Kim Cattrall On Agatha Christie, Disowning The Word Cougar & SATC 3 Plans

Photo: Courtesy of Acorn/BBC.
Pictured: Kim Cattrall as Emily French.
Before Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins, there was Agatha Christie. And before Samantha Jones, there was Emily French. For those who aren't up on their British crime classics, French is the wealthy woman "of a certain age" whose employment of a young male escort is the focus of the trial referenced in Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution, the TV adaption of which premieres today on Acorn TV. Like Sex and the City's infamous Ms. Jones, French oozes glamour, makes no apology for her delight in carnal pleasures, and seeks to live life on her own terms. So who better to play her than Kim "Hello, My Name Is Fabulous" Cattrall?

Of course, 1920s London wasn't half as progressive as Manhattan in the early aughts. Speaking to Refinery29 over the phone, Cattrall explained how social mores more or less spoiled French's fun, serving the character a rather tragic twist of fate.

And because you can't have the woman who managed to turn Lawrence of Arabia into a sexual pun on the phone without asking about those rumored plans for another sequel, we grilled her about Sex and the City, too. Maybe read what she has to say first before ordering that celebratory batch of Magnolia Bakery cupcakes.
Emily French is of course going to get comparisons to Samantha Jones, in that they're both women kind of taking control of their personal lives. Did you sense similarities between these two characters?
“I can see how people would. It’s an older woman who has a consort, an escort who’s a younger man and she’s wealthy and she’s in control. But this is 1923, and to be that kind of emancipated woman was almost impossible. She comes from money and she has property which allows her to vote. I decided that she would be a suffragette, because not all women in 1923 could vote. If you had property and you had money you could vote, so in one scene I wanted to wear a suffragette pin.

"I also wanted to expose more of an underbelly of what it is to be a woman of a certain age who has to pay for someone to accompany her, to go out with her. I think that she wanted something on her terms that was easy and fun and exciting and she sees him [the character Leonard Voles, played by Billy Howle]. He's fired from his job and he’s so helpless and she decides to bring him into her fold and she enjoys him — and in 1923, that was just not done in society. To go to a bar by yourself and have a drink as she does, that was not done... I think it’s easier to be a character like that nowadays, but back then it was unheard of.

"The underbelly of it is her loneliness and the fact that this kind of companionship doesn’t come to her anymore; she has to pay for it. The moment where she brings him to her home after she meets him, she's almost like a young girl, kind of excited. She’s inviting him into her world but then there's really the horror and the shame [too] because she still sees herself as a young woman, but also there’s part of her that of course realizes that she has to pay him five pounds or he’s not going to come to the door. There’s a lot of different levels to playing Emily French that I felt that I could expose and inhabit and say something about other than just an older woman looking for a young man. It was much more complex than that, especially in 1923.”

It's a little bit sad. Here’s a woman who’s trying to have some control and really just live her life. You know if it were a rich man in 1923, people wouldn’t bat an eye.
“They would say, ‘Oh, he’s a ladies man.’ Sadly I think that even though we have characters like Samantha Jones, for instance, out there, there still is [the sense] that you shouldn’t be doing this; it's ridiculous. Whereas if it’s an older man with a younger woman it’s still acceptable. That still is with us, but in 1923 it was unheard of. If you did that, you didn’t do it in public, you didn’t go anywhere in public.

"I wanted people to not just dismiss Emily French, I wanted her to be more multifaceted and for you to feel for her, not just as the victim, but as a woman who had been left behind, who was alone and lonely. Her companionship is from this hard-bitten maid who is so punitive at every turn — and that’s her family, that’s the person she lived with. So to bring this young man in... I found it a really interesting puzzle to put together, and a different character that we haven’t seen before."

In the 1957 film version, the Emily character is portrayed as a much older, elderly woman. When we see you, however, you're naked in the bath. There's still this sexuality.
"My series Sensitive Skin is along a similar vein, in the sense of wanting an audience to discover and rediscover what happens to women at certain points in their life. We have enough of it for the younger years, even the 40s. The 50s and 60s haven't really been explored except, I feel, in a very sometimes grotesque way. I want, where are the subtleties? Where are the humanities in a character like this? Instead of making her repulsive or [saying] that there’s something wrong with her. Why has she been cast aside? Because she threatens people, she’s not getting into the norm. She’s honoring who she is in a way as much as she can, and with that comes the realization that things are changing and she’s not going to get the man that she did 20, 30 years ago.

"She kind of accepts that, and when that’s threatened with the maid telling her that he’s married, you can see how really heartbroken she is because for that moment, that fantasy has cracked and the light has gotten through to the reality of what her life is. I felt for her and I felt that [it was important to] expose the reality of what her life is, instead of the pre-made box of what an older woman is supposed to be and act like. I felt I’d seen that a million times and I wanted to see her heart. I wanted to see inside of her.”

How do you feel about the term cougar? It's sort of a knee-jerk reaction to that character and her relationship with Leonard.
“I take umbrage to it. Because a woman is emancipated, does that mean she’s on the hunt? Not necessarily. I mean, I go into bars and there’s people on the hunt for me, you know? So I think that that doesn’t necessarily go with the story line, but I think again [it's common] for society to compartmentalize who people are at certain points in their life."

You shared photos from the Women's March on Instagram. What was your experience like?
"I marched on Long Island where I live, and it was a very emotional experience. It was four of us in a group and we made signs... about love and respect and just to [say], you know, this is what democracy looks like, this is what it is. You get out there and you walk, you walk together for change, for some kind of a spotlight. There were children, there were dogs there, there were families there, there were strollers, there were wheelchairs, there were so many people and there was no one leading our march. There were a few speeches but there was no megaphone, there was no microphone, and you could listen or you could stand on the side of the road and hold your sign up while cars went by and beeped their horns or ignored you. I found it to be a very emotional experience and day. I had marched a few times in the '70s, in particular in Canada against nuclear armaments at an Air Force base close to me. I did that because I felt connected to the cause, but it wasn’t as emotional as this Women’s March. Then to see on television what the rest of the world was doing and what America was doing... truly uplifting.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Acorn TV/BBC.
Pictured: Cattrall (left) with Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Billy Howle, and Monica Dolan
You mentioned Sensitive Skin. Will there be another season?
"We’re still negotiating, I would very much like to continue to do another season at least. The first two seasons are an adaptation of Hugo Blick’s original Sensitive Skin for BBC2, so I’m very excited to do the next chapter of Davina and [see] where she goes. I think it’s really smart with great characters, and I just think it’s very well done in every way. We’re very proud of it, so I’d like to do another [season]. We’re meeting later on this week to discuss season 3, and I’m in the process of producing a thriller that is an adaptation of a book that hasn’t been released yet. So I’m interested in the thriller genre. It’s really hard to do, and god I wish I had Agatha Christie."

Obviously, I have to ask you about Sex and the City. Has there been any progress on a potential third film?
"I think I get this question in every interview I’ve ever done, post Sex and the City. I really don’t know. I mean, you probably know more than I do.”

Which is not much... but I would be excited.
“I don’t know. I think the hardest thing is the script. I’m at the point in my life where I think a lot of the people involved with the project are [thinking], Did we do it all? Was it of its time, is there something left unsaid? I think it’s fantastic Will & Grace has come back because I love that show and it’s so funny. Our show was as well, but we got to do two movies and I think, what would the story be, where would we go, what ground would we cover? I think that that’s what’s different as you get older. You start to think, You know I’ve got so much time and how do I want to spend it?

"I think you think about time as you get older differently, and what you’re drawn to, and I just feel so satiated with — that’s a funny thing to say, playing Samantha — or maybe tapped [with the role]. I just sort of just think, What is the story that we want to tell? I think that would be the most difficult thing to answer. But as I said, every time one of us connected with it is involved with something I think invariably the question comes up and ultimately, it’s the greatest compliment really, that people want more.”

It’s just a testament to how beloved that show still is.
"Oh yeah, so, so well written, my god, talented writers. Every episode, four main characters with four story lines. That’s a kind of balancing act that not just anybody can do. It was going on so fast I wish I’d savored it more — but I think you can say that about most things that you enjoy.”
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