MAD AS HELL
Kyra Sedgwick’s State of the Union: ‘We Should Be Marching in the Streets All the Time’
An unfiltered talk with the Emmy-winner on climate change, aging in Hollywood, the pressure on working mothers, pay equity, and her new show, ‘Ten Days in the Valley.’
It’s typically polite to arrive early for an interview. This time it was a necessity, to spend suitable time in the air conditioning and to stop sweating before meeting Kyra Sedgwick. When the actress breezes into the Upper West Side restaurant for our afternoon interview, she too is, let’s say, glistening from the walk over from the nearby apartment she shares with husband Kevin Bacon.
How is she doing? “Panicked,” she responds immediately. “In a blind panic.”
Because of the show? Ten Days in the Valley, Sedgwick’s first starring role in a TV series since The Closer wrapped its blockbuster run in 2012, premieres Sunday night on ABC. “No, because of the state of the world,” she stresses.
I nod emphatically, running a quick survey of the day’s blitzkrieg of news in my mind. “Goes without saying, I guess,” I offer sheepishly.
“I know,” she says, letting out a sigh that sounds like it’s been building all day—and, to some extent, since Nov. 8. “But on some level we’re all acting like everything’s normal. And it’s not. There’s nothing normal about anything! I mean, my god, it’s 90 degrees. Our president is spouting bellicose rhetoric with a madman. It’s a crazy time.”
In the middle of this crazy time Sedgwick’s new series premieres. It’s a mystery thriller in which she plays Jane Sadler, a Shonda Rhimes-like TV showrunner whose daughter is kidnapped one night while Jane is out writing in the backyard shed. Sedgwick also serves as an executive producer on the show, which was created by Rookie Blue alum Tassie Cameron. (Working with a female creator and showrunner was a priority for Sedgwick when plotting her return to TV. More on that here.)
During its seven-season run, The Closer would become cable’s most-watched series, often out-gunning most broadcast shows in the ratings. Sedgwick earned an Emmy for her work as Brenda Leigh Johnson, the no-nonsense L.A. deputy police chief, and, mid-way through the run scored a landmark raise and producer credit, making her one of the highest paid actresses on television.
When an actress with those bonafides—not to mention a recent directorial debut, 35 years in show business, and the industry’s healthiest marriage—there’s a lot to talk about timed to a major new TV project. If only doing press during a time like this didn’t feel so difficult.
“It’s practically impossible,” she says. “It’s really challenging. Because it feels so minor, unimportant, irresponsible. I mean, it’s irresponsible for me to have a meeting with you and not talk about these things. I’m glad you’re open to talking about it. It’s just so unmanageable. My nervous system is at an all-time high.”
And so over the course of an hour, we talk about those things, kicking off with the most immediate issue: our sweat. “It’s 90 degrees here, so that scares the shit out of me,” she says. “It’s just so much worse so much faster than anyone thought.”
Sedgwick is a climate change and environmental activist who has worked with the National Resources Defense Council for decades. She’s moderated UN panels on plastic pollution; as we talk, she tries to dig out literature on plastic straw waste from her purse to leave for the restaurant, and pours the rest of our shared Perrier into a reusable water bottle.
(Suffice it to say, she’s not pleased with the Trump administration’s mission toward deregulation. More on that here.)
“I do everything I can, and it’s not enough,” she says. “I feel like we should just be marching in the streets all the time.”
Her outspokenness extends to the industry she’s made a fruitful career out of. Our conversation in some ways doubles as a Hollywood State of the Union for women in the business.
We talk double standards: “If a woman has one failed movie they’re in director jail for so much longer.” Pay equity: “When you’re making people a whole shit-ton of money, you need to get paid.” And the guilt working mothers face: “You have to say sometimes, ‘Thank you very much for sharing, now shut the fuck up, guilt.’”
If there’s a chorus to our time together, it’s her closing explanation for why she’s ready to speak with so much candor: “I have courage of my own convictions. I’m stronger. I’m older. I don’t give a shit so much. I give a little less fucks.”
And with that, here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
You mentioned your panic when you walked in. Is it hard to medicate that these days?
I think everyone is in a state, not even of PTSD, but in a state of trauma. Then I hear people saying that it’s the cancer that’s good, it’s the boil that needs to be lanced. I’m like, I’m all for that, but let’s not destroy ourselves in the process.
That so many politicians won’t acknowledge climate change must be infuriating to you.
How it became a political issue is so terrifying to me. Why does it polarize us to say global warming? It’s happening. So I say global weirding, because I don’t want to upset people. My children are terrified about having children and probably won’t because of it.
Oh wow! They don’t want to have kids because of this?
They think it’s irresponsible. That their kids are just going to be burned. This is just the reality of people who are really aware of what’s going on. [Sighs] Anyway. Really, I just want to sob about what’s going on.
Ten Days in Valley went into production in January. Was it good for you to be in the grueling schedule of a TV production to distract you during that time?
Yes, it was. It was a lot of work because I was executive producing as well, which was great. I’m really happy to have that power and influence. And while emotionally the character is really grueling and tough and dark, the amount of lines I had was nothing compared to Brenda Lee Johnson on The Closer. So for that I was grateful, and also happy that I had some days off, even though those days off were filled with producing stuff. But I was very grateful to have that distraction.
Jane is a character that will people will have all kinds of opinions about. For example, she wakes up in the morning to see that her daughter is gone, and yet she still goes to work…
I knew it would be a question for people. It was a question for ABC. First of all, there’s a logical answer, which is she’s so certain that it’s her husband who did it. He’s done it before. There’s a level of denial that’s going on, which is what a lot of people do in moments of crisis. She’s also got a big responsibility and a big job. But this is the thing of like, ‘Is she a bad mother?’ My response to that was: Did we ask if Walter White was a bad father? Nobody asked that question, but it’s part of the shaming of mothers and women.
The shaming of working mothers seems to be a major point the show wants to tackle.
Part of what the show really deals with is the inherent guilt a mother feels the moment a child comes out of your body. And also how we perpetuate that weapon on women constantly, whether it’s the way they’re behaving, their size, their age, or what they are or aren’t doing to their faces. We deal with that a lot in the show, about shame and how we deal with it. She’s a great lightning rod for those issues.
We’ve seen TV shows tackle the pressures of being a working mother with lawyers and doctors. But this is one of the first to tackle it with show business. How true does it ring to your experience in the industry?
I think it’s really true. You see her promise her kid one thing, but she gets torn away for another thing. The kid is onto the fact that she’s really busy and can’t often be there for her. I know I experienced that with my kids when I was doing The Closer and they were in New York and I was in L.A.
You’ve spoken about working out a schedule so that you saw your kids often, but was that separation hard?
I think the kids really want you there. And it’s incredibly hard. How many times was I on set on the phone with my kid and I would get the knock on the trailer door, and they’d be in the middle of something and I’d have to say, ‘We’ve got to wrap this up.’ It’s really, really hard. It’s hard for every working parent in every business. I think that what’s interesting that this show gets right is that everyone thinks that what we do is so glamorous. And it’s not. At all.
By virtue of the fact that your daughter is a working actress and made the decision to go into the same industry might reflect that you pulled it off pretty well. (Sosie Bacon starred on the first season of 13 Reasons Why.)
I pulled it off OK.
It didn’t scare her off completely from the industry.
But she’s also not planning on having children, so there you go. (Laughs)
I love reading those Hollywood Reporter roundtables with the year’s biggest TV actresses during Emmy season. You’ve done a few over the years when you were on The Closer. It’s interesting to read the conversations at those roundtables from 2007, 2008, and how 10 years later, the conversations from this year’s roundtable are kind of exactly the same: complexity of female characters, opportunity behind the scenes, pay equity…
Aging, too. It’s kind of sad. The idealized expectations on women are so fucking unrealistic. A friend of mine said to me the other day that she’s feeling really insecure. She’s not an actor, and she said, ‘I watched the hurricane telethon, and there were these actresses, one more beautiful than the next.’ And I said they’re one more beautiful than the next because we’re wearing fake hair, we’re sprayed literally tip to toe. We’re two hours in hair and makeup. We’ve got Spanx and corsets and blah blah blah. And they’ve got a filter on the camera. And the lighting’s incredible. It’s unrealistic. It’s sad to me that this is the image that we’re saying when we’re trying to tell the truth.
Julianna Margulies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus have both talked about having to fight to get producer credit on their shows in a way that they don’t think they’d have had to if they were the male lead. What was your experiencing asking for executive producer for The Closer?
It was midway through the run, and it was not a fight. And I had different people around me. Now I wouldn’t go into something unless I was one. I think you begrudgingly move up a ladder when you’re a woman. The truth is that if a woman has one failed movie they’re in director jail for so much longer. There are so many directors out there where it’s like, god, they’re getting another $50 million movie? I can’t fucking believe it.
What do you think is the biggest difference is in these last five years since The Closer ended versus bringing Ten Days in the Valley to air now?
The biggest difference is that there’s tons more shows and there’s a lot more competition, you know? I also think ABC’s not doing a good job getting the word out there. When I was doing The Closer, literally the two weeks before we aired, Steve Koonin’s goal was that everyone living in a major city would be exposed to something about The Closer five times in a day. He used to run Coke, and he was the head of TNT marketing. And he made that happen. It’s great that I get to do interviews for this now, because I have a track record. But the truth is that no one knows [Ten Days on the Valley] is on. So that’s disturbing and scary.
What was different when you were deciding to take on starring in a new show now versus when you made the decision to star in The Closer?
When I was going to be doing The Closer, I knew it was going to be shooting in L.A. and I said I can’t do it. I don’t even want to look at the script. It was Kevin who was like, we’ll make it work. He said, ‘You’ve not taken a lot of opportunities that have come your way in the past because of the kids and I don’t want you to do that this time.’ So that was a really hard decision.
In recent years pay equity for women has been a major talking point in show business, not to mention the rest of the country. When The Closer was on, you really broke ground in terms of what the female lead of a show deserved to make and then actually earned. You were one of the highest paid actors on TV. With the conversation so much in the zeitgeist, what was your experience getting that raise?
It was great. Honestly, I didn’t have to fight that hard for it. I was lucky that way. But the truth is when you’re making people a whole shit-ton of money, you need to get paid. When you’re working the kind of part I was working and the hours I was working, you need to get paid for that. And it was absolutely commensurate to what a man would make in that situation. It’s so sad to me that it’s still an issue. But what I don’t think is helpful is when women feel bad about asking. That to me is almost the most heartbreaking thing of all. Because they absolutely deserve it. It should be the norm. Especially when you’re carrying your show.
We’ve talked a lot about being a working mother and being a woman in Hollywood. Has there been an evolution in your career in being comfortable or maybe empowered talking about those things, where at some point you maybe didn’t want to talk about it as much?
Yes. I think that you start going, ‘I have a lot of experience to actually talk about.’ I feel a little bit like a role model at this point for women. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m saying it’s hard to age and it’s hard to juggle it all and we’re supposed to do it well and it’s unrealistic expectations. I love women so much. I feel like if I can help somebody with something I say, a young mother who’s struggling, saying that guilt is a useless emotion unless it actually spurs change or action. It just comes with the territory. You have to say sometimes, ‘Thank you very much for sharing, now shut the fuck up, guilt.’
That’s can be hard advice to swallow.
It only hurts your nervous system to feel so guilty. I spoke with Julianna Margulies when she took The Good Wife. We’re friends. No one knows how hard it is to do that kind of work, especially a young person, unless you’ve been through it. So I said to her that the gift that no one tells you about is that your husband is going to have this really special relationship with your kid that they might not have if you’re there. That’s great. She really held on to that. So I feel more responsible, but I’m also happy to share my opinions in a way where I’m not like, ‘It’s just my feeling… It’s only my opinion...’ I have courage of my own convictions. I’m stronger. I’m older. I don’t give a shit so much. I give a little less fucks.