After an amazing, and record-breaking seven year run, TNT’s crime drama, The Closer comes to an end. Kyra Sedgwick who has won an Emmy Award and Golden Globe for her iconic portrayal of Brenda Leigh Johnson, graciously took the time to answer questions about The Closer, her new film, The Possession, and the importance of remaining ever teachable.
What has the role of Brenda Leigh Johnson in The Closer taught you about yourself as an actress?
It’s given me a lot of faith in my instrument. I don’t think you know you’re capable of that kind of intense work for that long a period, with that much volume of words and demands until you go through it. I feel like any part would not feel too big for me at this point.
If you could go back to the first episode of The Closer, what tips/insights would you give yourself?
I don’t know! Because I think I was very cognizant of what I was doing, the choices I was making, and the depth to which I was committing was there from the very beginning. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I was grateful from the beginning; I lived in the moment, and really enjoyed myself.
I made an effort to know that half my heart was in New York and half my heart in my work, and a great deal of pain in sadness was a result of that but I knew I wanted to be present to where I was, and really give all that I could give. I really wanted to enjoy it even with the guilt I had knowing that I wanted to be in two places at once and couldn’t be. There’s a saying, “keep your heart where your feet are,” and I really did the best I could, even though I knew so much of my heart was in New York.
It’s funny, as I look back on my career as a whole, and when I was younger, in my late 20’s and early 30’s, when the kids were really little, every time I worked I gave myself such a hard time, and I had so much guilt that it really took over and I couldn’t enjoy myself at all. I made a conscious decision at 39, when I got The Closer, not to do that. I knew that ultimately, it wasn’t good for anybody to be like that, and it was making everybody else unhappy knowing I was unhappy making this choice. So, if I was going to make this choice it was better to be relatively happy with it, otherwise everyone would suffer, including me.
Where is Brenda Leigh Johnson ten years from now?
That’s a really interesting question! I really don’t know, because I don’t think she’s going to make it in a civilian desk job. I think she’s going to want to be out on the beat again. I don’t think she’s the kind of person who can delegate responsibility, or can go to a 9-5 job and send out other people to do a job she can do 100 times better, so I don’t really see her sticking with the job she’s taken on in the D.A.’s office. But I do think by the end of The Closer she’s made some very different choices about her personal and professional life, and I think she will make some different priorities.
Your portrayal of Brenda Leigh has made being a lady sexy again; how do you feel about the impact this role has had on women and how a woman’s sexuality is viewed?
What I see on TV for the most part, is you’re either this sexless workaholic and don’t have a romantic life or you’re the vixen with the push up bra. I think that that’s not what women are, women aren’t that way; women are feminine, sensual, and sexual creatures.
But I’m seeing that change, and I love the idea that you can still be a lady and interested in sex, and have a sensuality and sexuality about you that you don’t have to squash at work.
The thing about Brenda is that she never apologizes for being a woman or being a powerful woman. She never tries to stifle the things in her that are female. I always loved when you would see that Fritz and Brenda have a really good sex life.
After seven seasons of playing a character with an amazing ability to close cases through intense interrogations, do you find yourself more perceptive to when people are not telling you the truth?
I think I’ve always been perceptive to that; it’s kind of a curse really. I think seeing people very clearly can be difficult at times. So I don’t know that it taught me to be more perceptive in terms of that, maybe if I’m watching one of those “lock up” shows and I can see the criminals talking, its possible I have more of a sense of what’s going on in there and if their telling the truth or not.
Your new film, The Possession looks truly terrifying; what drew you to this project?
It was the elements. It was a good story that got better as we went along, and I was intrigued by the director Ole Bornedal. I’d seen a couple of his films and I found them to be surprising visually and emotionally and thought they were real standouts, I was fascinated by his work, and that he wanted to do something really different with a pretty classic genre.
I really like Jeffrey Dean Morgan, I think he’s a wonderful actor and we turned out to have a lot of chemistry, and the little girl is an exceptionally talented young actress. I think she will go onto great things, and hopefully this will be a break out for her. I think the movie came together really well. It’s something I’m proud of; it looks beautiful and I think it really delivers.
What would you tell audiences to expect from this film?
I would say to expect a really good scary movie with great acting and beautiful visual imagery. While its goal is to scare people it’s also a very emotional movie; the story is based on this family that is breaking up and in some ways it’s a metaphor for what happens when a family is broken apart.
How does a director help an actor?
That’s a tough one, and honestly, at this point in my career what I want from a director is different from what I wanted from a director when I first started out. I think when I first started out I had the idea they would bring something out in me I didn’t know was there, at this point I’m pretty sure I know what’s there. But in saying that, I also very much want to be guided and I’m hopeful they see things I can’t see because I’m in it. So, I count on them to be the third eye, the person who can be more objective, see the piece as a whole, and who can step out of being too much on the inside, observe and make helpful, supportive direction.
To me, it’s really about being specific. General direction like, “Can you make it funnier? Or “Can you be a little sadder?” These kinds of general notes are something I would be unhappy to get where as something more specific like, “When you do this line, attack him a little more, because you really need to set him straight about the mistake he made.” Something like that is a specific direction, there’s a specific reason for me to try to implement that direction and hopefully, a result will occur.
I also think one of the best things a director can do is support and trust an actor. I think in some ways that’s the best thing a director can do, even when an actor is struggling with a scene, is to be supportive. Actors are opening themselves up, and cracking themselves open in a way that’s very vulnerable and the more supportive and loving a director can be, the more they are going to get out of their actors.
Vivien Leigh said, “You just have to act, you have to do the thing, you have to practice the art, just like a painter practices his art, just like a writer writes,” what is your process as an actress and how do maintain your craft?
That’s a beautiful quote and it really struck me because it’s so true. You just have to do it. The hard thing about being an actor is that if you’re out of work for long periods of time, and unless you seek out, acting is something that requires being with other people, and working on something. It’s important to keep your instrument in good shape, whatever that looks like for you when you’re not working; it might mean seeing plays and theatre, being in class, and doing readings.
I was able to work on my craft steadily for seven years; The Closer afforded me the luxury of not having to find creative ways to keep my instrument in tune. That breadth of work that I had to be responsible for, the emotional places I had to go, being the driving force of almost every scene, and the responsibilities connected with carrying a show like The Closer, is something that really keeps your instrument in tune.
Working on my craft also means continuing to try and challenge myself, by doing things I’ve never done before; whether that means doing a horror movie or doing other characters. This was one of the reasons it was time for me to end The Closer. It was time to spread my wings in other areas and do other things. It wasn’t that I was getting lazy or that the work wasn’t challenging, it was just that it was time to move onto another character.
What do you do to prepare for a role?
In terms of preparing for a role, I do as much research as I can; I learn about whatever it is the character knows that I don’t know.
In the case of Brenda, there was plenty to learn about; she knew a great deal more than I did. I could never do all the things she did but I could certainly meet with people who had been through that kind of training. I talked to people, went on drive alongs with cops, and spent a lot of time talking to Detective Mike, who was our liaison to the LAPD and a 25-year vet working in robbery homicide as a detective.
I was always coming up against things I didn’t understand in the script, or didn’t know about. I think you try to glean as much information as possible about the things you don’t know and about the things to which you can relate, you use as much of yourself as possible. I think I exist in every character I do. Every character I’ve ever played, has some of me in it, so you need yourself, you are the primary instrument you are using.
You are a passionate advocate of greener living; what do you think our society is still not getting about environmental responsibility?
It really shouldn’t be a polarizing political issue; we all have to live on this planet, and we all have to sustain our resources for the future and we are not protecting those resources. We are turning a blind eye to science by saying its political when its not, its just science. I think the biggest issue facing us is our addiction to fossil fuels, and the green house gasses that are a result of burning those fossil fuels. Until we really invest in solar, wind, utilize more electric cars, and rely less on fossil fuels, I don’t see us reducing our carbon output and the Earth really doesn’t have a chance to stop warming at such an alarming rate.
People often feel overwhelmed and powerless when it comes to making greener choices; what are a couple of easy things people can do to lighten their environmental/carbon footprint?
What we can do is what we did in the 70’s when Carter was in office; turn the heat down in the winter, and getting energy/cost efficient appliances, turn off your air conditioner when you’re at work, carpooling, using public transportation when you can, and recycling. To me, plastic is a huge issue; only 20% of the plastic we use gets recycled and even then, it is only downgraded recycle, meaning it’s always used as something else, it’s never broken down and made into another plastic bottle. 80% of it ends up on these giant garbage patches in our oceans, then it breaks down, the marine life eats the small pieces of plastic and that’s toxic for the food chain; the whole thing is connected.
I think that’s the other thing people forget is that our Earth is in a balance, and we are all in a balance; and when we’re out of balance with the Earth, then we’re all out of balance.
Where is your current inspiration coming from?
I absolutely love going to the movies. I just saw You’re Sisters Sister, which I thought, was fantastic. I’m excited to see Take this Waltz directed by Sarah Polley, with Michelle Williams, who I think is an amazing actress. I saw Death of a Salesman and that was truly inspirational, I took an Improv 101 class that was terrifying and inspirational. I try to read and keep myself interested.
A lot of times interviewers ask what’s next, instead, what are you savoring most right now?
I’m savoring being with my family and I’m savoring sleeping! I’m savoring being in New York in the summer. I haven’t been home for seven years in the summer, and it’s great!
What does being brave mean to you?
Being brave to me means to remain constantly teachable. To be humble and know that I don’t know everything, in fact, the longer I’m alive, the less I know I know. I want to have a beginner’s eye with everything. I want to learn more about people, myself, my relationships and do better with the personal issues I struggle with. I want to continue to learn about others and myself.
Where can my readers find/follow you online?