Kim Cattrall: Sex symbol
She is famous for starring in Sex and the City, but Kim Cattrall tells Evan Fanning how she’s ready to leave man-hungry Samantha behind
Kim Cattrall fires the question straight back when asked if she is constantly expected to be the real-life incarnation of Sex and the City's Samantha: “What do you think?”. There is only one answer.
“I go to Wimbledon and they say I bring sex to Wimbledon. I'm just sitting there having a sandwich watching the game. What I'm looking at is Kimiko from Japan playing a fantastic game against Venus Williams. That was an exciting moment to be there. I'm not thinking about anything else.”
But sex and Cattrall have gone together long before Samantha was devouring men in trendy Manhattan bars. Her early film career reads like the video collection of a teenage boy in the Eighties. There were roles in movies such as Police Academy (as the sexy new cadet), Mannequin (as the sexy mannequin that comes to life) or Porky's (as the sexy cheerleader). You can see the pattern.
“When I was younger, the choices I made, whether it was Porky's or Police Academy or Big Trouble in Little China, they were all supplementing my theatre career, whether I was in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto or wherever,” she says. “I didn't come from any kind of financial stability, so my work in television or film was supporting my theatre habit.” She smacks the vein on her wrist as she says this.
“I was glad to do them and I never really took it too seriously, and I thought, ‘Well, yes, I'm being sexualised but that's ok. I'm making a living at it, it's fine, these films are fun and I'm learning a little bit in front of the camera.'.”
Then came the series that changed her life and that of her three co-stars. For six years, Sex and the City was on the air and Cattrall's story arc, from voracious man-eater to middle-aged woman battling cancer with grace and wit became the most honest and real narrative it possessed. And unlike other shows, they knew when to quit and got out while it was still at its peak, something the producers forgot about by going back for whatever money was left on the table in two ghastly movies.
In life, the 54-year-old has embraced Samantha's persona, even if she claims to be frustrated by it. In a radio interview from Wimbledon the previous day, she pored over Rafael Nadal as he warmed up for his game. “He's a panther,” she exclaimed. It could easily have been Samantha cooing over the tennis player.
She wrote a book with her now ex-husband Mark Levinson (the third former Mr Kim Cattrall) called Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm. She's appeared in countless ads playing up to the character and her latest serious relationship — at least as far as the public is aware — was with Alan Wyse, a chef 20 years her junior. It's hard to know where Samantha ends and Cattrall begins.
In her latest film, Meet Monica Velour, Cattrall plays a former porn star living in a white-trash trailer park and fighting a nasty battle for custody of her daughter. Monica is pursued and harassed by a teenage boy, who idolises the woman he's seen in the cheesy, low-budget Eighties porn flicks, to such an extent that he's blinded to the reality of her current situation.
“When I read the script, my agent said, ‘You're not going to want to do this because it's about sex again’,” Cattrall says. “I said, ‘Really? Well, I don't think it's really about sex. I think this is a feminist film, which is also a comedy, which is about a woman fighting for the custody of her daughter. Sex is the least that this is about. It's about sexualisation and marginalisation, but it's not about sex.'.”
It's safe to say that Cattrall threw herself into the role and, by the very fact that she agreed to do it, the film got the money it needed to be made. She paid for rehearsal rooms, and forked out $250 a time for a “not very good massage” from a masseuse, who the director Keith Bearden felt had the right kind of gravelly voice from drinking and smoking too much that they wanted for the character. Cattrall was happy to spend the money to absorb her cadence.
“It terrified me much more than any of the other roles I've taken on because I wasn't going to look sexy and pretty,” says Cattrall. “But it was fantastic. It really was. I have a huge appetite and my body-type is heavier than I am right now, so to be that 20 pounds extra was heaven. I loved eating and putting it on. I savoured every bit of it, with wonderful meals and crap meals, and McDonald's and chips — whatever I wanted.”
Her portrayal of Monica is, without question, the best film performance of her career. She is immensely proud of it.
She talks a lot about the decisions she has made, the life-choices she has embraced since Sex and the City finished in 2004. Six years working on a TV show and a pattern for living emerged. Once the show ended, her co-stars went their separate ways (Sarah Jessica Parker towards a series of turgid
romcoms, while Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon have bounced around making the occasional television and film appearance) and Cattrall looked into the abyss and decided to challenge herself once more. She was born in Liverpool before her family emigrated to Canada when she was an infant. With uncertainty in front of her, “home” was calling.
“Initially when the series ended, I was really tired and exhausted, and I really wanted to go home, and home to me has been two places — it has been Canada and England. Sir Peter Hall asked me to do a play in the West End. He's asked me to do many plays, but I was never available because of the series, so I thought I'm going to go back to what I know, which is the theatre. I'm going to go back home, where I have family and support, and I'm just going to get away from what my life has been for the past eight years.
“I'm so glad I did it, because it gave me a tremendous amount of support and courage, some sort of objectivity about how I wanted the rest of my life to be, the kind of choices and the kind of actress I wanted to be, and where the next block of 20 or 30 years my career could go. The feeling of if not now, when?
“I was fortunate enough to do [Sex and the City] and be financially secure enough to be able to make those kind of choices as well, and I'm very grateful for that.” She knocks on wood as she says this.
“But it wasn't easy and I didn't know if a lot of people would get it or understand it or criticise it. I didn't know if I'd succeed, but it was better than staying where I was.”
She tells how she was thrilled to be described recently as “a bungee-jumping actress” bouncing up and down on a rope not knowing exactly where she is going to land. “It has been a terrific dive and, fortunately, I have landed on my feet, like a cat, each time.”
As she tells these stories, Cattrall speaks in a quiet, but breathless manner. In person, she is far less outgoing than Samantha. There's a strange sense of fragility about her, even
though much of the conversation is about her empowerment and that of others. You could almost imagine her as a Fifties movie star — the kind portrayed in films as lying on a chaise longue with a mask over her eyes to protect the light from piercing her delicate mind, although maybe I've just fallen for that sense of timeless glamour she is trying to portray.
She is also incredibly beautiful, far more striking in person than on screen and, in what is unusual for an actress of her age — or even one 10 years her junior — she doesn't appear to have had any work done. But the pressure and expectation to look good in an industry she seems to adore and loathe in equal measure is something she is very aware of. Dressed in a Michael Kors print-dress and high heels, she, while not quite stick-thin, is not far off it.
“I am a child of the Jane Fonda generation, so I've been on a diet since 1974, so it's business as usual. I don't sleep well, so if I exercise I sleep better. That's just the way it is. I like to look fit, I'm single, I'm dating, I want to be attractive, but at the same time there is going to be a point where I say I'm tired. I just want a hamburger and fries; I don't want to work out anymore.”
Meet Monica Velour may be a vehicle to show exactly what she still has to offer as an actress. “I chose to make Monica Velour and other people chose not to,” she says. “I want to continue to have a career, I want to continue to age, I want to continue to have a voice in some way and so I keep working.”
It's not hard to imagine that the “other people” she refers to are her former co-stars. Cattrall was said to be the one who refused to do the movie until better terms were agreed, which brought her, Davis and Nixon into line with what Jessica Parker was being paid. She got her way. I imagine she usually does.
“The industry had made me a really good businesswoman,” she says proudly. It has given her a voice “to speak about issues, mostly women's issues, sexually and otherwise”.
That hasn't come easily. “There were so many times in my career where I could have said, ‘This is too hard and I don't want to do it.' It's a really hard, f***ing lonely job in a lot of ways. It's great — the highs and lows, you work, you don't work. Are you going to be able to pay your rent? Are you good enough? Are you not good enough? Are you pretty enough? Are you smart enough? Are you all these things?
“We go through these things as human beings every day, but when you are in the public eye and a known entity, you're supposed to be beyond that, you're supposed to have that together. But sometimes you're just a person in a hotel room who can't go out.”
This may be just one of the struggles Cattrall faces in an industry she has battled with in one way or another for 30 years. As usual, it's a battle she is winning.
“Someone once said to me that having heat in Hollywood is like having a little fire in Alaska on a snowy night. You don't know how long it's going to last. You just fan the flames and hope it keeps going.”
Kim Cattrall's fire may just have had some more wood thrown on it.
Meet Monica Velour is available on DVD