You Say Apology, I Say Shifting Blame: Big Love’s Chloe Sevigny vs. Context

You Say Apology, I Say Shifting Blame

March 26th, 2010

On Big Love, Bill Henrickson and his family live a secretive life, outwardly projecting an image of normality while in truth living a complicated life as Polygamists. This requires a lot of what is effectively damage control: someone steps out of line, or reveals something they shouldn’t, or allows someone into the truth about their lives, and then the whole family mobilizes to shut things down and return to the status quo. It’s a process that has happened numerous times over the course of four seasons of the show, and it’s a process that apparently some PR flack believes will actually work in the real world.

Earlier this week, an interview with Chloë Sevigny, who plays Nicki on the HBO drama series, was posted at The A.V. Club. It was posted in the form of a lengthy Q&A that spanned her entire career, and after a brief discussion about differences between drama and comedy Sean O’Neal and Sevigny share the following exchange:

AVC: This past season of Big Love has taken a lot of flak for being so over-the-top.

CS: It was awful this season, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not allowed to say that! [Gasps.] It was very telenovela. I feel like it kind of got away from itself. The whole political campaign seemed to me very farfetched. I mean, I love the show, I love my character, I love the writing, but I felt like they were really pushing it this last season. And with nine episodes, I think they were just squishing too much in. HBO only gave us nine Sundays, because they have so much other original programming—especially with The Pacific—and they only have a certain amount of Sundays per year, so we only got nine Sundays. I think that they had more story than episodes. I think that’s what happened.

They go on to discuss the season in further detail, including some specific plot points that were particularly “over the top,” and then they move on. When I read the piece, I was ecstatic: here was an actress offering a legitimate and well-substantiated opinion on the show based on its narrative development rather than any sort of complaint about not getting enough material, or being mistreated, or anything of the sort. She explains her concern, makes note of her love for the people involved with the show, and then even offers a reason (HBO rushed them) the season went off the rails. She was measured and fair, and I applauded her for being so honest with her opinion.

But, like when someone mistakenly gets insight into the Henricksons’ life, someone is trying to make this story go away as quickly as possible: Sevigny has been interviewed by Michael Ausiello, the go-to television apology expert after his recent EW piece with Katherine Heigl, where she completely rewrites the details of interview, something I would expect Nicki to do if we’re sticking with this “life imitates art” thing. Says Sevigny:

I feel like what I said was taken out of context, and the [reporter] I was speaking to was provoking me. I was in Austin [at the SXSW festival] and really exhausted and doing a press junket and I think I just… I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying. You know, after a day of junkets sometimes things slip out that you don’t mean, and I obviously didn’t mean what I said in any way, shape, or form. I love being on the show. I have nothing but respect and admiration for our writers and everybody involved with the show.

Now, first off, Sean O’Neal has made his official response to these comments, including the audio of that section of the interview. But, since I’m still enormously frustrated with this response from Sevigny, let’s talk about the three things are happening here, and how none of them do anything to “help” this situation.

1. The interviewer is being thrown under the bus

This makes me wonder if whoever gave Sevigny this advice actually read the interview in question. While you could argue that the question Sean asked was leading (I’m sure an objection would have been sustained if this were, you know, a court of law), it was in no way provoking. He stated an opinion that many have had, and she offered her own. How, precisely, this has anything to do with O’Neal is beyond me.

2. The phrase “taken out of context” is being used without context

This is an answer to a question about Big Love in an interview which was posted in its entirety; unless they’re arguing that it was edited after the fact, which is a completely different claim and one that they clearly have no justification to make, then nothing has been taken out of context. In fact, what Sevigny’s apology is trying to do is take her own comments OUT of the context of a simple interview.

3. Sevigny is apologizing for stating her opinion

While perhaps “awful” may have been a bad word, and she could apologize for that, she was thinking about what she was saying: she was measured, she was even-handed, and she made sure to support that opinion by offering some potential reasons it may have happened. However, for the sake of this apology, she was just “tired and exhausted,” and thus couldn’t have been thinking clearly because how else could she ever provide her own analysis of what went wrong with Big Love’s fourth season.

I completely understand that Sevigny needed to apologize in order to smooth things over with her bosses, and maybe even her castmates (although they, frankly, have a lot more reason to complain than Sevigny, who actually got the most consistent material this year). But what I don’t understand is why she had to apologize in public, and why she needed to throw the interviewer under the bus in the process. There’s a point in the Ausiello interview where you realize that she’s not really apologizing in this interview: instead, she’s there to talk about apologizing to the show’s creators, and then spinning the content of the earlier interview in order to shift the blame away from herself and onto the interviewer, which is far more damaging (at least in my opinion) than any of the fallout from her comments in the original interview. Perhaps that was Sevigny’s intention, worried about whether a reputation as a loudmouth (read: opinionated) would keep her from getting jobs in the future, but the shifting of blame is entirely extraneous to such efforts, and thus highly questionable.

Yes, I had a lot of issues with the fourth season of Big Love, so I am particularly frustrated that someone at HBO or in Sevigny’s camp seems to think that talking honestly about those issues is a violation of some sort of party line. However, even if I had really enjoyed the season, this is still a really unfortunate response to the situation. While Sevigny apologizing to the creators in private was logical and perhaps even necessary in order to maintain a positive working environment for next season, this public “apology” only complicates the situation: the network looks like it’s hiding something, the show seems like it unable to take criticism (or is in some way above that criticism), and Sevigny seems like she’s so concerned about her image as it relates to “biting the hand that feeds her” that she’s willing to vilify the interviewer and shift blame away from herself.

And while in the world of Big Love people turn a blind eye so that the show can go on, in the real world we’re left wondering how anyone thought this was a good idea, and how people involved with a show so concerned with damage control managed to botch this so royally.

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4 Comments

Filed under Big Love

4 responses to “You Say Apology, I Say Shifting Blame: Big Love’s Chloe Sevigny vs. Context

  1. Jennifer

    You know, I deeply enjoy it when a celebrity says something honest in an interview. Alas, I think the backlash against anyone who says anything flat out is rising, and the age of honesty is about to end.

    In short: argh.

  2. Tasha

    Thanks for this level-headed, intelligent, thorough write-up. It’s the best I’ve seen so far in all this kafuffle.

  3. Tausif Khan

    “Perhaps that was Sevigny’s intention, worried about whether a reputation as a loudmouth (read: opinionated) would keep her from getting jobs in the future, but the shifting of blame is entirely extraneous to such efforts, and thus highly questionable.”

    I believe this is a valid concern for Sevigny because of gender. This points out that Sevigny’s supposed transgression has a stigma. The real transgression (to her potential bosses) then becomes that she is a woman who speaks out of turn. This is a label that should never be applied to a woman who provides a valid critique of anything.

  4. Pingback: Once More Unto the Breach: Kurt Sutter vs. Journalistic Ethics | Cultural Learnings

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