'Rizzoli & Isles' Star Sasha Alexander to Make Directing Debut on "Bittersweet" Final Season (Exclusive)

"We're getting to do a lot of things that I've always wanted to do on the show and never had the chance," the actress tells THR about the upcoming farewell season of the TNT drama.
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Sasha Alexander is crossing an important item off her bucket list for the upcoming seventh and final season of Rizzoli & Isles. The Hollywood Reporter can exclusively reveal that the actress will make her directing debut on episode 10 of the TNT drama's last 13-episode season.  

"I don't feel intimidated. I feel excited for the collaboration," she tells THR. "I feel like I have a really great team around me."

Although this is officially her first time in the director's chair, it's old hat for the actress, who graduated from USC School of Cinematic Arts with a degree in production. Ahead of her episode, Alexander spoke with THR about why the timing was finally right to step behind the camera, the "politics of the network" behind the decision to end the hit series and the "proper sendoff" in store for fans.

You studied directing in college, so why the long wait for you to direct? Why was now the right time?

It's a good question. I acted before I went to film school and I just got the bug after that and I loved acting. I think I felt with directing that all the directors I really admired were mature. (Laughs.) And I felt like I really wanted to be able to experience not just more of life but also the experience of being on set, working with the crew, and you gain all of that working on a television series for so long. It's been something that I've talked about but never really pulled the trigger on. On this show, we've talked about it for some years.

But in the past, Lesli Linka Glatter was one of the first female directors that I worked with and Lesli was always whispering in my ear, "You should be doing this. You should be doing this." I admired her so much. I think it was really just a question of timing and maturity. It really is difficult when you're starring on a show… they basically have to write you out of that episode for you to be able to direct it. It's a six-week commitment and when you're working everyday in front of it, they do need to pull a lot of different strings to make it happen. I think this is the first time I felt the desire, the want to do it.

Since you haven't directed in awhile, is there anything you've been brushing up on before you step behind the camera?

No, but I'm married to a director so just sitting in bed with him every night watching movies and television keeps me in the loop. (Laughs.) Or at least helped me really look at things consistently and look at shots. But I think the thing I need the most brushing up on is just the technicality of the camera. We work on new cameras now and they're different than ones I learned on at school so I'm going to have to count on my cinematographers to teach me as we go. In television, obviously you're not reinventing the wheel every episode; there is a certain style that you're sticking to so in that regard, I have to stay within the sandbox of the show.

What is the biggest piece of advice that your husband or Lesli gave you about directing the episode?

Lesli's advice is really about preparation and looking at each episode individually in terms of the story that you're telling. And then really looking at it and finding shots that haven’t been done before and interesting things and ways to shoot the characters. As an actor, I'm excited to find new ways of shooting my co-stars that I haven’t seen before or I've wanted to see. Not everybody sees things through the same lens.

How did you and Lesli end up becoming so close? How much influence do you think she had over you directing at this point?

I just related to her as a director. Her spirit and her energy and the way she worked with actors was something very familiar to me and I immediately had a short-hand with her. We worked on a John Wells series called Presidio Med together when I was in my 20s and we always kept in touch. I knew that one day when I was doing this that she would be the first call I would make to say, "OK, what can we discuss? What do I need to know?"

As an actor in television, one of the things people don't realize is that the director's personality and energy is like vital to our experience. They show up on set midway through a season when everyone's tired and if they're tired, they don't change the molecules in the room. But if they're full of ideas and energy and fresh ways of looking at things that we may not have seen, they change the whole experience for us. She's one of those people that does that for me. She's the kind of person that I thought, 'If I directed, I want to be like that.'

Now that you're in production on the final season, how has it been filming these last episodes and getting ready to say goodbye to the show?

The great thing about television is that, it's sad that it comes to an end, but it's also the beauty of it is that it continues to live on. We're in syndication now so it's going to continue to have its run and to be seen by more people in the years to come. To be in the tradition of that is very humbling. I've been on other shows that have gone on to do that from Dawson's Creek and NCIS and shows that really, truly go on to live in the zeitgeist of television and I feel like our show has done that. The shows that I grew up on like the Cagney and Lacey's and Three's Company's were such a huge part of my growing up, and I feel like Rizzoli & Isles has been that to a lot of people that have followed and have stuck with us. We've been really fortunate to have such a long run so I'm very grateful for it. I think everything that comes to an end is always sad but it's also the start of something new. It's a bittersweet thing.

Speaking about the fans, the show continues to draw strong numbers. When did you first know that this would be the last season? Were you surprised?

We had a feeling about it but they didn’t tell us officially. Our contracts were up this year. There have been changes at TNT in terms of how they're branding the new network and which way they're going. It's so hard to tell and especially now, they take shows and they put them on other networks and so forth. They announced it. They said it. We didn't know officially and then they said it and that's kind of the way it happens, right? I feel like in television, sometimes you don’t even know if you're going the next season or not and it has so much to do with the politics of the network and everything else sometimes more than it does just the show itself.

Would you have been open to doing more seasons if the show had been picked up at another network? As you said, that's something that is happening more frequently now.

I don’t know. It would have to depend on the deal and if it made sense or not. I've been working on Shameless for the past couple seasons as well so I'm looking forward to playing different roles but that doesn't mean that I would have said no. I think it would just really have to depend on the situation because sometimes they move it to a [new] network but then they move you to Vancouver; it doesn’t mean that it would stay the way it is and just continue. This has been a really stellar job because it's in L.A. and I have kids and so it's really worked out in a very big way, but the interesting thing is also, you step into doing a pilot and they sign you for six years or seven years of your life and there are not many jobs like that. Even in the Army, you get to change barracks every two years. (Laughs.) To go that seven years is so rare and I think you have to enjoy it while its there and know when its time to move on. … At least we're ending on an up. It's really a bummer when you watch shows and they're on for so long that you feel like they've exhausted every possible story you could ever tell, and I feel like that hasn’t happened to us.

Have you seen a difference in tone in the final season thus far? Is there more serialization or other differences than past episodes?

I think [showrunner] Jan Nash is basically just approaching this past year with a lot of love and joy in terms of exploring these characters and what their future holds. I know personally for Dr. Isles, she's really looking at: What is the thing that identifies her? What if that thing was taken away? Who would she be? And where would that leave her? So when we leave this season, I think it really is about the relationship between these people, between Jane and Maura, and where will they go? How will these experiences that they've gone through, where will they leave them? … It's also exploring these two women as independent women who are not married and don’t have children and have been very career-oriented with what their future holds and how they feel about it.

We're getting to do a lot of things that I've always wanted to do on the show and never had the chance. Things like I'm getting to fence, which I always thought Maura should fence and for some reason it never happened.

The creator of the show, Janet Tamaro, stepped down a few seasons ago so do you know if she'll be back to help pen the ending?

I don't know. I haven't heard anything about it.

From what you've heard so far about the end, do you think fans will be satisfied for how things wrap up for these two characters?

I don’t know. I hope so. I think that the truth is that anytime that you change creative direction on a show, it changes the show. Janet had a certain show for four years and Jan continued that, but the show naturally changes and changes with time as well. I believe that Jan will absolutely dig in there and give the fans what I think would be the proper sendoff for these women. I haven’t been given any scripts so I can't say for sure but I think so. … I think that she will look at this last season and really humanly do what she thinks would be the right direction for the characters.

Coming out of a long-running show, do you know what kind of role you want to do? Or things you don't want to do? How is it getting ready to look for the next thing?

I've in a very different place [now] than when I was coming in in terms of my work and the direction that I want to go. I want to work with just really smart people doing things, telling stories that I think are smart and interesting and provocative and different. We have a wonderful opportunity in television right now to push the envelope. … I love comedy. It would be a dream to be on a series like Veep or something like that that I feel is really smart and really funny and has a great female at the helm. I'm developing some projects which would mean producing them so I'm working on those.

Rizzoli & Isles returns for its final season later this year.

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