By Kyra Sedgwick
May 15, 2018 @ 9:00 am
Bettina Strauss

“Happy New Year, my love.” My husband and I clinked glasses. “This is the year you’ll finally direct.” I rolled my eyes, full of self-doubt. I had become the perpetuator of my own smallness. It was the end of 2015, and I was 50.

I’ve been a professional actor since I was 16 and a producer since I was 27, but when people asked me if I ever wanted to direct, I always replied, “I will never direct.”

I really didn’t think I wanted to at first. I told myself that as an actor I couldn’t see or understand the big picture. But over those past few years, I’d also started to feel powerless because several films I had done didn’t reflect the work I’d put in. Giving a good performance simply wasn’t enough. Everything leading up to my “big scenes”—the story arc, the camera angles, the editing, the music choices—needed to be effective as well. The more powerless I began to feel, the more I was unknowingly getting myself ready to take the leap into directing.

But sadly, as many women do, I dissuaded myself with scary tales and became my own jailer for a long time. My fears ranged from “You don’t know how to tell a story visually” to “You don’t know the difference between camera lenses.” I rarely saw female directors, so I had very few role models. I was also intimidated because my husband [actor Kevin Bacon] had directed—and had done it so well. He was so sure of himself and his ideas.

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Bettina Strauss

As a young actor, I studied with Stella Adler, who insisted that “the play’s the thing.” Because of her I learned the importance of profoundly understanding what the writer was saying and how to be the teller of my character’s story. And as the lead on The Closer for eight seasons, I had become a better communicator and leader. After 35 years in the industry, I knew everyone’s job on the crew and what they required to work at their very best. I did have the skills I needed, even if I didn’t realize it.

It wasn’t until I turned 51 that I finally wrestled with the noise in my head so I could hear the intuitive voice in my heart say, “You know more than you think you do. I know you’re scared. Feel the fear and do it anyway.” In March 2016 I walked into the offices at Lifetime and proclaimed, “I have a passion project—something I’ve been trying to make for 10 years—Story of a Girl. And I want to direct it.” I prepped the project for six weeks (to say nothing of the 10 years that I had had the book and script). Thirty minutes into my first day of shooting, I heard that intuitive voice loudly say, “Oh, yeah, you got this.”

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I loved every single second of the directing process, from working with the actors to choosing the shots with my cinematographer to editing the scenes. And I was recently floored and grateful to receive a Directors Guild of America Award nomination for the film—icing on an already rich cake. Sitting in the audience during the awards was a small but mighty group of female directors. I’m hopeful that we can become role models for girls coming up. I am deeply committed to this part of my artistic journey.

Last December 31 I clinked glasses again with my husband. “Happy New Year, my love,” he said. “This is the year you did it.”

Story of A Girl will air June 2 on Lifetime. For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 11.