Kyra Sedgwick knows we're obsessed with her marriage to Kevin Bacon: "I totally feel pressure"

Sedgwick talks directing her husband in sci-fi flick "Space Oddity," climate change and taking risks at every age

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published April 14, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

Kyra Sedgwick (Photo illustration by Salon / Getty Images)
Kyra Sedgwick (Photo illustration by Salon / Getty Images)

"In the world that we're living in today, it's very easy to check out," says Emmy Award-winning actor Kyra Sedgwick. And in her directorial feature debut "Space Oddity," the main character Alex (Kyle Allen) wants to check out in the biggest way possible — by hitching a one-way ride to Mars.

The movie, costarring Sedgwick's husband Kevin Bacon and scored by her son Travis, is at once a delicate romance and a sharp exploration of grief, a meditation on the urgent truth that, as Sedgwick says, "There is no Planet B."

"I thought it was an incredibly entertaining, beautiful, funny, sad, but hopeful journey," she told me recently on "Salon Talks." And in a career spanning over 30 years, she's had her own entertaining, hopeful journey, one of continuous risk-taking, adventure, and collaboration — often with her own family. Sedgwick opened up to us about becoming a director in her 50s, her activism around climate change and the secret of her durable marriage.

Watch the "Salon Talks" episode with Kyra Sedgwick here, or read a Q&A of our conversation below.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tell me about "Space Oddity" how you discovered this film and why you wanted to get involved.

The movie centers around this young 25-year-old who is in a lot of despair. But when we find him, he is joyfully preparing for a one-way trip to Mars. There really are places that you can give your money to, and they tell you that you are preparing for a journey to go in about 10 years. Understandably, his family is flipping out. He falls in love with a young woman in the town, and that's where the romantic comedy comes in. 

This script came to us in about 2017. I thought it was an incredibly entertaining, beautiful, funny, sad, but hopeful journey. And it was a great container; within it was a lot of issues that are deeply important to me, like the depression of young people around climate change and what happens to a family when they lose a loved one and how the whole family has to restructure itself while it's jolting and quaking.

"I was reaching critical mass with watching directors screw up my performances."

All of these family members are in their own corners but desperately trying to come back together, and they're all checking out in one way or another. The dad's checking out with his obsession around the farm. The mom's checking out with her obsession around her living son, and the sister's obsessing about her brother and work. She's a real workaholic. That's also something that I can really relate to. I think that in the world that we're living in today, it's very easy to check out. Often we check out because things are hard, life is hard, but we check out easily with more distractions now.

Ultimately, the message of the movie was, we have to fight the good fight here. We have to fight. There's no planet B, there isn't a family B. Even though people die, even though there's climate issues here, we have to fight the good fight here and it's really worth it. You see the family get to the other side of it, and that's really where they end up. For me, that's just something that I have to think about every day. It's worth it. It's all very scary, the world is scary, but it's worth it.

You have been an activist for climate change for a long time. Do you see film as a different way into that conversation and as a way of bringing other people into these issues?

Yes, absolutely. Because the movie is so beautiful physically, I think that it works on you in much the same way as when you go to a zoo and fall in love with the animals and then want to take care of the animals. The movie is such a love letter to the planet, visually, and to see these people actually working the soil. Also, flowers for me, that's nature's parade. She's just dancing around showing us her most beautiful wares. The fact that this movie took place on a flower farm and then we got to shoot it in July on this perfectly stunning piece of property, you can't help but fall in love with the planet. When you fall in love with the planet, you want to protect her.

We've been polluting her for so long, and hopefully on a visceral, cellular level, you will understand how connected we are to nature and how we must take care of her, as well as taking care of each other. You see this family take care of each other and love each other and come together. What I loved about the movie was that it doesn't hit you over the head with this climate message, but simply by virtue of the fact that this kid wants to go to Mars, we're talking about a planet B.

Actually, the world is actually discussing it as a possibility, colonizing this planet, which is so incredibly devastating on so many levels because it's uninhabitable, and we live in heaven on earth. We've trashed this heaven on earth, and now we're going to go out to another planet, just trash that planet. Not an option, in my opinion. So all those things were definitely part of my evil plan with this movie.

You started directing in your 50s. I love when people try something new at any point past 21. You said you were scared to do it before then. So what changed for you?

I think I was reaching critical mass with watching directors screw up my performances, to be perfectly frank with you. Also, I spent a lot of time dissecting movies and TV shows, and my husband was like, "You think so directorially. Why don't you direct? You should be directing." It always scared me because I thought I won't be great at it. There's such a lack of humility in, "If I'm not going to be great, I'm not going to do it." I think you do get to a certain age where you're like, "I do some things well, and I know I do them well. The world has told me I do them well, so I don't want to step out of my comfort zone." I also started skiing when I was 40, and that was way out of my comfort zone.

What a great gift to, at 50, go, "You know what? I've got to do this." I had this script, called "Story of a Girl," and I'd been trying to make it for 10 years as a producer because for some reason I had been producing since I'm 25. I don't know where I got the chutzpah that I thought that I could totally produce. But I did, and I had this piece of material and I tried to get it made for 10 years as a film. Finally I actually went in and had a meeting with Lifetime as a producer to talk to them about passion projects and they said, "Is there anything you want to do?" I said, "Yeah, I want to do 'Story of a Girl' and I want to direct it."  I was like, wait, who just said that? Literally I was like, was that me? But as soon as I said it, I couldn't unsay it. 

"We've trashed this heaven on earth, and now we're going to go out to another planet, just trash that planet. Not an option, in my opinion."

I've been in this business professionally since I was 16 years old and I didn't see a lot of female directors. If you can't see it, you can't dream it. Someone brilliant said that. I don't know who it was, it definitely wasn't me. When I finally got enough courage to go, "You know what? I'm going to do this thing," I was terrified all the way up until the absolute first day of shooting. I rehearsed my first scene, even before we shot it. The actors went off to finish getting ready and I had a quiet moment with myself, and I was like, "You totally have this. You know this. You know it in your cells. You know it in your body. You know how to be a storyteller on this bigger level. You've always been a storyteller. This is just a bigger piece of that pie." It requires more of me, and that's awesome because I'm 50 and there's more of me to be had. 

Have you found it challenging also to be moving into a different stage in your career as an actor now?

Always. But you know what? It's all been hard. It's so funny because I had an agent who, when I was 25, was like, "Well, you're getting older." A man, of course. I remember it was so incredible that he said that to me, and I was so deeply offended at the time, but I appreciate it because the truth is it was so laughable that I was getting old at 25. It's like I'm 57 and it'll be laughable at 70 when people tell me I was getting old at 57. All those stages of my career have been hard. I have been a working horse actor. I will be a working horse director my whole life. Nothing gets handed to me. I have to work hard for everything, for whatever reason. That's great because then I know it's not supposed to come easy.

The truth is, I got one of the greatest opportunities when I was 40. I did "The Closer" when I was 40. I won awards when I was in my 40s. That didn't happen before, so that doesn't scare me so much. Although there's no question that unless you're a very big movie star, you're not going to get offered great, great parts, I still get offered really great parts. I've gotten some best parts of my career in the last couple of years. And now I can direct and so I feel like I'm not worried at all about it.

You also get the pleasure of working with your husband and son on this film. You've also worked with your daughter. You seem to gel so well as a team. How do you do that? 

"I have been a working horse actor. I will be a working horse director my whole life. Nothing gets handed to me. I have to work hard for everything."

I feel really lucky that I get to give [Kevin Bacon] a platform to do different kinds of work. I do know him so well, and I know his instrument so well, that I think it helps having me giving him notes, and he's also more willing to try them because he has to go home with me.

I'm able to work with my daughter, [Sosie Bacon]. I don't think it was easy for her. I know it wasn't easy for me because I'm pushing her. I'm always pushing my actors and everybody to be the best they can be and I'm nice about it, but I'm also asking her to do it again. I'm saying to Travis [Bacon], "I love this cue, but it's not going to work here. Let's find something else." I think we tolerate each other really well, and I think that we can argue, but usually, we get to the other side of it. What we all have in common as artists is that we want it to be the very best it can possibly be. We all are really hard workers and aren't afraid of working hard so I think that has a huge amount to do with it as well. 

Everybody always asks you about your long and happy marriage. I don't want to ask you about that part of it, because I don't even want to know what the secret is. But do you ever feel pressure?

My gosh, I totally feel pressure. I feel pressure, but I also feel pride, which is funny because I think that for so many years I was quietly proud of us. It felt, there's this word again, but like a lack of humility to be proud somehow. Now I'm like, actually, there's humility in the pride. Because it's been a long time and it hasn't always been easy, of course. But definitely pressure, no question. It's funny because it's been a lot of years, but one time we were in our 10th or 20th year and we had a fight at a restaurant. I ended up in the paper and it was just like, "Oh, can't even have a little argument?" It was barely even an argument. We didn't fight, it wasn't loud, but whatever, they saw. I feel like we have a lot of people counting on us to make it work.

We're all rooting for you. Like, if these two don't make it . . .

But the truth is, the secret to a happy marriage is not getting a divorce. I just heard that, now I'm going to steal it. Someone said it. I can't remember who.

Your central character in "Space Oddity" wants to go to Mars. What is your go-to "I want to leave the planet" place? Do you have one?

I really like to just go into nature when I feel like that. When I feel really scared, I touch a tree. If I'm in New York, I get to go to Central Park or any green space, the High Line, whatever. If I'm in Connecticut, if I'm in the country, I get to go walk outside and just see nature taking care of itself in its most beautiful and kind way and that supports not only the animals, but the planet. They all take care of each other, and we need to learn a lesson from that.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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