20 Questions WithÖKim Cattrall
Date: 17 January 2005
Sex & the City star Kim Cattrall, who makes her West End debut this month in Whose Life Is It Anyway?, explains how Christopher Reeve inspired her performance as a paraplegic & why she feels sheís come home, to theatre & the UK.
Though best known for her award-winning role as femme fatale Samantha Jones in the seminal television series Sex and the City, British-born actress Kim Cattrall has had a long and diverse career.
At the age of 16, she won a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and, upon graduation, signed a five-year film contract. Her early credits included roles in hit screwball comedies such as Porkyís and Police Academy.
Amongst her many other films are Rosebud, Deadly Harvest, City Limits, Big Trouble in Little China, Mannequin, Masquerade, Midnight Crossing, The Return of the Musketeers, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Split Second, Breaking Point, Above Suspicion, Unforgettable, Live Nude Girls, The Devil and Daniel Webster, 15 Minutes, Crossroad, Brian DePalmaís film version of Tom Wolfeís The Bonfire of the Vanities and the upcoming Ice Princess.
In addition to Sex and the City, sheís also been seen on stage in, amongst other things, The Heidi Chronicles, Sins of the Past, The Rebels, Double Vision, Angel Falls, Running Delilah, Every Womanís Dream and Oliver Stoneís mini-series Wild Palms.
On stage, Cattrallís previous credits include A View from the Bridge, Three Sisters, Miss Julie and The Misanthrope. She made her Broadway debut opposite Ian McKellen in the National Theatre transfer of Wild Honey.
She is now making her West End debut in Peter Hallís revival of Whose Life Is It Anyway? at the Comedy Theatre. Originally seen in London in 1978 with Tom Conti (and filmed in 1981 with Richard Dreyfuss), Brian Clarkís Ďright to dieí play subsequently transferred to Broadway where it was re-written for Mary Tyler Moore. In this updated version, Cattrall plays Claire Harrison, a sexy sculptor, now contemplating her future after a paralysing road accident.
Date & place of birth
Born 21 August 1956 in Liverpool.
American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Lives now inÖ
I live in New York City. Iím staying in Chelsea while Iím in London.
First big break
There have been so many. Of course, later in my career, Sex and the City was a huge break. Early on, some of the films I did, even the crazy teen comedies, were breaks because they enabled me to live so that I could do more theatre. Anybody who hired me, anybody who I thought was a good director or who gave me a script I liked, gave me breaks. Each job I got, I consider a break, even though they may not have been successful, probably more so then. Being an actor is about always learning. The home runs are great, but you often learn more from the others. I consider paying my dues very important.
Career highlights to date
Working with Ian McKellen. Working with Brian DePalma. And with Richard Lester and now Peter Hall. Those have all been highlights and so many more. I look back on my body of work and think how fortunate Iíve been to work with so many talented people. Even something like doing a Star Trek movie was thrilling because I watched the show on TV when I was a kid.
Youíre now most closely associated with the role of Samantha Jones from Sex and the City. How difficult is it to break away from Samantha type-casting?
I donít really want to break away from Samantha Jones. There are things in almost every character you play that resound. The strength and courage of Samantha resounds with me. Sheís an individual and a survivor. I feel that Iím those things too. With all the parts I play, I want to embody really positive qualities about women and I see some of those in Samantha. Do I always want to play women as sexually experimental and as voracious as Samantha? No, although I know that Samantha has done a lot for women, especially older women, and their sexual freedom. She allows them to say, ďhey, sex is still a part of my life - I want to have it, enjoy it and express it.Ē Despite being paralysed, Claire Harrison in Whose Life Is It Anyway? is still a sexual being, too, and also very strong, courageous and brave, like Samantha. I want to continue to play those kinds of women. I wonít ever say no to a role just because it has shades of Samantha. And I donít mind people identifying me with Samantha because sheís such a positive character. But thereís a clear definition of Kim versus Samantha. For me and people who know me, itís never blurry.
Itís difficult. My favourite leading man is always the one Iím playing opposite at the moment because weíve found out how to work with each other. Itís the same with directors.
Iíve done a lot of Chekhov. There is no bad role in a Chekhov. Whether youíre the landlord or the scullery maid, each part is so beautifully realised. Chekhov gives each one such humanity. Shakespeare, of course. Ibsen, Strindberg, Moliere, Shaw, I could go on. And I think Brian Clark has written a wonderful play here.
What roles would you most like to play still?
Iíd very much like to do Cleopatra, either on stage or screen. Itís probably more likely on stage. Thereís not as much ageism in theatre because the illusion is greater. There are many more Iíd like to do and I would like to do more in London, too.
Whatís the last thing you saw on stage that you really?
The last show I saw here was Democracy, which I enjoyed very much. Michael Frayn did the translation of Wild Honey that I was in. Heís wonderful.
Why brings you back to theatre as an actor?
The immediacy of it. With TV and film, thereís always another take. Theatre is alive and thrilling and much more invigorating. I love what happens in the rehearsal room and how, once you start performances, the audience becomes part of the company and teaches you even more about the play. Itís a never-ending process of experimentation working on a play. I kind of feel like Iím in a lab, mixing and testing different chemicals and solutions. I also like to come back to theatre to get scripts with more than two weeks in the oven. Iím not saying television scripts are bad, but theyíre written so quickly, they donít have the years to mature.
What would you advise the government Ė British or American - to secure the future of theatre?
Itís shocking to me that we donít have a National Theatre in the States. I think thatís such a shame, especially when I look at the other budgets Ė for defense, for instance, not that we donít need that. Theatre should not just be spectacle. Whatís so enjoyable about plays like Democracy and Whose Life Is It Anyway? is that theyíre tales that resound with real people. This has happened or could happen to any one at any time. Yes, theatre should entertain, but it should also provoke and make you think. Itís an art form I donít ever want to lose touch with.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
I think Iíd be Lilly Langtry (the British actress and mistress of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII; 1853-1929). I love her because she was such an individual, a bit of an outsider, and such a strong, independent lady, with a lust for life, which I also have.
The Way of All Women by M Esther Harding. She was a disciple of Carl Jung, and this book is a guidebook that takes you through every stage of a womanís life. It really helped me understand what Iím going through as a woman in my forties.
Favourite holiday destinations
My beach house in East Hampton. Thereís nowhere else I want to be.
If you hadnít become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
I think I would have been a writer Ė maybe eventually plays but certainly short stories. Iíve written them in the past. And I continue to write. Iíve just been working on my new documentary Sexual Intelligence (which follows the 2003 release of Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm, a book co-written with her former husband). But thatís a different type of writing. I love the discipline of creative writing but I just havenít had the time.
Why did you want to accept your part in this production of Whose Life Is It Anyway?
Iíve been wanting to work with Peter Hall for a very long time. We met years ago when I was doing Wild Honey for the National Theatre, with Ian McKellen in Los Angeles and New York. Peter and I wanted to do A Streetcar Named Desire but the dates never worked. We lost the rights to that but he kept sending me other plays. This is the one I wanted to do. Iím known for playing such a physical and sexual free spirit in a TV series and yet, in Whose Life, hereís a woman whoís confined to a bed, unable to move, but whoís also very feisty and sexual. I thought itíd be interesting to turn that image of me upside down.
Why did you want to perform in London in particular?
It was a combination of a lot of things. I was born in Britain and raised by British parents in a Commonwealth country (Canada). I lived here for year in late Sixties and have always felt very much at home. My first theatregoing experience was in the West End - a production of Oscar Wildeís The Importance of Being Earnest at Her Majestyís when I was about ten Ė and the reason I originally wanted to be an actress was to be on stage. So to perform here is the realisation of a dream. But the production is here because Peter is here and the producer Sonia Friedman is here and here is where they wanted to do it.
Clark wrote two versions of this play Ė changing the lead from male to female. What extra dimensions do you think playing the protagonist as female brings to it?
Peter and Brian and I have talked about this. I think it resounds in a different way. The fact that itís a woman still of child-bearing age and in a relationship when the accident happens adds a poignancy to it. But in general, I think it resounds because women are closer to the ground and more in touch with nature than men. I like that Claire is sexy and so inappropriate at times. That kind of behaviour from a woman was probably more shocking 30 years ago. Men have always been able to talk about sex and to make double entendres, but now a woman can also do that without being looked at askance. That kind of freedom is something I feel very strongly about.
Have you, or one of your loved ones, ever been seriously injured yourself?
Christopher Reeve was a dear friend of mine. I hosted his 50th birthday celebration. We first met 11 years ago when we were doing a film (Above Suspicion) in which he pretended to be a man who was a paraplegic. The first day we met, he had just come back from a rehabilitation centre where heíd talked to paraplegics and we talked about how that must feel. Within a year, he had the horseback riding experience which paralysed him. It was devastating because he was such an athlete, such an alive man, and suddenly, in seconds, his life was transformed. Also, my best friend from high school suffered a massive stroke eight years ago, and she went from being an able-bodied person to disabled. Both of them chose to live. Both had marriages and children and I think that was a huge ingredient in their decision. But Iíll never forget waiting in the emergency room after my friendís stroke with the doctors asking ďwhat do you want to do if she doesnít wake up?Ē.
What are your own views on assisted suicide in such situations?
I donít think anyone can really answer that question unless theyíve been diagnosed with a terminal disease or had a paralysing accident. I do, however, want the right to choose.
Whatís your favourite line from Whose Life Is It Anyway?
Itís in the courtroom when the judge who asks if it wouldnít be cruel for society to just kill someone. And I say, ďItís not about saving someone or allowing them to die. Itís that the choice is removed from the person concerned.Ē
Whatís the funniest/oddest/most notable thing that happened during rehearsals?
There have been many things. I have a scene where I need a respirator and occasionally the strap gets more in my mouth than the respirator itself. Peter has assembled a wonderful cast of actors around me. I feel very at home with them and protected. It feels like a company fighting the fight. And really there is no bad person in the play. Each character feels strongly about whatís the right thing to do. Itís right fighting right.
What are your plans for the future?
I formed Fertile Ground productions two and half years ago. Sexual Intelligence is our first release. Itís a 90-minute documentary - for HBO, Channel Four and Discovery Canada. Weíre almost finished editing. Itíll be aired here in September and will have an accompanying book. And Iíve bought the rights to Clifford Odetsí play The Country Girl, which Iím having updated. I would like to do it as a teleplay. Iíve also got a film out in March, Disneyís Ice Princess.
Anything else youíd like to add?
This experience with Whose Life Is It Anyway? has been amazing. Iím so glad I came home to the theatre. I feel so happy to be there.
Whose Life Is It Anyway? opens on 25 January 2005 (previews from 7 January) at the West Endís Comedy Theatre, where its limited season is booking to 30 April.