Kyra Sedgwick adds the title of “Director” to her credits with Story of a Girl, premiering tonight on Lifetime. I previewed the film, and it reminds me of the indie flicks that I adored in my teens and twenties … something that I’ve noticed is seriously lacking in cinema these days. It stars Ryann Shane (Banshee), and co-stars Sedgwick’s daughter and husband, Sosie Bacon and Kevin Bacon. As TV continues to take deep dives into characters, it only makes sense that the indie film spirit has migrated from the big screen to the small screen.
I was so fortunate to sit down with Kyra Sedgwick during the 2017 ATX Television Festival to discuss her directorial debut. She told me that it’s been the most fulfilling creative experience for her to date, so I’m expecting to see her in the director’s chair again very soon. Read our conversation below, and watch Story of a Girl tonight on Lifetime. (See the end of the post for a preview of the film.)
Sedgwick started out by sharing the genesis of this project, which was a decade in the making.
“I bought out this book, Story of a Girl, in 2007 in hopes to produce it — get it made as an independent film — and we got very close for a very long time. I wanted to hire a female writer/director to adapt the book, then we hired Laurie Collyer. We got close, and then we put it down for a few years and get frustrated, and then pick it up again with a possible financier.
“In 2016, I went into Lifetime to talk to them as a producer. I’d been producing, and had just finished a TV show for TNT called Proof with Jennifer Beals. Before I went into the meeting, I saw that they had something called Broad Focus. It was this docu-infomercial about the fact that they were trying to hire female directors, and in all capacities, for Lifetime films as well as their series. I thought about Story of a Girl and when I walked in to meet Tanya Lopez, the head of Lifetime Film, she said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I asked her about the Broad Focus initiative and she said, ‘We’re looking for female directors,’ and literally it was in that moment that I went, ‘I want to direct Story of a Girl.'”
She didn’t always think directing was a path she’d pursue, but in the process of filming Story of a Girl, she discovered that it’s a role that brings her so much joy.
“I said I would never direct, forever. In the last couple years my husband’s been, ‘You have to direct.’ I came close to directing an episode of Major Crimes, which is the spinoff of The Closer, but I ended up getting acting work and wasn’t able to do it. [During the meeting with Lifetime], this just came out of my mouth and they said, ‘Send it to us.’ They loved [Story of a Girl], and didn’t want to change it at all. They weren’t afraid of it, and some parts of it could scare people off, especially on TV. They loved it and basically gave me money and told me to go make an independent film.
“It is by far the most fulfilling creative experience I’ve ever had. Before that, it was doing Twelfth Night on Broadway, and The Closer came close, but this was beyond my wildest dreams. It was joyful, freeing, exciting, and not stressful. It felt like the next organic, correct step for me as an actor and producer who’s been doing this forever. But I had no idea that I could reach the levels of joy and happiness that I had doing it. I didn’t think it was in me to be this happy. It was like when I first started acting. When I was 12, I did a play and I knew I wanted to act, and I had never been so happy in my life. I almost couldn’t handle how happy I was, and that’s how I felt directing. It was like, ‘I love every minute of this. I love every single thing I have to do.’
“Also, while I had doubt and insecurity while I was in preproduction, once I actually got on the set and was shooting, after the first rehearsal of the first scene of the first movie I ever directed, I was like, ‘Oh, I have this. I know exactly what to do. I’m not questioning myself, I’m not filled with self-loathing or self-doubt or self-criticism.'”
After spending decades in front of the camera as an actor and behind the scenes as a producer, Sedgwick is very aware of what goes into creating something that not only looks good, but also brings out the best performances from the cast.
“First of all, you have to have a great script. It has to be as close to a perfect script as you can make it, and the casting is critical. Once you’ve cast it, you kind of get out of the way a lot. We did a lot of rehearsals because the actors were incredible and gave us their free time. As an actor who has been acting for a really long time, you can’t just have a great script. It has to be shot right. Edited right. The music has to be right. The angle of the camera has to be right. The movement of the camera has to be right. What happens before and all that comes after, that’s what great performances are made of.
“I can’t tell you how many times I felt like I gave a really good performance, and it’s not [on screen] because it wasn’t shot right, or the music wasn’t right, or the editing wasn’t right, or they cut it. That’s so frustrating as an actor. As a director, I would come up to my actors, especially before big emotional scenes, and I would go, ‘We’re going to shoot this in a way that does nothing but support exactly what you’re doing. Trust me, we already have this, now just go.’ The actors trusted me right away because they know that I know how hard it is. I know exactly what they’re going through, and I know what they need from me. It was the greatest, and it’s really all I want to do at this point, honestly.”
She loved directing so much that she was immediately thinking about what she wanted to tackle next.
“I spend a great deal of time looking, reaching out, reading, and trying to find my own stuff. You have to have six things going on in hopes that one of them might actually happen.”
When I asked her about potentially directing for TV series, Sedgwick is open to it, but with some caveats.
“I really want to do character-based episodic [TV]. I’m not going to want to do procedurals. But honestly, I’m lucky to get anything at this point. I have no illusions that life is going to be easy for me as a director. While this industry can be supportive of growth and change, it can also be like, ‘We really like her as an actress and it’s nice she wants to dabble.’ The good news is I’ve been around for such a long time and I have a thick skin.”