlikely lovebirds frequent dance clubs that play “wonderfully loud music,” cuddle together on the floor, and host Harvey Milk–themed movie nights at what’s now become Hal’s bachelor pad. Just as he begins to settle into his life as a proud gay man—a freedom he denied himself throughout his marriage—Hal is diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Beginners is based on filmmaker Mike Mills’ relationship with his own father, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 79.

To help his actors bond prior to the film shoot, Mills sent McGregor, 40, and Laurent to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles. “He thought the roller coasters were a good metaphor for falling in love,” says McGregor over the phone from Surrey, England, where he’s currently filming Bryan Singer’s adventure epic, Jack the Giant Killer, a 3-D retelling of the classic fairy tale. “Just like a roller coaster, falling in love makes you feel exhilarated and nauseated at the same time. You never know what’s coming next, you’ve got no control over it, and you don’t want to eat afterward.”

Unlike most conveyor-belt romantic comedies, in which the protagonist’s parents are reduced to wacky clichés, if they’re present at all, Beginners places as much significance on the intimacy between a father and his son as it does on the nascent love affair central to its plot—which meant that McGregor and Plummer were also thrown into camaraderie boot camp. “The first day I worked with Christopher, Mike sent the two of us to Barneys in Los Angeles. He gave me $200 and told me I had to buy Christopher a scarf,” McGregor says, laughing at the memory. “But Christopher was obsessed with getting a pair of black skinny jeans. He ended up with about $1,000 worth of black skinny jeans—which I had to pay for since he had no money on him—and one scarf because that’s what I’d been told to get.” image

Mills’ experiment paid off. The chemistry between his three leads serves to anchor an otherwise whimsical narrative, through which floats all manner of quirky tropes: a Jack Russell terrier who speaks in subtitles, an interstitial slideshow depicting “happy people” from generations past, and a Harold and Maude–like driving sequence through the streets of suburban Los Angeles. Despite these idiosyncratic flourishes, it’s Beginners’ trifecta of lost souls who turn an otherwise acutely personal history into a universal love story. “The longer I do this job, the more often I come in contact with it being done very badly,” says McGregor of filmmaking. “Working with Mike was a fucking privilege. It was one of the greatest experiences of my career.”

Which is saying a lot. McGregor, who began working in his twenties, starred in three movies (Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book and Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave among them) prior to his breakout performance in 1996 as a heroin addict in Boyle’s era-defining drug odyssey, Trainspotting. Since then, he’s surprised audiences at every turn: as a thinly-veiled ode to Iggy Pop in Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine; as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the reboot of George Lucas’ Star Wars; and as a shiftless transient opposite Tilda Swinton in Young Adam, which earned him a BAFTA award in Scotland. His upcoming projects—and there’s no dearth of those—seem equally destined for cinematic acclaim. In addition to Jack the Giant Killer, in which he stars opposite Nicholas Hoult in the title role, McGregor is set to release Haywire (an action thriller helmed by Steven Soderbergh), The Impossible (about a family caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, co-starring Naomi Watts), Perfect Sense (a romantic drama set during an epidemic that robs the afflicted of control over their emotions, and then their senses), and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Lasse Hallström’s adaptation of the award-winning novel by Paul Torday, also featuring Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas).

In truth, McGregor’s patchiest films are the ones that have found him plucking his heartstrings—with the exception of Moulin Rouge, the gloriously maudlin spectacle that earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in 2002 and confirmed his reputation as a sensitive heartthrob with serious pipes. Down with Love, for example, a post-modern battle of the sexes that had him sparring with—and bedding—Renée Zellweger, went over like a lead balloon when it was released in 2003. Even 2010’s subversively twisted prison comedy, I Love You Phillip Morris, in which McGregor and Jim Carrey dropped the soap with abandon, sputtered in distribution hell for two years before it was released with a paltry mewl.

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Thankfully, McGregor has finally found a starry-eyed drama—devoid of jailhouse sex and Madonna-tinged dance sequences—that’s at once subtle and soaring. “When I was a really small kid, like 5 or 6, I was obsessed with romantic movies,” he says. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a real appetite for those types of movies from the ’30s and ’40s. I like them more than the romantic films of today because they didn’t make any excuses for being romantic. We tend to shroud ours in comedy because it’s embarrassing to be romantic, but that wasn’t the case back then. I like savage and painful love in movies, and that’s one of the great things about Beginners: Its characters don’t really know what’s going on, but they feel really good when it’s going right and they’re destroyed when it’s not, and that’s a lot like real life."

To hear him speak, one gets the sense that McGregor, who has three children with Eve Mavrakis, a French production designer and his wife of 16 years, is no stranger to grand proclamations of love. “As people, we do these irrational things that we sometimes look back on later and think, What the fuck did I do that for?” he admits. When asked for specifics, he says, “I would never discuss that with you, because I think my romantic life is my own.” Following a tense pause, the phone shakes with his uproarious laughter, because even though he’s uncompromisingly private, McGregor is also an affable guy with a robust sense of humor. Still, details are not forthcoming.

“It’s not like I feel the need to protect myself or my family from some nasty thing,” he says about the media. “At the same time, I’m very clear about what I do for a job.” But is it not, at least in part, an actor’s job to give audiences more than just a stellar performance? “Fuck, no,” he says. “Where’s that rulebook? I’ve had journalists ask me the most unbelievably prying, sexual questions, and the idea that I might actually answer them—what kind of madness is that? Actors are professionals who have a job to do, and that job really shouldn’t involve the public pointing fingers at us when we come out of the house on a Sunday morning in baggy clothes. Whole magazines are devoted to gawking at famous people in their normal lives, like we’re some kind of collective freak show, and to me that’s just ridiculous.”

McGregor will, however, happily discuss his undying love for the craft of acting, which he’s careful to separate from the circus of celebrity. “Here’s the thing about fame,” he says. “You’ll never wake up with enough of it. You’ll never go, ‘That’s it! I’ve done it! I’m really fucking famous now.’ But you can wake up in the morning feeling successful, feeling as if you’re really good at your job, that you’ve given it 110%, that people like your work, and that people want to work with you again. If you’re just after fame—and god knows, some people are—then you’ll never be happy. Happiness derives from making great work and finding someone to love.” Come what may.

Photography by Laurence Ellis. Styling by John McCarty.

Actor Mélanie Laurent on John Galliano, Lars Von Trier, & Finding Love in ‘Beginners’

In her new film, Beginners, French actor, director, and musician Mélanie Laurent plays Anna, an aspiring starlet who reluctantly falls for Ewan McGregor’s Oliver. As the two lovebirds begin their courtship, Oliver is also plagued by his elderly father Hal’s (Christopher Plummer) inoperable cancer. Hal, an openly gay man who came out of the closet at the age of 75 following his wife’s (and Oliver’s mother’s) death, ignores his mortality and spends more and more time with his young lover, frequenting gay dance clubs and hosting Harvey Milk–themed movie nights.

Beginners is loosely based on director Mike Mills real-life relationship with his own father, but if McGregor embodies a version of Mills, Laurent is quick to dismiss the idea that she’s portraying his wife, auteur Miranda July.

“No, no, no,” she said over the phone last week. “He’s insisted that I’m absolutely not playing her. If anything, I think I represent one of his ex-girlfriends.” Laurent, who was inducted into the American mainstream in 2009 as the fiery projectionist in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, has had a busy few months, juggling her production schedule while also collaborating on tracks with singer-songwriter Damien Rice, landing a plum gig as the new face of Dior’s Hypnotic Poison fragrance, and acting as Master of Ceremonies at last month’s Cannes International Film Festival.

How was your experience as Master of Ceremonies at Cannes? What did that entail? I had to write a speech for the opening, and then after that I presented all of the movies and the prizes and everything—it’s a real job!

Did you see many of the films? No, because I wanted to do the job properly instead of going on the red carpet everyday. Plus, I love watching movies in Paris alone. That’s one of my great pleasures.

Ewan told me about how Mike sent you both to an amusement park because he thought roller coasters were apt metaphors for love. What was that experience like? We screamed a lot. I thought the idea was absolutely amazing. Mike said, “Are you afraid,” and we said, Yes! He said, “Are you excited?” Yes! “Well, that’s what love is all about.”

Are you somebody who falls in and out of love easily? Of course. I’m French. I’m in love with love.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in the name of love? I don’t know if it’s crazy, but I once organized a birthday for a lover and I scheduled something for him every hour throughout the day. One hour, he’d have to meet someone who tells him a poem in a bus, and the next he was searching for an envelope somewhere else in Paris. It took a lot of organization for one birthday!

Did the movie force you to reconsider what love is? Not really, because I’m not at all like Anna, my character in the film. For me, it’s much easier to be in a relationship—I’m absolutely not that complicated, and when I’m in love I want to move together and I’m not afraid of commitment. This film actually reminded me of a relationship I had a long time ago where everything was so complicated and, ugh, I don’t like that.

Are you a fighter? The French are known for their passion. Oh, yeah. You have to fight for love, because after three months there’s no longer that same passion of discovering someone else. You have to fight everyday because it’s not easy to spend a really long time with someone.

Was it at all nerve-wracking to play a part in Mike’s story while he was there directing you? No, because he’s an amazing human being. It could have been super-complicated if it had been difficult for him to do everything, but it wasn’t. I was not there for Christopher Plummer’s part and I heard some days were super-moving, but I think Mike was ready for that. He’s a really amazing director and I think he was prepared.

How was Anna pitched to you when you first started discussing what the character would be like? She was supposed to be American, but obviously she’s now French, and I think it made a difference. When Mike chose me, we joked a lot about the movie and about the personal stuff he put in the script. When he started to talk about Anna he said, “She’s terrified of being in love, but she’s also very clever and very funny—she’s kind of a little cat but she’s strong like a dinosaur.” We did a lot of improvisation, and I was terrified of making a movie in English so I said that to Mike and he said, “If you really feel like speaking in French just do it, as would Anna.” There are moments where I use French words because it feels natural. For example, the scene where the waitress says we can’t bring our dog into the restaurant, and I’m super-angry, that was all French improvisation.

It’s so much more powerful because you realize how very angry Anna is in that moment. That sort of big reaction is very French, like, I’m a rebel and I don’t give a shit! We get so upset over everything.

Beginners is your first big American release since Inglourious Basterds. Is recognition from the American mainstream something you desire? After the success and craziness of Inglourious Basterds I was really afraid of it, to be honest.

Because it all happened so quickly? Yeah, and it was big! Suddenly everyone recognized me in the airport and usually it’s just in France. Suddenly it was everywhere in the world. Everybody was calling me Shosanna [her character’s name in the film]. I traveled with Quentin to Tokyo and Cannes and the United States, and after that I was like, Oh my god, what am I going to do now? It put a lot of pressure on me. After a Tarantino movie, I knew I had to choose something special because Basterds was such a special experience. So I went back to Paris and worked in French movies. I decided not to move to LA or New York, and I refused a lot of big projects about action characters with guns. I don’t know, I just didn’t feel it. I was hoping for something pure and something small, because I think American independent movies are absolutely amazing. When I received Mike’s script I was like, Ah, that’s so cool.

Did Quentin try to prepare you for the magnitude of his film’s success? A little bit, but you can’t predict how it’s going to be before.

You just signed on to be the face of Dior’s Hypnotic Poison fragrance. Is modeling something with which you’re comfortable? No, but it’s not really about modeling in this case. It really feels like they choose me based on my personality, for everything I’ve done as an actor or a singer. I don’t feel like a model.

But there’s bound to be some modeling involved! No, not really! I don’t feel like that. We shot a picture and it was of me—it was really my face and my vision of that perfume. I didn’t feel like I was a model.

In light of what’s been happening with John Galliano, were you at all reluctant about signing on to do this campaign? No, because he fucked up and Dior fired him, and they’re going to start another story now. It’s a very complex subject. I’m a Jew and I couldn’t watch the video for many days. Obviously you can’t defend a designer who says something like that, but I also met a lot of people who’ve worked with him for many years—because I didn’t want to just judge the guy—and it’s complicated because you can see he’s totally drunk and totally away from reality. It’s not like, yeah, he’s an asshole and I hate that guy. It’s more complicated than that. He’s committed career suicide, so the question is: Why? I was really shocked by what he said, and it’s similar to what happened with Lars von Trier at Cannes.

How did you react to what Lars said about Hitler? It was super-strange to be at Cannes and to watch someone suicide his career in one second.

Might it be a different situation with Lars, though, since he’s known for saying ridiculous, controversial things? His comments weren’t the result of drugs or alcohol—but rather a very twisted sense of humor. But he should know that he can’t say that. We all know you’re going to have a problem if you say that. Even if it’s meant to provoke, it’s a really sensitive subject. I have a great sense of humor and I can laugh about a lot of things, but I don’t like when Hitler is brought up to provoke someone. There are many ways to be provocative—don’t use that man as a provocation, because it’s really not funny. And you’ll be finished after that, so just don’t do it.

Chloë Sevigny on Going from Drug Smuggler to Pre-Op Trans Assassin

No one could ever accuse actor Chloë Sevigny of playing it safe. From her first major role as an HIV-positive teenager in Larry Clark’s KIDS to her Golden Globe Award–winning portrayal of a sister-wife on HBO’s Big Love, the 36-year-old actor and fashion designer has never been one to shy away from controversy. In her latest film, Mr. Nice, Sevigny plays Judy Marks, wife of Howard Marks, a Welsh drug smuggler who was alleged to have once run 10% of the world’s hashish trade. Up next, she’s planning a return to television with two very different miniseries: a Lizzie Borden biopic, in which she’ll play the homicidal lead, and a still-untitled project about a pre-op transsexual assassin, for which she’s readying her Irish brogue.

First, however, a chat—about everything from Patti Smith and bong hits to why her brother Paul won’t be DJing her first Opening Ceremony fashion show next week—from inside Manhattan’s Playwright Tavern, an appropriately unexpected place to meet an Oscar nominee.

Had you known about Howard Marks before signing on to play his wife? No, but I asked my English friends, who said he was a huge counter-culture icon in the UK. He wrote a book, also called Mr Nice, that every kid over there reads. The alternative kids hero-worship him.

Have you read Judy’s blog? No, I’m not really into the internet.

She says lovely things about you on it. We didn’t meet until after I finished shooting the film, but we ended up bonding in Spain. I think Bernard [Rose, the film’s director] didn’t want me to become friendly with her because he didn’t want it to color my performance. He didn’t want me to become more sympathetic to her and to her children, even though I’d read all about it from the book.

She wrote that the two of you have a lot in common, one of those things being that you’ve both had your “fair share of messing about on yachts.” What did she mean by that? She grew up in a sailing family and so did I. My dad was a big sailor and my brother Paul actually tried to sail in the Olympics. He went to the College of Charleston because of their sailing team. He used to deliver people’s yachts from Newport down to the Caribbean for money, and I’ve done that with him a few times. So that’s probably what she meant, but maybe it’s also a class thing because the English are so obsessed with that. Maybe she means we’re cut from a similar cloth.

Were you at all apprehensive about having to do a British accent? I was really scared of the accent, and I was so not confident about it. The filmmakers weren’t very specific. If they’d specified a certain type of English accent, then it would have been easier. Also, they didn’t really have a dialect coach for me to work with—they had a PA. They weren’t giving me the right training about how to move your mouth and where the right sounds are in your mouth, because it’s very technical. I did a film where I spoke mostly in French—Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover—and I learned all of that phonetically with a woman at a piano helping me find the tones. And I did a fucking smashing job.

British accents, it seems, are the easiest to botch. And the English always do American accents too flat. I don’t care who the actor is, whenever they do American, they go too flat—like Ewan McGregor. When he does American, it’s just so flat and he loses any kind of sex appeal. He loses a lot of the jazz. I’m working on a southern Irish accent at the moment for a miniseries I’m about to begin filming.

Can you tell me about it? It’s a British production for Sky Atlantic, and I’m playing a pre-op male-to-female tranny assassin. It’s very realistic. It’s being created by a lot of the people who were involved in the original Skins, so it’s going to be very edgy.

Wow. You’ve done quite a few projects with trans content: Candy Darling, Boy’s Don’t CryParty Monster, If These Walls Could Talk 2. But I feel this will be my most feminine, most glamorous role to date. I hope that I have enough gay stripes that I won’t get totally attacked. It was the creators’ idea not to hire a boy to play the part, and of course as an actor you’re going to jump on that. I’m going to try to play it as beautiful and as feminine and as glamorous as I can—not like Transamerica.

image When you watch yourself in Mr. Nice, are you pleased with the performance? Are you your own harshest critic? I am, yes, but Bernard made me look better than most people do. He was always bragging about that: “I make you look better than anyone else, I know your angles.”

But you’re not talking about the performance; you’re talking about, well, vanity. That’s usually where I criticize myself, depending on how I look. I mean—I am an actress. Big Love is so hard for me to watch because they made me look so bad on that show.

When you were 17, your parents forced you to go to an AA meeting. I’m curious to know if that colored your work in this film at all. I don’t know… My parents found my bong. They put the bong on a table next to a note that said, “This is shit and you’re in it.” I thought it was so funny. I was kind of a screw-up in high school. I dressed really weird and was really despondent, and I did smoke a lot of pot and took different experimental drugs. I think it definitely affected my performance in high school, but I also think I might have been that way even if I wasn’t on so many drugs. I was just miserable. I had a really hard time as a teenager. It was super-fun and crazy, but I wasn’t doing the “right” things at all. When I shaved my head and pierced my nose my mom wanted to die—they kicked me out of the house.

You were such a cliché! [Laughter] It was 1991.

Which was only a few years before you starred in KIDS. Do you feel as if, even though 16 years have passed since the release of that film, people still consider you to be this New York party girl? I often think about that a lot, the fact that people still think of me as a kid, but I’m 37. I’m, like, a woman. But I still feel like people are judging me in an unfair way most of the time, like I’m still a little kid. But I don’t go out so much anymore. I’m not going to all the cool spots anymore.

You’re at things. I see you at things. Am I? [Laughter.] I guess I go out sometimes. But, regardless, I do see what you mean about getting pegged in a moment. I feel like that happens with everyone. Patti Smith is still constantly talking about the ’70s. She just came out with a book about it [Just Kids]. I’m a huge fan of her music—sometimes I think she’s a little high-horsey, everything’s a little romanticized. The book was a little precious and a little unkind toward Robert Mapplethorpe. But I love her. When they rereleased Horses, I stood in line for two hours to have my record signed, and I got one of those buttons that says, “Horses Changed My Life,” which is one of my favorite things I own—other than my Linda Manz Out of the Blue jacket.

Howard Marks used 43 different aliases during his time a drug smuggler. Have you ever had one? I’ve never, no—never even in a hotel! I remember this one director who used to check into hotels under the name Duane Reade. I have a fake name on Facebook, but it’s a nickname all of my friends call me. I’m so into Facebook, but I’m not into blogs or comments or tweets.

Have you watched the videos of Drew Droege, the comedian who impersonates you on YouTube? Yes, I have. We were thinking about doing one together.

You must. I haven’t been in LA with enough time to get it together.

When did you two first meet? There’s this company called World of Wonder Productions, and they do a lot of films and television like RuPaul’s Drag Race. They did Party Monster. Anyway, they had a big party in LA at Christmas, and we were both there.

I bet he was scared to meet you. He was terrified! He thought I was going to hate him.

Next week, you’ll unveil your first runway show for Opening Ceremony. You must be so excited. I’m actually really nervous about it.

Are you going to have Paul DJ it? I hadn’t even thought about it, to be honest. I need someone who does a lot of fashion shows. The problem is that DJs want to be collaborative and I just want to tell them what to play. I’m working with a young artist who makes sculptures and installations, and he’s creating some special pieces specifically for me. The PR company is worried that it’s going to stir up controversy, but I’m like, Do you know who you’re talking to?