Director Katie Holmes Loves a Challenge (So Does Actress Katie Holmes)

As she releases her third directorial outing, Holmes talks to IndieWire about everything from Haruki Murakami to "Magic Mike," the kind of obsessions that keep her busy brain continually creating.
Katie Holmes, David Alexander Finn, Saundra Santiago, Julia Mayorga, Alan Cumming, Derek Luke at arrivals for RARE OBJECTS Premiere, Crosby Street Hotel, New York, NY April 10, 2023. Photo By: Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection
Katie Holmes, David Alexander Finn, Saundra Santiago, Julia Mayorga, Alan Cumming, and Derek Luke at the "Rare Objects" premiere

Recently, Katie Holmes was reading Haruki Murakami’s “Novelist as a Vocation.” Within the memoir, which is composed of 11 different essays from the revered Japanese writer, Holmes said she found a story that spoke directly to her own vocation: director.

Holmes said she was struck by a story the writer shared from early in his career, in which he lost a floppy disc that held an important first draft for a new work. “He was so upset, obviously, and had to rewrite [this section] and thought it wasn’t as good as the first draft,” Holmes said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “Years later, he found that floppy disk and he saw that actually that [lost] section wasn’t as good as what he ended up rewriting. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of it.'”

That’s the way Holmes, who has directed three films since 2016 — two of them since the start of the COVID pandemic, including this week’s new release from IFC Films, “Rare Objects” — likes to think of her own work behind the camera. Part of that is simply the scrappiness of being a firmly indie filmmaker (she has produced all three of her films), and part of it is just the way her mind works.

Take, for example, her choice to turn “Rare Objects” — based on Kathleen Tessaro’s novel of the same name about the unlikely friendships that spring up when a young woman (played in the film by genuine discovery Julia Mayorga) takes a job at an antiques store — into a contemporary tale to keep the budget low (Tessaro’s 2016 book is set in during the Depression). Sure, it was a challenge, but Holmes likes those.

“I feel like you do that on every film,” Holmes said. “You never enter a film like, ‘Oh, sure, anything you want, you can have.’ That just doesn’t happen. There’s always, ‘Oh, this person isn’t available’ or ‘We can’t have this location’ or ‘We can’t have this budget.’ And those can be looked upon as constraints or opportunities. I try to see everything as an opportunity of, ‘OK, well, let me just regroup and figure out how this is going to affect the whole thing, and maybe it’s a better way.'”

RARE OBJECTS, Katie Holmes, 2023. © IFC Films / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Rare Objects”©IFC Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

Holmes is similarly clear when asked about how she balances performing in a film while also directing it. (She has starred in all three of her directorial efforts so far.) That has a plan, too.

“It’s all about preparation,” she said. “I prep a character first. Then, as a director, I work very closely with my cinematographer and my production designer and my costume designer and my team. That time is so precious because we’re making a lot of big decisions so that on the day on set, we can always refer to those things we’ve agreed upon to make the smaller decisions to reach those goals. When I’m directing and acting, I just feel a little bit more pressure to get my performance out of the way, because I know the whole day. I’m less indulgent with myself. I don’t feel like I turn off one side of my brain to turn on the other.”

Instead, Holmes said, she keeps her entire brain turned on the entire time. There is no “Katie Holmes, actress” brain or “Katie Holmes, director” brain. It’s all the same thing, and that’s what she loves about filmmaking.

“I feel like what is wonderful about the creative process of making a film, it’s you’re kind of putting everything, every part of yourself into it, all the time,” Holmes said. “Your whole source of ideas and creativity is completely turned on. Whether or not you’re jumping in to do a scene or you’re running to do a locations meeting or see photos from a fitting, you’re always sort of in it. I find it to be actually quite exhilarating.”

Asked if she wished she had started directing earlier, Holmes was succinct: “No.” She added, “I feel like I came to it when it was right for me, and I’m excited to continue on the path. I’m always looking to see what stories inspire me, how to grow as a filmmaker and an actor. I don’t feel like there’s an expiration date. So I’m happy with when I began.”

Over the course of her decades-long acting career, Holmes has worked with wide range of filmmakers, from Peter Hedges to Christopher Nolan, Callie Khouri to Sam Raimi. But asked which fellow directors she feels inspired by when it comes to on-set life, she immediately named her friend Steven Soderbergh, who directed her in 2017’s “Logan Lucky.”

LOGAN LUCKY, Katie Holmes, 2017. ph: Claudette Barius / theatrical distributor: Fingerprint Releasing / © Amazon /Courtesy Everett Collection
“Logan Lucky”©Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection

“He’s such a master and therefore has a confidence and a calm and an efficiency on the set,” she said. “And I just love that experience so much. It’s something that I aspire to. It’s his preparation. He knows exactly what he’s doing, so that was very influential to me. When you are the captain of the ship, you have to solve a lot of the problems beforehand, because you need everybody to feel good and that there’s nothing wrong, we got this.”

An Ohio native, Holmes has long lived in New York City — “a place I love to live, period” — and if you go to enough film events around the city, you’re bound to see Holmes in attendance. She’s a long-time supporter of the Tribeca Film Festival and lights up when talking about checking out everything from post-screening Q&As to the fest’s enviable reunion screenings. “I think it’s important to be a part of a community of actors and filmmakers and support each other and to just learn from each other,” she said.

She also seems truly curious about other directors’ processes, finding out interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits, just seeing how it’s all done. That curiosity extends to her watching habits, too. She said her early movie diet was exceedingly varied: “E.T.” was the first film she ever saw, and she spent her teen years watching titles like “Marvin’s Room,” “Reality Bites,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Baby Boom,” and “Jules and Jim” (which she refers to by its French title, with a perfect accent).

Recently, she caught up with “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and the Diane Keaton joint “Shoot the Moon,” and then fell hard for Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” which she “absolutely loved.” “I loved the dancing,” she said. “I loved the sentiment of how human beings relate to each other through movement and how that can connect people.”

That affection for the stylings of “Magic Mike” could point to Holmes’ next step. While she said she’s “working on different things that are very early on,” all of them in the indie space (“nothing from a studio right now”), when asked what kind of project she dreams of directing, she paused in thought. “I would love to direct a musical,” she finally said. “Putting that joy into the world.”

An IFC Films release, “Rare Objects” is now in theaters.

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