Star Kyra Sedgwick speaks as TNT closes out The Closer, unveils successor Major Crimes tonight
LOS ANGELES - I was standing next to G.W. Bailey, listening to a sidesplitting tale about his early jobs in television, playing bad guys on Charlie's Angels and Starsky and Hutch for legendary TV producer Aaron Spelling.
And I was in heaven.
"I started my morning by being told I was the oldest person here . . . that I invented television," said Bailey, laughing while recalling how the three Angels stars were so competitive that once one of them got attention for bringing her dog on the set, the other two suddenly got dogs, too.
"I did a couple of Starskys and said, 'This is easy. What's all this stuff about Hollywood is so tough?' " he said. "Then, after the second Starsky and Hutch, I didn't work for a year and a half."
Bailey, 67, a veteran of the TV series M*A*S*H and Police Academy movies, was delivering his showbiz lesson two weeks ago on the set of his latest gig, TNT's Major Crimes, a spinoff of The Closer that debuts tonight.
We were, in fact, a few feet from the battered faux-wooden desk he has been riding for years as Detective Lt. Provenza, the world-weary-yet-principled senior officer in the Los Angeles Police Department's Major Crimes unit.
He had already filmed the episodes you will see tonight. It's a delicate, emotional two-step in which Kyra Sedgwick ends her role as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on The Closer, just in time for former co-star Mary McDonnell to take over as Capt. Sharon Raydor on a new show also featuring all but three characters from Sedgwick's series.
Here's the story I wrote for today's newspaper based on my visit to the Major Crimes set. But I thought it would be cool to publish my last interview with Closer star Sedgwick, conducted just before The Closer began airing its last spate of six episodes ti wind up its season.
In a lot of ways, both star and cast had already moved on; The Closer episode fans will see tonight was filmed months ago and when I visited the Major Crimes set last month, the crew was well into filming the new show, with one question left.
How will fans react?
Here's Sedgwick's words on leaving a show she's led for seven seasons:
Deggans: This must be kinda weird for you to have to talk about something that happened … for you this happened a while ago, right?
Sedgwick: Yeah, December, yeah. A little bit. It’s a little bit weird and also, you know, it’s funny because it all sort of jells together as one … I don’t know. It’s hard to remember a lot of the things that people ask me but anyway, in terms of like, you know, some of your favorite moments over the seven years that’s …
D: Exactly, exactly. It’s gotta all kinda mesh together in one big blob.
D: Do you remember what your last scene was?
S: Oh yeah, absolutely. We were doing two scenes back to back … one was the goodbye to the squad scene and then there’s a moment, like a private moment, at the end, at the very end. I think those private moments are among our, you know, sort of best moments. It’s wonderful to see a character doing something when they don’t think anybody else is … you’re watching someone do something that they don’t think anyone else is seeing.
D: That was always cool. Do you think the character is leaving the way you wanted her to leave?
S: Absolutely. I think that she leaves on her own terms and she … it’s very understandable, you know, why she leaves. I think that she … you know, these last six episodes are sort of the culmination of her life choices and the fruit that that is bearing for her, good and bad.
D: Now, I know a lot of people talk about characters taking journeys; do you feel Brenda kind of ends a journey?
S: Absolutely, no question. I think that, you know, it’s just sad … the journey, the choices that she’s made, and finally the realization that those choices have consequences. And I think you reach a certain point in your life and, you know, usually in your 30s where you go, wow, I made all these choices. I didn’t really realize I was making them at the time but I guess I really have and this is what my life looks like as a result of those choices. And some of them are good and some of them are not good, and then you make the next choice of okay, do I wanna … are there any new choices that I need to make in my life? And I think that’s exactly what happens to her and I think she’s pushed to make those choices from outside forces, but it is also an inward journey.
D: I love this idea that the qualities that you think are the qualities that make you strong and successful at your job are also the qualities that kinda screw up your life in ways that you don’t notice until it’s too late.
S: Yeah, I think that… I think that one of her qualities is doing things her way or the highway, and I think that a lot of people have tried to tell her for a long time that she’s been making choices that she’s going to regret in the future and she keeps thinking, oh, it’s just this one case. Oh, it’s just this one thing. And then there’ll be time and there’ll be time (laughs) … it’s like that cat’s in the cradle, frikkin’ song … that Harry Chapin song. I don’t know if you know that song …And then time goes by and you didn’t make the time and you didn’t make the right choice and you … you put it off and you put it off and then it’s just too late.
D: As a critic, I’ll be watching episodes and I go, how does she get away with doing that? Or how could she do that? And it seemed like you guys were keeping track of that, too.
S: The whole thing is a great path for people who’ve been watching and engaged. I think that was very much in the forefront of (creator James Duff's) mind as he wrapped up these final six was that we wanted to make it satisfying and real and authentic and give a really, you know, respectable and honorable sendoff to a character as well as the fans that have stuck with us. I mean, we have such loyal fans.
D: It feels like we’ve never quite had a situation where the lead character is replaced and we were losing one other character, and the name of the show is changing, but the actual framework – the setting of the show, most of the characters – is not changing. Is there any sense where you sorta feel like your baby’s kinda going out of the house in a way?
S: Not really. You know, I feel like we did send an honorable and satisfying sendoff and I feel like that was my job. And I’m really thrilled that a lot of people are still able to work with each other ‘cause I think that it was just an amazing, cohesive group that we formed and, you know, we became a really well-oiled machine, and I think that’s wonderful that they didn’t have to … that that didn’t have to change.
D: I gotta think it’s a little bit of a weight on you when you come to them and say, look, I’m ready to stop doing this and you know there’s 150 other people …that takes some of the weight off you too, knowing that you’re not kinda ending their employment?
S: Oh, absolutely. I was so thrilled when it all came to fruition. I was thrilled. It was a very, very … it weighed on me heavily, that awareness. I mean, you can’t conceive of it as an actor that, you know, when you sign on to do something that it’s gonna last this long. And it’s been a really exciting and satisfying ride, much more so than I ever could have expected. But you’re aware that you’re living in the same character for a long time.
D: Critics are talking a lot about how women are depicted on television; we’re all trying to figure out whether women are being depicted fairly in shows. And The Closer always felt like a show where women got a fair shake.
S: Definitely. I mean, I think when I read the script, I saw a real person there that I recognized. I often, you know, sit there in the movies and sometimes watch TV and think who’s that person? I don’t know who that person is. That’s not like … that’s not any woman I know. But I think TV’s doing it better than almost, you know, any medium, certainly better than film, I think. But yeah, I definitely think that when I read the script, I said to James, if I’m gonna be in people’s living rooms, I have to be a real and relatable character. And what I loved about Brenda was that she was very much a woman all the time who didn’t apologize for being a woman and didn’t leave her femininity, you know, at home, and used it as part of how she got her job done to the best of her abilities, and is incredibly powerful and strong and fierce and very fragile and delicate and vulnerable. And, you know, all of those things exist in all of us and great certainty as well as great self doubt. Those contradictions live within all of us and it makes her a relatable woman and just a relatable person.
D: It felt like the tone of the series shifted a lot from the first season to the second where the first season it felt like she had a lot fewer allies and she had to kinda ?? over the squad and then by the time we got to the second season, there was a sense of her family had kinda pulled up around her.
S: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that that was a hard transition because I think that it’s fun to play, you know, the fish out of water and it’s fun to play the underdog, and I think that a lot of people were concerned after the first season that, you know, all that conflict would fade away. And it just changed, and I think that in many ways the audience was pleased because I think they really ultimately liked a lot of these characters and wanted them to, you know, get along.
D: Yeah, exactly. And so, what’s your sense … what was the biggest challenge, sort of keeping the show fresh and retaining that sort of family, also keeping people guessing …
S: Every year we finished, I would send this long sort of, you know, stream-of-consciousness e-mail where I thought the character should go. And (Duff) would write me, you know, his thoughts and one of the things that he would always say at the very end of it was, 'I know we did well this year but next year, we need to be even better.' And I know that that was his mandate every single year and it was my mandate too. You know, as an actor, of course, I always want to get better, and I feel like we did … she did grow and she got better and deeper, and we became … she became more complicated and more interesting as she got … as she moved through her life. And I think that these last six episodes really, really lived up to that credo, that mandate of, you know, we need to be even better and I think that, you know, she gets deeper and richer and the story got deeper and richer, and the last episode, to me, is among the best.
D: And so, when you think back to those messages that you sent out about where the character should go, any major things that we would recognize?
S: It’s so funny because I felt like every year I had all these ideas and I don’t think he used any of them (laughter), and then what he came up with was so much better than … like beyond my wildest dreams kind of thing, you know. I mean, he had this uncanny way of sort of reflecting my life. I mean, I remember the year that Kitty died, I had just lost my cat. And he had no way of knowing that I had just lost my cat. I mean, we were friends and we talked but I didn’t really talk to him about the cat, and then I show up and, you know, our first episodes of the season was about the inevitable demise of the cat, and it was really amazing. And then there were so many other things that just came right from my life. And my dad had just had open-heart surgery and it turns out, you know, something’s wrong with Brenda’s dad, and so it was pretty uncanny.
D: Is there anything you wanted to do with the show that you didn’t get around to?
S: I wanted her to have a female friend. I wanted to see her trying to have a best friend, and we didn’t get that. The other thing that happened as the show went on is that TNT gave us less and less time to tell really good stories. You know, I love them. They’ve been an amazing place to work but I think...they had to have more ad time, so I think in the first year we had 46 minutes and by the end we had 43 or something. And that’s three minutes of character time because you really … that’s the first thing that’s gonna go.