Kim Cattrall 'I'm more vital and have more energy than I've ever had'
With charisma and confidence, Kim Cattrall made it okay for women of a certain age to look sexy. Now she's intent on preparing them for the next life phase
When Sex and the City was filmed throughout the 1990s and noughties every one of its six seasons was shot in the sweltering summer heat of New York. As the show's resident sexpot (and some would say de facto star) Samantha, Kim Cattrall basked in the city's oven-like temperatures - what better excuse, after all, to have the character sashay down the sidewalk in strapless office wear. On the afternoon we speak, however, Cattrall is staring bleakly out from her tiny Long Island beach cabin, which she bought the year Sex and the City first aired, onto a frozen bay. "The seagulls this morning were smashing their shells onto the rocks", she tells me in that familiar, slightly grand purr. "There's ice everywhere. I feel like I'm in the Antarctic, but it's really magical, really beautiful."
If the setting seems unlikely for fans of her most famous role then they might also do a double take at her newest venture - an American reimagining of Sensitive Skin, the 2005 drama which starred Joanna Lumley in the role now reprised by Cattrall. It deals with a married woman, Davina, who is going through the menopause and coping with all the physical and emotional changes that brings. And while Samantha mournfully (and hilariously) described herself as "day old bread", during that period in her own life, Davina, and by extension Cattrall, take a more thoughtful approach. "Until recently we just called this 'the change' because it was so awful. There has been a lot of fear and lack of understanding. Physically there are huge changes, it's unmistakable, it can feel like being put in a vat of hot water. But what's even more pronounced, I found, was that your own individuality changes, you have all these sorts of awakenings that happen."
It almost sounds like a pitch for Sex and the City 3: Hot Flushes in the City. Or perhaps that would be too close to the bone for the show's stars. The judgments and pressures that go with impending old or middle age are of course heightened for a figure like Cattrall, who is known for her looks, her physical comedy skills and her megawatt screen sexuality. She tells me that the feeling that she might be washed up long predated Sex and the City. "I noticed that all of a sudden I was playing people's mom. I thought, this is interesting, I had never played a character who had children but in a very visual medium like television things change quickly."
She would later say that she became "ageist against myself" and five years later, when she was offered Sex and the City, she repeatedly turned it down because she felt she was too old to pull off Samantha's brashly sexual antics. "If everyone tells you something, and your job starts telling you something and that appears to be where everyone is with this subject, then you do start to think to yourself 'why can't I get on the bandwagon with this whole thing', she explains. "It wasn't one that I wanted to be on, however. I'm more vital and have more concentration and have more energy than I ever had. I feel those things have come to me through a lot of hard work and tough decisions and, really, longevity. And I thought if I go down that route of accepting that I'm past it where will that lead me? I'd always wanted to be just where I am, but society frowned on that because I didn't have x numbers of kids. I have a lot of questions about midlife because it's something that I am going through myself. Before I got to middle age I'd never looked at life in terms of it being finite, but I think there's certain events, like middle age or losing a parent, that make you re-evaluate everything."
Cattrall's own father was diagnosed with dementia after the final Sex and the City aired, and he died in 2012. "I thought the dementia was going to be a preparation for what ultimately happened but it wasn't," she tells me. "He eventually died of pneumonia, the old man's friend as they call it, and he died peacefully. But his death did not come as a peaceful moment for me. No matter what your relationship is with a parent you never truly get over it." She had You'll Never Walk Alone, the Liverpool FC anthem, played by a violinist at his funeral.
Cattrall was born in Liverpool. Her mother Gladys was a secretary, and her father Dennis was a construction worker. When she was an infant, he brought them to Canada in search of work. "It was a tough beginning in life", she says. "Like all immigrants they did not have it easy. They had no safety net, they had to make it work. And they did. When we first arrived my dad was delivering eggs, phonebooks, anything he could to make ends meet. We washed in gas stations, that's how we did it, and I was a baby at the time. I am very cognisant of their struggle to give us a better life."
And Cattrall would go on to lead a singular life. She left Canada at just 16 to study acting in New York City. When she graduated, aged 17, she was signed on a five-year contract to Otto Preminger's famous studio where, along with Jamie Lee Curtis, she was the last of the contract players. She made her debut in 1975 in Rosebud, alongside Peter O'Toole and over the following years she would forge an enviable, if not quite A-list, career.
On screen, she smouldered but off-screen her romantic history was somewhat more complicated. Her first marriage came at 19 to another Canadian actor, Larry Davis, and was annulled. Seven years later she married Andre J Lyson and she would later say that their unfulfilling sex life was part of the reason they split up. Things seemed to improve on that score by the time she met her third husband, Mark Levinson, whom she married at 42.
They wrote a book together in 2002 called Satisfaction: The Art Of The Female Orgasm. They divorced not long after, however. There's a scene in Sensitive Skin in which the central character talks about the little signs that a woman is about to leave her marriage - "first the hair (changes) then the husband" - I wonder aloud if Cattrall noticed a similar thing with men? "Oh sure", she laughs dryly. "Sometimes a man will start to take a renewed interest in his appearance after a few years and you'll think 'wait a minute …'
She counts former REM frontman Michael Stipe amongst her friends. Her four Sex and the City co-stars - not so much. "I work abroad a lot and when I am in the city I'm working on producing", she tells me. "I barely see my close friends. I considered them more my colleagues, if I saw them I would be pleased to see them."
So there's no truth in the story that there was tension between herself and Sarah Jessica Parker because she was not offered enough money for the first Sex and the City movie? "Not that I am aware of, no", she begins carefully. "Sarah and I have always liked each other. We've always worked very hard together. But to have this perception that everyone is buddy buddy and lives in each other's pockets, that's fantasy. I take it as a great compliment, however, that an audience would want that because it's a reflection of how real what we portrayed on the screen was. Another element (of not being friends with them) is that I don't have kids and all three of my Sex and the City co-stars have kids." She's previously said that she regretted not having children, but today she seems a bit more philosophical about this aspect of her life. "I did want children", she tells me. "But ... I don't feel like I missed something because I didn't change nappies."
As for marrying again, she can't see it happening: "I think I am married because I'm married to these projects and I make them because I care a lot about women. I'm closer to women than I ever have been to men, I come from a long line of very strong women and especially now it becomes a question of how do you want to spend the remaining time that you have. That's what it's all about for me now."
- Sensitive Skin begins on Sky Arts on April 1. The 13th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival takes place March 19-29. The Festival will screen episodes of Sensitive Skin in Movies@Dundrum on March 26 at 6.30pm, with Kim Cattrall in attendance. For tickets for this event and many more go to jdiff.com