Samantha Jones seemed to have it all — except a happy ending.
For six seasons and two movies, Kim Cattrall put the “sex” in “Sex and the City,” while adding a dose of glamour and surprising relatability to boot. Samantha came complete with her own company, trendy apartment, runway wardrobe and movie-star boyfriend, but it was Cattrall who gave the character desire and soul. That’s why some fans were so disappointed to see her vanish from the franchise after being ill-used in 2010’s “Sex and the City 2.” After exiting the series of her own accord, Cattrall says she had no advance warning before news broke in late 2020 that Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) had decided to reunite for HBO Max’s “And Just Like That …” The streaming reboot premiered in December 2021 — and set Twitter afire — without Samantha.
Of course, Cattrall had made it abundantly clear in interviews that she was done playing Samantha, and in 2017 she turned down a script for the third “Sex and the City” movie. Chunks of that story — which centered on Mr. Big’s sudden death and Carrie’s grieving process — provided the seeds of inspiration for “And Just Like That …” But not everything made it into the show: In the film that didn’t happen, Samantha’s storyline reportedly revolved around her receiving unwanted “dick pics” from Brady, Miranda’s 14-year-old son.
And so, after a public breakup, the infamous quartet of “Sex and the City” became a triumvirate, with some new friends. To deal with the past, a Cattrall-less “And Just Like That …” invented a subplot that depicted the dissolution of Carrie and Samantha’s friendship off screen, and Samantha — who’d apparently abandoned New York for London — was reincarnated in the form of text messages to Carrie, written in her character’s voice.
At least, that’s one side of the story. Since the premiere of “And Just Like That …,” Cattrall hasn’t talked about “Sex and the City” in public, not even to respond to rumors that she could return as Samantha.
To start: That’s not happening. In a wide-ranging interview for Variety’s Power of Women issue, the 65-year-old actor, who says she hasn’t watched “And Just Like That …,” shared her thoughts on why exactly she walked away from one of TV’s biggest phenomena. “It’s a great wisdom to know when enough is enough,” Cattrall says. “I also didn’t want to compromise what the show was to me. The way forward seemed clear.”
This year, Cattrall’s happily moved on with two new TV projects. On Hulu’s “How I Met Your Father,” she’s the future Sophie (played by Hilary Duff in flashbacks), who sips a glass of wine as she narrates the story of meeting her great love. And on Peacock’s “Queer as Folk,” a reboot of the groundbreaking 1999 U.K. series (which had its own 2000 American offshoot), she’s Brenda, an affluent New Orleans grandmother. On the big screen, she’s starring with Robert De Niro in the Lionsgate comedy “About My Father.” But she says that she still feels Samantha’s presence, and she’s appreciative that fans miss the character and mourn her absence.
Back when “Sex and the City” premiered on HBO in 1998, Samantha was something that TV hadn’t seen before: a financially empowered heroine who proudly refused to strive for marriage or children and relished sex as a man would. “I think the one thing I could have never guessed going into the role of Samantha in ‘Sex and the City’ was just how funny Kim could be,” says Darren Star, who created the show and offered the part to Cattrall. Coming from a career in movies (“Mannequin,” “Police Academy”), she turned it down three times before finally accepting. “She wasn’t interested in a TV series,” Star says. “Now it’s impossible to imagine the show without her.”
Not only did Cattrall own the character, but she changed culture, making Samantha a sex-positive aspirational figure for a generation of women. And then there’s this: “When she would shoot sex scenes, I would always tell her, ‘Wear your high heels, so when your legs went up in the air, we see the shoes,’” says Patricia Field, the show’s costume designer.
In person, Cattrall — who was born in Liverpool, England, and grew up in British Columbia — doesn’t sound or move like Samantha. A self-described serial monogamist, she recently celebrated her six-year anniversary with her partner Russell Thomas. She speaks in a graceful timbre, evocative of old-glamour Hollywood, as she recalls some of her favorite stage performances, including Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” She reveals that she became a U.S. citizen in 2020, and she lost her health insurance from SAG-AFTRA during the pandemic after not working for a stretch of time.
As a result, Cattrall has decided to honor The Actors Fund, the nonprofit that offers financial and health assistance to performers and behind-the-scenes crew, during Variety’s Power of Women dinner on May 5. “It’s so filled with shame if you’re not working or you’re not wanted,” she says. “Thank God I turned 65 and went on Medicare and I have a nest egg. But that’s scary, how vulnerable you could be.”
You’ve had a big year, with two TV shows coming out within a few months of each other. I just saw the first four episodes of “Queer as Folk.”
I met Stephen Dunn, the showrunner, in London. His film “Closet Monster” — have you seen it? Oh, you have to see it. And then he sent me this beautiful letter asking me to be part of “Queer as Folk.” And I thought, “What is this going to be like?” Because I didn’t see the American version. I only saw the British version, which was so hard-hitting at the time.
It’s easy to forget now, but there was almost no representation of gay characters in TV or movies in the ’90s and earlier.
Rarely in cinema. And even then, it was so cloaked. I’m so proud to be part of it, because it is daring. There’s eight episodes in all.
Do we see more of Brenda?
Oh, my God, she goes crazy. I had my first nonbinary love scene. And for the first time in my career, I was introduced to someone who had the position on a set that I had no idea what they did — her heading was “intimacy coach.” I thought, “Excuse me?!?” I never had an intimacy coach. It was fantastic. Instead of someone from the wardrobe department holding a housecoat for you when they said cut or putting a towel over you, they had this person there who’d say: “OK, stop! We need this protected there.” It was like a fairy godmother.
On “Sex and the City,” the most I ever got was for Pat Field to make this — she called it a “K.C. Cup” that would cover, like a jockstrap, both actors if the scene required it.
It was called what?
The K.C. Cup — Kim Cattrall! Because some guys had never acted before. It was their first job. And they were nervous something might happen. But now, there’s a person on set every time there’s an intimacy scene, and you’re protected. It’s a much safer place to be.
I thought I’d read that you don’t want to do sex scenes anymore?
I don’t want to be nude anymore. I’m 65. I’m in great shape. But I’m just not interested. I feel like I filled my quota on that one — and without an intimacy coach.
How did you prepare to play Brenda?
She’s a real combination of a couple of women I know, just with their fortitude. So I just channeled that, and also I felt for her because she was lonely. Women who have an empty nest, who have too much time, too much money, where do they go? People talk about the glass ceiling — it’s a much lower ceiling for most women.
She says later on in an episode — I can’t tell you what happens. I’m telling you too much. But anyway, it was an eye-opener. Also, to be on set with so many young actors, who had seen most of the films I’d done, they were very kind and very supportive.
How did you get cast in “How I Met Your Father”?
It came out of left field. They apparently tried to make Hilary look older so she could do both, and it didn’t work. It’s very difficult to pull that off. We had a quick Zoom, and everyone seemed so lovely and happy. They sent me little bits of the show. I thought it’s exactly what it should be. I got out to L.A. The next day, I went to the Paramount lot, my favorite lot, and we filmed for a day. I did 10 episodes in one day, the wraparounds. They said, “Do you know what? We’re actually going to put you on camera.” I thought I should take this as a compliment.
And you’re going to be in Season 2?
It’s the greatest gig. I fly in, work for two days, and I’m done. One wardrobe change. I didn’t think about that when I chose it: If this goes for 10 years, I’m in this outfit for 10 years.
What have you been doing during the pandemic?
I voted and I lost my health insurance. I’m a true American.
What are you interested in doing that you haven’t done as an actor?
I’d like to do my own sitcom. I think that would be a lot of fun with an audience — playing a woman my own age. I have a very specific idea of what I want to do.
How far along is it?
It’s just in my head. I’m fascinated about what happens to women once they reach the top of their profession. You have all this life experience and nobody is listening, and you’ve really got something to say. Am I being too cryptic?
No, I understand. Does it feel like Samantha is still with you?
Oh yes. Because parts of her are with me. I played her, and I loved her. I felt ultimately protective of her. I felt that way with Rhoda on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” I just loved her so much.
Samantha was kind of the Rhoda of “Sex and the City.”
In her own way.
But Rhoda got her own spinoff. People want more Samantha.
What a great compliment. I’ve played so many different kinds of characters, you think — why that character? Why then? It was a time coming out of AIDS and making sex positive again. There were so many parallels of me growing as an actor and that character. I would never want to look back on that with anything other than pride. That I did that, that it existed. I don’t know how I did it sometimes, because it was really scary. Especially when I started dating. My husband and I broke up [in 2004]. That was really different for me.
What was so scary about it?
I felt like it was a show about single women. I felt like I was now cast as a cougar, which became not as positive as other aspects. People say, “You coined it.” I didn’t feel that was part of my character. There was never a desperation; it was always on her terms, which I loved. That was a bit of an adjustment, suddenly being single. I think when you become that recognizable for a very specific kind of character and you go out in the real world — those images, that collective consciousness, we all share.
Were there ever discussions about you returning as Samantha on “And Just Like That …”?
I was never asked to be part of the reboot. I made my feelings clear after the possible third movie, so I found out about it like everyone else did — on social media.
How did you feel?
I was like, “Ooooh.” How’s … [pauses]
How’s that going to work?
You said it. Not me.
You read the script to the third movie, in which Big was supposed to die.
The series is basically the third movie. That’s how creative it was.
If there had been a third movie, Samantha’s storyline involved her getting unwanted pictures from Brady?
What would you have liked Samantha to do?
Why can’t Samantha, who owns her PR company — maybe she had to sell it because of financial woes? 2008 was tough. Some people are still recovering. She had to sell it to some guy who’s wearing a hoodie, and that’s the dilemma she has. I mean that’s a scenario that was kind of off the top of one of my reps’ heads, and I thought that’s a great idea. That’s a conflict. Instead of an underage boy’s …
You trailed off before finishing that sentence. So, in the third movie, you didn’t feel like Samantha was progressing.
That’s an understatement.
How would you describe it?
I would have preferred for all of us to have some kind of event to warrant a third film. That didn’t happen. But also, I was ready. And this is exactly what I wished for: to be in different places playing different characters because I’m a character actress. And as difficult as it was, and as scary as it is to stand up and not be bullied by the press or the fans or whomever — to just say, I’m good. I’m on this track. It was so great working with you. I so enjoyed it, but I’m over here.
People have been wanting to hear from you about Samantha.
I haven’t deserted anybody. Can you imagine going back to a job you did 25 years ago? And the job didn’t get easier; it got more complicated in the sense of how are you going to progress with these characters? Everything has to grow, or it dies. I felt that when the series ended, I thought that’s smart. We’re not repeating ourselves. And then the movie to end all the loose ends. And then there’s another movie. And then there’s another movie?
How did you feel after the second movie?
Everything in me went, “I’m done.”
Sarah Jessica has said that if you decided to play Samantha again, she wouldn’t be OK with that. Did that hurt your feelings?
I don’t think I read it.
She said there was too much that had happened publicly between the two of you.
Well, it would never happen anyway. So nobody has to worry about that.
Have you watched “And Just Like That …”?
I certainly heard about it. And I’ve come to the conclusion that really the greatest compliment I could have as an actor is to be missed.
You haven’t seen any of it?
Can I talk a little about it?
One of the storylines that they introduced had Carrie and Samantha fighting, because Samantha got mad that Carrie stopped paying her to be Carrie’s publicist.
Oh yes. I heard this. Well, that feels different than the Samantha that I played.
In the original “Sex and the City,” Samantha had volunteered to do Carrie’s publicity for free. Some fans noticed that didn’t track.
Yeah, it’s so strange. A world that I know so much about that now I don’t.
And the show still continues to refer to Samantha because we see the texts that she sends Carrie from London.
Oh yes. Also under the heading of being missed.
How does it feel that they are continuing the character without you?
It’s odd, isn’t it? I don’t know how to feel about it. It’s so finite for me, so it doesn’t continue. I think I would ponder it more if I didn’t have something like “Queer as Folk” or “How I Met Your Father.” That’s kind of where I’m centered around. This feels like an echo of the past. Other than the really wonderful feeling of — it’s rare in my business — people wanting more, especially at 65. That feels powerful, that I’ve left something behind that I’m so proud of. I loved her. I loved her so, so, so much. It’s tough competition. The original show is in all of our imaginations. But for me, it feels clean.
The break does?
Yeah, it was years ago. It was 2017 when all this was happening. I just thought to myself, “No, this is right.” And you can’t go against that feeling. I don’t ever want to be on a set and not want to be there.
Is it true you originally turned down the role of Samantha?
I turned it down three times. I didn’t think I could do it. At 42, I really didn’t think I could pull it off. I finally said, “You’re making a mistake here.” We did the pilot — it was good but it wasn’t there. And then it started to find its way. I realized, because I’d never done a series before, the more you play the character, like in theater, the more you add to it and change. I remember one day, a laugh came out, and I thought, “Holy shit, that’s great. Sam just got a new laugh.”
You sound so different from Samantha. How did you find her voice?
Voice is always a huge avenue for me to explore, and always has been. I saw her as a Noël Coward. I saw her in a Restoration comedy. The ladies used to use their fans, and they would be very leading. They could be theatrical. It was a bitch, because I had to know my lines backwards and forwards. Because she had already been there and done all those things; she was always talking from the mount.
The voice got more and more pronounced as the seasons got on. I always wanted to make it as honest as possible, but also make it Samantha. I remember saying to a girlfriend of mine: “Oh shit! I have to fall on the bed again. How am I going to do it this time? Am I going to sing opera? How am I going to make it unique?” That’s how much fun I was having with it. And then when that was dampened, it was time to move on.
Were you ever friends with your “Sex and the City” co-stars? Or was it always contentious?
I guess it’s how you define friends. I think we were colleagues. My colleagues aren’t my friends. It was professional.
With the texting on “And Just Like That …,” some of us were still holding out hope you’d return to Samantha one day.
You know the thing about doing a show like “Sex and the City”? I think Darren got it right with “Emily in Paris.” It’s a young show. It’s about young ideals. It’s about discovery. I think the original show is really amazing, but that was a different time.
So it’s a definite no?
That’s a no. It’s powerful to say no.