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'A Story I Wanted to Tell' : CABLE FILM THAT SHATTERS MYTHS OF FAMILY AND MENTAL ILLNESS ATTRACTED KEVIN BACON

August 18, 1996|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Showtime's "Losing Chase" was a real labor of love for actress Kyra Sedgwick and her husband, actor Kevin Bacon. Sedgwick is executive producer and star of the intimate, personal drama, and Bacon makes his debut as director.

Sedgwick, currently starring with John Travolta in "Phenomenon," had been fielding offers from cable networks to develop a movie for herself. The versatile Bacon ("Diner," "Apollo 13," "River Wild" and "Murder in the First") had long contemplated trying his hand at directing. Neither could find the right project.

"I generally had a bad attitude about the whole thing," says Sedgwick, who adds she initially lacked the confidence to produce a film. Then "Losing Chase," which premieres Sunday night, quite literally fell in their laps when Sedgwick's brother asked her to read his friend's script.

Sedgwick recalls: "I just fell in love with it. I called [the writer] Anne Meredith and asked if she had any interest in giving it to me for free to take to a few cable companies, because I told her I was not going to be able to get it made into a feature because it would take too long. I didn't think I had enough clout then to warrant making a feature anyway."

Over the years, Bacon says, producers had approached him to direct "rock videos, half-hour TV, sometimes cable, if I was going to act in it. I just really wanted to wait until I had a script and a story I wanted to tell."

Bacon read "Losing Chase" simply because he and Sedgwick always read each other's projects. "For some reason, I am not quite sure why, this kind of spoke to me," he says. "I sort of was able to picture the movie as I read it. I decided to do this one."

"I always knew he wanted to direct," says Sedgwick, who worked with Bacon on the "American Playhouse" drama "Lemon Sky." Initially, though, she wasn't sure he should direct "Losing Chase."

"I took it pretty seriously," Sedgwick says. "But I wondered if I could get somebody better, frankly, with more experience. But he had a lot of really smart things to say about it and he seemed to have a really good handle right away and a real connection to it. I said, 'Why not?' "

Set on Martha's Vineyard, "Losing Chase" chronicles the friendship that develops between two troubled women. In one of her best performances, Helen Mirren plays Chase, who, after spending months in an institution after suffering a nervous breakdown, returns home to discover that her husband (Beau Bridges) has hired a graduate student, Elizabeth (Sedgwick), to care for her and her two sons.

Chase tests Elizabeth's will with a barrage of verbal abuse and horrendous mood swings. But Elizabeth's outlook remains upbeat and soon Chase begins to come out of her depression. Unbeknown to others, though, Elizabeth has a history of mental illness in her family and fears she will end up in an institution like her older sister.

Sedgwick loved the manner in which "Losing Chase" deals with the myth of family. "Elizabeth has the myth of mental illness in her family and she thinks it is going to happen to her. I love that she stopped the cycle. Helen helps her realize she'll be OK. [I liked] the idea that these two women heal each other through their friendship, especially when you think at the beginning it is going to be Chase's healing and it turns out to be Elizabeth's as well."

The shooting schedule for "Losing Chase" was a hectic 20 days. "It was an insane schedule," Bacon recalls. "I mean, we have these things called sides where the day's shooting schedule and pages from the script are printed up and handed to you. On a feature, it's like 2 or 3 pages [a day]. Here, I would get the pages and it would look like a book--eight big scenes and, like, two little ones. It was running and gunning."

Bacon discovered that directing actors is "really a terrifying proposition. It is the one thing I didn't realize--that directing is a strangely vulnerable place to be, because you are always kind of thinking that the actors are going to turn around and say, 'That is the stupidest piece of direction that anybody has ever given me.' I know that being an actor is a vulnerable place to be, so I was very sensitive to what it was they were going through."

Sedgwick says it was very simple for the couple to work together as director and actress. "It was very professional when it needed to be. Also, he was very supportive and loving in the way that directors also need to be. Directors in general, I think, if they really want their actors to do well, they have to give them a lot of love and support. It was incredibly uncomplicated."

But both missed the fact they had no time for each other as husband and wife.

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