Woman of Substance: Kim Cattrall Is Shifting the Female Perspective

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Photography by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Makeup by Nick Barose
Art Direction by Natalie Stoclet and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Kim Cattrall’s career has been the quintessential representation of the female experience in many forms. From her role unmasking sexuality as Samantha Jones in Sex and the City, to her role re-examining life as Divina in her new hit show Sensitive Skin, she has been able to capture the essence of the female condition.

Cattrall’s quest to create an American adaptation of the British series Sensitive Skin began in 2006. The Netflix series tells an unexplored story of the complexities a woman has in this specific period of life. A time when, Cattrall explains, “Your kids grow up and have their own lives and all of a sudden you think, ‘Wow, who am I now and who do I want to be?’” The show has become Cattrall’s platform as executive producer and leading actress to create one of the first truly multidimensional female characters in this stage of life on television today.

“What I am trying to do, especially as a producer, is to reflect some of the questions and challenges I am going through as a woman. I wanted to exercise this not by saying I have the answers, but by examining the questions themselves in a way that you can in television over a period of time,” she says. Her character Divina, in seeking change, moves from suburbia to the city with her narcissistic husband Al (played by Don McKellar). Their new urban life and barren luxury condo are representative of the blank canvas that is this chapter for Divina. Her complex character currently finds herself lost in an unhappy marriage, unfulfilling job, empty apartment and a sense of dissatisfaction with where she is in life. The path to rediscovery proves to be a difficult feat.

Divina’s journey thus far takes her through a series of encounters with men that tempt her desire for change. Each man poses an essential question her character is looking to answer. Am I being noticed? Am I being appreciated? Am I sexually fulfilled? Am I happy? Throughout the season Divina’s doubts are informed by the insightful delusions she has. They act as a catalyst for clarity in moments when life confronts her with complicated questions. “Her delusions are a wonderful device because it’s a time for Divina to look at what’s really going on for her right now,” Cattrall explains.

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In one of Divina’s delusions, she is prompted to question her happiness. She wonders whether she is merely happy enough, or if she is in fact truly happy. “This part of Divina’s character is telling her that now is the time you need to make the decision to be truly happy. Don’t wait until it’s too late,” she says. “A lot of women of my mother’s generation didn’t have the same opportunity for happiness and change. Women now feel that they’ve got to experiment and travel and educate themselves,” she continues. This yearning for more is a fundamental part of this generation of women, and hasn’t been understood in a realized way until now.

In exploring happiness in her own life, Cattrall describes, “I think our society sells us this jingle for happiness, it’s a drumbeat I call it. The pressure to be happy and have it all is a manufactured corporate dream because it means you keep investing in it.” These intrinsic life questions are all themes in Sensitive Skin. It is a true testament to what real women are feeling at this stage in their lives. Yet again, Cattrall has been able to capture the voice of a gender and generation that had yet to be explored.

Cattrall continues to break boundaries for women beyond her roles. “Women are fascinating to me. I believe that we deserve to be telling stories about women that reflect how we really are, which is very complex,” she says. Her understanding and love for women stems from legendary role models like Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, Blondie and Marina Abramovich. “I mostly had mentors who didn’t know they were my mentors. I listened to their music and admired their art. They were fearless even when no one was paying attention because it wasn’t profitable. That would bolster me, especially as a young actress. I am not born from Hollywood royalty, but I am searching for something here. And those women did in their own way,” Cattrall continues. She has since taken what she’s learned to become a mentor to many young women.

Throughout her personal and professional relationships, there is one thing that has remained constant, her relationship with New York City. While Cattrall was born across the pond in Liverpool, England, she is very much a New Yorker. “This city was my first home away from home and it gave me a confidence. It’s not easy to live in New York,” Cattrall explains. While she has loved New York City since the day they first met, it is not the same city that she once knew. Cattrall has seen Manhattan reinvent itself over and over since the time she moved here as a wide-eyed 16-year-old. “Battery Park was like “Needle Park,” 42nd Street was like “porn street.” I still loved it. The dangers are different now. I think the danger is that it could be losing its identity. Fifth Avenue starts to look like main street USA,” however even with all the change Cattrall knows, “there are still those enclaves of pure New York.”

In all her modesty, Cattrall has no idea the huge imprint she herself has made on the history of the city. The New York we knew before Sex and the City and Samantha Jones is surely not the same as the one we know after. “When people first saw Sex and the City they were like – ‘oh God, this is about male bashing,’ which it wasn’t. It was about female embracing,” Cattrall notes. What she didn’t realize then was that six seasons later she would be integral in altering perceptions on female sexuality in the city and for many women around the world. The show, and her character specifically, created a platform for open conversations where women could express their sexuality freely. Not only did Cattrall affect the women in New York City, she in many ways changed the city itself. From Sex and the City bus tours to the countless cocktails around town named after Samantha, the city is forever changed because of Cattrall’s ability to portray her character.

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So much has changed since Sex and the City had its final season in 2004. We couldn’t help but wonder how the show might have been different if it were set in 2016. “I can’t even imagine it actually. The only thing that would be the same is the friendships. The thing that I am most proud of in the show was that it redefined a sense of family. I always say that those four women individually make up one complete woman,” she says. That’s what made the show so special, it was the first time on television where women could really resonate with a character.

Other than being an unimaginable time for Sex and the City, 2016 is poised to be an incredible year for Cattrall. The next season of our favorite new show, Sensitive Skin, airs in May in Canada, with a third season in the works. Since the original British series ended after the second season, we can’t wait to see what Cattrall will do with Divina next. We hear she might show up in Rio de Janeiro, but we’ll just have to wait and see!

There is no doubt that Cattrall’s future in entertainment will be as successful as her past. Her ability to affect change through the roles she plays is already expanding in a beautiful way through her talents as a producer. The opportunity for Cattrall to change perceptions of women in Hollywood and at home has been decades of hard work in the making. It is a privilege to know her work and live by her words. And with that Cattrall concludes, “I have been a good friend to myself, and I encourage women to do the same.”

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