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The Mary Sue Interview: Rya Kihlstedt On Three Days in Havana And Heroes Reborn


Actress Rya Khlstedt may not be a household name, though fans of Dexter and Nashville know her for her recurring roles. But what you may not know is that Kihlstedt is in the midst of a comeback, after leaving the profession for 12 years to raise her two children. Her latest movie, Three Days in Havana, is a wrong-man thriller written and directed by star Gil Bellows, who also happens to be Kihlstedt’s husband. We spoke about the new film, new show, and her experience coming back to Hollywood a little older, wiser, and sexier.

Lesley Coffin (TMS): Gil mentioned how thrilled he was to get to work with you again on this film years after doing theater together. How did he broach the subject of having you play a role in the film?

Rya Kihlstedt: I look over all the projects he’s produced and I always give my honest opinion on all of it. I’m his worst critic, and will tell him “this works” or “that isn’t ready” but I think that’s my job. But I never assume the stuff he’s produce will have a role for me, because I know how complicated the industry is. I’m not a big enough name to help with financing, and that is often necessary. And it’s hard for us to work together because we have two kids, and they need one of us at home. This script went through a lot of different incarnations, and the role I played went through such a big shift, I think it will be reborn in another film. But then it all got rewritten, and I was thrilled when he wanted me to do it, because it is a blast to act with him. I would love to act with him a lot more, and we acted a lot in New York when we were first starting out. But it’s not easy to act with someone you know that well, because I know all his tics and bad habits and he knows all of mine.

TMS: In other movies that fall into this type of film, a man his age is often seduced by younger women, so it must have been kind of fun to play the seductive fantasy woman with your husband of 20 years.

Kihlstedt: He knows better than to cast too young. Had he cast any woman my age or older, I would have told him it was fantastic, it didn’t need to be me. I even suggest early on that he should be an older French woman. But he knows that a 25-year-old sexy thing wouldn’t have been right because the character is sexy because she’s lived a little life.

TMS: Even though that is what we usually see.

Kihlstedt: I know. Men like Harrison Ford with women who are in their 30s. I mean, come on.

TMS: What’s it like to do romantic and sex scenes as a strangers with someone you’ve known for so long?

Kihlstedt: Its funny (laughs). There is very little actually sexy about doing sex scenes. But the tantalizing scenes like kissing and seducing him, those are fun. But those scenes can be fun with people you don’t know in a different way.

TMS: I know you only worked in Vancouver for four days. How was it joining everyone in the middle of the production and just getting thrown into the thick of it?

Kihlstedt: It was great, because I was primarily working with actors I know and love. They are the people you can push, and I already trust. So I could just jump in and be bad, and then try things and get better. But I was able to skip the steps of getting comfortable with people, because I knew everybody.


TMS: Just looking at your filmography, you have worked with a lot of the same people over and over again. You and Carla Gugino have done something like 4 movies together…

Kihlstedt: Well, Carla is one of my oldest friends. We met during the Buccaneers and have been fast friends ever since. She is the godmother to my kids and one of my nearest and dearest friends. And I really think that work is hard, life is short, and if you can do it with people you love, why not. Which made making this movie pretty easy, because I knew everybody. Greg Wise was also in the Buccaneers and he is just one of the great gems on the planet. And he and I became good friends immediately on the Buccaneers, and when Gil came over to England, we were shooting one of the many ball scenes in that movie, on the countryside. And it was an all-night shoot, and Gil and Greg were hanging out in this field all night and that was it. They just fell in love. It was a true bromance, and they are just like brothers. I keep telling Gil the next movie he does has to be a road movie with Greg because they just have the greatest chemistry together. Just find an excuse to put them in a car.

TMS: I’m assuming you met Gil acting?

Kihlstedt: Yeah, we met at the Williamstown Theater Festival.

TMS: You are maybe the third actor I’ve talked to who met their spouse at that festival.

Kihlstedt: Well, Williamstown is gorgeous, it’s idyllic, and there is nothing to do but go to the Purple Cow Pub, fall in love, have sex, and do theater. It was a divine way to spend the summer. It’s totally like camp for adults. And I keep say we need to go back and do another play, but we’ve never had the opportunity.

TMS: I know you used to run a theater company in New York, and along with acting and directing took on production responsibilities. Gil is a pretty successful producer [Sweetland, Temple Grandin], but would you like to take on that kind of responsibility as well?

Kihlstedt: I would. We both have projects we’re working on at a production level. He has a huge number of projects he’s trying to get up as a producer, some of which I’m involved with, some of which I’m not. And we have a TV show we’re developing together with a writer we’d like to produce. But I would like to take on more responsibility, be a bit more hands on, and have some more control over my career. One of the hardest things for me about being an actress is the lack of control. You have very little say of how, when, and where you’ll get to do the thing you do. And it can be very frustrating. And I think it was one of the reason Gil years ago started collecting properties to produce and why I got involved in a theater company in Los Angeles.

TMS: Was it hard when you were first getting into the business to accept that lack of control just comes with the job?

Kihlstedt: I am more aware of that now in my 40s, than when I first started in my 20s. In my 20s, I was pretty happy go lucky, and thought “oh, it’s taking me in that direction now?” And I kept working so I thought everything was going fine. So I don’t think I looked at it that way then. But then I stopped and took 12 years off to have my kids, and that has been one of the hardest things about coming back. It’s such a complicated business, dependent on so many things, and you are just an itty bitty cog in a wheel. In order to get the job, depends on a lot of different factors, and sometimes it isn’t personal. Sometimes it is personal and that’s hard too. But the lack of control to do the thing I love and which I’m better at than when I was in my 20s, can be frustrating.

TMS: Did you make the decision to walk away from acting when you became a parent, or did it just happen that roles weren’t coming to you and you weren’t looking as much?

Kihlstedt: I actively decided to stop acting to raise my kids. I do not believe there is one way to raise a family and everyone has to do it differently. But I started reading scripts not long after getting pregnant with my first child, my daughter Ava, and I could fathom paying someone to take care of my daughter so I could go to work on this movie. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea of not being at home with my kids, and my husband was working and supportive, so that’s what I did.


TMS: Coming back to work 12 years later, did you notice big changes in the industry you had to adjust to?

Kihlstedt: In some ways, I had laid a foundation so I could come back. But, the landscape has changed. There is better television now, than there has ever been. And there are more complicated and interesting, and just better roles for women then there has ever been. But taking 12 years off kind of took me out of the game, and most TV projects now require a name, so that takes me out of the running for those roles. It’s a game, and if I’m willing to be patient enough, maybe it will all fall back into place.

TMS: You’re alone in Toronto filming Heroes Reborn right now while your family is in LA. How much longer will you be filming?

Kihlstedt: I am alone, although it’s kind of nice too [laughs]. I’m here off and on until September. But I’ll have time off. I think I have ten days in a row later this month, so I’ll go home then. And at some point in June, my kids will come up for a visit for a couple of days. We won’t go for too long without seeing each other. And we are constantly Skyping.

TMS: Has making sure you don’t go too long without seeing each other been a family rule?

Kihlstedt: I’m such a bad planner. When I was first married, we tried not to go for longer than 3 weeks without seeing each other your relationship can get a little funky and communication is tough. People stop making the effort and it becomes easy to be away. Once you have kids that is a little tougher. When they were little, I traveled everywhere with them. Pack em up and jump on a plane. But now they’re in school, my daughter is in tenth and my son is in seventh, so we can’t pull them out and up root their lives. And flying three is way more expensive.

TMS: I’m sure you can’t give anything away about the show, but is there anything they’ll allow you to say about your role that won’t get you in trouble?

Kihlstedt: What am I allowed say? When they were negotiating the deal, I realized I had no idea what the role was. I auditioned with a two page monologue, which was written for the audition. And I had to ask, “Can I please talk to someone about what this role is?” And maybe two days later I was on the phone with the creator and two of the producers who talked through the story, what inspired the story, and what inspired the character. And now I can’t wait to start filming. I’ve been here for a while, but I only start filming this Friday. And when I read the script for the first episode, actually the first two were sent together, I was struck by how smart it was and thought it had stuff in it that TV hasn’t seen before.

TMS: The original show had a lot of stunt work and gave several actresses a chance to fight and get very physical. Do you know if your character is a very physical one?

Kihlstedt: She is not very physical, and I wish she were because I would love to do that. But I don’t think a lot of writers are developing superheroes for 45 year old women. But when I saw Uma Thurman in Kill Bill I thought “that is what I want to do.” But I play a woman named Erica and she’s a very smart, driven, self-made CEO of a giant tech conglomerate. And that is kind of great too.

TMS: We are in full summer mode right now, with Marvel movies and the Fast and Furious films. Would getting to be a tough woman in films like that be something that would interest you?

Kihlstedt: Absolutely. I would love to get to do that. I grew up dancing and running track and field, and I’ve always been physical. I would love nothing more than to do a really physical role. Kill Bill really did it for me, more than the superhero films now. But that’s okay.

Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.

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