After religiously watching Sex and the City for more than 10 years, interviewing Kim Cattrall is a little strange. Not because I’m a fawning fan but because she is so clearly not Samantha Jones. She looks like her. But she sounds nothing like her. Cattrall’s tone is lower, softer, more thoughtful, more intellectual.
The beautiful 55-year-old actress is in Toronto appearing with Paul Gross in Private Lives. Here’s the piece I wrote for the Post, published Sept. 26 2011:
Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross are laughing while huddled together on a couch in Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. They compose themselves for a photographer. Cattrall says she hopes the pictures are better than the ones taken at a news conference earlier this year. “We both looked like we had three chins.”
“The problem is we do have three chins,” Gross says.
“Speak for yourself!”
It’s a lively chemistry between two of Canada’s most famed actors, who are now sharing a stage in the production of Noël Coward’s Private Lives.
“Instantly, when we met, there was this lovely, friendly combativeness to us as Kim and Paul, which I think has translated into Amanda and Elyot,” Cattrall, 55, says.
“I think she’s a complete alpha male, control freak and I suppose I’m a bit of alpha male, too. I just don’t take orders terribly well,” Gross, 52, says with a smile.
Amanda and Elyot are former spouses who meet while honeymooning with their new respective partners. Soon, they find themselves in familiar rhythms, kissing passionately one moment and slapping each other the next. For Cattrall and Gross, there is much to connect on.
“He’s from Alberta. I’m from B.C. We have a military background,” says Cattrall, who can be seen onstage in Toronto until the end of October, when the show heads to Broadway. “My father was an officer in the British Army, his dad was in the Armed Forces. His grandfather and my grandfather both fought in Passchendaele.”
“I think we both come from a generation where actors wanted to go to Stratford or the National Theatre for a season or the Manitoba Theatre Centre,” she adds.
The actors also both made names for themselves on television, with Gross playing a polite, crime-solving Mountie in Due South and Cattrall playing a sassy, sex-hungry New Yorker in Sex and the City.
But despite the two “knowing of” each other, their paths have never crossed before their first meeting in April at Cattrall’s New York home to discuss Coward’s 1930 comedy. When Matthew Macfadyen, who played Elyot in the London production, was unavailable for the Toronto and Broadway shows, director Richard Eyre contacted Gross. “Matthew was much more shy and reserved and I would not use either of those to describe Paul Gross,” Cattrall says.
Gross was born in in Calgary April 30, 1959. His acting career began in theatre (Private Lives will be his first play in 10 years and his Broadway debut). His résumé is stacked with work in theatre (Hamlet), television (Slings and Arrows) and film (Men With Brooms), as well as numerous awards. His 2008 war epic, Passchendaele, which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in, won six Genie Awards including best picture.
“The next project that I’m going to do is set in Afghanistan and I’ll be going back to Afghanistan to shoot. I’m not waiting around to get hired,” he says. The charismatic father of two leans casually on a table in the theatre’s lobby, dressed in a blazer over an orange T-shirt and jeans.
“I think it’s very hard for actors who are just in Hollywood because there are fewer and fewer things being made. Studios have cut back, they’re not making mid-range budgeted films,” he adds. “They’re just swinging for the fence with these $200-million projects or romantic comedies starring Jennifer Aniston. It’s a very unstable time right now. There’s a lot of fear.”
Meanwhile, Cattrall is enjoying a period in her career that is “not fear-based.”
“I keep saying ‘yes’ to things that challenge and scare me,” she says. “If someone doesn’t get it, understand it or like it, I’m OK. I’m relying on my instincts as far as the projects that I want to do.”
Cattrall was born in Liverpool, England, Aug. 21, 1956. (Her family moved to Courtenay, B.C., when she was three months old.) When she was 17, famed film director Otto Preminger famously compared her to Marilyn Monroe.”Not in your looks,” he said, “but in your lack of talent.” Today, her acting career also spans film (The Ghost Writer), stage (Anton Chekov’s Wild Honey) and television (the aforementioned HBO phenomenon, Sex and the City). For her role as Samantha Jones, she won a Golden Globe and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.
“Some characters follow you for a lifetime,” she says. This afternoon, she looks a bit like Samantha — beautiful in black pumps, a black dress with a wide leather belt. But she sounds nothing like her. Cattrall’s tone is lower, softer, more thoughtful, more intellectual.
“I have a lot to be grateful for. [Samantha] came at a time when most women in my position in their early forties, their careers are, if not over, waning,” she says. “Now, I continue to luckily be able to get producers interested in involving me in projects.”
Private Lives is playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto until Oct 30. For tickets, visit mirvish.com