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Closer than ever

Times Staff Writer

ANOTHER star might have been oblivious. But Kyra Sedgwick, fairly new to the game, was amazed recently to see two paparazzi in trucks nearly collide on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, each hoping to be the first to photograph her walking out onto the sidewalk.

“I thought to myself, ‘This is so absurd,’ ” she said. “I mean, I’m coming out of the Verizon store. What could be more boring?” And then she was glad she wasn’t in pigtails and sweats.

Sedgwick, 41, wouldn’t have caused such a stir three years ago. But after a steady, 25-year career in show business, she struck gold with the role of crafty, disorganized, snack-obsessed LAPD interrogator Brenda Johnson in TNT’s funny-dark, character-rich procedural “The Closer.”

The series (launching Season 3 on Monday ) became basic cable’s biggest hit, with an average 6 million viewers, a million more than the next highest, USA’s “Monk.” The show was nominated for an Emmy, but Sedgwick received the most critical acclaim. She won a Golden Globe for her performance, negotiated one of the highest salaries for any woman on television (reportedly at least $250,000 per episode), turned heads in Armani on the red carpet, and -- the undisputable sign she’s arrived -- sat face to face with James Lipton on “The Actors Studio.” She called the experience “scary.”

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Finding fame in a town that tends to shun aging actresses has made her something of a role model. (“Me and Helen Mirren!” she said.) Older women suddenly seem to be leading several new series, including a competitive FX show “Damages,” starring Glenn Close, that will air July 24.

Her higher profile has also brought more, and more commercial, scripts her way. Last fall, she filmed “The Game Plan” in Boston, a comedy in which she plays a sports agent for an NFL quarterback played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The movie is scheduled for release in September.

Yet after years of mini-breakthroughs (“Born on the Fourth of July” in 1989, “Something to Talk About” in 1993) and small parts in noncommercial films ( “Personal Velocity” in 2002), she hasn’t felt the surge of exaltation you might reasonably expect. “I don’t know why I don’t feel that way. Maybe because I’m in the middle of it,” she said.

When her fellow actors were pursuing careers in their 20s, Sedgwick was raising a family with husband Kevin Bacon in New York. When they met in 1988 on the set of PBS’ “Lemon Sky,” he was the star. She has no regrets over her decision to put family first while her children were young, she said. “It’s so easy to get bitter,” she said. “It’s so unattractive.”

Sedgwick looked small but healthy-thin in jeans, lacy tank top and a delicate sweater, her wild hair restrained in a pony tail, her black eyes friendly but impenetrable. She had driven her red Toyota Prius from her temporary home to the Fairmont-Miramar in Santa Monica a few blocks away for Sunday afternoon tea. If other patrons noticed her pearlescent face matched that on busses and billboards around town, none let on.

Sedgwick said she hasn’t been after fame so much as fulfilling a need to express herself. “When you’re an artist and you don’t get to do your art, it’s very frustrating. And very painful. I feel really good that I can exercise this need and want to act that I have,” she said.

Because “The Closer’s” Brenda is so contradictory and unpredictable, fierce one minute, flirtatious the next, she said the part is “more creatively fulfilling than anything I’ve ever done other than Shakespeare.... I’ve never been with a character this long, and I love her so much. At this point, I know her so well, she’s almost like a person to me.”

Whip smart, manipulative and obsessed with the truth, Brenda catches suspects off guard with her Texas-Atlanta accent before she turns on them. “I had sort of had it with the characters with Southern accents always being the stupidest person on Earth,” said creator James Duff, himself a Texas native. Duff said he’s aimed for realism with help from an uncle who worked in intelligence for the U.S. Dept. of Defense and from former L.A. County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti.

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Garcetti, who famously lost the O.J. Simpson murder case, was the one who told them the only way to make sure “people get behind bars is to get an airtight confession. Something that cannot be denied,” Sedgwick said. “That was the genesis of ‘The Closer,’ ” she said.

Sedgwick spends most of her down time memorizing what she at first thought were an unmanageable number of lines. “It’s just an unbelievable amount of verbiage,” she said. “She’s verbose to say the least and she talks fast and with authority.” Considering she appears in almost every scene and does all the talking in the interview rooms, Sedgwich may possibly have the largest speaking role on television, according to (creator James ) Duff.

“Part of the mystery of ‘The Closer’ is Brenda. Where is she going? Why is she doing what she’s doing?” Duff said.

For instance, she has a great relationship with her handsome FBI agent boyfriend (Jon Tenney) but still carries a torch for her not-so-charismatic middle-aged boss (J.K. Simmons), who is now divorced.

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“Maybe it’s a daddy thing,” Sedgwick said.

Some changes coming

THIS season, now that many of the characters have been fleshed out, the stories will involve a mix of plot with character, she said. Budget cuts will be a problem. Viewers who love Brenda’s eye-batting Southern charm -- and the accompanying “thank yews” and bluesy piano music -- won’t be disappointed.

Sedgwick doesn’t like the word “coy.” Still, “There’s a way to make a man feel important and to make men feel strong. Brenda uses that technique, and I do too,” she said. She and Brenda both believe women catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

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Take the other day when she wanted to leave the set early. “I went up to my [director of photography] and said, ‘Gosh, I’d really love to have dinner with Kev tonight and I know that you can make it happen.” She got the evening off.

Sedgwick’s casting as Brenda came close to not happening at all. She had such a strong reputation for putting family first that hardly anyone -- including her -- figured she would relocate six months a year from New York to Los Angeles where the show is shot.

Two people eventually convinced her: Her manager, who likened her role to that of Helen Mirren in “Prime Suspect,” a pioneering woman in an all-male detective squad whose personal life was a mess; and her husband, who said he would stay home with the children.

The deal they made, that they would not work at the same time, worked for the first two seasons, she said. Bacon and their children tried to visit in L.A. every other weekend. Last year, after the season wrapped, Bacon made two films back to back (“Death Sentence,” “Rails and Ties”). “This year, that will happen too,” she said. The two have often worked together (“Losing Chase,” “The Woodsman,” “Loverboy”), and Bacon is also directing several episodes of “The Closer.”

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But as she has extended her contract from six to seven years and gained a producer’s title on the show, the deal is now “catch as catch can,” she said.

While her son Travis, 17, is going off to college, Sosie, 15, will still be at home. “So I’m worried for next year. I’m concerned,” she said.

And she’s torn about what to do with her six months off. She’d like to stay home, hike, surf and work on environmental causes. But “if anything great came along, I’d work it out, of course. I still think I have absolutely so much more to offer in terms of my work out there in the world.”

And she’d like to do something different -- namely, join the handful of “bankable” actors who can open a commercial movie. “People like it when you make money for a company. They go, ‘Oh, maybe she’ll make money for us.’ It is a business. It’s show business. It’s not show art.”

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lynn.smith@latimes.com


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