Kyra Sedgwick on Her Stage Return, Toronto-Bound Films and Producing Gig at TNT (Q&A)

Kyra Sedgwick and Annika Boras in John Patrick Shanley's "The Danish Widow" at New York Stage and Film
Kyra Sedgwick and Annika Boras in John Patrick Shanley's "The Danish Widow" at New York Stage and Film
 Buck Lewis

"This play's been kicking my ass!" Kyra Sedgwick exclaims over the phone. "Theater really separates the men from the boys, I'll tell you that."

And Sedgwick is among the "men." The Emmy winner is starring in The Danish Widow, which is one of three mainstage productions at New York Stage and Film, a developmental hub for new work at Powerhouse Theater on the Vassar College campus. The production is written and directed by Tony-, Oscar- and Pulitzer Prize-winner John Patrick Shanley. This season, which marked the theater's 30th, also included Josh Radnor, Leslie Bibb, Robert Morse and T.R. Knight.

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Though Sedgwick has visited the Powerhouse Theater before — first in a workshop with Meryl Streep and Sam Waterston in 1996, and then again in 1999 in another workshop with David Strathairn and Byron Jennings — this summer marks her first time in a full production there. (She and her husband, Kevin Bacon, were also honored by the theater in 2008.) Sedgwick was last seen on Broadway as Olivia in Nicholas Hytner's production of Twelfth Night with Helen Hunt and Paul Rudd at Lincoln Center in 1998. She's been in Poughkeepsie since late June working on the The Danish Widow, in which she plays an insurance investigator, and the show's two-week run concludes Sunday.

"I could have chosen to sit on my ass in L.A. and chilled, and I went for this," she tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm really glad I did. It has challenged me to my core."

As Sedgwick makes ginger, lemon and cayenne tea on her Friday morning off — "I don't know how people do eight shows a week and don't get sick," she says, "As my husband says, ‘Bring in the wambulance,'" — she tells THR about the challenges of doing a new play, the reason why she loves to research her roles and all about her many upcoming projects.

So why has this play been kicking your ass?

It's a tour de force. She's in every single scene. It runs the gamut emotionally. And it's a lot of words. I'm kind of a perfectionist, and I'm used to doing things to the point where I feel like they're as close to perfect as I can get them, and that's just not possible in a situation like this. I don't remember working on a new play where the writer was there, tweaking and changing all the time. That's been exciting and terrifying because things get changed, and you go, "Okay, I had that stepping stone that was taking me to this, and now that's gone, and now I have to rethink this whole section."

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Had you worked with John Patrick Shanley before?

I had not. I had met him a few times. He a mad man! He's one of our greatest, if not the best, living playwright we have right now. I've been a fan of his forever. His words really carry you. I did Twelfth Night in 1998, and I feel like Shakespeare's words really carry me to an emotional place that I can get to and trust that the words are going to take me there. I feel like sometimes where I can go emotionally as an actor is never supported by the words, and there are many parts of this play where I feel utterly supported and can go to a very full emotional place knowing that the words are supporting me.

Do you have any desire to do more stagework after this?

Sure! This has been a wonderful experience for me. I always had this dream to do Saint Joan. I do think that the eight-show-a-week thing is antiquated. It's diminishing returns. I just don't think you can expect eight great performances, and it's so hard for me to expect anything less of myself. I don't know how I would do that. At some point, for something limited, and if I could beg the producers to somehow do less than eight shows a week, I would like to. Seven is good; six would be even better. The thing is I would never want someone else to go on for me. That would be the kicker. So maybe an Off-Off-Broadway thing where they can deal with six.

Tell me about The Danish Widow.

It's about an insurance investigator, and there's this woman who wins this very large settlement from her company. She thinks there's foul play, and so she goes to talk to this woman to sort of investigate her. In the meanwhile, she ends up — I don't know if I want to ruin it — having an encounter with her of some kind, and she reveals, my character does, something about herself that is shocking — [spoiler alert] that she was born a hermaphrodite. Not a lot of plays about hermaphrodites! No one's talking about it, so sign me up! That's the kind of stuff I like to do. It's like, pedophiles — sign me up! I feel like one of my jobs as an actor is to shine light on the dark places in society that nobody talks about.

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You also play a homeless person in Time Out of Mind, which stars Richard Gere and is going to Toronto.

Exactly! It was this tiny role, and she was just called the homeless woman. I did a lot of research, and I met this one woman at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal who inspired me to write this monologue. I write stream of consciousness stuff as the character for my research, and I shared it with [director-writer] Oren Moverman, and he said, "Oh my god, I love that! Let's put it in." It's shocking and unbelievable and devastating, and I love that we're talking about homelessness because no one's talking about it. and it's everywhere! This is America; it shouldn't be happening. So let's shine some light on it, give it a little love, understanding and attention, and perhaps we can become a better society. For me, the stakes have to be high, and that's how I make them high in my work.

You also have Reach Me, which is set for an October release, and you play an ex-con arsonist.

Looking into the prison system — that was kind of a crazy wild ride. That's one of the most fun parts to do research. And then actually, I have a very small, fun part in The Humbling with Al Pacino, the Barry Levinson one also going to Toronto. That's another weird movie. I play the obsessed lesbian lover of Greta Gerwig — hard not to be obsessed with her. And Al Pacino is a trip.

You're making your television producing debut with Proof, which TNT picked up for 10 episodes for 2015.

I'm so proud of Proof. When I left [The Closer], TNT gave me a producing deal, and I was to bring five projects and they picked this one up. My mandate in my head was I wanted it to be female-driven lead with a woman in her 40s because that was the gift I had been given, and I really wanted to pass that along. We had a really hard time casting it, and then in walks Jennifer Beals. It literally was the last day of casting at six o'clock on a Friday, and I was devastated because I knew we had this great script, but I knew that without the lead, we didn't have a show. She just walks in, does the first scene, and I'm like, "We're done! Let's all go out and celebrate!" It was just one of those things where an actor walks in and goes, "That would be mine. Thank you very much."

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How does it feel to be back at TNT?

My experience on The Closer was so special, and it was really about everyone doing their best because they were supported in the most loving way so that they could really trust and just go give it all. They're lovely to me; they're lovely to everybody. It's like being back in the family.

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