From show creator Kari Lizer (The New Adventures of Old Christine), the ABC comedy series Call Your Mother follows Jean (Kyra Sedgwick), an empty nester widowed mom who decides to move thousands of miles across the country to be more present in the lives of her son (Joey Bragg) and daughter (Rachel Sennott). Instead of just always trying to get life updates via phone call, Jean decides that she wants gets more involved and while her kids are initially resistant, they quickly realize that they might actually like having her around.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Kyra Sedgwick talked about wanting to bring some light and fun into the world with her new TV series, addressing the very real subject of what it’s like to be an empty nester, the fun of physical comedy, meeting her TV kids, her lovable dog co-star, and the response she’s getting from other moms watching the show. She also talked about her time on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, whether husband Kevin Bacon could guest star on Call Your Mother, and which TV shows she’d like to direct an episode of.
COLLIDER: When it comes to TV, The Closer and Ten Days in the Valley were both heavier dramas. Was that part of the appeal in doing Brooklyn Nine-Nine and now Call Your Mother? Did you feel like you needed that balance between drama and comedy?
KYRA SEDGWICK: Oh, yeah, definitely. And especially right now. It’s one big, sad, scary, traumatic drama of life, so I’d rather be doing something that brings some light and fun into the world and we’re also actually talking about stuff. We’re talking about problems that are actually solved by the end of the episode, for the most part. Hooray for that feeling. It’s fun to laugh all day. It’s really nice. I’m having a great time.
What was it about this show in particular that most appealed to you made you want to sign on to do it, especially considering you could be doing it for awhile?
SEDGWICK: First of all, I don’t think that people really talk about what it’s like to be an empty nester, and what it’s like to have children and feel like that’s your number one job. Even me, who worked through both pregnancies and all the way through all of my child rearing, it’s the biggest job of your life, it feels like the most important job of your life, and you feel so essential and needed. And if you do it right, they leave. It feels like you’re getting fired for doing the job that you’ve basically given your body and everything else to. That’s a fun thing to deal with. I also think that women in their 50s is something that I wanna talk about and be a part of. And I love Kari Lizer. She is a very incredibly smart, witty, in-tune person, and her comedy is spot-on. We tried to do something together about seven years ago that we had at HBO that never got off the ground, so when she had something to show me, I was like, “I’m in!” I just knew it was gonna be great and fun and lovely.
This show has a sweet, loving tone to it, which seems like it could be very tricky. What do you guys do to make sure that it never becomes too sentimental or too annoying, and that it stays in that feeling of everything being done out of love?
SEDGWICK: As long as you get the yin and the yang of the funny bit after the sincere bit, I think you’re fine. I also think that when you fall in love with the characters, you want them to be sincere and earn it and be authentic. You can never forget what genre you’re in. You always have to remember that you’re in a comedy. So, for me, it never falls into sappy. It’s always that very fine line, but it is definitely a fine line. This is a group that loves each other, and that’s great.
You get to have some fun comedy moments in this show, including having to eat a giant towering piece of avocado toast. What have been the most fun or funny moments that you’ve had so far this season?
SEDGWICK: Oh, my good, there are so many. That was really a highlight. I’m a big fan of self-effacing and self-deprecating humor. Anytime that you could do that kind of thing, especially even physically, it’s great. As any fan of The Closer will tell you, I’m a fan of eating on camera because it’s one of my pet peeves that actors don’t eat on camera. I’m like, “Bring it on!” If you’re gonna give me food, I’m gonna eat it and I’m gonna eat it authentically. This coming episode has a lot of physical comedy for me. Basically, she doesn’t take a shower for four days and wears the same outfit for four days because she’s trying to be all things to all people. It’s very funny and there’s a lot of physicality to it. We had a lot of fun messing up my hair and making me look like I hadn’t met water for four days. That was fun.
One thing that’s crucial to making a show like this work is that you actually believe in and care about the family. What was it like to meet your TV kids? Did you guys immediately find things to bond over?
SEDGWICK: We really did. First of all, I think trauma bonding is something that’s happening all the time right now, especially if you get to work. It may not be the best kind of bonding, but it’ll do in a pinch. I really liked them right away. I saw their audition tapes and thought they were great. They seemed liked brother and sister, and they looked like brother and sister. They have a sweetness to them, but also a cynicism to them that I think is really essential. When we met, it was in the beginning of the pandemic, where you could possibly go out and get a meal after work. We started in late August, so in September and October, after working on Mondays and Tuesdays, we were able to go out and have a beer and chat and have a fun time, which was fun. You either get that or you don’t with a cast. I think that Kari and [director] Pam [Fryman] did an extraordinary job casting the show. I just think that everyone is very special and unique and brings something to the table. It works separately and as a group dynamic. We really just got lucky. It’s definitely a shot in the dark sometimes. We weren’t able to audition together. I was able to audition with Patrick [Brammall], which was great, so we knew that we had some chemistry, but you never know.
Is the dog your favorite co-star, or is the dog a total canine diva?
SEDGWICK: That dog is the sweetest freakin’ dog. That dog is the best I’ve ever worked with. That dog doesn’t actually look at its trainer the whole time, which is really unusual. Dogs and cats and animals that are trained for film are always looking at their trainer. Of course, that’s where the food is and that’s where the love is, and they’re just meeting some new random person that they have to pretend they like, which must be irritating. I feel for them. But having said that, he’s a great dog. His name is Orbit and he’s a sweetheart. People love that dog. He gets the most fan mail, ever. He is quite an adorable dog.
How do you feel this show approaches the concept of a woman’s identity beyond motherhood?
SEDGWICK: She actually starts to work in the next episode. She’s figuring it out. The truth is, you’re always a mother and you’re always figuring it out. It’s always the thing that draws you back. Even me, who wears lots and lots of hats – producer, director, actor, writer – you keep getting sucked back into the whole mother thing and what it means at each point. I think we balance it really well on the show. She’s trying to figure out who she is. Is she a sexual being after losing her husband? She essentially hasn’t even dated, and he died 15 years ago. That whole thing has been shut down. She may or may not – it’s complicated – with Patrick’s character. We’re exploring a lot of things, like what it feels like to age in the society that we’re living in and what it feels like when you’re not so crazy about your son’s girlfriend. There are lots of things that are tackled beyond motherhood. The trust is that, if you are a mom or you have a mom, it often gets drawn back to family. That’s what the show is and that’s essentially so much of who we are.
What kinds of responses are you already getting from other moms who are watching the show?
SEDGWICK: I think a lot of people are like, “Oh, my God, you made a show about me! Thank you!” It’s such a weird dance that you do with adult children, where you’re stepping into their life, and then you’re stepping out. It’s a weird, confusing thing, so it’s good to see it reflected back to people, especially right now. When we contemplated making this show, we could never know how much people have been bumping up against family, positively and negatively. A lot of people have had to move back with their family, and that’s so weird. A lot of people are having to bring family back into their life, so that’s very prescient and important right now. People are loving it and loving all of the characters. I’m hearing, “I get Jean. She really makes so much sense to me. She resonates with me. She just sounds like me and feels like me.” For me, if I’m gonna be in people’s living rooms, I want it to be something accessible. I want them to be able to relate to the characters. I think that’s really important, and I feel like they are.
What was the most fun aspect of your time on Brooklyn Nine-Nine?
SEDGWICK: Oh my god! One of the things that I was able to do, right after I died on the show, was be able to direct. It was so amazing to direct after doing the show for I don’t know however many years I did it. It was so fun. I love Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s fascinating because the writing is so good and it’s so stylized. It’s uniquely its own thing, but it’s not reality based. It’s great in that way because it’s this weird stylized show. The truth is, I feel so grateful that they thought I could do it. I remember getting the call and I was like, “Wait, what? They actually think I can do this?” I knew I could do it, but I didn’t know that they knew I could do it. I just had so much fun. I felt so honored to be a part of it. I think it’s just a fucking fantastic show and I love all of those actors. They do it so well, and I’m just in awe of them. Working with Andre Braugher, I’m the luckiest woman in Hollywood. He is so good. That character was just this creature that you were not ever expecting. What a great casting choice that was. What an out of the box idea, at least for me. The way I think of Madeline Wuntch is that she’s basically the opposite side of the coin, on the same coin. They’re just two different sides of the same coin. I could steal his cadence and the way he moved, and then we did this great back and forth thing. I love him, and I just loved working with him. In one of the last episodes, we got to dance and pretend that we were in love, which was so fun. She always had that weird psychosexual thing with him, which was so great and very funny.
How did you feel about them killing your character off?
SEDGWICK: I think a little sad because I really do love doing the show, but [co-creator] Dan Goor called me and was like, “We’ve gotta do it. We love you, but we’ve gotta do it. It’s the finale, so we’ve gotta do it.” And I was like, “I get it.” But they threw me a bone in letting me direct the show. And I got to direct J.K. Simmons in the episode that I did, which was so fun. So, I get it. All good things must end. But I did love Madeline, and she’s definitely a feather in my cap.
Do you see yourself directing an episode of Call Your Mother?
SEDGWICK: If we get a second season, I would love to. We’ll have to work it out so that I’m not in every scene and I only have a couple of scenes in that episode, but I would love it. Pam Fryman has been directing the episodes and she’s just extraordinarily good at it. I sit there and watch her in awe because it’s a whole different animal. I did Grace and Frankie and I did Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but even that is a very different animal than a four camera multicam. I’m watching closely and I’m trying to learn all that I can. I feel like if I did throw my hat in the ring, they would help me and want me to succeed. They’re not gonna let me fall and mess it up. So I would like to, very much.
Have you also thought about the possibility of your husband, Kevin Bacon, making an appearance on the show at any point?
SEDGWICK: You know, never say never. I’ve lived long enough to know that every time I say never, things happen. I don’t imagine it, but you never know. He was so great on Will & Grace, not that he wouldn’t be great. If they came up with something really funny and surprising, I think it would be fantastic. Kari and the writers are so smart that I bet you they’d come up with some genius thing.
Your character describes herself as a “hunt them down and force my love on them kind of mom.” What are the pluses and minuses of having a mother or being a mother like that?
SEDGWICK: To a degree, she’s tongue in cheek. She’s a little bit onto herself in that way. Having said that, I love Jean. For me, she can do no wrong, but I could see how some people would be like, “Wow, that’s not such a great thing.” What I will say is that I live by the motto that unsolicited advice is a form of hostility. With my kids, I try not to force my love or my opinion on them, but I also think that sometimes people have a hard time saying that they need something. We live in a world where I feel like the message in America is don’t need anybody and be totally individual and do it all yourself and never have any problems and always feel fine and never have to ask for help. Humans aren’t like that. No animal in the world is like that. Lone wolves die. In a way, forcing her love and forcing her help on people, sometimes people have a hard time asking for help and Jean is right there to accommodate.
Do you feel that you’re personally more chill than Jean is,when it came to her children becoming adults, or are you somebody who would do something as wild as flying to another state because your kids aren’t answering your call?
SEDGWICK: I don’t think I would do that, but I can tell you that I really hold back on calling and checking in with them as much as I would like to. I feel like less is more, and I also feel like they know I’m here if they want me. I don’t wanna hound them, but the truth is, I wanna know what they had for breakfast. That’s really the truth of it. I’m lucky that my mom is still around, but sometimes she asks me these really esoteric, odd, seemingly inconsequential questions. I’m like, “Wow, I can’t believe you just asked that.” And she’s like, “Well, that’s how you know you have a mother. She wants to know what you’ve had for breakfast.” Sometimes my children will say, “I really don’t need you to drop off that vitamin that you’re telling me I need to take,” and I’m like, “You know, I’m swinging by. Let me just drop it off.” But it’s nice to know that people love you.
As somebody who has directed quite a variety of shows, and the episodes that you’ve done have been all over the map, is there a TV show that you watch or that you’re personally a fan of that you would love to direct an episode of?
SEDGWICK: I would love to have cut my teeth on something like Watchmen, which I know is a crazy thought. I would also do love to do something like Better Things. I know that that [Pamela Adlon] does basically all the directing, but if they wanted to have a character actor, I would kill to do something like that, or anything with Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Killing Eve.
Call Your Mother airs on Wednesday nights on ABC.
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