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Meet Monica Velour - Kim Cattrall interview

Meet Monica Velour

Interview by Rob Carnevale

KIM Cattrall talks candidly about the pleasure of being able to put on weight for a role and how she is happy to take more risks in her career post-Samantha in Sex & The City.

She also talks about the lack of decent roles for women over 50, marginalization, being stalked and the difference between Kim Cattrall and Samantha.

Q. This feels like possibly your greatest performance…
Kim Cattrall: Oh thank you. I agree. I finally got a great part [laughs].

Q. It also feels that career-wise, post Samantha, you are really trying so many different things in order not to become pigeon-holed? You seem quite fearless in what you want to do. Is that right?
Kim Cattrall: So far, yes. This film opened in April in New York, San Francisco and LA and we did press there, during which I got similar questions. One person sort of put it in a nutshell. He said: “You’ve become a bungee-jumping actress!” And I thought that was quite funny but it’s sort of how it feels. Initially, when the series ended I was really tired and exhausted and I really wanted to go home and home to me has been two places – it’s been Canada and England. Sir Peter Hall asked me to do a play in the West End and I thought: “I’m going to go back to what I know, which is the theatre, I’m going to go back home where I have family and support and I’m just going to get away from what has been my life for the past eight years.”

And I’m so glad I did it because it gave me a tremendous amount of support and courage and some kind of objectivity about how I wanted the rest of my life to be, and the kind of choices and the kind of actress that I wanted to be and where the next block of 20-30 years could go. And the feeling of: “If not now then when?” I was fortunate enough to do the series and be financially secure to make those kind of choices, and I’m very grateful for that [taps wood on table). It wasn’t easy and I didn’t know if a lot of people would get it or understand it or criticize it. I didn’t know if I would succeed but it was better than staying where I was. Fortunately, it has been a terrific dive and I have landed on my feet like a cat each time.

But this role in particular, because it’s on film rather than on stage or television, means a tremendous amount, simply because to play a character different than myself but also to re-invent that character – physically, emotionally and have the role to do it.

When I read the script my agent said: “You’re not gonna want to do this because it’s about sex again.” And I said: “Really? Well, I don’t think it’s really about sex, I think this is a feminist film, which is also a comedy about a woman fighting for the custody of her daughter.” I said: “Sex is the least that this is about. This is about sexualisation and marginalization but it’s not about sex.” And that really got me going. It also terrified me much more than any of the other roles that I’ve taken on because I wasn’t going to look sexy and pretty.

Q. Was that quite liberating though?
Kim Cattrall: Oh, it was fantastic. It really was. And you know, I have a huge appetite and my body type is heavier than I am right now so to be that 20lbs extra was heaven. I loved it and putting it [the weight] on. I just savoured every bit of it with wonderful meals and crap meals and McDonald’s and chips and whatever I wanted. It was not just the deprivation of having to play these two-dimensional characters on film in particular for most of my career, because when I was younger the choices I made, whether it was Porky’s, Police Academy, Big Trouble in Little China… those were all supplementing my theatre career whether I was in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, wherever I was, because I didn’t come from any kind of financial stability, so my work in television and film was supporting my theatre habit. I was glad to do it and never really took it that seriously and thought: “Well yes I’m being sexualized but that’s OK, I’m making a living out of it, these films are fun and I’m learning a little bit in front of the camera…”

I was one of the last contract players at Universal Studios, I got to work with some interesting people, but it’s not where I lived. But I just couldn’t financially get to just do theatre ever, so now I thought: “This is the time, this is the time to say ‘yes’ to things that scare you.” And that’s something that Jack Lemon had said to me very early on in my career when I did a film called Tribute. I said: “How do you have longevity in this business?” And he said: “You take risks.”

Meet Monica Velour

Q. What was the most fun part of playing Monica – her strengths or her weaknesses?
Kim Cattrall: The most exciting thing and the most difficult thing was to give her dignity. That was the most difficult thing – to find that. Once I’d found that, everything else came. And I rehearsed this like I did a play. First of all I met with Keith [Bearden, writer and director], who used to write for a film magazine. I went online and listened to some of his interviews and I thought: “He’s really smart because he’s written this amazing script, first time off, and it’s a great part for a woman!” I mean, who writes a part for a woman in her 50s? Nobody! Especially a first-time director/writer! So, I met with him and we talked about a lot of things, and I said: “I want to get a rehearsal room.” He said: “There’s no money…” And I said: “I don’t care, I’ll pay for it, we need to rehearse this because this is not a job I can just show up and do, I have to – as I do with most of my characters – create them from the ground up.”

But this was such a departure, I kind of had to go away and rehearse it like bit by bit. What does the voice sound like? No, that’s not right, it’s lower, it’s lower… my voice goes up, hers goes down, it’s huskier, let’s put her in the Midwest, [in Monica’s accent] let’s make her down, she smokes, she drinks, she does a lot of drugs, what is that about? Keith knew a woman who had that voice and I wanted to find her and spend time with her. This woman is now a masseuse, so she massaged me for weeks on end. And it was not a good massage! But I was paying her $250 just to listen to her speak, just to hear her cadence. But to get to these details on film is truly a privilege.

First of all you have to have the role and you’ve got to give it, you’ve got to be there, then gaining the weight, and how that made me feel physically. He [Keith] said: “How do you see her?” And I said: “Well, I see her as this Catholic schoolgirl who is protecting herself because she’s got a lot of wounds inside and out.” So, this whole character and then working with the costume designer: “No that costume’s not right…” And then working with this wonderful woman, Julie Atlas Muz, who is a burlesque performer in underground New York… she choreographed the strip for us.

But just spending time with her and looking at her body and how she works with it, and doing the strip itself and grabbing my stomach and feeling fat and human and dirty. And the set… We never did more than two or three takes, so without that kind of prep I couldn’t have done this role. There’s actors who show up and do the same role over and over again, and I consider those movie stars. This is a real acting job.

Q. Given that amount of prep, was she hard to leave behind?
Kim Cattrall: Devastatingly hard, yes. I remember them coming to make, you know, behind-the-scenes and I saw that about six months ago and I was never out of character. I was Monica. I was saying things and doing things that I would never do as Kim.

Q. Such as drinking and smoking?
Kim Cattrall: I don’t smoke – they were fake cigarettes. But I had a couple of drinks after work and I would never do that, never. I don’t even like to drink that much but I needed to come down from it, you know? But it was so effortless. I didn’t think: “Here comes that big emotional scene I have to do.” It was just another day with Monica. And that whole thing with the biker… kissing the biker, that wasn’t written – and that’s a real biker [pulls a face]. I thought: “How did I do that?” There’s a jazz metaphor called scatting and I felt like I was scatting. I couldn’t do any wrong. It was all fitting into place so beautifully.

The thing I love about this work is that it unfolds in such a subtle way and you get to know this character. There’s no heart of gold, she’s not completely likeable, which is very unusual for an American film – to have a female anti-hero… it’s basically unheard-of. So, it’s really exciting, breaking boundaries – and for women as well. This whole marginalization thing, which I’m fighting and most of us are fighting as we get older, whatever profession we’re in, also comes into play. And that engaged me in another way that I don’t think I would have otherwise been engaged in.

Meet Monica Velour

Q. The film has an uneasy contradiction to ‘80s pornography and pornography in general. I mean, there’s clearly an affection for some of those silly, cheesy knock-offs but at the same time it doesn’t shy away from the realities of how that industry treats women. What’s your view on that?
Kim Cattrall: I think it’s reality and I think it’s getting scarier because pornography was one size when Monica was doing it and look at it now. It’s just huge – bigger than we could ever imagine. And what it does to young people, the expectation of what a woman is sexually. It’s just so damaging. Where do you go? What are your expectations? They’re totally unrealistic.

Q. How was filming the raw scenes like the strip scene, where you’re being heckled?
Kim Cattrall: It’s devastating. It was the last scene we shot and I’m really glad it was the last scene because it was the heaviest that I was. I gained 15lbs before we started shooting and another 5/6 in the course of shooting. I made a very clear choice that she wasn’t in her body, which protected me through the many different angles that we had to do. But after a while it did seep through and it did affect me, and also being the last night – we shot until 5 in the morning in this place we called The Petting Zoo but it had an equally horrific name – and all the people you see there were actually dancers because there was no budget to get anyone else to come in.

So, there was a bitter taste of reality there and I went into my dressing room at the end of it and had a good cry. I think a lot of it was just coming down from the high of what we were doing, which actually lasted a few more weeks if you ask my friends… But having that age rage, hearing it, because it’s everywhere, it’s on the Internet if you Google someone over 50. There are some pretty horrific things people say, but they say it face-lessly. Even though those kids were acting, I’m not made of stone and it does have an effect on you, but that’s what the film is about. That’s why it’s a brave film. That’s why it’s a romantic comedy but it’s also a feminist film. I can’t believe that a man made it.

Q. In your daily life do people assume you are Samantha?
Kim Cattrall: What do you think [laughs]? I go to Wimbledon and it’s: “[Headline] Brings sex to Wimbledon!” I’m just sitting there eating a sandwich and seeing the game, and there’s no sex on my mind. What I’m looking at is this Kamiko, from Japan, playing a fantastic game against the world number one. It’s an exciting moment to be there and I’m not thinking about anything else. But this is what’s interesting – you sort of get these images thrust upon you and that’s just the way it is. So, it’s about what you choose to do with it. I choose to make Monica Velour, other people choose not to. I want to continue to have a career, I want to continue to age, I want to continue to have a voice in some way so I keep working.

Q. You mentioned about how great it was to gain the weight, so is there a real pressure to always look great at all other times?
Kim Cattrall: Absolutely, yes it is. But I am a child of the Jane Fonda generation so I’ve been on a diet since 1974, and it’s business as usual really. Working out… I don’t sleep well, so if I exercise I sleep better, it’s just the way it is. I like to look fit, I’m single, I’m dating, I want to look attractive for that, but at the same time there is a point where I’m going to say: “I’m tired! I just want a hamburger and fries [laughs], I don’t want to work out anymore.” Hopefully, that day hasn’t come yet.

Q. What’s your take on people who work in the sex industry, such as Monica? Are they victims? Are they lazy money-making?
Kim Cattrall: Well, I have empathy for them. I don’t see them in some ways as that far off from some young women who come to Hollywood wanting to be actresses. They have a dream – maybe it’s to be a model – so they show up at an open call and someone says: “Well, it’s this kind of modeling…” But they’ve got to pay their rent so they do it once, and they do it twice and suddenly they’re getting known for it and they’re getting paid. They’re getting recognition, they have respect… they have an industry! You see Boogie Nights. I don’t see those women as being victimized. They create a family within the industry they have, and some women have come out and created their own industry making porn films specifically for women. But this character is a victim and she has no education and she has no choices.

To be a porn star you’re outside of society. At the opening of Monica Velour there were a couple of porn stars there and my publicist was a little nervous about it, and I was like: “They’re here because they’re part of something I played, you’ve got to relax a bit about this.” And these are sophisticated people; so, you take that to rural America and she’s like a pariah, she can’t get a six buck an hour shampoo job in any town because she’s labeled: out-of-date, abused, used, done. It’s tragic isn’t it?

Q. Do you feel incredibly lucky by comparison?
Kim Cattrall: Oh my God, yes! I’m not living in a freaking trailer park and I have choices, I have a voice, I have a platform. I can’t compare myself to her situation in any way. It breaks my heart because… the similarity. I think, is the reality of it, is that survival. There’s so many times in my career when I could have said: “This is really too hard and I don’t want to do it.” It’s a really hard, fucking lonely job in a lot of ways. It’s great… the highs and lows, you work, you don’t work, are you going to be able to pay your rent, are you good enough, are you not good enough, are you pretty enough, are you smart enough? I mean, we go through it as human beings every day but when you’re in the public eye and you’re a known entity, you’re supposed to be beyond that, you’re supposed to have that together, and sometimes you’re just a person in a hotel room who can’t go out.

Kim Cattrall in Sex & The City: The Movie

Q. Do you think the industry has changed you? And do you think the industry has changed since you’ve been a part of it?
Kim Cattrall: Yes, it’s gotten better. A part for a woman in her 50s like this exists. Mama Mia existed. Sex And The City exists. It’s better. It’s job by job. Me saying ‘yes’ to this means it good made, and that makes me extremely happy. But having heat in Hollywood, someone once said to me, is like having a little fire in Alaska on a snowy night. You don’t know how long it’s going to last, you know? You just fan the flames.

Q. And do you think it’s changed you as a person?
Kim Cattrall: Yes, I’m a good businesswoman, a very good businesswoman. And it’s given me a voice to speak about things, which is mostly women’s issues, sexually and otherwise.

Q. Do you understand the criticism of the last Sex & The City film? And will there be another one?
Kim Cattrall: I don’t read reviews, especially nasty ones.

Q. Does it get on your nerves that people keep asking about it?
Kim Cattrall: I’ve developed a patience about it.

Q. With regard to roles for 50-something women, do you have any ambition to write or direct something?
Kim Cattrall: No, produce. Buy smart properties or really good writers and inspire them.

Q. Given the film’s themes of fans going to exceptional lengths to follow you, have you ever had a similar style of fan or stalker?
Kim Cattrall: I’ve gone through restraining orders and court cases, but I keep it very private because I feel that to make noise about it increases the instances of it. Not so much towards me, because it’s already happening, but towards other people. I was doing a play once in California and the artistic director came to me in the intermission and said: “We’ve had a death threat.2 I thought: “Really? Now I have to go and do the second act.” We were doing The Misanthrope and suddenly my leading man wasn’t standing very close to me [laughs]. And I had a police escort home. It was terrifying, really terrifying. I mean, I’m an actor. Why should I have to put up with that insanity? But that’s part of it.

Q. So, what do the nice fans say to you?
Kim Cattrall: They go: “I’m you! I love you! I want to be you!” And I’m thinking: “No, you don’t want to be me, you want to be her [Samantha].”

Q. Do you get many gay guys coming up to you…
Kim Cattrall: What do you think? Absolutely! But the gay, lesbian and transgender community have been so incredibly supportive, even before Sex And The City. I just got a GLAAD award, which is an amazing organization which I support, so I’m very grateful for the support I get from the gay community.

Meet Monica Velour is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday, July 4, 2011.