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On the set of her latest project, Kyra Sedgwick faced a challenge unlike any other in her three decades in show business.
“When I first came on set, I didn’t really know what to do with myself,” the Emmy and Golden Globe winner tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I had to learn where my place was. … It was a real learning curve to figure out where I could be most beneficial and most useful.”
That’s because, for the first time, the former Closer star and executive producer wasn’t also needed in front of the camera. Although Sedgwick has been producing TV movies, indie films and series since 1996, TNT’s newest series, Proof, marks the first time she has had a strictly behind-the-scenes role.
The actress serves as an executive producer on the drama, which stars Jennifer Beals as a doctor determined to figure out if there is an afterlife not long after losing one of her children.
Sedgwick spoke with THR about the benefits of just producing — no makeup required! — her advice for Beals and what kind of series she may do next.
How did you first become involved with the project?
The project was a pitch that came to me from Tom Jacobson and Rob Bragin. I had a deal over at TNT after I left to bring them projects and I really liked the idea of it. I was intrigued.
When you first signed this deal with TNT, what made you specifically want to executive produce another series after The Closer?
I’ve been producing for many years. I produced my first movie in ’94 that [her husband] Kevin [Bacon] directed and I starred in with Helen Mirren, so I’ve been doing it for a while. Honestly, my mandate has been about finding really great roles for women and very specifically for roles for older women. That show, Losing Chance, that I did with Helen Mirren won her every top cable award that was available at the time. Obviously, I wanted to do it because it was a great part for me, but it was also a great part for an older woman. Especially after my experience on The Closer, it meant a great, great deal for me to pay that forward. It was the chance of a lifetime in some ways and I felt compelled to give that to somebody else. … As I get older, I think women become more interesting and I know we become better actors. That just happens. Every woman who continues to work as an actor becomes a better one as they age.
Was there ever a thought of wanting to play a part in this onscreen or did you always want to stay behind the scenes?
I never even thought about it.
What was it like going into this project strictly as an executive producer and casting this role?
It was super challenging. We knew we’d have to find somebody great. If you don’t find the right person, you don’t really have a show. We were struggling, we really were. Jennifer came in in the last hour of our last casting session. To say that the answer to our prayers walked through our door was an understatement. She was unbelievable in every way. She’s so perfect for the role.
You must have been a great resource on set for her because you’ve been through this exact process before. What was that relationship like when you were in production?
That was definitely my goal as producer was to be a conduit for people. I do think that I had a tremendous amount of experience doing this and being No. 1 on the call sheet; it’s a whole other animal. I don’t think that anyone can foresee how hard it’s going to be until they actually do it. So she had somebody in the trenches with her who really knew what was it like to be absolutely exhausted, to have worked 12 hours and still have another scene to shoot. I think it was helpful. I hope I was helpful to her. She’s my No. 1 priority as is the rest of the cast, but I have a special place for her because she’s in almost every scene and I knew what that was like. It was always incredibly important to me that she was well protected in every way.
Is there one piece of advice you gave her at the beginning that stands out to you?
I think that she had a sense of it, but we definitely talked about it. I don’t really think you know what it’s like until you’re actually in the trenches. I would give her advice like, you really need an assistant, you really do need to have somebody that’s cooking for you, you really do need someone to run lines with you and we need to make sure that she gets her scripts early in advance and that they’re locked and not changing a whole bunch before she shoots scenes. That was a gift that was given to me. I know a lot of people don’t have this luxury, but when I was given a script, I told them I needed three days of advance preparation and nothing could change, and James did it. We were able to deliver that for Jennifer too. But I think that you just really need to put your support system into place and I encouraged her to do that.
On this project, when you’re just focusing on producing, were there new challenges or new aspects you had to face behind the scenes that you hadn’t before?
I was just much more hands-on than I had been previously because I was reading scripts in advance and giving notes, and watching cuts and giving notes, but there were lots of things that I wasn’t doing [before] like looking at all the dailies and listening to temp music and having and looking at takes for casting and being in casting sessions. It’s a very different experience for sure. At the end of the day, I would go on set and not have to worry about what I look like and I’m telling you, that is nothing short of lovely not to be constantly having to be primped and touched and looking at yourself in the mirror. It’s hard looking yourself in the mirror in a trailer getting your makeup done every day. You start to look tired and that doesn’t feel so good and you get insecure about how you look, but that was a huge concern that was completely obliterated being behind the scenes. It really can’t be underestimated. It’s not like I want to give up acting at all, but it was a nice change of pace.
You’ve been producing for a while now. What do you think it is about this part of the process that has kept you coming back?
I think I’m bossy and opinionated. I’m really opinionated. While I don’t always think I’m right, I do think I have good ideas and I love giving people jobs. I’ve always loved that. I just think that the people that work in this business — I admire them so much and the whole crew too. They really give up their heart and soul, and I really love when people come together in a collaborative way to make something exciting and entertaining for people to watch. I like being a part of the decision-making process, and also a part of giving people the opportunity. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities given to me, and it means a lot to me. And I really want to put good work out there. We always need good material out there and that’s very important to me.
You have had such a long relationship with TNT. Right after the show got picked up, the leadership changed. So did you ever have concerns about how that would affect the show? How was that transition?
There are always concerns because [former TNT president and head of programming] Michael Wright was such a champion of the show. But I really had a lot of confidence — probably too much confidence — that if we delivered a really good product that it would be meaningful to whomever came in, and that’s what we’ve done. I think [TNT president] Kevin [Reilly] is very behind the show because it’s a really good show and it’s going to be a very good show for TNT.
The show is a procedural but it also has supernatural elements and a lot of backstory. When you were working on the show, how hard was it to find that balance?
That’s going to continue to be a challenge all the way through, but I think it’s a challenge on every show. How do you marry the character’s journey with plot? It’s always a bit of a juggling act, but for me, my primary objective was always to create a great character because I always felt in The Closer, that if you created a great character, it matters less if the case was all that intriguing. That’s really the way I felt and, for me, growing up watching cop dramas like Columbo and Baretta and different mysteries [that were] character-based, I couldn’t follow the mystery. As Brenda Lee, that was one of the hardest things in my job was to figure what does she know and when does she know it because my mind doesn’t work in the way that my character’s did. I just let it all wash out and figured the details would get panned out later, and I just wanted to know what was going on with the character. That’s the way I feel about this show, although there’s no question that the other things have to be compelling. As a producer, I understand that more.
Looking ahead, as an actress, do you see yourself starring in another TV series?
I do. I’ve really had a lot of fun doing Brooklyn Nine-Nine, so I am kind of leaning toward the idea of it would be so fun to do a comedy because it just feels so much lighter. An hour drama feels overwhelming, just the prospect of it. But I also think I’ve had a lot of rest and if something great came along, I would do it. There’s no question that the really great parts for women are more on television than they seem to be in films, and they’re making so few films now that the women that continue to really hit it out of the park are going to continue to be the go-to people for leads. … I’m a person that if I’m going to bite off something to chew, I want it to be a big bite.
Proof premieres on Tuesday at 10 p.m. on TNT.
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