When Kyra Sedgwick first arrived on television as The Closer's Brenda Leigh Johnson, audiences had never really seen femininity celebrated as a crucial characteristic of a hardened TV cop before. In Johnson we saw a character who didn't buck girly stereotypes just by acting like a tough guy. As a Deputy Chief in the LAPD, she was the interrogator everyone turned to to close a case. That's why they call her The Closer. Everything about Johnson played a factor in her interrogation skills, including her emotions which she learned to use to play felons like a fiddle, and it was this emotional vulnerability that Sedgwick said she thinks connected audiences to her character right from the start.
As subtle as this seems, The Closer was the start of something meaningful in crime TV, and fans of the genre absolutely noticed immediately. The premiere of The Closer was the top-rated episode of scripted television to ever debut on basic cable. Millions upon millions tuned in to watch Sedgwick close her first case, and they kept on tuning in through all seven seasons. In a 2007 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Sedgwick explained what she thought viewers saw in her character early on:
"I think it’s hard to find real characters that you can relate to in a lot of the entertainment industry, whether it’s film or TV. Honestly, I can’t speak to whether or not that’s changing [for women]. I try to keep her real; that’s important to me. I feel committed to that for many reasons, not the least of which is that if you’re going to be in people’s living rooms, you should be someone they can relate to.”
But it was more than just that Brenda Leigh Johnson liked Ding Dongs and occasionally showed her temper. What set Johnson apart from other TV cops was how unpredictable she was as an emotional firebrand. Her chaotic nature kept viewers guessing, and Segdwick said to Slate in 2011, "One hundred episodes in, I have no idea if Brenda Leigh Johnson will end up in a jail cell or in the police chief’s office. And the best part is, I don’t know which she deserves."
That's the kind of edge-of-your-seat television that explains the millions tuning in. They were captivated by a character that they as viewers must sit and be the judge of. Sedgwick explained further in a 2011 interview with The New York Times: "She was just totally flawed and yet extremely capable, and the dichotomy of being someone incredibly intuitive about others while completely clueless about herself appealed to me. I could relate."
That explains why you can't really separate the award-winning series from its star Kyra Sedgwick, who dove into the character headfirst and turned it into something truly special. She told the Chicago Tribune, "I like playing someone who is often playing a character in her work. When she walks into that room to interview someone, she often is playing a role.”
And when Sedgwick was finally ready to wrap up her role as Brenda Leigh Johnson in 2012? That felt just as thickly emotional for the actress as it would have for the character she built, as Sedgwick told TV Line in 2011, "It’s obviously very emotional for me. Making this decision was really hard."
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