Maggie Renzi has been John Sayles’ creative partner since 1978 and she has produced nearly all of his movies.
She has also acted in many of them. Renzi and Sayles were students together at Williams College in the early 1970s, and have been together since 1973.
Before becoming a fulltime producer Renzi had worked as a bookstore clerk, a pediatric receptionist, a substitute teacher, a casting assistant, a talent agent’s assistant, and for two years as a salad chef in Southern California. She began her acting career as a child at the Williamstown Theater Festival, where she continued to perform into her twenties. Renzi began her professional association with Sayles when she played a leading role in his first film, The Return of the Secaucus Seven, where she was also Unit Manager and Assistant Editor.
For John Sayles, Maggie Renzi has produced Lianna, The Brother from Another Planet, Matewan, City of Hope, Passion Fish, The Secret of Roan Inish, Lone Star, Men With Guns, Limbo, Sunshine State, Silver City, Honeydripper, and Amigo.
In addition to mastering the highly specialized craft of producing thematically ambitious films on small budgets, under often adverse conditions, Renzi has made key creative contributions to many of Sayles’ films-suggesting that Louisiana was the perfect location for Passion Fish, for example, and discovering the novel by Rosalie K. Fry that Sayles adapted as The Secret of Roan Inish.
Since her linchpin performance as Kate, who hosts the weekend gathering in The Return of the Secaucus Seven, Maggie Renzi has also played featured roles in many of the movies she has produced. She is especially memorable as Sheila the friendly neighbor in Lianna, as the social worker Noreen in The Brother From Another Planet, as the Italian immigrant wife Rosaria in Matewan, and as the American tourist glued to her guidebook in Men With Guns. She also appeared in Jonathan Demme’s film Swing Shift (1984) and in Key Exchange (1985).
“It’s pretty interesting to have a record of yourself aging on film.” Renzi says. “In Secaucus Seven I was 28 years old and I weighed 118 pounds. By the time I saw myself in Passion Fish I thought, ‘I think I’m gonna wait until I’m a genuine old lady before I go in front of a camera again.’ Also, I really like producing. It’s where I am most fully myself at work, more than I am as an actress.”
In 2000 Renzi produced, in partnership with Sarah Green and Martha Griffin, Karyn Kusama’s acclaimed debut feature Girlfight. The film went on to win several international festival awards (including the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance) and the Independent Spirit award as Best First Feature. The film’s star, Michelle Rodriguez, also won critical acclaim and several awards for her performance as a young Latina pursuing a boxing career. Co-Executive Produced by Sayles and Jonathan Sehring of IFC Films, Girlfight featured Jaime Tirelli (Hector in The Brother From Another Planet) as the heroine’s show-me trainer.
According to director Karyn Kusama, “Maggie has a very dynamic personality,” “so she moves things through when most people couldn’t. She’s persuasive and charismatic. Those are very important qualities for someone who has to be diplomatic with a host of different people, and at times forceful with those same people.”
“Different producers have different styles,” Renzi asserts. “Mine is very hands on. Even now, I’ve been doing it for twenty years, I’m still up and on the set at morning call and I eat with everyone else and I wrap out the day with everyone else. My job is really about fulfilling the director’s vision. I think particularly as a woman it’s taken me a long time to really sit in my own chair. But also it doesn’t really suit the independent style to be too much of a show-off about being a producer.”
Most recently, Renzi was an Executive Producer with Sayles on the Alejandro Springall movie, entitled Morirse esta en Hebreo or My Mexican Shivah.