Kim Cattrall: ‘Women my age have something to say’
We’ll always have New York, but the actor has gone light years beyond ‘Sex and the City’ with her acclaimed new series, ‘Sensitive Skin’
Most actors, even those of the A-list variety, have little clout when they sign on with one of the movieverse’s mega-franchises. Happily, Kim Cattrall is not most actors.
For her Saturn-winning turn as the treacherous Lt Valeris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Cattrall designed her own hairstyle and even came up with the name. An apocryphal roll of film from the set, in which she reputedly wore nothing more than her pointy Vulcan ears, has not survived.
It’s hard to picture anyone else being quite so insistent with Trek VI’s director, late fellow-Vulcan Leonard Nimoy.
“But I feel that’s part of my job,” says Cattrall. “When I come on a set and I haven’t prepared adequately, that’s the only time I feel nervous. I like being prepared. I like collaboration. If I didn’t, that would make me shit at my job.”
More than 10 years have passed since Cattrall was a small-screen fixture as Sex and the City’s Samantha. By the time that show took its final bow, HBO owed Cattrall big.
She called in the debt in order to star and produce a North American version of the 2005 BBC series Sensitive Skin. The black comedy, which wrings entertainment out of the vagaries and insecurities of middle age and menopause, allows the divine Cattrall to exercise every acting muscle in her pointedly curvy body. She even gets to upstage a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.
“They represent women at different stages,” says Cattrall, laughing. “So what the hell is with them and Moscow?”
Sensitive Skin is a labour of love for the 58-year-old, who in recent years has gotten increasingly vocal about television’s dearth of decent roles for women over 40. Tellingly, a second series has already been commissioned.
“I just felt this is a story that is not being told,” she says. “The original Sensitive Skin came out in 2006 and I just thought: ‘Wow, the fact that this exists is amazing’. Because I’m starting to have these physical manifestations and I don’t know what’s going on. Shit is happening here and nobody is talking about it. Well, I want to talk about it. Women my age have something to say.”
It helps, of course, that Cattrall has drafted in gifted co-stars, including Don McKellar (who also directs) and Elliott Gould. But there’s also a neat bit of psychogeography: the series takes place against Toronto’s newer, hipster-friendly boroughs.
“The city is going through this condo transition,” explains Cattrall. “A sort of architectural middle-age crisis all of its own. So we’re shooting in parts of the city that had never even been photographed before. Because they simply didn’t exist before.”
As soon as she wrapped on the second Sex and the City film, she returned to Liverpool to star in a production of Antony and Cleopatra, at the Playhouse. As one of Liverpool FC’s most famous supporters, she was rewarded when one Steven Gerrard and his wife Alex came to see her in the production.
So she identifies as Scouse?
“Definitely. I have been an outsider for most of my life. Wherever I am I feel part of what’s going on, but also outside of what’s going on. Interesting point of view. I’m not sentimental or nationalistic. In New York, I know I’m not an American. I enjoy my life there. I have friends there. And a lot of my work has been in America. But I don’t feel quintessentially American. Same with Canada.
“But I feel like a Scouser in so many ways. I was born Scouser. All my relatives are Scousers. I haven’t spent all of my life there. But I feel at home there.”
Her Canadian upbringing, meanwhile, could not have been further removed from her current profession.
“The majority of my childhood was spent in a little town in Vancouver Island with a population of less than 5,000 people,”she says. “There was a sawmill. And that was it. Wanting to be an actress was like wanting to be an astronaut. It was so weird. The arts seemed like an indulgence. They weren’t anything to do with real life. They certainly weren’t a way to make a living.”
Undaunted, Cattrall moved to New York at 16 to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. At 17, she was spotted by Otto Preminger, who signed her to a five-year contract, making her one of the last of the studio starlets. Preminger said she reminded him of Marilyn Monroe, “because she couldn’t act”.
Green in the Big Apple
“I arrived in New York on February 26th and I made an audiotape, which I still have. You can hear this little clueless voice. I wasn’t even quite a sprout. More a tiny little seed with something almost poking out of it. Thinking: ‘Oh well. Something’s going to happen here.’ Amazingly, it did.”
Cattrall got early breaks in Preminger’s Rosebud (1975) and episodes of Columbo, Starsky and Hutch, The Incredible Hulk and Charlie’s Angels. Many, many more movies and TV shows followed. But she became a household name playing Hollywood’s go-to hot chick: a kinky gym teacher in Porky’s, a teasingly strict cadet in Police Academy, a cursed Egyptian princess in Mannequin.
“I was really happy to get those jobs and I had great fun doing them,” she says. “Those films were innocent and fun and fantastical. You couldn’t make those kind of films now. Everybody was flying high in the 1980s. But post-2001, it’s another world. Post-2008, it’s another world.
“They also paid my rent. They paid for me to go back to the theatre. Mannequin allowed me to go and do Wild Honey with Ian McKellen on Broadway. That was so exciting. Finally I could do this.”
She has spent most of the past five years treading the boards, most recently as Alexandra Del Lago in Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic.Theatre, she notes, is where the best roles are, unless you have developed them yourself.
It’s a pretty sophisticated professional life for a former sprout.
“Oh no,” she protests. “I’m not at all sophisticated. Never will be. I just have better dinners than I used to.”
The 13th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival will screen episodes of Sensitive Skin in Movies@Dundrum on March 26th at 6.30pm, with Kim Cattrall in attendance. Sensitive Skin begins on Sky Arts on April 1st