On a gloomy Monday morning in New York City, Kim Cattrall sits in front of a vanity mirror as the members of her glam team—one for her face, one for her hair, one for her nails, and one for her clothes—poke, prod, gloss, comb, powder, tuck, paint, and pull her in every direction. Cattrall is unfazed. “I’m good at multitasking,” she admits. “You were saying?”
I’d been cut off mid-sentence by an interjecting powder brush while attempting to discuss parallels between the 54-year-old actor and Samantha Jones, the libidinous character she embodied for six seasons on HBO’s seminal series Sex and the City. It’s a routine question, and one she’s prepared to discuss before the words even escape my mouth. “People have a tendency to associate everything I do with Samantha, but that’s not me,” she says. “Samantha is a fictional character who lives in a pretend Oz in New York City.” And in truth, Cattrall doesn’t sound like Samantha, she doesn’t carry herself like Samantha, and she certainly doesn’t say things like, “I will wear whatever and blow whomever I want as long as I can breathe and kneel.” Still, after six seasons and two movies, the comparisons are inevitable.
Her frustration over their reductive urge to equate is obvious—“People want you to be the characters you play on TV because then they know how to deal with you,” she says—which might explain her enthusiasm for first-time director Keith Bearden’s darkly comic film, Meet Monica Velour, in which Cattrall plays Linda Romanoli, a washed-up porn star whose career peaked with films such as Welcome Back, Harder and Saturday Night Beaver, struggling to find a way out of her dead-end life. Her costar, newcomer Dustin Ingram, plays Tobe, a teenage outcast and Linda’s biggest fan. Driving an inherited hot-dog truck, Tobe sojourns from his home in Washington state to the Petting Zoo, a low-rent strip club in Indiana, to meet his idol. When he arrives at the club, Tobe finds Linda, known to her fans as Monica Velour, dancing in cheap lingerie and clear plastic heels to the song “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” by Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack. Cattrall, who gained 20 pounds for the role, flosses her crotch with a white elbow-length glove, her outdated dance moves stiff and maladroit despite their seductive intentions. The frat-boy hecklers in the front row make the scene difficult to watch: “Damn, someone ordered off the senior’s menu,” says one of them to his laughing friends. “I think someone’s got Depends on under there.”
Meet Monica Velour is fiction, of course, and yet it hugs the edge of reality. After all, it wasn’t long ago that Ricky Gervais, during his much-ballyhooed hosting gig at the Golden Globe Awards earlier this year, lobbed similarly snide remarks at Cattrall and her Sex and the City costars, suggesting that their faces were in need of “CGI special effects.” Remembering his gibes, she says, laughing, “He’s shooting arrows at women, and he’s how old? What an overfed, slimy individual.”
For over three decades, Cattrall has portrayed women in films like The Bonfire of the Vanities (skinny, beautiful woman), Mannequin (plastic, beautiful woman), and Police Academy (feisty, beautiful woman), but more recently, she’s been drawn to gutsier roles, from an aide to a disgraced British Prime Minister in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, to Cleopatra in a stage production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra last fall at the Liverpool Playhouse. Cattrall’s deepening hunger for more substantial parts seems to suggest she might have an answer to the mystery of growing older in the public eye. Instead, she has a question of her own: “Where does one go to age?”
It’s the morning after the Academy Awards, and as she prepares for a decidedly unfussy photo shoot, Cattrall is amiable and relaxed, devoid of the diva behavior that supposedly swirled about the SATC set. It’s clear that Cattrall is friendly, yet when it comes to work, she likes to keep things simple. “It’s a job,” she says. “I don’t have to be close to the people I work with. Bankers don’t want to go home and balance their checkbooks.” Audiences, she explains, had invested so much into the friendships of those characters that “they expected it to be real life.”
Meeting expectations, as it turns out, is not Cattrall’s forte. “As a woman, you always symbolize something to someone,” she says. “People interview me and they’re looking at my face, not into my eyes. They’re looking around my eyes. I can see that they’re not listening to me.” At this moment, her gaze couldn’t be more direct. “For once, with Meet Monica Velour, I got to experience how wonderful it is to not have to look a certain way—I didn’t have to be sexy.” Most actors shy away from roles that focus on age and call attention to wrinkles and a flabby physique, but Cattrall was thrilled to let herself go. “I did this film because it scared me,” she says. “Growing up, I was a cute kid, then I was a pretty young girl, then a pretty woman, then a beautiful woman—what comes after that? A lot of actors my age won’t take a role if it comes with a 20-year-old son.” She considers, for a moment, naming names, but restrains herself. “It frightens me, too, but that’s the inevitable next step.”
Possibly due to continued public ribbing about the aging SATC stars, or that last year’s big-screen sequel was met with critical hostility (along with her three costars, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon, Cattrall took home the award for worst actress at this year’s Razzies), there has been talk of replacing the four leads with a younger group of women, including Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively, in a rumored prequel. She calls the buzz “interesting,” and just to make sure we get her drift, she adds, “I don’t know who Blake Lively is.” After a considerable pause, she continues. “The original show did so much for its generation. I just hope, no matter what direction they decide to go with it, that we don’t slide backwards, that we don’t lose the work the show did.”
On the topic of having work done, we find ourselves discussing the Sex and the City 2 movie poster, and the barrage of ridicule it received for its post-production treatment. “Like they don’t airbrush men? Trees? The sky?” She brings up a surprising comment made on NPR’s weekly quiz show, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! “They were talking about chickens and somehow connected it to ‘those four old chickens from Sex and the City.’ What a sexist thing to say!” Her mild-mannered tone begins to deepen. “Would you say that about someone who was black? Would you say it about a man? Is it because women don’t stand up, because we don’t say anything?” Consciously or not, Cattrall just has.
“I used to think that when I finally reached this age, I would have to armor up, but I don’t feel that way anymore,” she says. Instead she has chosen to do battle by making smart films. “I consider 50 to be young. People are living so much longer, and besides, I don’t think I look 50. I take really great care of myself.” True to her word, at the end of Cattrall’s photo shoot, she was given the choice to either have her pictures slightly retouched or shellacked and shined like a Cadillac. Her response: “Fuck it. Leave it all in.”
Dress by Chanel. Bracelets by Kenneth Jay Lane.
Top picture: Jacket by Burberry London. Tank by Helmut Lang Pants by Fendi. Second picture: Earrings (worn on jacket lapel) by Kenneth Jay Lane. Jeweled bracelet (worn as a pocket Square) by Swarovski.
Photography by Kate Orne. Styling by Paolo Neddu. Hair by Ryan Trygstad @ The Milton Agency using L’Oreal Professionel. Makeup by Nick Barose @ Exclusive Artists using Laura Mercier manicurist Julie Kandelac @ artistsbytimothypriano .com. Photo assistant: Maria Karas. Fashion Assistants Gina Donnelly and Jahil Fisher. Tech :Kotaro Kawashima. Location Tribeca Skyline Studios, New York City.