Sarah Jessica Parker can’t take her eyes away from the view. Central Park, in all of its green, springtime glory, looks like a mere patch of grass from the 36th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where journalists from around the country have gathered in large, high-ceilinged rooms to talk sex with the women who revolutionized it.
Perched nervously at the edge of her chair, Parker looks more like a strange, exotic bird than the very Manhattan creature that is her alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw. Her impossibly tiny frame is dressed in gray silk ruffles that could pass as feathers; her piercing blue eyes are painted dark and eerie with raven shadow. When she speaks, her voice is a chirp.
“I’m not the person that Carrie Bradshaw is at all,” she said quietly, twirling a lock of hair around her finger.
While this may be true, it’s a hard concept for many to swallow. During its six-year run on HBO, Sex and the City accomplished a lot. In addition to making it more acceptable for women to speak honestly and frankly about sex, the show stood at the forefront of many social and fashion movements and influenced an entire generation of young, city-dwelling, cocktail-sipping singles.
It also established Parker and her co-stars as veritable icons – and made their names synonymous with those of their characters. In the eyes of the fans, Parker and Carrie are one in the same.
May 30 marks the U.S. premiere of the Sex and the City movie, a big-screen reprisal of Carrie’s life in the Big Apple with her three best friends, Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and her new fiancé, the ever-charming Mr. Big (Chris Noth).
Set four years after the show’s finale, the film finds each character older but not necessarily wiser, and follows them as they journey from New York City’s Fashion Week to the Mexico of Montezuma’s Revenge, from just-married happiness to just-scorned heartbreak, from single to taken and back again.
The movie was a labor of love for cast and crew alike, a reunion of sorts that they didn’t expect to see after the series ended. The excitement is palpable. Parker and the others can barely sit still, they’re so eager to show their baby to the world.
“It’s a movie about being a grown-up,” Parker said. “It’s about understanding your disappointments. And it’s about friendship. Friends are necessary and vital, but when you’re 40 and you lose out in love or romance or work, your friends are there and they can distract you for a little while, but not like when you’re 20. When you’re 40, you have to figure it out on your own. You have to fix things for yourself.”
The friendships extend beyond the screen. Parker is about to answer a question when Davis runs in and throws her arms around her, squeezing her tight.
“I haven’t seen you all day!” she said.
Later, while Davis is in the hot seat, Cattrall pokes her head in, and she and Davis exchange the smiles of longtime partners in crime.
“Could you please share this with people?” Davis asked, an exasperated edge to her voice.
In pure Charlotte style, she’s clean-faced and tailored, dressed in a beige-and-cream suit fit for a Park Avenue Princess.
“Because it’s out of control, the rumors about us not getting along,” Davis said. “There was a time when we went around and tried to explain, but nobody listened to us. It doesn’t sell magazines, I guess.”
In spite of the outfit, Davis is a far cry from Charlotte, the sweetest, most naïve and most conservative of the bunch. Darkly funny and fiercely opinionated, she carries her New York attitude like a designer bag – with pride.
“It’s nice to play a hopeful character, because I’m certainly not as hopeful as she is,” Davis said with a dry laugh. “There are times when I feel downright cynical. And I think her tenacity has been helpful for me. I’m pretty tenacious anyway. I think all actors are, but she’s really stubborn. She’s like a dog with a bone. And I really like that about her. She’s just like, ‘I’m going for what I want.’”
The strength and independence of the four female leads was something that fans of the TV show admired, something that set Sex and the City apart from the rest of the comedies on air at the time. Their candidness and openness about their sex lives also played a role in making the show an early millennium pop culture phenomenon.
“Some people thought that the show was very feminist, some people thought that it was very un-feminist,” Nixon said, looking much more feminine than tomboy-lawyer Miranda in a summery white dress.
Her eyes, too, keep darting out the window at Manhattan, and she speaks just as softly and humbly as Parker.
“These women had very discernible strengths and very discernible weaknesses and foibles,” she said.
Executive producer Michael Patrick King, wearing a pastel-striped shirt beneath his khaki jacket, has a grin larger than the city spread on his face. King is the proud father of the series, the writer who adapted author Candace Bushnell’s 1997 Sex and the City novel into several years’ worth of scintillating plot lines and sizzling humor.
“[Bushnell] was the first scientist who identified this unique strand of organism that is girl, powerful, Manhattan, alone,” King said. “She hung around while we filmed the first couple of episodes, and it was like having a prospector take you to the stream where the gold is.”
“Everything, everything, in the series and the movie starts and ends with Carrie Bradshaw,” he said. “If you can get Carrie Bradshaw’s thought, heart and soul on the page, everything just flows from that.”
Working with HBO allowed King to exercise his creativity without compromise and push the boundaries of what’s appropriate for TV. At the same time, he tried to maintain class.
“There was never sex on our show that was pornographic,” he said. “The edge on our show wasn’t the sex, it was the comic aspect of the sex and what they said about it and what happened to them because of the sex. And it was great to be on a cable network, because we were allowed to do ballsy things sexually and ballsy things emotionally without being censored.”
Cattrall’s character, Samantha, is the most promiscuous of the Sex and the City girls. Her antics on the show and in the movie may be shocking to some, but she’s a genuine breed of woman, a female Don Juan of sorts who isn’t afraid to flaunt her body or her sexuality.
“When the show hit, we’d gone through 20 years of AIDS,” Cattrall said, touching her sleek blonde bob.
Wearing a baby blue dress of a delicate fabric, Cattrall looks elegant, like she’s on her way to afternoon tea. The British-born Canadian actress has an English sensibility about her, a reserved calm.
“There was a real fear based around sexuality,” she said. “And I think the country needed a character like Samantha, somebody who could break down the barriers and say, ‘OK, have protected sex, don’t be stupid. But sex is a part of life. And it’s something to be enjoyed.’”
“Here’s the thing about the girls,” King said, leaning in as though he’s about to share a secret. “They appeared, much like other mystical goddesses. They suddenly just knew each other. And then they shook up the world.”
Anna Hyclak can be reached at email@example.com.