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She's
Bringing Sexy Back

She's
            Bringing Sexy Back

“Oh,
my God, look at these prices!” gasps Kim Cattrall,
her eyes bugging in horror at the Four Seasons’
continental breakfast menu. And she’s right --
$30 for lox on a bagel is insane.

But still:
Samantha Jones? Wringing her hands over menu prices?
Shouldn’t she be ordering mimosas with impunity
and fearlessly flirting with our waiter, a Hugo Boss
model with Crest Whitestrips teeth?

Actors encounter
this delusion all the time: the expectation that they
are the character they’re known for -- in
Cattrall’s case, a brazen practitioner of
sexual immoderation. It’s a common enough problem
that using it to open a magazine profile feels a
little clichéd. But for Cattrall, who for six
seasons played a role that is now inked indelibly on
the American consciousness, it’s a bigger issue than
for most. Even I’m a little shocked when our
server turns out not to be a statuesque Hugo Boss
model but a small Asian woman who cries out,
“Anything for you!” when Cattrall asks
for some salt.

“Some
people have that lifestyle,” she says of
Samantha’s “appetite,” as she
calls it. “I don’t. I never have.”
She’ll reassert this fact several times during
our chat -- you get the sense it’s the one point she
really wants to make sure ends up in the article. For
our interview, she’s not even wearing much
makeup, and her shoes look suspiciously comfortable.
Her carefully chosen words are spoken almost sotto voce,
nothing like Samantha’s voice, so sassy-kitten
it’s almost vaudevillian.

“People
book me on jobs and expect Samantha to show up,”
which can be exasperating. Why me? Cattrall must
think. No one expects Kristin Davis to arrive at an
event as a relentlessly sunny type-A husband hunter. For
some reason, Samantha’s personality stubbornly
adheres to its vessel, possibly because it represents
an ideal, the kind of person we like to imagine
there’d be more of, if the world were a different
place. It’s such a powerful persona that
Cattrall refers to Samantha in the third person
without even seeming to notice she’s doing so.
“She has a tremendous fan base,” she
says of her character, as if talking up a colleague.

By “fan
base,” of course, one can deduce to whom she’s
referring. Could Samantha Jones be any gayer? Saucy,
witty, usually single, sexually unabashed, and on the
far side of 40, she’s also the oldest of the four
Sex and the City women by nearly 10 years.
“And definitely the most theatrical,”
Cattrall says. “I think [the producers] wanted her a
little bit older because when she speaks there’s a
life experience there that weighs in.”

In other words,
she’s the very definition of a diva, and as such she
brings a certain wisdom that validates the lifestyle
she’s chosen -- which in turn validates gay men
in their 30s, 40s, and 50s with lifestyles similar to
hers: not settled down, too flamboyant for their age.
In an era where being 40, gay, and not partnered in a civil
union is considered vaguely shameful -- even
“bad for the cause” -- Samantha makes it
seem hip and fantastic.

I ask Cattrall if
she’d recommend marriage to the gays, now that
it’s nominally possible. “You know,
marriage doesn’t work for me. Never did.
I’ve done it a few times” -- three, to be
exact -- “and I didn’t do very well at
it. But I’ve found that for a lot of my friends who
are gay who have gotten married, it means so much to
them to have a marriage that’s an open
celebration. It’s not just an exchange of
rings.”

Samantha’s
age and for that matter Cattrall’s lends her another
appealing attribute: a memory of an era of sexual
decadence.

“I’m a child of the ’60s and
’70s,” Cattrall says. “It was before
the plague, and sexuality wasn’t thought of as
a scary thing. Samantha was like a voice from the
recent past saying, ‘If it feels good, go with it.
Protect yourself, but go with it.’ ”

“Go with
it” was something a lot of gay men were ready to hear
when the show debuted in 1998. Two years earlier Bill
Clinton had signed the Defense of Marriage Act,
defining gay unions as less important than straight
ones in the eyes of the federal government. In 1997, thanks
to the new “cocktail” antiretroviral
therapies, AIDS deaths began falling for the first
time since the syndrome was first publicly recognized 16
years earlier. Had the show existed just a few years before,
when AIDS was a still the very definition of fear, the
character of Samantha would have been a very different
role model -- she might have been glamorous, but her
feral sexuality would have had a tragic lining. By the late
’90s, however, we were embracing a new wave of
sexual liberation, and Samantha’s rejection of
conventional relationships made her the perfect icon
for the era.

“It was
about getting away from the fear-based,” says
Cattrall. “Samantha’s fear base is not
about disease; it’s about intimacy. And a lot
of people” -- she doesn’t mention us
specifically -- “have many sexual partners
because they’re scared of intimacy.” With her
three-ways and her dabbling in same-sex experiences,
Samantha was the show’s most celebratory
character. But she was “also coming to terms with
being kind of a dinosaur,” says Cattrall. When
she finally accepted the role (after turning it down
three times), she wondered, Are people going to
believe that a woman in her 40s has this amount of choice?

For the answer,
one need only look at Cattrall herself, who four years
ago started dating a striking Canadian chef, now 29,
who’d never heard of her when they first met.
They’re still together today. The 51-year-old
recently blasted a journalist who called him her boy toy:
“If he was a toy, I would have put him away a
long time ago,” she says.

For all her
desire to put some distance between herself and Samantha,
there are undeniable parallels. “I’m a woman
of a certain age who doesn’t have kids and
never really settled down,” she says. When she talks
about children, she’s refreshingly unapologetic
about brooking no quarter for them. “I enjoy
kids but not for long periods. I think they’re
adorable and funny and sweet, and then I have a
headache.” And she once told a journalist she
thinks marriage is antithetical to sexual passion.
“My perception is, the times I’ve been
in long-term relationships and not taken care,
there’s been a price to pay, and we start looking
somewhere else because the person next to you in bed
is pissed off.”

But the decision
not to settle down comes with a price of its own, one
many of us are familiar with. “I miss my
girlfriends,” says Cattrall, who laments the
nights out on the town lost to feedings, tantrums, and early
bedtimes. “There’s always an excuse:
Somebody’s tired, somebody hasn’t eaten,
somebody didn’t sleep well, or somebody’s not
feeling well.”

When her third
marriage came apart in 2003, the last season of Sex and
the City
had just wrapped. Cattrall was one of the
highest-profile actors on television. (Of the four
stars, she also turned out to be the second highest in
market value, according to a recent article in
Portfolio, due to lucrative deals with Liz Claiborne
and Bacardi, among others.) She’d just written
a book with her husband, Mark Levinson, the audio
equipment magnate, called Satisfaction: The Art of the
Female Orgasm
. She says the book, ironically, was
meant to separate her from Samantha in the
public’s mind. “Samantha has this great sex
life where she’s in charge, and I would say
that 99% of women don’t have great sex
lives,” she says. “I was playing these
strong-minded women who know what they want and ask
for it…but I wasn’t having orgasms in real
life, and I thought that would be an interesting book
to write, to reveal that that was not who I
was.” But the press didn’t see the nuance.
“It was so titillating to so many people. There
was news that there were nude photographs of my
husband and me in sexual positions, but none of that
happened,” she says. “It wasn’t about
my husband and me doing it. It kind of
backfired.”

The media frenzy
created by the book and Sex and the City’s
conclusion ensured Cattrall’s divorce would be
front-page tabloid fodder, an ordeal she still bridles
about. “When you read about your divorce in
Cindy Adams’s column and it’s between you and
maybe three friends, you feel betrayed,” she
says. (Adams, the New York Post gossip
columnist, had written in the months before the divorce that
Levinson had fallen for “Kim Cattrall the
actress, not necessarily for Kim Levinson the real
woman.”) “It doesn’t matter whether
it’s one person’s point of view against
another’s as to why you’re getting
divorced,” Cattrall says. “It’s
nobody’s fucking business.”

But the tabloids
kept coming. When the show ended, rumors swirled about
an ongoing catfight between Cattrall and the other three
women, particularly Sarah Jessica Parker. People
wanted to know why she didn’t seem friendlier
with them. “Do you get along with your colleagues all
the time?” she asks me. “If
you’re spending 18 hours a day [at work], the
last thing you want to do is go and have a drink with the
people who you just -- you just need to get
away.”

“I think
people had a vested interest in this scenario,” she
continues, referring to the tabloid press.
“That on the show we were best friends, but in
reality there was all this going on. And I think
specifically they wanted to pit Sarah and me against
each other because those characters are so strong. My
character was such a fabulous diva. She’s flamboyant,
and she doesn’t keep her mouth shut.”

Cattrall was
reported to have held up production of the film after the
three other actresses signed on, and she reiterates a number
of reasons for doing so: Her father was diagnosed with
dementia; she couldn’t see the script before
signing; when she did see the script, she didn’t like
it. “I didn’t think it was that great,”
she says. “I’m glad we waited four years
for a much better story line for all four
characters.” And of course, the money. Cattrall
doesn’t dispute that she held out for more, but
she says it wasn’t out of jealousy over
Parker’s higher salary, as was widely reported.
“I never expected to be paid what Sarah was being
paid,” she says. “Sarah’s a producer.
But I felt that the offer was not worthy of what the
three of us had contributed, and I spoke up about it.
You know, my dad was a big union guy. He felt that the
workers should get a part of it.”

She insists that
reports she was only doing the movie for the money took
her words out of context. Still, she’s candid about
the fact that this is her nest egg, and she’s
not getting any younger. “I’m a woman in my
50s. I’m not living with some multimillionaire.
I’m it. Negotiation is about getting more
money, and I think, Would they have a problem with this if I
were a man? You look at James Gandolfini. He stood up and
said, ‘Hey, I’m worth
it.’ ” Her hard line appears to have
worked. In March the Post reported that not only had
Cattrall gotten a raise, but so had Kristin Davis and
Cynthia Nixon, thanks to her bargaining efforts.
“Enough said” is all she’ll say in
response to that. “It’s like,
‘Oh, don’t make any waves. Just be a good girl
and take it.’ And you know, I’m happy
with my deal, ultimately. I feel like I stuck my neck
out. I fought. I don’t ever want to be on a set where
I feel undervalued.”

As if we needed
another reason to love her. These sorts of conflicts may
gin up the rumor mill, but Cattrall seems willing to
sacrifice the sash of Miss Congeniality. Her life is
about being a walking misconception -- people assume
she’s a bitch because she held out for more money, or
a nympho because of her character’s sex drive.
She thinks maybe this is one more way she’s
like a gay man. “There’s a preconception that
people have when they meet me, and I think a lot of
gay people have to deal with that on a daily
basis,” she says. “You see a beautiful actress
on TV, and you immediately think, Oh, she’s
just a dumb blond.
You see someone sexual and
you think, She’s a slut; she’s a whore.
People like these kinds of labels.”

But Cattrall is
an example of the contradiction in all actors -- and of
how inescapable playing those roles is in shaping
one’s own life. In fact, she has one more story
that best sums up how Kim is never really that far
from Samantha.

“You know,
when you’re at the fish counter at Citarella and a
man comes up to you and says, ‘I really have to
thank you. You made it easier for me and my daughter
to have a conversation about oral sex,’ you
don’t really want to be at the fish counter
anymore. It’s not the kind of conversation you
normally want to have. It kind of takes you out of your
day.”

I tell her I
can’t believe someone would walk up to a stranger and
start discussing oral sex, and Kim Cattrall shares my
indignation. “Yes! He did!” she cries,
affronted.

And then Samantha
says, “And you know what? He was kind of
cute.”

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