It's a Wednesday afternoon on the Hollywood sets of TNT's hit crime drama "The Closer," premiering its second season with a commercial-free episode on Monday, June 12, and LAPD Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) is questioning a suspect.
Before she can start, Brenda must open the door while holding an evidence box and having her capacious purse hanging from her shoulder. Once the box is set on the table and the bag is deposited on the floor, the interrogation can begin.
When it ends, Brenda must then swing her purse back on her shoulder, grab the evidence box, and still manage to open the door and exit.
In between, Sedgwick must show a command of complex, tongue-twisting dialogue, all delivered in Brenda's honeyed Southern drawl (she's an Atlanta transplant).
"We're always throwing a lot at the character in that way," Sedgwick says, "trying to juggle a lot."
In many ways, the scene is emblematic of the approach of Sedgwick and the show's executive producers -- James Duff, Michael M. Robin and Greer Shephard -- to the quirky character of Brenda, who struck a chord with viewers during the show's successful first run last season.
According to Sedgwick, when she is recognized on the street, "they say how much they love the show and love the character. I feel like people have this wonderful, authentic connection to her in a way that makes me feel good, because I work hard at trying to make her real.
"I feel like she is, like she's become that for people. She's a flawed, real person, and I get that when people see me, they love her."
With her long Alice-in-Wonderland hair, accent, unreasonable love of sugary junk food and very not-L.A. fashion sense, Brenda doesn't look or act like most female TV cops, and that's intentional -- right down to her bold lipstick.
"That's very important to me," Sedgwick says. "I love the pink lipstick. I don't know if she ever goes anywhere without her lipstick, because she's a Southern girl."
As for the costumes, Sedgwick says, "She very much stays who she is -- that J.C. Penney, Sears kind of polyester. She wears a lot of that. I don't ever want her to really acclimate to L.A. and become a suit-wearing L.A. woman."
According to Robin, TNT's original idea for "The Closer" was for a show to complement its schedule of crime procedurals, particularly the "Law & Order" franchise, but one that added a fresh element to the genre.
"While we were contemplating what that meant," he says, "we looked at things that were not in procedurals and not on television."
With that in mind, they decided to go for a mature female lead -- which, in TV terms, means someone over 35 -- who's in charge of her own Priority Murder Squad.
And while many of the leading men of TV procedurals have either no love lives or intermittent relationships that usually end with the women dead or in jail, Brenda has both a romantic past and present.
LAPD Assistant Police Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons) is Brenda's former boss at the CIA, where she learned interrogation techniques, and her current boss on the force. He's also her ex-lover.
"It's great," Simmons says, "our complicated history and our complicated future as well. We'll see how complicated we can make each other's lives for -- knock wood -- several years."
While the two are now keeping the past in the past, Simmons thinks sparks could reignite. "I think we'll at least keep throwing that possibility out there. Whether anything catches flame this season or not, I have no idea."
"That's one of the great things about this character," Sedgwick says. "She's got a lot of history. The great thing about having J.K.'s character have history with her is that we get to play that history even if they're not necessarily talking about that history.
"Brenda is so much out of her element, a fish out of water and not from this area, that everyone else is a new relationship except for the relationship she has with Pope."
"The less we talk about it," Simmons says, "the better. But in almost every episode, one or another of us finds something -- whether it's deliberately written or not -- where the subtext gets us into that messy gray area of our former and maybe once-again relationship."
Brenda also has a current boyfriend, FBI Special Agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney), and there just may be cohabitation this season.
"I think the audience relates to this relationship because it's messy," Sedgwick says, "and it's not easy. It needs a lot of work. One of the reasons Fritz likes her is that she's messy and unpredictable, and that she is emotional and passionate."
As for kissing Tenney, Sedgwick quips, "Yeah, it's hell for me."
But before Brenda can get on with her love life, she has to deal with her mother, Willy Ray Johnson, played by veteran actress Frances Sternhagen, who appears in the second and third episodes of the new season.
"They get along well," Sedgwick says. "She irritates you in all the ways that your mother irritates you, but knows how to press all the right buttons -- because they installed them. But it's really fun to see them together."
As to whether she has a wish for this season, Sedgwick says, "I wanted to have Frances Sternhagen, and she ended up being in it. So that was my wish, and it came true."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times