'I didn't want to take the Samantha role—at 40,I didn't think I was sexy enough’
KIM CATTRALL TALKS TO KENNETH WHYTE ABOUT MONEY AND AGING, THE NEW MOVIE, AND THE ONE THING SHE WOULDN’T DO ONSCREEN
For six seasons, Canadian actress Kim Cattrall starred as the insatiable Samantha Jones on the groundbreaking HBO series, Sex and the City. Now, four years since Samantha’s last tryst, the cast and crew are reuniting to unveil Sex and the City: The Movie, one of the most anticipated films of2008 ( in theatres May 30). In a candid interview with Maclean’s, Cattrall dishes on rumours of on-set feuds and the great part about turning 50. She is currently at work developing a new series for HBO.
Q Do you remember your audition for Sex and the City?
A: I didn’t really audition. [The show’s creator] Darren Star pursued me for the project. I remember I was looking around a bookstore, and I saw the book Sex and the City, and I thought, “That’s really weird. I’ll read that.” So I read more than half and I remember literally throwing it across the room, because I was single at the time and I thought, “This is really depressing,” and, “If men are like that, f-k them, and if women are so pathetic...” It’s sad, you know? They seem to be at each other, not for each other. I recognized that Candace Bushnell’s a really talented writer, but I didn’t care about the people she was writing about, and I’d never been part of that kind of set. Q: What set?
A: You know, that kind of cool, hip New York, the latest drink, the latest restaurant, the latest party, the latest designer. So I just forgot about it, and then I got a call saying that Sarah [Jessica Parker] was doing it, and I thought that was kind of interesting.
Q: Did you know her?
A: I’d met her socially. I’d seen her in the Steve Martin film about L.A.—I thought she was terrific—and they said, “Well, we’d like you to look at the role of Samantha,” because they were casting Sarah [as Carrie]. Sarah’s
about 10 years younger than I am—and I thought, “Oh, okay. All right.” I read it again and I still said, “Enh, I don’t like it, even if she’s involved. It’s really not for me,” and Darren hired somebody else.
Q: Oh, really?
A: Yeah. And then Dennis Erdman—Darren’s boyfriend and an old friend of minecalled me on a Sunday. It was about five or six weeks before they were going to start shooting, and he said, “I just wanted to know what happened, why you said no.” I said, “I don’t know, Dennis,” I was 41, “I just kind of feel like I’m over the hill to play this kind of role, and I don’t really know if I can do it.” He said, “You’re really wrong.”
Q: Were they asking you to commit to the whole series?
A: Oh, yes. You have to be willing to sign a contract which is basically six years of your life.
Q: At this point was it a pilot?
A: Just a pilot. It’s scary, and when you’re 41 that means you’re 47—if it goes longer— and you think, “I don’t know if I want to do this.” I’d done one other series before and I just couldn’t bear it. It was hellacious. I had no life, and I think I was at a last-ditch scenario of, “Will I get married? Will I have a child?” So when this came about they kept saying, “Well, it’s not TV. It’s HBO,” and I was like, “It’s still a television hour.” They said, “Well, this is a half-hour, it’s not an hour.” So I called Darren the next morning after this sleepless night and I said, “Look, I’d like to have lunch.” I really laid out my concerns, and one of them was that Samantha would just become a two-dimensional character, which I thought she was on the page. He said, “No-no-no-no!” He just really charmed me.
Q: When did you first get the sense that it was something special and it might take off?
A: It was in the middle of the first season,
and it was an episode where the four of us were all in black and we were going to the suburbs. Have you watched it?
A: A lot of men don’t. And later on I found out that—I don’t know if this is true—but that episode inspired Desperate Housewives, because we were the city girls going out to the country, and everyone in the country was in, like, pastels, and we were in leather and black coats. And then at the beginning of the second season, I think the writers knew.
Q: Was that the episode where they went to a baby shower?
A: Yes, exactly. I think at the beginning of the second season, Darren and [executive producer] Michael Patrick King started to write specifically for us as actresses. It wasn’t really until about the third season that people started to tune in, because the reviews initially were not good, they were kind of mixed. They liked it but they didn’t believe women spoke like that and men were just footballs to bounce around, kick around.
Q: Did you have to do the part you did? Did you see yourself doing one of the other ones?
A: I certainly couldn’t see myself as Charlotte. I thought it would be interesting to be Carrie at 40, but Carrie wasn’t 40.1 was not so contemplative as she is in my 30s. I was still trying to figure it out and I wanted so much to work, just work. And in my 40s, I became much more contemplative and worried about spending the rest of my life alone, but maybe that’s because I was first married in my 20s, I’m not sure. But that sort of brings me to the next decade, the 50s, which I think is even less contemplative. It’s like, “How can I fit all this in before the walker appears on the horizon?”
Q: I guess I wasn’t that conscious of there being that much of an age gap between Samantha and the other characters.
A: Well, I think that she always speaks from the mount, you know, she’s been there, done that.
Q: Yes, it comes across that way.
A: Yeah. And that comes from years of falling down and picking yourself up, you know? There’s a kind of world-weary quality to her, but there’s no bitterness. Even if she’s treated so horribly by a man or a job opportunity or a client, she has a mystery to her, because you think, “What does scare her?” “Where is she vulnerable?” and that was the wonderful story that was told through the series, and that’s what Darren promised me would happen, and he kept his promise, because it just expanded, but in a totally different way than I thought it would.
Q: Was there some point at which you felt Samantha’s character became sort of iconic or, alternatively, when it became sort of a
lightning rod for a lot of people who wanted to argue about the show?
A: When Samantha became a gay icon, I thought, “Wow, this has really captured.”
Q: When did you first notice that?
A: Well, when I would go to events, or just people coming up to me, a lot of them were women of my age or older—a lot of baby boomers—and a lot of them were gay men, and gay fans are just.. .there’s just nothing like them. They luuuuv you, and the more you fall or make mistakes the more they love you, and they love Samantha, you know? And I think that Darren and Michael loved writing crazy, crazy stuff for her. There was always a giggle and there was always a fear that, “Have they gone too far?” I was always feeling that. 1 would sort of read the scripts—we would do read-throughs—I’d be, “Oh gosh, I don’t know if I can do this.” But at the same time, people say, “Oh, I’ve seen you naked, I’ve seen you...” I mean, I was never completely naked, ever, and I also felt that I was never naked in the sense it was Samantha. She allowed me to feel comfortable.
Q: Was there anything that...
A: Oh, I just want to tell you one story which is kind of interesting. We went to the Kennedy Center Honors, and I brought my mom as my date, and someone came up to her after the ceremony and said, “How can you bear your daughter up there?” She said, “My daughter is an actress, and she’s a very good actress, and she plays this wild character, but that’s not my daughter,” in her very British accent, and they backed off 100 per cent, I’m telling you! But that’s how I dealt with it, too.
Q: There’s this expectation about the show that the four of you were all great friends, and people are kind of shocked when life isn’t quite the same.
That’s wild. But that’s what television does. I mean, when I watched Mary Tyler Moore, I wanted Rhoda to be her best friend!
Q: Do you think Sex and the City was a sort o/Mary Tyler Moore Show for this generation? Mary was single, urban, working and comfortable with that. It was a bit daring at that time.
A: I agree. I remember that show as the first show that I saw. I remember That Girl, but I thought she was such a dingbat. I wanted to be an actress and go to New York too, but she was so perky, I couldn’t really get behind that. When Mary Tyler Moore came on the scene, it was a career woman who was dating, single, and had friends, and it was cool. You never really met her family, her family were her colleagues at work.
And then came Sex and the City, which is
friends as family. We didn’t work together but we were this unit of friendship and acceptance and support—and that’s the thing that I believe most women want with their girlfriends in their lives, because I feel that a lot of us give up so much for the men, the family, and the message was different about being single. I mean Mary, to me, was never a happy character. There was something missing, you know? And here it was women who were just like, this is where we are. Let’s have fun. Let’s enjoy it. As difficult as it is—as much as we want those things that you’re taught that you should get by a certain age or you’ll die miserable and alone—[it’s about] turning it around and making it about the fact that you’re not ready because you don’t want to go there yet. And that’s kind of a great thing to hear.
Q: Last season, both NBC’s Lipstick Jungle and ABC’s Cashmere Mafia were sort of seen as Sex and the City copies, or attempts to resurrect the spirit ofit, and both seem to have failed. It’s not as easy, I guess, as it looks.
A: No, it’s not just about high-heeled shoes and the glamour of New York. I’m interested to see how the movie is received. From the first day of shooting I was absolutely in shockvery thrilled but also nervous—because we were shooting on Park Avenue, and the word got out that the four of us were in the first scene, and we were just walking down the street and there were crowds like you wouldn’t believe on the partition on the other side of the street and on the street, and there were the photographers, and I thought, “This is a TV show on HBO that ran for six seasons!” But what had happened in the interim of those four years is it had not just gone on national television, it had gone global.
Q :And in prime time in a lot of areas, like Canada.
CI was never completely naked, ever, and 1 felt I was never naked in the sense it was Samantha. She allowed me to feel comfortable.1
A: It’s not just showing once or twice a day—it’s showing on demand any time you want it. And you think, “Will it end?” Who knows. The fan base is bigger than I think Darren and HBO ever anticipated. It just seems to keep finding a new generation.
Q: You’ve written a book about adolescent girls, Being a Girl: Navigating the Ups and Downs of Teen Life, and you’ve thought a lot about it, and there are a lot of positive attributes to the characters you guys played in Sex and the City, but there’s also a lifestyle there that, for young girls, might be more than they’re ready for.
A: Are you going to get Canadian on me?
Q: Yeah, I am.
A: Oh, God! I agree.
Q: Most people grow up somewhere other than Manhattan.
A: Really?! I know, but that’s the fantasy. Wherever you are you’re thinking and dreaming about somewhere else.
Q: So that’s okay.
A: Well, I think it’s okay. When I was writing the book, I thought, “You just tell them the way it is,” but it’s very delicate. And you can’t really use your life as an example because you don’t live in the world that they live in.
Q: So what did you think?
A: Well, my favourite episode—or one of my favourite episodes—and the only one that I ever said to Michael, “I really can’t say this,” was about speaking to a 13-year-old girl who had hired Samantha as a publicist to do her bat mitzvah, and there was a scene where they had a competition about fellatio. I said, “I’m not doing that.” I said, “This isn’t about being conservative. A woman would just never do that unless she’s mentally ill.”
Q: It brought out the Canadian in you!
A: I just thought, “I don’t know a woman
who would do that.” And the way he changed it—which I was so grateful for—was he made Samantha say, “With sex comes responsibility, and why don’t you be a girl before you’re a woman?” and I loved that, that rang true.
Q: You’ve gone off and done some West End stuff, a David Mamet play, some period drama, a bunch of different things. Was that intentionally to re-establish yourself as an actor?
A: When they announced that the series was ending, [the British theatre director] Peter Hall sent me this script called Whose Life is it Anyway? And I read the first 10 pages and I called him, I said, “You’re such a sly fox!” because it was originally played by a man, Tom Conti, and he was basically a sexist pig in the bedroom. And this was the ’70s and the women’s movement and it had all kinds of really wonderful themes on top of the fact that he was a quadriplegic. I saw why he sent it to me, because it had a sprinkling of Samantha, but it had so much more. And I didn’t know if I could do it, and I was really scared, and I thought, “Screw it,” you know? “Now or never.” And again, that’s the wonderful thing about being the age that I am, and I did that play, and it was fantastic. I love the West End. I loved being in England. I got in touch with a lot of the reasons that I wanted to be an actor. So, from that John Boorman asked me to do The Tiger’s Tail. And then I did the play at the Donmar—the David Mamet play—which is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I started the play as a Stepford wife and ended as Medea. And then I was offered the movie My Boy Jack, and I had a fantastic time doing it. I mean, I grew up with Masterpiece Theatre, so then suddenly you’re in a big hat with a high collar. Fabulous! And last week I was on Sesame Street.
Q: Doing what? Grover, or Big Bird, or?
A: Oh, God, no. I wish! You know how
they have people come in and do a word? Well, my word was “fabulous.”
Q: That’s a high compliment.
A: It was so great. And then, of course, when I got the phone call from [then-HBO chief executive] Chris Albrecht saying, “You’re not going to believe this but we’re thinking of doing the movie,” and we did. Amazing.
Q: There was a lot more to it than that, though, wasn’t there? There was a lot of back and forth about money. You originally said no to the movie.
A: I ain’t got no rich husband. I ain’t got no sugar daddy. The first time around, I don’t think I was ready, and I was going through a tough divorce.
So aside from the fact that acting is an art and that you love it, you want to get paid?
A: Isn’t that a shock? Q: Well, people do seem shocked that you wanted to be paid for the TV episodes. I read about the residuals and they were really low. So when you signed on you were getting paid per episode and that was it?
A: Yeah. I mean, cable is different residualwise because they don’t have sponsors, and that’s what the possible strike is going to be about in June. Everyone’s crossing their fingers because the writers’ strike was really devastating. But that needs to be looked at because [Time Warner CEO and former head of HBO] Jeff Bewkes is a brilliant man and he turned cable TV into a movie studio, on his own terms, giving people adult entertainment and not kiddie stuff. I’m a big fan of television, but what he did is he changed it irrevocably, and I felt that along the way there was a shift, and the DVDs became a whole different scenario.
Q: They earn as much from DVDs as they do from the show now, right?
A: It’s huge. And I feel that it is a collaborative effort and everybody should share. But you know, my dad was a big union guy, and I was brought up that way. I felt that, at the end of the show, I wasn’t set for life and other people were, and I felt that was not fair. And then when the movie kind of fell apart and everybody was pointing the finger at me and I thought, “Well, this was so easy, just cough up the salary and get a really good script,” because the script was never written. But, you know, I don’t think that was really it. I needed to just take a time out, and I think the deal that they offered was so disappointing that it made it easier. And then when the movie came around again, I was floored, you know? But I thought, “Okay, if we’re going to go back there I think that we can negotiate a deal this time,” and I’m open, but I have a lot of self-worth, and it’s a big screen and I’m going to cover my ass all ways. And I thought we all should get it, not just me, you know? And I’m glad that I stood up the first time, for whatever reason. It was no one’s business then, I’m more comfortable with it now because it’s not as painful.
Q: And everything worked out.
A: And everything worked out, yeah. I’ve learned a lot about negotiating, and following my instincts about what was right, and I’m very happy with my deal, I know the girls are happy with their deal, and—I don’t think what’s happening now would have happened four years ago—it turned out great, and now I can go and do whatever I want for as long as I want, and that’s a really good feeling. But I liked doing the movie, and it was really fun, and it was a really good script.
I went to an event honouring [Sex and the City co-star] Cynthia Nixon last night, and you can feel the fever bubbling again about the show, and it’s very exciting but your life changes again, and it was just sort of simmering down. You know, the BlackBerry has doubled in the last three months. And part of it is fantastic, but I’m very protective of my time because it’s so easy to get swept up in it and forget about your life.
Q: There’s been a lot written about you and the other girls, and you and Sarah Jessica in particular. What is the nature of your relationship?
A: It is and always has been a professional relationship.
Q: We’ve both been working long enough to know that there are lots of different kinds of professional relationships and some are better than others.
A: That’s right. I defy anybody in a workplace to say that they get along with their colleagues 24/7, and we’re working in such close proximity, and we’re human beings. Did anything ever openly happen to make
any of us feel uncomfortable with the others? Of course it did. But nothing of any major consequence. I think the biggest thing was that when the movie was first offered, I did not feel it was a good deal, and no one reached out to me, and I didn’t reach out to anyone else. I felt that with the series I was losing a job, we were all losing our jobs. And I think one of the reasons that we wanted it to continue, from my point of view, was not just to play the part, it was for more financial security, and then suddenly it was ended, and we were not told anything about it, it was a decision that was made by, I think, Sarah as a producer and the other producers.
Q: “Sarah as a producer,” just so I’m clear and the readers are clear, that means that she has a financial stake in the show, right?
A: Yeah, producers do.
Q:... and all of the DVDs and everything that comes out of it.
Q: So if it’s successful to that point, you’re set, right?
A Yeah. Sarah works really hard, I think she’s a wonderful actress. I support what she has, but I would like her and others to support what I felt our contribution was, and I don’t think that, artistically, there was ever debate about that. But you know your counterpart’s making a million dollars an episode. And I knew that we were never going to get that, but I felt that we had worked a lot of 19-hour days, I lost a marriage to the series, and a lot of friends, you just have no life. And people say, “Oh, you can’t complain...”
It’s so funny, even just doing the movie, my boyfriend—who knows nothing about the business—he turned to me one day and he said, “How can you work a 19-hour day? Isn’t there rules or laws against this?!” I said, “Sweetheart, this is going to be over in a couple months, just relax.” But you look back on that and you think [you deserve] to be compensated—and I really wasn’t asking for a lot more—but nobody was talking to anybody, and I think we were all dealing with the end of the show in different ways and going through different kinds of transitions. At the time, and shortly afterwards, when a lot of stuff came out in the press, and I was suddenly painted as this meanie, and I thought I was doing it for all of us. But anyway, the important thing is that it rectified itself in many ways, and coming back on the set was fun.
Q: So you didn’t feel any difference at all in terms of your professional interactions? When you four reunite for the movie you pick up just where you left off?
'Sarah works really hard. I support what she has, but I would like her and others to support what I felt our contribution was.1
A: Oh, yeah. It was kind of scary, really. As I said, that first day was overwhelming. I couldn’t get a line out without someone screaming, and I said to Cynthia, “Don’t you feel like a Beatle?” I mean, I felt like a Beatle. I said, “Just let me be John, I want to be John,” my favourite Beatle. Those moments, they’re thrilling but they’re kind of scary, too. But no, I think that we were all happy to be back.
Q: You were nominated for four Emmys. Is it disappointing to lose?
A: It’s a great honour. What are you going to do? You do your work.
Q: Is there a record for most nominations without winning? You must be up there.
A: I think so, yeah. I mean, critically I feel that my role was recognized. I think sometimes, simply because of the way I look, that gets in the way.
Q: What, the bombshell thing?
A: Yeah. I never really listened to that or thought about it. It doesn’t help me to. I don’t think people hire me because of the way I look, I think they hire me because I have something that they need for their film or their play or their TV. The really great thing about having a career in your 50s is that I’m a much better actress now than I’ve ever been, and I can still work, because there was a time in my 30s that I didn’t think it was going to happen. I’m so lucky. It has to do with talent and it has to do with intelligence, but it also has to do with luck.
Q: Oprah Winfrey...
A: Oh, God, did I remind you of Oprah Winfrey?
Q: No, something you just said reminded me of something she said about when you become 50you are the person you were meant to become. Do you buy that?
A: Meant to be? No, I don’t believe that.
You look at my pedigree, I was meant to be a shop assistant. Or maybe someone in the army. My dad’s side of the family is all in the British army. I think what’s great about being 50 is that you relax into what you’ve become, and it’s a great time. I feel that Sex and the City really made people, because of Samantha, by and large—because she was 40—think differently about being 40.1 mean, I had.. .1 have ageism issues. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to take it, because at 401 didn’t think I was sexy enough.
I look at the last 10 years, and it’s very rare that a woman in her 40s gets that kind of break late in life. It’s usually a Jessica Tandy kind of situation, you know? So you think to yourself, “Okay, this is a period where, what do you do if you want to work, where do you go?” And then this juggernaut happened, and people say to me, “What happened when you turned 48?” It was like my life exploded in a totally different direction.
Q: And so, you have a boyfriend? He’s a Canadian?
A: He’s a Canadian.
Q: Yes, and a chef and you’re living in New York?
A: In New York and in Toronto. We go to Toronto a lot. He’s from Kingston. And I have my little place in the Hamptons. You know I’ve been spending a lot of time in the U.K., but I’m going to come home next year and do some work.
Q: I don’t know where you mean when you say home.
A: My stationery—it was a gift from a dear friend in London my opening night at the Donmar—has a little flag that has a British flag, and it has a Canadian flag, and it has an American flag. Coming home is coming back to Canada. Nl