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Columbus native contributes to new Fox science series ‘Cosmos’

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Susan Kirr frequently has found herself in the presence of stars on movie sets.

Brad Pitt. Angelina Jolie. Sandra Bullock.

But her latest project placed her amid real stars. As in, well, billions and billions of them, as the late astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan would say.

The Sagan reference is apropos since the 50-year-old Columbus native now is seeing the fruit of her business-end, line-production work in the new Fox TV show, “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” airing 9 p.m. Sundays. The 13-episode documentary is a bit of a resurrection of Sagan’s original 1980 show, “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.”

When she recently spoke about the program by phone from her home in artsy Austin, Texas, she nearly genuflected in the direction of Sagan and the seminal series that reached viewers in 60 countries and was aired for years. It explored everything from the Big Bang to the origin of life and human consciousness.

The similarly styled current show, clearly, is meant for more than mere entertainment.

“I’m really hoping that kids are watching, and teachers and other educators,” she said. “I’d like to see these people talking about the show’s scientific topics.

“And I think anything on TV that’s educational with a kind of wow factor to get kids excited can be only a good thing.”

“Cosmos” required five weeks of shooting in Sante Fe, N.M., and five weeks in Europe last year. She welcomed the shift to “something a little new and different.”

Her credentials amid 20 years of line-producing — being responsible for overseeing a film’s budget and logistics — helped her land the TV gig.

She has worked alongside such critically acclaimed filmmakers as Terrence Malick (“The Tree of Life”) and Douglas McGrath (“Infamous”).

Dad David Kirr of Columbus still chuckles about the fact that he demanded only one thing specifically of her college education at Princeton University — that she take a few courses in economics and accounting.

That’s understandable considering that he built Kirr, Marbach & Co. into an $800-million-in-assets success in the investment field. The savvy his daughter developed then is much of what has made her a success, especially whenever a Warner Brothers movie films outside Los Angeles, her father said.

“She is incredibly disciplined, incredibly responsible and incredibly dependable,” Dad said. “And unlike most people in the movie business, she is incredibly trustworthy.”

Incredibly compassionate, too.

She and her husband, Rusty Martin, spent a couple of nights sleeping in the streets of Austin several years ago to get a better idea of how it feels to be homeless. Little surprise, then, that they strongly support Austin’s Mobile Loaves & Fishes, which helps the homeless.

She also donates time and expertise to Reel Women, an Austin-based group helping women learn about the film industry.

It’s a calling that she pursued soon after earning a master’s degree in film production from New York University, making only a starving-artist wage, as her dad recalls, in her early attempts to get a foot in the door. The push took five years while she worked as a writer and editor at newspapers such as The Dallas Morning News.

Even in her formative years in Columbus, Kirr made an impact with words.

“She was an outstanding writer,” said Shirley Lyster, a longtime local English teacher’s and Kirr’s sophomore-year instructor at Columbus North High School.

During her current downtime at home, away from 14-hour days on location, she relishes the rare pleasure to read, including her latest pick, “Independent People” by Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness. Cooking and yoga also help her unwind.

“I always loved movies, and it was always my dream to work in them,” she said. “There was definitely some luck involved — and hopefully some intelligence.”

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