Katie Holmes walks into Jean-Georges clutching an oversized paper coffee cup.
“I’m the jerk who brought the Starbucks,” she laughs, as a waiter swoops down to whisk the offending coffee from her hand.
Holmes, casually elegant in jeans and a tan coat, has been holed up in an editing suite, putting the finishing touches on her directorial debut “All We Had.” An adaptation of Annie Weatherwax’s novel, the film’s look at a family pushed into poverty by the 2008 financial crisis seems worlds removed from the crowd at the posh Trump Tower restaurant.
“There was a line in the book, something like, ‘Superheroes drive broken-down cars, and they take their kid with them everywhere no matter what,’ ” Holmes said. “That was such a wonderful theme and a nice thing to put into the world.”
Holmes not only directed the film, she stars as Rita, a hardscrabble mother fighting to create a better life for her daughter. The story resonated with the multihyphenate, who drew on her relationship with Suri, her 9-year-old daughter with Tom Cruise, to create her character.
Emerging as one of the most promising actresses of her generation, with compelling turns in “Wonder Boys” and “Pieces of April” while starring in TV series “Dawson’s Creek,” Holmes found her subsequent marriage to and divorce from Cruise picked over by tabloids. She’s kept a lower profile in recent years, appearing in Broadway plays, in an arc on “Ray Donovan,” and as Jackie Kennedy in “The Kennedys,” while largely shunning the spotlight.
Holmes got comfortable in the director’s chair while shepherding a “30 for 30” documentary about gymnast Nadia Comaneci for ESPN, then set her sights on directing a feature. It was a career move that Jane Rosenthal, her friend and founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, had urged the actress to make.
“When you produce or direct, you have more control of your own destiny,” said Rosenthal, who signed on to produce the film. Cablevision and Madison Square Garden chief James Dolan financed the picture, which premieres April 15 at the Tribeca fest.
Holmes meticulously worked out a shot list and storyboarded the project, shot over 24 days last summer in New York City and the Lower Hudson Valley. Even before filming started, she would send Rosenthal photos or videos that inspired her.
“One day my daughter and I were going to ballet class,” said Holmes, “and the sun was shining a certain way and I was videoing on my iPhone because the shadows were great.”
Adam Schweitzer, Holmes’ longterm agent, helped the actress find the project at the manuscript stage with his team at ICM. He visited the set and came away impressed by the way Holmes juggled multiple roles.
“Maybe it comes from being an actress, but she’s really great at communicating,” said Schweitzer. “She had total command.”
Overseeing “All We Had” required Holmes to dig deep. “I was trying to find the look and tone,” she said. And while the character of Rita was a meaty role, her struggles to keep her family afloat financially were emotionally draining.
Despite the twin pressures of both jobs, Holmes insists she was never tempted to stick just to directing.
“I’m an actress,” she said simply. “You don’t give good roles away.”
“All We Had” premieres at Tribeca on April 15. ICM Partners is handling sales for the film.