SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)
On the outside, Kyra Sedgwick is the picture of California cool. She arrives at a tiny outdoor Hollywood cafe in worn jeans, a trim black blouse, and a lowered cap, which she quickly removes to reveal a mass of loose blond curls. She stretches out her lean legs and flashes a wide beach-girl grin as she scans the menu. But within minutes of ordering a bowl of strawberries and a tall iced tea, Sedgwick is fighting back tears. It wasn't the strawberries that set her off. Rather, it was the topic of California itself. The conversation went something like this:
LHJ: "How do you feel about being in LA? I know you're a New York girl...."
Sedgwick: "I'm more peaceful about being here, about being away from my family, even though in some ways that piece of it is...um...harder than ever." [Her voice cracks and her eyes well.] "Oh... I'm just a teary mess about that part of it."
For the past five years Sedgwick has been a full-time actress and a long-distance mom. Every March through September, she leaves the New York City home she shares with her husband of 21 years, actor Kevin Bacon, and their 17-year-old daughter, Sosie (their son Travis, 20, attends college in the Northwest), and relocates to Los Angeles to shoot the top cable drama, The Closer.
"It can be so hard," says Sedgwick, who makes a cross-country commute home every other weekend and stays in touch with her family through daily phone calls and iChat. "I remember the first few years it was like I was in an ocean and constantly getting tumbled over," she continues. "As soon as I'd get out of one set of waves, another set would come along and I'd tumble over again. I thought I was going to drown. It's not like that any more in terms of my being overwhelmed by the workload, but the homesickness -- missing the kids, missing those life moments -- that gets harder and harder."
"I think she feels guilty, like a lot of working mothers do," says Closer creator James Duff, who is also a friend. This year he rescheduled filming because Sosie was doing a play at school. "Kyra called and said, 'Please, can we start one week later so I can stay in New York and see her play?' So we did."
When Duff was casting the role of tough-as-nails police interrogator Brenda Leigh Johnson, Sedgwick wasn't interested . "She said, 'I am not leaving New York and I don't want to do a television series,'" he recalls. "But then we gave Kevin [Bacon] the script and he said to Kyra, 'I think you should read this.' She read it while she was in Canada filming a movie and she told me she said, 'Oh crap.' Because she really liked it. She really identified with the character."
So, apparently, do a lot of Americans. More than 7 million viewers tune in each week to watch the sweet-talking (and sweets-addicted) Brenda cajole the truth out of murder suspects. The show has earned Sedgwick a Golden Globe for best actress and has made her one of TV's highest-paid female stars, earning a reported $300,000 per episode. At 44 -- an age when roles are drying up for most women -- Sedgwick is at the top of her game. Was she worried about making the move from film to TV, something that is often considered a giant leap backward for a movie star? "That stigma has gone away," she says. "Every one knows there are only a certain amount of absolutely, positively bankable leading women who do movies. TV affords you more opportunity."
Sedgwick credits the success of The Closer to its characters, including Brenda's cute, charming husband, FBI agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) and her hangdog boss, assistant police chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons). "Yes, the show is about murder and mystery, but it's also about what it means to be human and how the characters relate to one another at work," she says. "Brenda is tenacious at her job and she is very strong but at the same time she's feminine and fragile. She's a bundle of contradictions. A lot of women can relate to that."
Sedgwick's passion for drama runs in the family: Her second cousin was the '60s pop icon Edie Sedgwick. And there are two roles that changed the course of Sedgwick's life forever. Playing Tzeitel in an eighth-grade production of Fiddler on the Roof sealed her fate as an actress. "I knew then there was nothing else I wanted to do," she has said. The other part came in 1988, when she played opposite Kevin Bacon in a TV production of the Lanford Wilson play Lemon Sky. Sedgwick was 22; Bacon was 29. They fell in love and several months later got married.
As a kid I never felt like I had a real home," says Sedgwick, who has three older brothers and two older sisters. "My parents split when I was 3. My mother remarried when I was 6 and when I moved into my stepfather's house it always felt like it was their place, not mine. When I met Kevin I thought, This feels like home. "I don't know how at 22 I went, 'Yeah, that's the guy,' and was actually right about it," she continues. "Usually you pick someone who has all the worst qualities of your father or something. Someone was watching over me when I picked Kevin, because I couldn't have been that smart."
After they had their first child, in 1989, she and Bacon made a pact: One of them would stay home with the baby while the other one worked. Though Sedgwick signed on for the occasional high-profile film -- 1995's Something to Talk About with Dennis Quaid and Julia Roberts and 1996's Phenomenon with John Travolta -- Hollywood quickly took a backseat to motherhood. She reveled in being home when her kids came back from school. She was hands-on for those last-minute, late-night homework sessions. And on the weekends she organized family hikes at their farmhouse in Connecticut.
"I remember the first time I went away after having my children," she says. "It was to the Sundance writers and directors lab in Utah. The first few days I was incapable of even taking three steps in front of me. I had forgotten what it felt like to be by myself. But after about a week there was a little shift and I remember thinking, Oh yeah, I'm not just defined by my family. I do have a self."
These days she tries to focus on the upside of being a working mom. For one thing, her schedule has helped Sosie and Bacon forge a unique bond. "My primary relationship was always with my mother and I think it's that way for most girls," says Sedgwick. "This has forced a situation where my daughter is having a great relationship with her father. It's beautiful to see."
During her rare downtime Sedgwick likes to work out -- practicing yoga, surfing, hiking near her Santa Monica home -- and her toned, athletic figure shows it. "I want to be a good role model for my daughter and to embrace my body at this age, not to be obsessed with looking younger."
Unlike many Hollywood couples, she and Bacon keep a low profile and rarely end up in the tabloids. The exception was late last year when they made headlines because they had invested some money with Bernie Madoff. "The fact that someone blew the whistle on Madoff three times and nobody did anything about it? It was hideous," says Sedgwick. She won't reveal how much she and Bacon lost. "But I think the economy has forced a lot of people to look inward and go, What really fulfills me so I don't have to go out and buy? Getting back to simple pleasures is a good thing."
She downs the last of her iced tea and returns to the subject of her kids as the interview wraps up. "There are moments when I ask the universe, 'Is this the right thing to be doing right now?'" she says. "The older you get the more you realize that the time you have with your children is short. But I trust that I wouldn't be here if I wasn't supposed to be. I don't have any regrets."
Sedgwick is a longtime environmentalist and a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council. We asked her for some everyday ways that people can make a difference.
BAG IT: "Take your own reusable, foldable bags instead of plastic to the grocery store. Envirosax.com has some great options."
SKIP BOTTLED WATER: "Plastic bottles never ever break down. I drink tap water from a stainless-steel bottle instead."
TURN ON AN ENERGY-EFFICIENT LIGHTBULB: "You have to dispose of them carefully but using one saves a lot of energy."
Can't get enough Kyra? Catch her alongside Gerard Butler in Gamer, a futuristic thriller, out September 4.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, September 2009.