To these charges, Sedgwick cops. She almost relishes the opportunity to confess, as guest stars so colorfully do week in and week out on The Closer. “Really, the reason we’re talking at all right now is because of a Ding Dong,” she says, referencing the chocolate delectable her character devours in the closing minutes of the pilot episode.
“That Ding Dong, that scene — that’s one of the reasons I took the role, honestly,” she says. “First of all, I knew I wouldn’t mind doing that scene 47 times if we had to. But also, it opened a door of endless possibilities to that character for me. Brenda is desperately trying to hold it together all the time in her work, in her relationships, in her life. When given the moment to relax, it’s secret and it’s sugar and it’s a release and it’s flawed and it’s relatable and accessible and lovable. That was my keyhole into the character, and I think about that scene a lot, even today. And not just because it has chocolate in it.”
Indeed, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson can turn a body bag into an arrest inside of 45 minutes, but she can’t seem to get more than a wispy chalk line around her private life, which is often overshadowed by her work. Sedgwick knows that many Closer viewers (there are nearly 7 million of them weekly) tune in to watch cases crack but that many more connect with the character’s personal journey. “I really bare my soul with this character, and I think people get something out of that, watching these characters do their best with what they have,” she says. “I think a lot of women struggle with personal and professional issues, and I love to be able to explore that and show how hard it can be to do both things at all, let alone well. Women are asked to be so many things today: serious and smart and capable, not too soft or messy, yet a Playboy bunny in the bedroom, and also vulnerable and fierce and on top of it all. It’s very confusing. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a mess for men too. But I think the characters and the relationships are one of the reasons we’ve been so successful.”
From the outside looking in, it would appear Sedgwick’s life is devoid of the tabloid dramatics that are part and parcel of Hollywood life. That may be because, through mindful choices and a well-practiced self-awareness, the 45-year-old shed the skin of tortured artist long ago. “I was very serious in my 20s, and that weight started feeling like too much to bear,” she says. “I didn’t want to carry it anymore, so I worked on it. A lot.”
Sedgwick says she used to be grimly unforgiving of herself — her work, her appearance, the choices she made. But she has learned to release expectations — “at least a lot of the time,” she laughs — and to work more harmoniously with “lightness and balance and acceptance.” She believes her work has improved as a result of this nondenominational liberation, and her quality of life too. “There is no celebration or prize for bitterness in this life, unless you’re a comic,” she says. “If you’re Ricky Gervais, I hope you never stop. Everyone else, just lighten up, man.”
Born into an affluent New York family, schooled privately and possessing a well-stamped passport, Sedgwick enjoyed “the escape” of performance and landed her first professional gig, an 18-month stint on the NBC soap opera Another World, when she was only 16. Her career blossomed in sync with the Julia Robertses and Sandra Bullocks and Michelle Pfeiffers of Tinseltown, as she landed meaningful roles in Cameron Crowe’s Singles, Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July, and Something to Talk About, an uncommonly good relationship dramedy with Roberts and Robert Duvall. She appeared on a fast-track to stardom but settled for a slow burn that, to her most ardent admirers, sometimes made her seem more like a milk-carton portrait: Where is she now?
“I was relatively practical about it. I always said to myself, ‘If several years go by and I don’t get a job, then I need to find something else to do,’ ” she says. “I think if I stunk and I wasn’t getting work, I would’ve known it and moved on. If I stunk and I was getting work, this might be a different story we’re telling, and if I was great and I wasn’t getting work, you wouldn’t be talking to me at all. There were some years where I wasn’t getting the work I wanted, but the message was: If you love it, stay with it. But there were also other amazing things happening in my life.”