Kim Cattrall — the lady is no tramp

The actress, who is returning to the West End stage, could not be more different from her role as the maneating Samantha Jones in Sex and the City

(The Times, February 1, 2010)

(Kim Cattrall

Kim Cattrall

“We could dance a pas de deux,” purrs Kim Cattrall, and the cavernous dance studio where she is rehearsing her return to the West End stage suddenly feels warmer.

Five minutes in, and Cattrall’s already getting touchy-feely. So far, so like Samantha Jones, the middle-aged maneater she played in the taboo-busting television series Sex and the City. But there the resemblance ends. Samantha is imperious, in control, ever ready to conquer disaster simply by sticking her chin up and sailing through with dignity. The oldest of the SATC women, she has seen it all, done it all — and done them all. Her cocktail conversation would have Heidi Fleiss spluttering out her spritzer in shock.

Kim Cattrall is more vulnerable. She’s dressed down in very un-Samantha jeans and brown boots, and without make-up she looks soft, open, more beautiful than on screen. But is Cattrall never tempted to “put on” Samantha? “Oh God, no. No, no, no, not unless I’ve got lines to say and I’m on a set. I’ve never been able to do that thing of picking up men. I’ve never gone out looking for a man, or a relationship. It’s just evolved in a very natural way because it feels right.”

Cattrall, now 53, has been married three times, the last time so fulfillingly, in one respect at least, that she and her husband wrote a book together, Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm. Her most recent relationship, with a Canadian chef, lasted five years. It fell apart last year through pressure of work. “It’s very hard for someone not involved in this business to really understand what it’s about. You work 12-hour days, and something like a series literally consumes your life. I think it’s just time not there, really. But I’m still hopeful that I’ll meet someone.”

The chef was 25 when they started dating; Cattrall almost twice that. Not an issue, she says. “People find love in all shapes, sizes, ages, nationalities.” She bristles when people point out the age gap between her and her co-star in Private Lives, the Noël Coward revival that opens this month. Matthew Macfadyen is 18 years younger. “There’s nothing in the script about age. You know, it’s extraordinary: if Matthew was my age and I was his age, nobody would be asking me that question.”

She’s excited to be back on stage. Peter Hall tempted her to the West End in 2005, in the euthanasia drama Whose Life Is It Anyway?, a role originally written for a man. Next up was a David Mamet, Cryptogram, in 2007. And now she has signed up for Richard Eyre. Nothing but the best for Cattrall.

“Theatre was my first love,” she says. “I saw Janet Suzman’s Rosalind [in As You Like It] at Stratford when I was 11, and I was enthralled, literally on the edge of my seat.”

Does she still get nervous? “Sometimes I think why do I have to do these scary things? It would be much easier just to play Sam for the rest of my life. You’ve been looking forward to working with this director and these actors and this play and then it comes and you think, ‘Oh, f***!’ ” Cattrall laughs uproariously. “Like, ‘Oh no! It’s here!’ You very much feel the blood coursing through your veins.”

She recently worked with the famously demanding film director Roman Polanski on The Ghost Writer, a contemporary thriller about a retired leader inspired by Tony Blair. “When I think of Roman,” she says, a tad tactlessly, “I think of his nose. He smells the truth. He knows when you’re honest. He is very intense, and very ‘on’ everyone, not just his actors but his crew. I remember I had to open a closet of a character you never see. And he stopped filming and rearranged everything. So when I opened the closet it wasn’t just random clothes, it was a specific kind of clothes that this character would have worn.

“Sometimes, because he’s French and Polish, the frustration to explain what he wants comes out like ‘No, no! Terrible, terrible!’ And you think, ‘I’m more than terrible.’ And then on a day he’d say ‘brilliant’ and you’d think, ‘Yes, I got it,’ and then you were shit again. It was in some ways very tense, and in some exhilarating. He made me crazy, but I learnt so much from him.”

But nothing could prepare her for the role, literally, of a lifetime: in the BBC’s family history documentary Who Do You Think You Are? Cattrall was born in Liverpool, but her family moved to Canada when she was a baby. They were stony broke, couldn’t find work and ended up driving 3,000 miles across Canada to seek refuge with a distant relative in British Columbia. But that was nothing compared with what the programme discovered about her grandfather. He had abandoned his wife and kids when Cattrall’s mum was 8. Cattrall says she always liked to think that it was for some romantic reason, such as joining the Foreign Legion. In truth, he had started a bigamous second family just 30 miles to the north, eventually moving to Australia, leaving his first family bereft, penniless and without a word.

“It turned out he was just a f***ing . . . ,” she says. “The Australian family didn’t know either, they were equally devastated. Apparently he had a tattoo on his chest of my grandmother’s name. He just said it was an old flame. But that connection has now been made, and my mum and her two sisters speak to the other siblings once a week, and one of them is going out there to visit.”

Anyone who asks about SATC2 gets the same response: zip. Amid all the rumours, it can be confidently said that there will be a big gay wedding featuring the long-term character Stanford Blatch, at which Liza Minnelli will sing All the Single Ladies; that the women get to dress up as their 1980s selves in a flashback scene — Cattrall in leopard-print skin-tight trousers and huge hair; and that the ruthlessly perky teen juggernaut Miley Cyrus has a cameo alongside Cattrall, wearing exactly the same outfit at a premiere.

Cattrall, of course, could not possibly comment. Confidentiality agreements signed in triplicate, a major diplomatic event when a script that Cattrall was holding got papped with a long lens, blown up and put on the internet. “I thought, you have got to be kidding! This isn’t state secrets, it’s the f***ing script for a movie!”

Rumours of rifts with the other cast members are also swiftly dispatched. “It’s the old catfight story they’ve been wanting for years.” After working 12 hours a day together, Cattrall says, it’s not surprising if you don’t then hang out as well. But there has been some unease between her and Sarah Jessica-Parker, who crucially is the co-producer of the show and not just the star, ever since Cattrall turned down the first SATC film for four years until she (and the other girls) were given a better script and more money.

And rightly so, in retrospect. The film took more than $400 million and, together with Mamma Mia!, proved to Hollywood that there was a market for films starring women over 40.

And what next? She has nothing planned as yet, but it’s bound to be surprising. Cattrall began her chequered film career in the teen comedy Porky’s, as a cheerleader who climaxes like a she-wolf crossed with a police siren. Cattrall sustains the operatic orgasm for fully one minute and ten seconds of screen time — take that, Meg Ryan. And in the previous SATC movie she had to lie for hours naked except for strategically placed sushi.

“Someone asked me what I do better than anyone else, and I said that I think I do ‘sexy clown’ quite well. I’m not frightened of pie in the face, I think that’s glorious. I don’t take myself seriously at all.”

Perfect for her part in Private Lives — not to mention her life in private parts.