Kyra Sedgwick: Opening a New Chapter After 'The Closer'

As she winds up seven successful seasons on her series, Kyra Sedgwick is changing course. The actress talks frankly about facing an empty nest, re-connecting with her husband Kevin Bacon and embracing the "fallow period" she hopes will lead to personal and professional growth

by Johanna Schneller
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L’Agence silk chiffon blouse; ronherman.com. J Brand cotton blend capris; saks fifthavenue.com.
Photograph: Mark Segal

Being crazy-busy is one kind of challenge. But what about the opposite problem, when all that action starts to slow down? How do you handle the challenge of less? That’s the question Kyra Sedgwick is pondering as she sips coffee on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on a spring afternoon, with a riot of buds and blossoms outside providing an appropriate metaphor for growth.

The 46-year-old actress no longer has a steady job: In December she wrapped up her seven-year, Emmy-winning run on TNT’s The Closer as Brenda Leigh Johnson, the Los Angeles deputy police chief whose rapid-fire Southern tones pop suspects open like so many soda cans. Once a hands-on mom (to Travis, 23, and Sosie, 20), she’s now an empty nester. And after living solo in L.A. for half the year while shooting the series, she’s back home in New York City full time, reconnecting with her husband of 23 years, the actor-musician-director Kevin Bacon.

She arrives at her neighborhood café looking urban-cool in sunglasses and a belted trench coat,then disarms me with a hug. “I don’t know why, you just look like someone to hug,” she says. She orders a decaf mocha latte with soy milk, then asks the barista, “But can you make it mostly chocolate?” And when she opens her elegant hand, her next stop is inked in two words on her palm: duane reade. “I have to write everything down,” she says, rolling her eyes. Her voice is hoarse from a cold, and she frequently pulls down the sleeves of her gray Burberry sweater as if chilled. But her conversation is warm—thoughtful, energetic and peppered with the wordreally. It’s clear that Sedgwick doesn’t simply think or feel something; she really thinks it and really, really feels it.

“Kyra has a wonderful ability to put her attention on you,” says her Closer costar Mary McDonnell (see sidebar, opposite). “When she’s focused on you, you feel a lot of thinking going on. Her attention is very alive and personal.”

According to the show’s creator, James Duff, Sedgwick brings that same intensity to her work. “She’s like an amazing athlete,” he says. “She has a formidable intellect and also an intense sexual charisma that gave me great variety in writing her interrogation scenes—she could be a suspect’s girlfriend, ex, mother, sister. Right to the end, she never quit trying to do it better than she had the week before. Other shows use special effects, but ours always came down to her in a small room. Kyra was our special effect.”

Which makes you wonder just where she’ll direct that intensity now. “This is a change, no question,” Sedgwick says about her choice to make The Closer’s seventh season, which will resume July 9, its last. “I brought it on myself, and once I’d decided it, there was no moment where I thought, I wish I hadn’t. I’m not sitting around with nothing to do. I’m a lady who lunches, goes to the theater, the movies. I go out to dinner, I cook at home, I hang out with my family and friends. I am going to hit a wall, though, of needing to express myself creatively—sooner rather than later probably. But I’m trying to trust in this fallow period. I’m facing the unknowing: the excitement of it as well as the insecurity of it and concern about it.”

She’s usually good with change. (Bacon even wrote a song about it, “Woman’s Got a Mind to Change.”) And she’s capable of holding opposing thoughts in her head at the same time. “I’m so not a planner,” she says. “I didn’t plan getting married. If somebody had told me when I was 21 that I was going to be married with a kid at 23, I would have told them they were insane. Thinking too far ahead is scary to me. I’d rather say, ‘One minute at a time.’ ”

Sedgwick came back to New York ready to spend quality time with Bacon. They’ve had good luck with scheduling over the years: They don’t often work at the same time, they try not to spend more than three weeks apart, and for the past few years, Bacon has been able to fit his schedule around hers. But two weeks after Sedgwick got home from finishing up on The Closer, he landed The Following, a TV series of his own created by writer-producer Kevin Williamson (Dawson’s Creek) for Fox. “There’s part of me that thinks, Are we going to be in our seventies before we all of a sudden look at each other and go, ‘Oh, hi’ ?” Sedgwick says. “Obviously that’s part of what makes it exciting. You don’t get bored; it has a certain spark to it. And, of course, I’m ready for him to work. He loves to work. We both do better when we’re working.

“But sometimes it feels so different than what other people have,” she admits. “Every now and then I’ll be like, ‘I’m having a hard day,’ and I realize, I’m lonely! I miss my husband, who’s working far away. My other half is not here to help carry me through. I’m ready to be home with him for the third or fourth night in a row. Really being boring for a change, sitting around doing nothing.”

The couple met while making the 1988 TV movie Lemon Sky. Already famous, he was immediately smitten. She thought he was a tad full of himself. Every day for the first week, Bacon asked the cast out to dinner, hoping she’d come along. Every night she declined, leaving him stuck with a crowd as well as the tab. Then one day on the set, he suggested she have a massage at his hotel—and he just happened to be there when she finished.

“He’s there dabbing his forehead, like, ‘Whoo, just got off the StairMaster—want to go get a bite?’ ” Sedgwick says, laughing. “He took me to this expensive restaurant. He remembers so vividly that I opened the menu and said, ‘Jeez, these prices are outrageous!’ He thought that was fantastic.” She woke up the morning after their second date with a deep sense of home in her chest. She’d never felt that before, not even as a child. “I got to work that day and saw him and thought, Oh my God, it’s you! I’ve always felt that way about him.”

She rattles off some of her spouse’s charming attributes: He’s always cheery in the morning, always. He invents nicknames for her; his latest, Princess Kikonoki, makes her collapse in giggles. He’s the more practical one; she’s more emotional. If she’s telling him her troubles and he responds, “Here’s the thing,” she always sits up and thinks, OK, I’m going to hear something that’s going to be helpful! What’s the thing? Though the couple have had their struggles, “there was never a moment of, I might leave, or he might leave,” Sedgwick says. Then her eyes go soft. “Remember in The Philadelphia Story, when Hepburn says about her honeymoon boat, ‘My, she was yar . . . fast, bright, everything a boat should be.’ ” I nod. “My, he’s yar,” she purrs.

As for other men, she swears she’s never been tempted—“to the point where I wonder if there’s something wrong with me in that area,” she says. “I give off a vibe of ‘I’m so not available.’ Sometimes I even think that stands in my way.” With studio heads or executives, she suggests, “sometimes I feel I should flirt more.”

Kyra started acting at 16, on the soap opera Another World, and moved to L.A. at 19. Her manager, who then represented many of the Brat Packers, urged her to go to parties and get herself noticed, but that wasn’t her style. “Looking back, I wish I’d done that scene a little,” Sedgwick says. “I was single for such a short time. Being a married person with kids in your twenties, when you’re supposed to be super sexy—it’s a man’s business. Just them thinking I was a possibility probably would have been a good thing for me. Even now. But I’m not good at it.”

She prefers to spend time with family. Sedgwick and her five siblings grew up in New York City. Her parents—Henry Dwight Sedgwick V, a venture capitalist, and Patricia Heller, a family therapist—divorced when she was six. She would be 12 before her mother married again, this time to art dealer Ben Heller. Sedgwick, her mother and all but one sibling still live in or near the city and see one another often. “We were each other’s port in a storm, cling, cling,” Sedgwick says. “I’ve had to learn to separate. But not too far.”

It was clear to all on The Closerthat Sedgwick was, as creator Duff calls her, “a family person.” Costar McDonnell, whose kids are close to Sedgwick’s in age, particularly appreciated that focus. “My favorite memories of working with her are the really beautiful talks we had about family,” she says, “and about our shared experience of being mother-slash-actresses. One or the other of us would have just spoken to our kids, and these conversations would rise up. She makes it easy to feel relaxed and intimate. I really treasured that.”

If not relaxed at this new stage of life, Sedgwick is certainly rolling with the changes. “I can tell you, it’s really nice not to look in the mirror all day in the makeup trailer,” she says. “But I’m also at the phase of my life where I can go, Oh look, there’s wrinkles and jowls.” I tell her she does not have jowls. “The lighting in here is good—that’s why I picked this place,” she responds, grinning. “Really, I’m changing. Veins, thin skin. I just say, ‘Oh, my hands are older,’ and go [mimes kissing them sweetly]. I know so much more now. I really struggled with eating and exercise for a long time. I did a lot of overexercising, not eating enough. Not nurturing myself.Striving for some unattainable thing. Now I look back at pictures and go, ‘I was so pretty!’ I didn’t need to do all that.”

She believes in skin care—frequent facials, intensive moisturizing. “Kevin says, ‘You’re in the bathroom for 20 minutes,’ and he’s right,” she says. “But I really want to age naturally and to be able to play characters who are my age.” She wants to be happy about turning 50. “Like, deeply happy, not just ‘I’m fine about it,’ ” she says. “I’m always grateful, because I know that life is precious. But I want to be even more grateful. I want to be wallowing in gratitude.”

I ask if Sedgwick has a role model. “My mom,” she immediately answers. “She’s willing to hear the hard stuff, and she’s always growing. She’s changed careers four or five times since her twenties, most recently in her fifties. Now she’s 80 and still running for the bus. She has this little shapely figure; she’s totally with it. I have that to look forward to. And I feel like I’ll get lighter. I was such a serious 20-year-old. I’ve really lightened up a great deal.” What helps: meditating (which she tries to do a few times a week), spending time in nature, hiking and staying fit.

She worries for her daughter, however, and for all young women. It was hard enough when she was young, she says, comparing herself unfavorably to the models in Seventeen. “But I just saw an ad with prepubescent girls, 10 years old, and they were so thin and so inappropriately sexualized,” Sedgwick says. “Now it’s 10-year-olds who are supposed to be emaciated? How can you have a realistic image of what you’re supposed to look like with today’s media?” To counter that, she tells her daughter “all the time” that she’s beautiful and talks to her about how images are manipulated. Sosie occasionally appeared as her niece on The Closer, but Sedgwick doesn’t think acting is her calling. “But who knows?” she says, then adds that even without the pressures of being onscreen, “she’s surrounded by girls with eating disorders. I don’t know how the bar got lowered [for women]. I really don’t.”

When it comes to her own changes, there’s one that Sedgwick can’t seem to embrace: living apart from her children. “I’m still struggling with how to let go,” she begins to say—and suddenly her eyes fill with tears, and her voice chokes. “It doesn’t feel right on some level. It just feels wrong! My parenting motto has always been that they’ll teach me, and I’m trying to remember that. Because I can’t [accept it]. We don’t have rituals for this sort of thing, and we should—I need to honor that it’s hard and confusing.” She laughs ruefully, wiping her eyes. “This is the Barbara Walters section of the interview.”

She doesn’t regret the time she spent shooting the series, which incorporated much of her children’s adolescence. “It was hard for the family and great for the family. Great gifts came from it,” she says. “I know I missed stuff, and I know some stuff will come up around that as the kids get older. But I also know that I can be really controlling and intense. Kevin is like this”—she moves her hand in a level line—“and I’m like this”—she swings her hand up and down. “Ultimately it’s not a bad thing that I was not all up in their business every minute, micromanaging, which I really have to try not to do.”

Though she might have felt like moping about her soon-to-be empty nest, Sedgwick, Bacon and the kids all decided to celebrate it by getting the same tattoo, their initials linked in a pattern that Bacon designed. (Sedgwick already had tattoos on her lower back and one ankle.) “It just means we still like each other,” she says, laughing.

Of course, Sedgwick’s fallow period doesn’t look like most people’s. In August she’ll star opposite Jeffrey Dean Morgan in The Possession, a psychological horror movie directed by Denmark’s Ole Bornedal that’s based on true events. When she first got the call, she hesitated, thinking, A horror movie, really? “But Ole directed us away from clichés and encouraged us to go deep,” she says. “It addresses the anxiety of not being able to protect the people you love, of wanting to absorb their pain and not being able to. And also broken families, divorced families, the impact that has on children. I know my mother struggled with that.”

Sedgwick just did two days’ work on Kill Your Darlings, a murder mystery involving the Beat poets (including Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg and Ben Foster as William Burroughs). She plays the mother of Lucien Carr (In Treatment’s Dane DeHaan). “It’s great to be around the young’uns,” she says. “Daniel Radcliffe is too adorable. If I can do a couple of these, I’ll stay sane while waiting for the next great thing.”

She’d like to produce, find herself a comedy or an original play, take an improv class. She’s also a vocal advocate for environmental sustainability and recently moderated a panel on plastic pollution at the U.N. “I can get inundated with a lot of really depressing information,” she says. “But my goal is to be part of the solution. So I can get really depressed, or I can get into action.

“It’s funny,” she continues. “The advice I’d give my younger self is advice that I’m not taking today, which is, Stop worrying so much. I can get obsessive and obsessively worry about things. But things work out. They do. The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t know everything. I’m less -judgmental—more accepting of other people and less frustrated by ‘Why are they doing it that way? They should do it my way!’ ” She laughs. “I mean, I know it’s hard to believe, but I could be wrong.”

She’s ready to go now, to whatever the next thing might be. “I really trust that there’s a plan,” she says. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m on the road, and I’m OK with it. I trust that it’s going to be OK.”

Johanna Schneller profiled Julianna Margulies in the April issue of MORE.

Next: Hollywood's Best Blondes

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First Published Mon, 2012-06-25 12:12

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