Katie Holmes is impressively meticulous when it comes to her craft.
Over coffee at Sant Ambroeus in SoHo, she’s discussing the importance of pacing in “The Wanderers,” an Off Broadway play in which she portrays a movie star named Julia Cheever, who becomes intertwined with one of the show’s two central and seemingly very different Brooklyn-based couples.
“When we were rehearsing, our director Barry Edelstein was like, ‘The play works at one hour and 37 minutes or one hour and 38 minutes. If you hop up to one hour and 40 minutes, then you aren’t faster than the audience. Your thoughts have to be faster than the audience,'” she recalls.
“You were there on Tuesday, right?” she asks me. “We were, like, one hour and 38 minutes that night. The other weekend, we were at one hour and 37 minutes, and immediately, we had this overwhelming response.”
The attention to rhythm (and her astounding memory) also serves Holmes well as a director. “It’s so applicable to film,” she says. “When you’re editing, you think, ‘Oh, that moment is so good.’ But sometimes, we don’t need it.”
As she returns to the stage in “The Wanderers,” Holmes, an enduring presence in Hollywood since “Dawson’s Creek” catapulted her to fame in the late ’90s, is about to release her third directorial effort, “Rare Objects.” IFC is releasing the film in select theaters and on demand on April 14.
Based on Kathleen Tessaro’s novel, “Rare Objects” tells the story of a young woman named Benita (“American Rust” actor Julia Mayorga) who works in a New York City antiques shop while recovering from a traumatic event. Holmes plays troubled Manhattan socialite Diana, who forms an unlikely friendship with Benita after meeting her at the mental health facility where they both stayed.
You’ve been adapting “Rare Objects” since 2016. How does it feel to finally release the film?
It has been a journey. Things take a long time to come together. Part of our delay was the pandemic. The screenplay has gone through a lot of different forms, which was great because you learn exactly the story you want to tell. So, it feels very satisfying to have the movie come out.
What interested you in the story?
I was drawn to the female friendship and this metaphor of “you are more beautiful for having been broken.”
The novel takes place in Depression-era Boston, but the movie is set in modern-day New York City. Why did you make it contemporary?
It was to get the movie made. It’s very expensive to make a period piece. As an exercise, I decided that I’ll do a draft where it’s contemporary and see if it works. The circumstances in the period version are still topical today. Your girlfriends get you through so much.
Was there any prep time before you had to start filming?
It was pretty go-go-go from the start. Julia Mayorga is a trooper. We cast her about two weeks before production. We had maybe two rehearsals before we began. And then we worked very, very closely when we were filming. It was long days.
Are you more inclined to act in something that you are also directing?
I’m open to both. I don’t necessarily have to act in things that I direct. But if there’s a great role, and that makes sense, I’d love to do it. It’s exhausting to do both. When you’re the director and you’re acting, you’re always thinking about the clock. I don’t want to take time away from other things. It’s a bit more stressful.
How do you select film and TV roles? What kind of roles are you offered?
A lot of strong women, which is great. A lot of mother roles, and I feel like I have a lot of insight on that.
Do you prefer directing to acting?
Directing takes longer. To prep, shoot, edit — that’s about a year of your life. When you act in someone else’s project, it’s a couple of months, and it’s their thing. It’s satisfying to be a part of someone else’s vision and to learn from them. I like to do both.
What is it like to film in New York City?
It’s exciting. You meet so many people outside of your bubble because of the proximity of the neighborhoods or the train. That lends itself to having different perspectives. It was a joy to shoot in Astoria. I remember one morning, I was getting on the train and all of a sudden, somebody banged on the window to wave at a friend. The doors had already closed. I love that. We put it in the movie because I just felt like that’s so New York.
My favorite part of New York City is serendipitously running into someone on the street.
The other day, I was going to dinner between shows, and there was something shooting across the street. I went up and said, “What are you shooting?” Usually I get, like, “Nothing…” But they were actually pretty nice and told me Luke Kirby is filming. I was like, “Tell him I’m here!” So I went and said “hi.” It was so nice to run into an old friend. So random. I feel like that’s why the rent is so high. So we get to have moments of spontaneity.
How is New York different than other filming locations?
In places where there’s not a lot of filming, people are really excited. In New York, it’s like, “No, you can’t shoot on my stoop. It’s going to be this amount of money.” You’re like, “Let me tell you about it!” And they’re like, “No.” It’s New York. People are smart.
This is your third time directing a feature film. Did you feel more confident at the start of production?
No. Every project I do, it’s terrifying. It’s a whole new beginning of the creative process.
It’s been 25 years since your first film role. What do you remember about that experience?
Working when I was young with Curtis Hanson and Peter Hedges, I remember both of them being so generous with actors. There was space to try things and feel like your ideas were valuable. It really impacted me because I was very intimidated. To have people saying, “What did you mean?” Or, “What are you thinking?” made me feel like I was contributing something.
As the director, I imagine you watch the film many times during the production process. Do you ever get to a point where you’re like, “Is this even good?”
You lose perspective, and then you’re like, “I don’t even know.” So yes, it’s hard. Stepping away helps with perspective. Or reading books that have nothing to do with it. I don’t watch many films when I’m editing. I think that can start to sway you, and you forget what your movie is. But reading a poem can bring you back in. You need breaks, for sure.
What is it like being back at the theater?
It’s so fun. Super satisfying. Yes, we’re doing the same thing each time. But it changes so much because we’re coming to the play each night with our day. What are we going to bring to the character that night? Also, to have the experience of including the audience. When you’re on set, it’s you and the other actors and the director. There’s always a sense, for me, you want to please the director. The audience is different. You’re not trying to please them. We’re sharing the same experience.
Do you have a process to memorize your lines?
It’s silly. But if the line is “I’m going to Sant Ambroeus.” I go — “I.” “I am.” “I am going.” “I am going to.” That’s the way I was taught. It takes a long time. Before every scene, I go through my lines. I have a little secret show bible next to the stage. Just like in life, you can have a brain fog. Some people could just go in. I’m too nervous.
Do you have a post-show ritual? How do you wind down after a performance?
We have to be full of energy. I usually get home, eat and talk on the phone with my friends, and I’m able to calm down after, like, an hour and a half. What has been happening is that I’ll fall asleep by midnight — Is this boring? I’m sorry. I’m an old lady. — And then I’ve been waking up at 3 a.m. until 5 a.m. I watch Netflix. It’s so frustrating because now I feel like my day is ruined. So I haven’t quite figured it out.
What shows or movies are you watching when you’re up in the middle of the night?
The other night I watched “This Is Where I Leave You.” It’s from 2014 with Jane Fonda, Jason Bateman and Tina Fey. It’s fabulous. I read “Fleishman Is in Trouble” and, to be honest, I was like, “Wow, that was a lot of his perspective… a lot of anger.” When I watched the series, it didn’t feel so angry. I binge-watched it. It was so well done.
Is your daughter interested in your work? Has she seen “Dawson’s Creek”?
She has seen “Dawson’s Creek,” and I think it’s probably weird since she’s a teenager. I’m not like, “You need to watch mommy’s work.” But during the pandemic, we had a good laugh about it. It’s wild to have a daughter who’s almost the same age as I was when I began all this.