Kyra Sedgwick has been acting for most of her adult life, but five years ago, she transitioned into directing with Story of a Girl, which led to her directing episodes of television shows like Grace and Frankie, City on a Hill, Ray Donovan, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
One thing you can say about the annual Tribeca Festival is that it always tries to promote local New York filmmakers, and you can’t get more New York than the NYC-born Sedgwick, who brought her latest feature, Space Oddity, to the 2022 iteration.
Based on Rebecca Banner’s screenplay which appeared on the 2016 Black List, Space Oddity stars Kyle Allen as Alex McAllister, a young man who is getting closer to his dream of taking a one-way mission to Mars to colonize the distant planet. None of Alex’s family believes this trip is realistic, but while trying to get an insurance policy for his interstellar trip, Alex meets Daisy (Alexandra Shipp), and the two become unlikely friends even though Daisy starts giving Alex a reason not to travel into space.
Despite its title, Space Oddity isn’t really science fiction, as much as it’s a character dramedy about the relationships between a few disparate characters in this suburban area. Sedgwick’s real-life husband Kevin Bacon portrays Alex’s father, while Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale) plays his sister Liz, and Simon Helberg plays Dimitri, who helps Alex’s family around their flower farm.
Below the Line sat down with Ms. Sedgwick during the 2022 Tribeca Festival (in person!) to talk about her latest directing venture.
Below the Line: I guess we’ll start with the most obvious question. You’ve been acting and directing television, so how did this come about? Was this a script you originated or one that you found?
Kyra Sedgwick: No, it was a script that came to me, not obviously in the version that we ultimately shot, but it came to me through a producer friend that I know, Mickey Schiff, who is actually one of the producers on the movie. I loved the script and worked on it with the writer for a couple of years. Because of the pandemic, we pushed a year, which was better for the film, ultimately. I just loved it; it had so many things that I was looking for. I was looking for a story about environment, that was really a big part of it for me. I saw this movie as a real love letter to Earth and a real story about how loss can make us break apart and how we get back together through connection. It was funny, and it was sad, and it was hopeful, and it was romantic. There’s nothing bad about it, like everything was good about it.
BTL: I’m always interested when actors direct, since there are two paths you can take. You can just focus on the directing, or you can take a role for yourself. I spoke to Jason Bateman, when he directed his first movie, and he told me that by acting in the movie, he can direct the actors by just acting opposite them. You decided that you just wanted to direct this and not take a role as well?
Sedgwick: No, I didn’t want to act in this one, and I’ve never directed myself yet. No, I really wanted to hire somebody else, and Carrie Preston‘s wonderful and remarkably great. [Note: Ms. Preston plays Alex’s mother in the film.] But I direct actors from behind the camera, not in front of the camera.
BTL: For some reason, I thought you directed episodes of The Closer, too.
Sedgwick: I know. A lot of people did, but I did not. I was executive producer and producer.
BTL: Maybe it’s because I’ve seen you on talk shows for The Closer, and spoke about directing other things. I’m also interested in how a director puts together their team in terms of their heads of department, which is so crucial.
Sedgwick: My DP I worked with on my first movie, Story of a Girl, Alar Kivilo, who is brilliant. He was Academy Award-nominated for The Blind Side, and he’s a wonderful man and a wonderful partner and a wonderful DP. He was in it from the beginning, from the genesis of me saying, “This is what I want to do next.” He read it, so we really had many years of prep, like we had two years of prep. I also had my production designer, who I’d never worked with before, actually, but was a good friend of my producer, Valerie Stadler, and I’d seen his work over the years. We worked together for two years, and he was involved with a lot of the location scouting with me. Before we even have the money for the movie, we did location scouting, because we wanted to picture where we would ask people to make the movie.
Those are the only two that we brought in. Everybody else was from Rhode Island, and we just got lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky. I mean, they have an amazing crew in Rhode Island. We got people that we had no business getting, because they loved the script so much, and they heard that we were decent humans.
What happens usually in Rhode Island is that crew come there, and they bring all their heads of departments from elsewhere — New York or LA — and so they get the lower status jobs. Not that they’re bad jobs — they’re part of the team, they’re not the head of the team. We didn’t do that. Everybody got brought in to be the head, so we got mostly female heads of departments and a lot of first-timers but who were totally ready to make that leap.
BTL: You said you did some location scouting around there before, so I assume you don’t have a place out there in Rhode Island?
Sedgwick: No, I don’t. I knew I wanted to be on the East Coast, because I wanted to shoot in the summer. It seemed like an East Coast movie to me, and I looked at places with tax incentives. So we looked at New Jersey, and we looked in New York and we looked in Massachusetts. And then, Rhode Island just had the water, and it had flower farms, and I fell in love with this.
Actually, March 11 of 2020, which is like five days before the world shut down, I was on location with Michael and Valerie in Rhode Island, and we found Wickford, which is the town that we used. I was like, “Okay, this is the town.” We looked at six or seven little towns, and we were like, “This is the town.” So I knew that Rhode Island had the town then I just had to have the flower farm. The funny story about that is that a year later, I was on location in Los Angeles. During the middle of the pandemic, I acted in a sitcom. I couldn’t do anything. We didn’t have money for the movie, nothing. But I literally called Robin Hollow Farm, because I found their farm online, a beautiful flower farm in Rhode Island. I called up, and it was the day before Valentine’s Day, and I said, “Oh, hi, this is Kyra Sedgwick. I want to direct a movie in Rhode Island this summer, and your place is so beautiful.” And the woman — Polly, the owner’s wife — said, “Well, you’re calling a flower farm the day before Valentine’s Day, but I’ll have my husband call you tomorrow.” Long story short, that’s where we brilliantly were able to use their flower farm, kick them out of their house and shoot in their house. It was a perfect location. It would have cost millions and millions of dollars to get that kind of production design, and we got it for free. Well, not free, but we got it, and then some.
BTL: But you didn’t repaint the interior of the house or anything.
Sedgwick: We did a little painting of the interior of the house, but a lot of it was their stuff.
BTL: What about things like the gym? Was that another place nearby?
Sedgwick: Well, the gym was a hoophouse. They have hoophouses on this flower farm – greenhouses, but they’re called hoop houses – and basically, it was just an empty hoophouse that he put a bunch of gym equipment in, and his room is also in a hoop house that they basically had for storage, but we took everything out. And we made that his bedroom
BTL: I spoke to someone from Everything Everywhere All at Once, and they told me they used this abandoned office building for the entire movie, sometimes repurposing and redressing other sets to create some of the locations. It’s pretty amazing what you can do if you’re practical.
Sedgwick: It’s really great what you can do when you’re broke, and you don’t have the money to pay for it. I mean, out of necessity, comes the mother of invention, right? And it was pretty remarkable.
BTL: We should talk a little about the cast, because I’m familiar with Alexandra Shipp and Maddie’s work but I wasn’t really that familiar with Kyle, the star of the film.
Sedgwick: Yeah, I know. I look like a genius, I really do, because he’s going to be a huge star. I mean, he’s doing He-Man, and he’s also brilliant and a movie star. Kyle was suggested to me by an agent. I watched him in A Map of Tiny Perfect Things, and I thought, “He’s young. He’s really compelling. He’s green as an actor, but he has no bad habits, and I think he’s really good and very emotionally in touch.” And I was like, “This is going to be great.” And so we met and I offered him the role. I didn’t audition anybody, because it was the middle of a pandemic. And like I just was like, “You know what, these zoom things? I just can’t do it to these actors. I know they can do it, and I know I can help them do it. But he’s remarkable, yeah, he’s new. He was also in West Side Story in a small part. He played one of the Jets. He’s a classically trained dancer. So I knew he knew how to work really, really hard.
BTL: Is the decision not to audition something that came from your own experiences as an actor?
Sedgwick: No, I love auditioning, and I think auditioning is key, and I auditioned everyone on my last movie, but during the pandemic, it was just like… I mean, I auditioned for the smaller roles, unless there was some friend. I mean, obviously, I asked Alfre [Woodard] to do me a favor, and I asked Andy Polk, who plays Curtis, to do me a favor, and I didn’t audition them. But I did audition everybody else. I think that Zoom is just so inhumane. I just think that for an actor to try to act for a camera instead of with another actor, I don’t care for it, if I can possibly avoid it, and I was lucky, because my gut was right, and they’re phenomenal in their roles.
BTL: What about knowing if the actors have any chemistry?
Sedgwick: I just don’t think you ever know — you’re certainly not going to know on a Zoom thing. If you could bring two actors in a room together, I would have done that, but there was no way to do that. We all breathed a very big sigh of relief when we saw them together at dinner the first night, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be amazing,’ because they also really liked each other, which is key.
BTL: This movie was all done during COVID, so how did you deal with things like the COVID protocols?
Sedgwick: The COVID protocols are incredible. Our business, all the unions have killed it. We were back at work five months after the pandemic. Nobody else was back at work. We were back at work a few months after that, but the fact that we were able to keep everybody safe. Nobody got sick on our set. We didn’t have to shut down. We tested three times a week, we wore masks all the time, even outside. We took really good care of everybody and created an atmosphere where people wanted to take care of each other, which I think is really important.
BTL: I don’t think Rhode Island blew up quite like New York did, and I think it was pretty safe there in general, right?
Sedgwick: Yes, it was. After we left, it kind of blew up, but we were there in that sweet spot. We started shooting June 23, and we finished July 22. Cases were really low, and then, things changed.
BTL: Let’s talk about doing post on the movie and working with your editor.
Sedgwick: We had Stefanie Visser, she did the cut. Somebody consulted at the very end, but basically, she did it. She cut while we’re shooting. She’s absolutely wonderful. She comes from TV, this is her first feature. [She’s a] young, hungry female, and she just absolutely killed it.
BTL: Were you able to work in the same room together?
Sedgwick: We did work in the same room together. We both took COVID tests. We took our masks off a lot, and it was great. She’s amazing, really, really talented and young.
BTL: I’m also interested in the music, because Travis Bacon is obviously who has a familial connection with you, but had he scored a movie before
Sedgwick: Yes, he scored my first movie, “Story of a Girl.” He also scored my short that I took to Sundance and another thing that Kevin and I did. He also does his own work, has done other independent movies and videos, and he’s incredibly talented. He brought on a partner this time, Scott Hedrick, and I just think they did a phenomenal job. I think the score sounds like no other score to me, and they did an incredible job of having it be…. this is a movie that’s about love and romance on a flower farm… and space. These are not things that normally live together in good harmony. So they managed to do that really brilliantly, I think.
BTL: The music helped together a lot of the disparate elements that make the movie quite quirky. Was it always called “Space Oddity,” or was that a title that came about later?
Sedgwick: It was always called Space Oddity, and we were hoping we would get the song, and we did get the song. We were hoping we were gonna get Brandy Carlisle to cover the song, and we did. It was about a two-year of me begging Brandy, bugging her, blah blah blah, but yeah.
BTL: Now that you’ve finished directing this feature, do you go back to directing other TV shows? Do you have anything lined up yet?
Sedgwick: Not right now. I do have something in the Fall TV-wise to direct, but I really want to do another feature. I’m pitching myself for stuff. I love directing. I mean, I’ll act if it’s something really great and new and something I haven’t done before, but I’m really, really loving directing.
Space Oddity is still looking for distribution after its premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Festival, but there’s no doubt that Ms. Sedgwick will continue to get directing gigs.