Kim Cattrall on being child free, vulnerability, her new show Sensitive Skin, life after Sex and the City and being 60.
Kim Cattrall is a strong advocate for women rights and having a voice, even more so now that she is 60. Best known as Samantha in the globally beloved television series Sex and the City, her latest role in Canadian black comedy Sensitive Skin is a middle-aged woman who is having difficulty ageing having been a noted beauty in her youth.
Good was fortunate to be invited to a media luncheon for Specsavers at the Hilton’s Fish Restaurant, Auckland on October 21 and after a 30-minute Q&A session with Cattrall came away feeling inspired and empowered. We wanted to share her words with you too. Here’s how the session rolled …
Q: Sex and the City was one of those shows that empowered women, and Samantha was one of those roles you can probably never leave behind. How do you feel about Samantha?
Cattrall: There is no reason to leave her behind, I don’t think. I think she stays with us. I think she was always in our subconscious. She’s sort of like a modern day Aphrodite. I loved her so much for many reasons. She was so bold and brash and honest, but what I really loved more than anything about Samantha was she had no judgment. And part of that was having been there and done it herself, and the other part was just this kind of love that she had for the other characters. She could be tough and hard but with them she was always just Samantha the gal. I really think the message behind the series, and one of the reasons I think and hope that it will live on for other generations, is it wasn’t about pitting women against women. It was about girlfriends and women as family, and I think that is something that will never go out of style.
Q: Does it surprise you the resonance the character Samantha has in New Zealand, and around the world?
Cattrall: I travel quite a bit and the extraordinary thing is how far reaching it is, which makes me feel that it was long overdue to happen. For women to have stories about women who were single, and how vulnerable that can make you, and how scary that can be. And this myth of having it all and what does that mean for a woman today? Playing that character gave me many gifts but one of them – and the most important I feel as a woman who chose not to have children – it gives me a platform to really express my thoughts about it. And to reach out in any way that I can to continue those kind of stories happening.
Q: How do you feel about those experiences translating with women that just walk off the street and talk to you because Samantha has some amazing character parts – going through cancer as she did. She was a strong, hard working career woman. Do you find people approach you in different ways and how to you relate to that when it happens?
Cattrall: I think the unexpected surprise is what happened post Sex and the City for me, and the stories I heard. I’m an actress and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a successful actress in a business that is tough to begin with and is not always kind to women at whatever stage of their life. But this continuing feeling of ‘wow, this is much more than just a job that I had. It really affected so many people. It educated so many men. I think at the beginning men felt very uncomfortable because they felt like they were a fly on the wall, but I think a happy fly on the wall, because they could really start to understand their sisters, their mothers, their girlfriends, their wives. So I think in some ways it creates service. And then, of course, Samantha’s story line of the breast cancer and getting to meet all these women who had been through hell and back, and reaching out and thinking ‘wow, this is just a job but it resonates so much more deeply and profoundly than that.’ I don’t know how you can anticipate that. I don’t think we could of as a group or individually because we were telling stories and we were entertaining people but at the same time I think the honest truth of being female in the world today was part of what those stories entailed.
Q: What would you say to women considering the choice of not having children?
Cattrall: Last year I was a guest editor on a really wonderful BBC Radio 4 programme called Woman’s Hour. You can get it on podcasts. It’s a fantastic programme and one of the things that I wanted to talk about was the decision to be child free. The commentator said you mean ‘childless’ and I said ‘no, child free and I take umbrage to the word childless. It makes it sound like I am ‘less’. But what I also wanted to talk about was how you can be a woman in the world without biologically having a child. And it’s all around you. I don’t know any kids anywhere in the world who are over parented in the sense of having enough people in their lives who are nurturing, and in one way or another being a guide to them to be a better human. So I feel that there are many ways and I have said this to my friends and family, especially in my 30s. For me, my story is that I always thought I would be a mum. I looked forward to it but it didn’t happen. And there was a point where I thought well I can start to become a science experiment or I can come to terms with what has really been facing me my whole life is that my passion, my first love is my work. And that is where I have been very nurturing and giving. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a mum of some kind, of some sort. Whether it’s to my friends, to my partner, family, niece or nephews, young actresses who are going through and stumbling and falling, and picking themselves up and trying to understand what it is, the job that they have chosen and are passionate about.
Q: You talk about entertainment for baby boomer generation and you’ve got a new show Sensitive Skin …
Cattrall: One of the reasons I wanted to make Sensitive Skin and go back to serious television was specifically to address very personal challenges and questions that I myself as a woman was having. And one of the main questions was ‘what happens at this point in my life’? I’ve fulfilled a lot of the roles society has put upon me. I come from a generation where woman had careers and for a lot of us that was where we were going to make our name and decided, because of birth control mostly, when we were going to have children. So I wanted to really explore then … There are some really wonderful adult development books but I couldn’t really find it as entertainment and make it the way Sex and the City did, get rid of these taboos and really try and find out and go through the story of a woman who wasn’t a superwoman. She was a mother, got married and she started to question at 50, well what does 60 look like? And 70? Did I make these decisions at 20 that I want to stay with for the rest of my life? Entertainment value is usually about women going through menopause and having a sweaty brow and thinking OMG I need to buy a sports car and get a young guy. And it’s sooo much more. First of all, complicated and definitely more interesting than that. So I wanted to use comedy to break down those taboos and tell this particular story, which does have great humour in it – some of it is very dark, some is very touching – but most importantly what I wanted it to be was to be real. And I feel that we achieve that. I think there has got to be more stories out there that we can tell about this period of our lives. It’s so rich. We’ve survived so much. We’ve learned so much. What better fertile ground could we need? So I want to continue to do that.
Q: How hard was it to get the show off the ground?
Cattrall: It took me 10 years. I’m very stubborn.
Q: And how frustrating is that? When we do see change yet it still takes that long to get our stories on the big and small screen.
Cattrall: You know the great thing about women is their strength and their persistence, and however long it takes we will be there fighting for it. Well, I will anyway. Because I feel that I have the time now. I’m not raising a family. I’m not in a marriage. I’m at a point in my life where a lot of baby boomers are where we do have the time to invest so that’s where I am, that’s what I’m about.
Q: Did playing Samantha have an impact on your own personality? Did you take some cues from her and become braver or a bit naughtier or cheekier in your own life?
I was always pretty cheeky. Well we all need encouragement. I think what she did, she allowed me again the platform but also really saviour a lot of experiences. I loved doing the show. It was so much fun. I got to work with amazing women like [Sex and the City stylist] Patricia Field. Just the exterior factor of the fashion and the fun. It really bought that back because I remember Audrey Hepburn and she wore Givenchy and I thought ‘ooh who is she, what is that about’ as a young woman. And I started to understand really quickly that second or third season when the show was catching on that people were imitating it and it became part of the conversation ‘I’m having a Sex and the City moment’ – good, bad or indifferent. It became a zeitgeist so I love to take Samantha on. She certainly challenged me. Boy would she ever, because I would get the new script – we would shoot two episodes at the same time – and while we were shooting them we were prepping the next two episodes and so it was like getting on a train and going ‘whoosh’ and you didn’t have a lot of time. But when I got the script it would say ‘Samantha does blah, blah’ and I thought’ WHAT?’ I mean first of all, how do I do that?!
Q: I mean it’s just sushi …
Cattrall: Yes, it’s just sushi. And how do I make that truthful? And first of all how do we photograph that? And I always felt it was my responsibility in all of this was to make it true to Samantha and to make it as truthful as possible. And within that I could have a tremendous amount of fun. I recently got reconnected with my friend Sonia Braga who has a magnificent film called Aquarius. I highly recommend it for all women to see. She looked at me and I looked at her and she said ‘I’m not gay’ and I said ‘no, neither am I but let’s do this together’ so it really broadened my view. First of all, just being female and supported a lot of what I knew already, how strong and powerful women really are. In my personal life it was a little more complicated because I was married throughout the whole course of the series and then suddenly I wasn’t married at the end of it and I was back in the dating pool, reluctantly, I took my time. It was extraordinary. First of all, a lot of men were not interested in dating me because they were terrified, not of me because they had no idea who I was, but Samantha because they wanted to be the boss. I kind of understand that but at the same time when you spend a few moments together you know I’m not Samantha eh? I pretend for a living and some of those pretends were way out there but it was not me.
Q: What was your hardest Samantha moment?
Cattrall: Funky spunk was interesting. I remember being in a grocery store buying some fish at the fish counter. Not a great place to be. And this man saying ‘what’s up with that?’ That was a bridge too far. I said ‘get over it. Welcome to our world’.
Q: That’s right. You wake up in the morning, you’re having make-up done in your trailer and you look at your script and you’re going to be wearing sushi for most of the episode. Do you have to get in the right frame of mind for being nude with sushi?
Cattrall: Well you have to get used to the air conditioning so that it doesn’t slip.
Q: What does personify sexiness in a woman of any age? It’s not about Botox, it’s not about surgery. You meet a woman like you. You are a classic example, you just ooze a fabulous, accessible sexiness. Where does it come from?
Cattrall: I think it comes from, especially at this point in my life, self-knowledge, self-acceptance. Vulnerability which is a place I never expected I would find it because I felt to show vulnerability was really an act of weakness but I find it the strongest place I can come from as I get older. To be human, to be fallible, to not always say the right thing or do the right thing, but accepting that is what any given day will challenge you with. And to take time out. That is really important. Even if it is an hour. Just sit and put down your latte and take a couple of deep breaths at whatever comes your way and take it in your stride. I think you need to be an advocate always and it’s not about standing in front of a mirror saying ‘I’m great, I’m fabulous, I’m wonderful’. It’s about saying ‘hey, relax. We can do better tomorrow. This was just a setback’ or ‘that’s fantastic but I don’t want to get too big a head. Let’s just put this in perspective’. I think listening to that voice. That voice that you know is sticking up for you. That really for me, as I get older and more mature, I’m listening to.
Q: What was your favourite scene in Sex and the City?
Cattrall: There are so many. My favourite scenes are when I was with the girls. I think when Samantha was having chemotherapy and they were all eating popsicles. That was a really sweet scene. They were all there in solidarity and it actually kind of wasn’t happening although it was happening. We were just getting together.
Q: A question on everyone’s lips. Will there be Sex and the City 3?
Cattrall: You know that is a great compliment, even that people want more at this stage. I think the question is, what will the story be? It would be so fantastic to see the girls together but what would they be dealing with? What are the issues?
Q: What do you see coming up through the ranks, as a series, particularly when it comes to women?
Cattrall: Well I’m very focused on women my age and telling those stories. I can see some kind of scenario of women making a family, supporting each other, for whatever reason or women in a different kind of circumstance from having it all to having nothing, or the struggle to be heard. These are all ongoing issues that I think women are dealing with. The election that we are going through right now really reawakens your awareness to being a minority and being unheard, and when you are heard people being incredibly sceptical whether you are telling the truth where there is no gain. This is the reality of what the world is. We sit in a room of mostly women and say ‘ra, ra, yes, we have done a fabulous job’ but there is so much more work to do in any personal way that you can. Yes, it is getting out and voting and showing up and demanding equal rights from our leaders. We have come a long way from even the concept of women’s rights being people’s rights, everyone’s rights but we still have so much more work to do. There are so many more people to educate, not just men but women.
We have come a long way from even the concept of women’s rights being people’s rights, everyone’s rights but we still have so much more work to do. There are so many more people to educate, not just men but women. – Kim Cattrall
Q: The US politics that are surrounding us, even in New Zealand, around the presidential election. How terrified are we at the moment of the climate in America and the Trump supporters?
Cattrall: I recently bought a house in Canada. A lot of my friends are saying ‘how many bedrooms did you say you had?’ It’s terrifying and gobsmacking.
Q: You are one of the judges of Specsavers Spectacle Wearer of the Year competition. What is it going to take to win this competition?
Cattrall: Well I’m only one of the judges but I have a voice. I think we are looking for ‘the contestant’. I want to see who that person is. Their personality, their uniqueness and also having fun. I think it’s part of fashion. I think we take it so seriously, and understandably so because we are so judged by it. Being on the red carpet it looks like a lot of fun, and it is, and it’s exciting because you are being recognised by your peers but at the same time everybody is rating you. What you are wearing, what you are not wearing. What you should have done. It’s like the current presidential debate.
Q: I lot of people want to throw away their glasses and get surgery and all that sort of stuff. You embrace your glasses. What do glasses do for you? Why do you choose to wear glasses?
Cattrall: Well I have really bad eyesight to begin with. I wish it was as simple as just a fashion statement or a mood statement. I’ve worn glasses since I was 10. They were a sign of 10-year-old Kim’s first independence. I got to pick my glasses. My mum didn’t. And they had to fit right and they had little sparkles on the side and I loved them. I still have them. Glasses represented for me part of my development. First of all, I could see better and along the way fashion kind of realised that that might be a way to enthuse women and men to buy more I guess and express themselves more. I love sunglasses because I can disappear, or I can stand out or mingle. I think it has become the ultimate accessory. And again I have to thank Patricia Field for an amazing education about fashion, period, and making the glasses the pinnacle of what the outfit was. That’s what people are looking at. They might check out your shoes but they are looking at your face, they are looking in your eyes and why wouldn’t you want to see that.