For better or worse, the HBO television show “Sex and the City” changed Manhattan forever.
Whether you agree or disagree with how it transformed the Big Apple, the quirky series, based in part on writer Candace Bushnell’s book of the same name, compiled from her column with the New York Observer, and created by Michael Patrick King and Darren Starr, ran six seasons from 1998-2004 and provided an insightful examination of how changing roles and expectations affected the lives of four big-city professional women at the turn of the millennium. To call the show a cultural phenomenon would be an understatement. The characters’ ruminations on sexual desires and fantasies, and their travels in life and love, became highly relatable experiences for exiled single women in their 30s/40s, and the show’s fashion choices – from costume designer Patricia Field – were trendsetting to say the least.
The show’s narrative focused on Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker, the sensible center, whose inner monologues are expressed through voiceover narration), and her three best friends, Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon, the rigid lawyer), Charlotte York (Kristin Davis, the cheery housewife-to-be) and Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall, the slightly older sexpot).
The series’ first film adaptation, written and directed by Michael Patrick King and released in 2008, dealt with the difficult transition from single-to-married life, as Carrie (Parker), is finally planning on getting married to her Mr. Big (Chris Noth), when her three best girlfriends (Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha) must console her after one of them, Miranda, inadvertently leads Mr. Big to jilt her. “Sex and the City” was a massive success, with an opening weekend just north of $57 million – the biggest opening ever for an R-rated romantic comedy – and went on to gross over $400 million worldwide.
Naturally, the buzz was massive for the film’s inevitable sequel.
SEX AND THE CITY 2 sees Carrie and her formerly-single, sexually promiscuous gals having trouble adjusting to domesticated life – except Samantha, who, at 52, is battling menopause any which way she can. Charlotte’s two children are a handful, Miranda’s lawyer job is giving her hell and Carrie wants to go out all the time, while her man, Mr. Big, prefers to veg out and watch his new flat screen TV. So, when Samantha is given a free trip to glamorous Abu Dhabi, the four ladies jump at the opportunity to get away. But there, a whole world away, Carrie’s resolve is tested further when a former flame, Aidan (John Corbett), reenters her life.
MMM attended the New York City press conference for the film where the entire cast – Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) – as well as the show’s co-creator and both films’ writer/director, Michael Patrick King, chatted about the new film and the series’ indelible impact on NYC. And, since the actors/actresses in the series are so synonymous with their characters, we decided to address them as such below:
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: To the five actors, if you could all just talk about your issue in this movie and whether or not you related to it.
MR. BIG: Mine was a very interesting journey on the nature of how to define what a marriage means to two people who have had a very intimate and long relationship, and how they kind of miss each other on just what that tradition is, and what it should be according to what’s in your head, and maybe what the difference between that and what’s real for both of you and how to bridge that gap.
MIRANDA: I think that with Miranda the real issue that she’s been dealing with is what to do when you have a really terrific job that you’re well paid for, that you’ve worked for decades to get there, and all of a sudden you’re just miserable. I can totally relate to that. No, I’m kidding. I think that the part of it that I can relate to is as you get older and as you get more of a sense of yourself, which I think is what’s happening to Miranda in the movie, learning to value yourself and learning to say you know what, if someone is treating me badly, even though it’s in my vested interest to keep my mouth shut, I actually have to speak out for myself and I have to protect myself. I may define myself as a lawyer, but if I’m a miserable lawyer it’s better not to be a lawyer at all.
CARRIE: As I’ve been saying lately, there was a wedding and now there has to be a marriage, and the two are very different. I think where Carrie finds herself at the top of the movie is starting, as she typically does, to ask questions about the environment in which she currently lives. And those questions, and the big theme of the movie for all of us in our own way, as Chris pointed out, is tradition and why do we run toward it and why do we push it away and why do we so willingly want to commit to conventions like the institution of marriage? Do we find ourselves squirming and asking questions and how do we redefine tradition for ourselves and how do our friends around us redefine tradition and do they want to? And what better place to ask these questions than in the Middle East?
MMM: Could you relate to that personally
CARRIE: I think that women of a certain generation aren’t even conscious of the fact that we are asking ourselves, we are in the process of redefining our roles all the time, it’s the great gift that our mothers gave us. It’s this opportunity to rethink the roles that we take on in very conventional institutions. Whether it’s in a partnership that’s sort of defined by society or in a work environment, whether it’s the way people see us in our work, the fact that there are so many women in our workplace, which is very different than most conventional sets. So we do it all the time and women who are home with children are rethinking it all the time. So it’s kind of a privilege to talk about this topic because it feels so relevant to me without being preachy.
SAMANTHA: Menopause. And I didn’t need to do any research. I don’t need to say any more.
CHARLOTTE: For Charlotte, obviously, kind of on the same thing that Sarah’s saying about traditions. You know, Charlotte’s always been very, very traditional and she has very, very, very high expectations of herself in those traditions. And often times she doesn’t live up to them and possibly the things she’s trying to control in life are not really things that you can control, so she’s faced with, yet again, her own kind of lack of the perfect picture that she’s trying to create and even having trouble being honest with herself about the stress involved. I think one of my favorite things about what we did in this movie is that her friend Miranda can see through her façade and what she’s creating and she knows she needs to be honest, and that’s something that I think is a wonderful thing about friendship, is that you sometimes can see that your friend actually is not doing herself a service by keeping the façade up, that honesty is what’s needed. That’s what’s wonderful about going away, the fact that the girls get to go away and get to a deeper level together. Sometimes when you get out of your own normal, day-to-day existence you get to appreciate it and look at it and analyze it and share about it and have this freedom that we have in the Middle East, which is ironic, as Sarah Jessica pointed out. And sure, I relate to that, but not with the children part obviously.
MMM: Why do you think that gay men are as excited about seeing this movie as women, presumably your primary audience? And also, could one of you talk about the “Newsweek” article that recently came out about how gay people shouldn’t play straight?
MICHAEL PATRICK KING: I will start because I do feel that every single person up here could certainly answer that question. When I’m asked that, and I’m going to call it, antique question about why are gay men liking these characters? And I always said the reason that “Sex and the City” actually became present in people’s mind as it had is there was a voice that needed to be heard. And, at that time, it was the single girl as leper voice; the outsider, anyone who wasn’t married in their 30s, when society told them they should be married. So, I think anyone who’s ever been an outsider, whether it be due to your sexual orientation or your anything – your gender, your race, your anything – these four girls have moved through the world trying to claim themselves. And what’s great about the movie for me is that it’s an evolution still. The reason we’ve gone from a TV show to a movie is because we’ve been daring and allowing people to change. They’re individuals, I think, and if gay men, women, children, animals, like this movie, I think it’s because of the story about looking for love, maybe with someone else, but of course looking for a love of yourself in this great society that we have. I think that the villain, in any great story you need one, and I think ours is still society. I think society tells you to be some way and the individual always pushes through that bag, punches their way out, and I have four great characters, and even Mr. Big is quite individual in his attack on society, and we all love it. But it’s really about being an individual, so I don’t really think that gay men are drawn to this any more than anyone who likes a good story.
CARRIE: But I also think it’s hard to deny that there is, as you said, this wonderful search, this endeavor for love, that there is an emotional ingredient that, when I talk to people in the gay community, that the clothing is fun, it’s the cherry on the sundae, it’s the soufflé. But I really think it’s this ability to articulate emotion, embarrassing and candid and intimate, and the humorous way of observing our emotional journeys, that a lot of my gay friends really, really love, and I think that they are very comfortable saying that. And it’s taken maybe the straight community, the men, a little bit longer. They used to at the luggage carrousel go, “I watch your show,” or they’ll say, “My wife/my girlfriend forced me.” Now they seem to volunteer more freely that occasionally they even watch it on their own; the remote got stuck or whatever. I don’t know. That’s been my experience.
MIRANDA: I think also because “Sex and the City,” right from the very beginning there was a very conscious decision made that we would never see these people’s parents, we would never, with maybe one exception, see their siblings – two exceptions – because they were each other’s family. And I think certainly for many gay people and for many non-gay people that’s reality now. Maybe you have a family that you come from that you love or maybe you have trouble with them, but that you come to New York and you create your own.
MR. BIG: But I think what Michael said also, the way I figure that out, is it’s a conversation between the head and the heart often that all of us have. And often what the head is dealing with are all the shoulds that society puts out there. Like my particular journey about what marriage should be as opposed to what it is between two people that are real. And then there are all these other shoulds all through the series that we defy in the show and take on.
MICHAEL PATRICK KING: And sometimes embrace.
MMM: For a lot of women you embody what a fun and fearless woman is and that age doesn’t define what you do with your career choices, with fashion, with motherhood, and of course with sex— I think you’ve opened up a lot of our eyes on a few different positions there. I was wondering if the ladies wouldn’t mind personally saying what’s the most fun or one of the most empowering things you find about being a fearless woman is?
CHARLOTTE: I’m not quite sure how to answer this. I think the thing that I love the most about the general thing that we’ve gotten to be a part of for all of this time is that we are together in it, and so it’s women who are different. We’re different in life, our characters are different, yet we’re very, very together. No matter if we always agree, sometimes the characters disagree – like Charlotte judges Carrie and I love that part of the story line because I think we do this in life, and it doesn’t really serve anybody, but this is a human nature thing. And then, luckily, she has enough time and honest conversation to realize, “That’s really unfair of me to judge my friend and try to put my own preconceived notions on my friend.” But I love the fact that what we’ve created all together and what Michael has created in the writing for us are these really powerful women who can each be powerful in their own right and still be together. And to me that’s my favorite part of the whole experience – living through it together, and also what we represent.
SAMANTHA: I think the most powerful thing for me is that we have encouraged a lot of women to change the way they feel about being single, about having careers, all the story lines about getting married and then being deserted, being alone, being lonely. I think we’ve addressed them and encouraged them to come together, and I think that’s a very powerful thing. In this era of post-feminism I think that we’ve helped define what it is to be successful, smart, and also feminine.
CARRIE: I tend not to ponder too much what we may or may not have done because I like hearing from other people what they think. But I will say that in an era that there is this beacon which we seem to be moving toward where women are really unkind to one another and call each other kind of horrible names, and there’s a vernacular that our ears have adapted to which I find really objectionable. I really, really love how these women love each other, and I love how decent and honorable they are toward one another. I love how much they respect one another. I love that they were never made to be friends. Their DNA is so radically different from one to the next and they have found this incomparable friendship that is really, truly inspiring to me and it changes the way I think about my friendships constantly. It changes the way I look at friendships, the way I respond to friends’ choices, and that is in large part the writing. Well, it’s not even in large part, it is the writing. For me, when I look at a lot of what’s available on television and I see how women treat each other it’s stunning to me, it’s arresting, and I like that there is some place that we still like to illustrate that women would much rather be allies than adversaries.
MIRANDA: I think they’ve pretty much said it all but there was a time when Charlotte and Miranda were having a big fight about Charlotte’s decision to stop working and to focus on having a child, and Miranda was very disapproving and Charlotte really called her on it. Charlotte said, “Isn’t that what the feminist movement is about? It’s not about you have to work or you have to stay home; it’s about choices.” And I think that, as Sarah said, these four women are so different from each other and they have such different points of view and they’ve made such different life choices, but they love each other and they’re not shy about offering their opinions to each other and their advice. And I think that that’s one of the things that I’m proudest of. I think we’re a feminist show, but being a feminist show doesn’t mean yeah you have to have a career, or you have to not be married, or you have to be married. That really, for these four women who are very close but very different, we see a whole range of what’s available out there and what direction you might want to take your life in.
MMM: What was it like shooting in the Middle East? How much research did you do in order to put this together?
MICHAEL PATRICK KING: We shot in Morocco for Abu Dhabi. Morocco has a great history of a tradition of filmmaking. They did “Ben-Hur,” they did “Lawrence of Arabia.” We actually shot on “Lawrence of Arabia” dunes. We had New York, which was here – Bergdorf’s in front – with thousands and thousands of people watching and supporting and it’s like an interactive theatre piece. The girls go to talk, everybody shuts up, I say action, quiet, lines, then applause. And I call that sometimes the celebrity petting zoo. Every now and then someone breaks through and we have to stop and get everybody back behind the barricades. When we went to Morocco, one, two, three, four, sorry Chris, not five, in the Sahara Desert, not a sound, not a paparazzi, just the crew, the hot sun, and the sun falling out of the sky quickly, and us. It was a completely different bizarre and magical time. Different colors, different sounds, different smells, great crew, South Africans, Moroccans, Brits, Germans, everyone. It was an IHOP of crew. Big meals in tents.
CARRIE: I’m worried that it’s not sounding like the extraordinary experience it was. It was laborious and it was Herculean but it was one of the great experiences of my professional life to live and work with this cast and that crew every single day, to see the sun rise and set over our locations in the most far-flung places, to lie in a bed all day with these women exhausted and laughing, to be on a camel with Kim Cattrall as it disobeyed all orders.
SAMANTHA: Not many people can say they’ve done that.
CARRIE: But I’m telling you, it was indescribably wonderful to be so far away in such a wonderfully foreign place to have this incredibly cinematic experience. To be in the dunes of the Sahara for days and see things that we will never see again, to smell things, to eat things. Yes, it was hard, but we could not have done it anywhere else this way.
MICHAEL PATRICK KING: No, it’s big old-time, old-fashioned movie making. We actually went far away and made a Hollywood movie.
MMM: Michael, can you talk about what your inspiration was for this movie? I remember for the first film you said it had taken you a number of years to get the story line and the structure for it. What was your inspiration this time around?
MICHAEL PATRICK KING: My inspiration for the first movie was the girls reuniting, and my inspiration for this movie was the audience at the first movie. When I would see the audience showing up dressed and having cocktails before and in groups and going out, and I saw some people taking pictures of themselves in the theater seats, I thought this is an interactive party; this is no longer a movie. And when we were lucky enough, because of the love that was thrown our way by the box office of the first movie to do a sequel, the first thing I knew was I wanted it to be a continuation of the party for the audience. I also knew I wanted it to be completely different than the first movie. The one rule we’ve always tried to follow on “Sex and the City” from the writing camp is don’t repeat. Dare yourself to change it, move it forward. It started out as four single girls and very early we married one of them off; we defied the rules. So I knew it had to be a different vibe, and I sat down to write in what was the beginning of an economic downturn, and we still are in it, and I thought what’s my job, I’m not a banker, I can’t go and balance your books, I’m a movie maker. Happily, I want to make a movie. Like they did in the Great Depression, I thought Hollywood should take people on a big vacation that maybe they couldn’t afford themselves. So I thought it’s going to be a big party, I want to make a big extravagant vacation, I don’t think it was my job to have Carrie Bradshaw sell apples under the 59th Street Bridge. I think it was our job to give everybody the vacation that maybe they can’t afford now, and they can go with their girlfriends to the night out and go on vacation with their other girlfriends, which are these four ladies.
MMM: Could each of the girls talk about what was their best memory of Morocco?
MIRANDA: I feel like those very heady days in the desert. That was such an introduction; it’s like wow, we really are far, far away in a place that we’ve never been before. And what was so great was we were mostly in Marrakesh, but then our first filming was out in the desert, so we all, cast and crew, were on a plane, and when we arrived they had musicians waiting to greet us. And scarves we were then taught, not us because we were in wardrobe, but everybody else was taught to tie into turbans to help keep you cool in the desert. And it was just so amazing to land in this small airport and to be greeted. It was amazing.
CARRIE: I would say that the thing that I cherish most about it, and therefore is the most vivid memory, is that I got to live with this cast. We were removed. We weren’t shooting out of country the first time. We’ve never done that. We had this chance to live together and to know one another in a way we’ve never had the opportunity to do so in New York. In New York, we go home to our friends and our family and our children and our animals, and for me it just changed everything. I just came away loving them more than I ever have because I got to see them in a new way. And I was so reliant upon them and they became evermore necessary, and I was so challenged by the work that they were doing and how good they were and what thoroughbreds they were, and how nothing could get us down, no matter how hungry we were or how much we had to go to the bathroom or hour 18 of day 58. And the crew, looking around the crew and knowing the people that we had brought, how we could see in their eyes that this was the day they were missing their kids but they were sticking it out with us. That was kind of the tone and it was just incredibly impressive and inspiring, and frankly felt very buoyant on tough days.
SAMANTHA: We were so welcomed by the people of Morocco and so protected. We really did feel like royal family. I couldn’t believe that people actually watched the show – that was surprising, and knew the characters, and didn’t know our names in particular but kept calling us by our character’s names. And we would actually turn and say hello. But we also had weekends off so it was a bit of a vacation. Mostly on locations you don’t get that, you usually work on a Saturday, so we had this intense family time, which Sarah’s talking about, but on the weekends we got to go and explore. And if by chance you had a day off, which was very seldom, you could go to the mountains or you could go to the beach. It’s just such an extraordinary country, isn’t it?
CHARLOTTE: 100%. So beautiful, so beautiful. And I echo everything they said and I’m just going to say Thanksgiving, since we were together and we got to have two Thanksgivings. We worked on the actual day because obviously in Morocco they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.
CARRIE: Apparently neither does Warner Brothers.
CHARLOTTE: So on the day itself our fantastic English caterers had made an American Thanksgiving for us which they thought just the Americans would want to eat. And then everybody wanted to eat it and they ran out of the apple pie, the pumpkin pie, and everybody loved it. And then, because the boys could come, Cynthia and Sarah’s sons came to visit for the weekend, we decided we would have another Thanksgiving at our hotel. And they did a fantastic job and we had snake charmers come for the boys because we were in Morocco. These are amazing memories that we have as well just as a group.
MMM: What will men learn from this when they go with their wives or girlfriends?
MR. BIG: What will they learn? Possibly nothing. I’m always a little suspicious about learning from an entertaining and fun movie, but possibly maybe to trust themselves in a tradition. I don’t know. I don’t know what they’ll learn. I really don’t.
MICHAEL PATRICK KING: The men will learn that Charlotte’s nanny is god’s gift to men. I think they’ll be surprised how much the movie’s for them as well. When I sat down to write it I realized that Mr. Big is now very, very prominently a part of Carrie Bradshaw’s life so there are a couple of deliberate shout outs to men in this movie in terms of their point of view because it is the struggle of the men and the women together that makes the women even better.
MIRANDA: There is something that happens, as you know, an event that happens that could possibly be poisonous to their relationship and a way is found, and I give credit to the writer and Mr. Big to turn poison into medicine. To not go to the impulsive place that men often do in an event like that and instead create a bridge to a deeper relationship.
CARRIE: It’s wonderful, the couple of people I’ve spoken to, they’re straight men, they might think that this whole franchise is anathema, but they have loved that there is not a villainous move by any man in this movie. Any consequences are on the part of us and the choices we’re making, and momentary reckless behavior or cavalier attitude about cultural standards, it’s all us. And we come home, frankly, a little wiser.
MMM: Do you think there will be a 3?
MIRANDA: No idea, no idea. If Michael has one to write then yes, but it’s up to him. He would know.
SEX AND THE CITY 2 sashays its way into theaters nationwide on May 27th.