By her own admission, Kyra Sedgwick is part of Hollywood’s Fast Times generation. Born in 1965, the future star of Singles, Phenomenon and The Closer entered the acting game in 1982, the same year that Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High helped launch a fresh wave of movies that were more sexually frank in their depiction of the love lives of teenagers and twentysomethings. It’s only recently that Sedgwick has started to reconsider how that era maybe wasn’t as progressive as it seemed at the time.
“I think about how much nudity there was on the part of women then,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “And when I think about that, I’m just so grateful that women now know they have a voice in that. They can say, ‘Hell no,’ or ‘We don’t do that anymore.’ I’m all for that evolution.”
Sedgwick experienced that evolution firsthand while overseeing a sex scene between young actors Kyle Allen and Alexandra Shipp in her first feature film as a director, Space Oddity. In the film — which is available on most VOD platforms now — Allen plays Alex, a young engineer whose dreams of joining a space mission to colonize Mars take a backseat when he falls for Shipp’s idealistic insurance agent, Daisy. When they have sex for the first time, Allen pauses mid-kiss to asks Daisy if what he’s doing is OK, a piece of direction that the actors specifically gave to Sedgwick.
“It wasn’t in the script,” she admits, laughing. “But these two amazing actors told me, ‘Consent is sexy.’ I was like, ‘Really? OK, let’s do it.’ I thought it was great and I was happy to put it in there. That’s definitely something you would never have seen in a million years in Fast Times at Ridgemont High!”
Sedgwick was specifically drawn to Rebecca Banner’s Space Oddity script because it captured the mindset of young people today — not just in terms of sex and romance, but also the future of life on Earth. “I am keenly aware of what’s going on for kids right now,” says the actress and filmmaker, who has two grown children with her husband, Kevin Bacon. (Their daughter, Sosie Bacon, starred in last year’s breakout horror hit Smile.)
“They’ve had to bump up against one existential crisis after another, and that can be very discouraging and give you this feeling that there’s no point,” Sedgwick notes. “That’s not something we were coping with in the ’70s and ’80s. I almost feel lucky looking back on the things I had to concern myself with when I was growing up — I feel like I was able to have a childhood because of it.”
But Space Oddity — which takes its name from David Bowie’s classic rock song, a title choice that Sedgwick says cost “a ton” of money — ultimately argues in favor of tuning in and turning on instead of checking out and running away to Mars. “When I hear about going to Mars, I hear people thinking that there’s a Planet B,” says Sedgwick. “But there isn’t a Planet B! It’s uninhabitable. The planet worth saving is here; Earth is worth saving and it’s worth the fight.”
Bacon has a supporting role in Space Oddity as Alex’s father. It’s the first time that Sedgwick has directed her spouse, although they’ve acted opposite each other many times in the past and he’s directed her in two films and multiple episodes of The Closer. “I can be a little more exacting, and I’m always coming at things from a very emotional place,” she says of their different behind the camera styles. “Whereas Kevin is often thinking about how he wants to tell things visually that gets him to that emotional place. Things are a little more technical for him, and I’m thinking about how I want the audience to be feeling all the time.”
In our Role Recall, Sedgwick reveals how she feels about some of her signature onscreen experiences, from Born on the Fourth of July to The Closer.
Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale (1985)
As an ’80s teen, it’s only appropriate that Sedgwick scored her first leading role on the most ’80s of shows… an ABC Afterschool Special. But this particular after-school special — a contemporary retelling of Cinderella — boasted unusually high pedigree: it was directed by Oscar-winning actress, Lee Grant and co-starred pioneering Black entertainer, Pearl Bailey as her fairy godmother. “They were extraordinary,” Sedgwick remembers of collaborating with two Hollywood legends at such an early age. “Pearl was an idol of mine, and Lee was so brilliant in Shampoo. She was so lovely and appreciative of what I was bringing to the role.”
“Before getting that job, I had spent a year in Los Angeles auditioning for everything and getting nothing,” she continues. “When I came back home to New York, I told my father, ‘I’m a total failure!’ I started so early in this business that I felt like I only mattered if I had a job. Dealing with that has been one of the number one fights of my life: the idea that it’s okay to not be working. But getting Cindy Eller was an incredible highlight. I was able to tell myself, ‘I got a job and Lee Grant thinks I’m good!'”
One of Cindy Eller‘s other notable co-stars was Jennifer Grey, who was a year away from her breakout role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Funnily enough, Sedgwick says that one of her many failed auditions was for the role of Ferris’s girlfriend, Sloane, in that John Hughes classic — a role that eventually went to Mia Sara. “I auditioned for John quite a few times,” she says, laughing. “I never got anything! I’d always screen test and then got the crushing blow.”
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Tom Cruise was at the apex of his Top Gun-era stardom when he decided to flip the script and undergo a dramatic transformation as real-life Vietnam vet and anti-war activist, Ron Kovic, in Olive Stone’s blistering drama. “I could tell it meant the world to him,” says Sedgwick, who played Kovic’s fictional high school sweetheart, Donna. “He had something to prove and he worked incredibly hard to prove it. And I loved that, because if you’re not putting your heart and soul and guts on the line as an actor than you should just say home as far as I’m concerned.”
Sedgwick remembers that Kovic — who was paralyzed from the chest down after a skirmish with the Vietcong — was a regular presence on set, which only heightened Cruise’s resolve to do his story justice. “Everyone wanted to do a good job for Ron, because it was his story. I got to go on an emotional journey with Tom from being this young man who was about to go off to war and then changing into this activist after ending up in a wheelchair. His level of commitment is something that I admire and still feel every time I play a role.”
Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990)
Speaking of learning from major movie stars, Sedgwick says that Hollywood icons Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were full of “sage advice” for their onscreen daughter in James Ivory’s 1990 adaptation of Evan S. Connell’s nested novels about a conservative married couple confronting the modern world. But her most memorable moment with Newman happened during rehearsals away from the camera.
“There’s a scene in the beginning of the movie where I’m reading the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet with Paul,” she remembers. “We rehearsed that scene at The Actors Studio where he and James Dean and Marilyn Monroe all performed. I was in the balcony and he was on the stage and we did the balcony scene from the play. There I was, performing Romeo and Juliet with Paul Newman in The Actors Studio with all the history that carried with it. I remember telling myself: ‘Don’t ever forget this moment. It’s probably not gonna get better than this.”
Sedgwick and Bacon had been married two years when she appeared alongside Newman and Woodward, whose decades-long relationship remains the gold standard for Hollywood #CoupleGoals, as evidenced by the recent HBO Max documentary, The Last Movie Stars. And the actress is well-aware that she and her husband now enjoy a similar kind of celebrity for being one of the industry’s longest-lasting couples. “I wasn’t worried about Kevin and I, but seeing Paul and Joanne definitely gave you a lot of hope,” she says now. “Clearly they were never going to split up, and we could see that was something we had in common even though Kevin and I had only been married a couple years. I think they saw a longevity in us.”
“But it’s funny — watching The Last Movie Stars, one of the things I really relate to now is: ‘Can we stop talking about our marriage already!'” Sedgwick continues, laughing. “It’s abundantly clear in the documentary that they were like, ‘OK, easy — all we did was just not get a divorce.’ Kevin and I are proud of our marriage, but it’s a lot of pressure to always be asked, ‘How do you do it?’ I’m like ‘We’re just married, we didn’t invent the wheel!’ But I will also say that I’ll take being compared to Paul and Joanne in any way.”
A year after working with Newman and Woodward, Sedgwick talked Bacon into co-starring in the oddball sex comedy Pyrates, where the couple play lovers whose bedroom antics are hot enough to literally generate sparks. “I really wanted to do the movie, and we couldn’t find a male lead who would raise the money to make it,” she remembers. “I asked Kevin if he would read the script, and he liked the idea of us doing it together. We didn’t think, ‘Is it weird for us to do a sex comedy?’ At the time, we were newly married and had our first kid, so the idea of us playing this couple that has such great sex that the room spontaneously bursts into flame was really funny.”
But Sedgwick soon discovered that acting out sex scenes with her real-life husband — something they’ve since repeated in 1995’s Murder in the First and 2004’s The Woodsman — is more awkward than amusing. “It’s much harder,” she says. “It’s weird because we’re always like, ‘Is this real or is it not?’ As an actor, you sometimes have these dreams when you start a job where you’re sleeping and they’re filming you. With Pyrates, I was [sleeping] with my husband and they were filming it! It’s like, ‘This can’t be real — I’m having a dream.'”
Pyrates premiered to negative reviews and remains largely unavailable now on either streaming or physical media. “It’s one in a slew of bombs that both of us have been involved with,” Sedgwick says, chuckling. “Looking back, I’m sure we were devastated about that in the moment. I thought it was a cool, funny and very stylized movie. We took a chance, and we’ve done that a lot in our careers.”
Forget “You complete me.” Cameron Crowe’s single best line of dialogue may just be: “I was just nowhere near your neighborhood.” That’s the pick-up line that Campbell Scott’s Seattle-based single guy Steve uses on Sedgwick’s relationship-phobic Linda at the beginning of their on-again, off-again romance, and then she calls it back in the last scene when they’re officially on again. Instantly quotable lines like that are the reason she eagerly signed on to Crowe’s Say Anything follow-up in the first place. “I remember auditioning for Singles with Campbell and thinking, ‘This is some of the best writing I’ve ever been lucky enough to let trip off my tongue,” she says now. “When the writing is that good, it makes my job so much easier.”
Interestingly, that final scene with Sedgwick’s “I was just nowhere near your neighborhood” callback was shot months after production wrapped when Crowe reassembled the actors for reshoots. And a deleted scene included on the Blu-ray reveals that Linda was initially much more verbose in telling Steve why she wanted to give their love story a happy ending. “I remember that being a long scene and going, ‘Do we really need it?'” she recalls. Crowe clearly felt the same way: the theatrical version excises Linda’s monologue in favor of a shorter, snappier reunion.
For the record, Sedgwick was perfectly happy to see the bulk of her lines hit the cutting room floor. “It was really bold of Cameron to do that — he knew what the best lines were in the scene and said, ‘I’m just going with the best lines.’ And that movie has really stood the test of time: 20-year-olds still come up to me now to tell me that it really speaks to them even though it seems worlds apart from what they’re experiencing.”
Something to Talk About (1995)
At the same time that Sedgwick was rising through the Hollywood ranks, a young actress named Julia Roberts was breaking into the big time as well. In fact, Sedgwick remembers hearing about Roberts well before she shot to superstardom. “I had been working since I was 16 years old, and I think I was around 18 or 19 when I’d be auditioning and people would come up to me going, ‘Has anyone ever told you that you look like Julia Roberts?'” Sedgwick remembers, laughing. “And I was like, ‘Who the f*** is Julia Roberts? What are you talking about? Who is this person?'”
Once Pretty Woman established Roberts as Hollywood’s most famous leading lady, Sedgwick admits to having a different reaction to that comparison. “I would be like, ‘I’ve been doing this so much longer than she has — it’s so unfair,'” she says, mocking her younger self. “I had some moments like that. But finally I totally embraced it — I mean, she’s gorgeous and brilliant so all good here! But I do remember it was hard to get used to at first.”
But Sedgwick is quick to say that she never felt any serious rivalry with Roberts, even when they were frequently compared within the industry and the media in the ’90s. “I think that people try to gin up rivalries between women all the time, because that’s another way to diffuse our power,” she says. “And I just wasn’t having it.”
The two actress’s paths finally crossed when Sedgwick played Roberts’s sister in Lasse Hallström’s 1995 drama Something to Talk About — a role that she says she pursued across multiple auditions. “I was like, ‘Finally this is gonna pay off!’ I can’t even tell you how much I wanted that part. It still has some of the best lines of dialogue I’ve ever had to this day, and the character’s whole vibe was me in a nutshell.”
Funnily enough, Sedgwick’s “twin” is the one that told her she had the part — although that turned out to be another, “Who is this person?” moment. “Julia called me to welcome me aboard, and she goes, ‘This is Julia.’ I was like, ‘Who?’ And she said, ‘This is Julia Roberts!’ We didn’t talk about [being compared to each other] while we were making the movie: I think we both thought it was an experience that the other person was having. To this day I’m incredibly happy that I look enough like Julia Roberts to play her sister in a movie.”
Sedgwick scored the biggest hit of her career when she signed on to play John Travolta’s love interest in Jon Turteltaub’s small-town drama about a simple man who gains extraordinary intelligence after seemingly crossing paths with a UFO. And Phenomenon‘s still-passionate fanbase would argue that it also features her most romantic scene. Midway through the movie, Sedgwick’s single mother, Lace, offers to shave Travolta’s George as a way to relieve the stress brought on by entire world demanding something from him. Things quickly take a more intimate turn, although the lovers-to-be notably don’t share a lip-lock or even a passionate embrace.
“I’ve heard some people refer to it as the most romantic scene they’ve ever seen in a film, period,” Sedgwick says now. “I knew it was going to be sensual and it was important that it feel sensual. But there were also some awkward moments, because it was very technical and it was a long day — washing John’s hair was the hardest part. But the lighting is absolutely gorgeous and it’s a critical scene in telling the love story between those two people. It felt so good to be careful and tender with it.”
Seen today, some audiences may find the origins of George and Lace’s love story to be a little less than romantic as he pursues her even after she makes it clear that she’s not interested in dating. But Sedgwick feels that the character’s “tenacity” sets up the moment where their mutual attraction really clicks into place. “She tells him she’s not interested up until the moment where he buys her chairs, and then things change,” she notes. “I can tell you that women around the country were like, ‘He bought her chairs! I want someone to buy my chairs.'”
The Closer (2005-2012)
It’s never easy to say goodbye to a long-running show… and it’s even harder when that show is a huge hit that the network would love to see run forever. That’s why Sedgwick didn’t take the decision to close the door on her blockbuster TNT procedural, The Closer, lightly.
“I knew I was putting a lot of people out of work, so that was my concern,” she says of making the call to end the series after a seven season run from 2005 to 2012. She also genuinely loved her role as unconventional police investigator, Brenda Leigh Johnson. “She was funny, she was fierce, she was fragile, she was as strong as an ox, she was a compulsive eater and a chocolate junkie — she was total bundle of contradictions. I loved that. But as an artist, I knew it was time for me to move on. I didn’t want to be that person that hangs around too long and the audience and critics start to turn on you. Leave them wanting more, that’s my vibe.”
Sedgwick wasn’t just the star of The Closer: she also successfully lobbied for “a seat at the table” behind the scenes, eventually attaining an executive producer title and input into casting choices and the various cuts that came out of the editor’s room. That level of creative involvement made up for the personal sacrifices she made during its run, most notably splitting her time between L.A. where the series was shot and New York where Bacon and their children lived.
“I sacrificed a lot to do the show,” she says now. “I’m not complaining! I was very well-paid and I won a lot of hardware. But if it had been a show nobody watched, I would have felt more guilty than I already did for doing it.” [Sedgwick received six Emmy nominations for The Closer and won two statues.]
TNT wasted little time continuing The Closer universe, launching the Mary McDonnell-led spin-off, Major Crimes, on the same night that Sedgwick played Brenda for the last time. And the actress sees the legacy of the series in the wide swath of female-led dramas that dominate cable television and streaming services now.
“I feel like The Closer paved the way for other women to have their own shows. Show business isn’t just about being artistically worthwhile — you also have to make money for people. That show made a lot of money for people for many years, and because of it, other women got that opportunity. I’m incredibly grateful for that,” she said.