As part of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, I had the pleasure of speaking to the intelligent and eloquent Kim Cattrall about her role as a juror for the festival’s Michael Powell Award, working in film, and the second season of the acclaimed Sensitive Skin, amongst other topics.
You can read the full interview below.
On being part of Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Michael Powell Award Jury
I feel that I’m empathetic and now producing as well as acting in films, I think I have even more of an understanding of how difficult it is first of all just to get the film made. It’s a small miracle. Then if it has a life and finds an audience then that’s another miracle on top of another miracle.
I’m looking for originality in telling a story. Perhaps a story that we’ve heard or seen before but from a specific point of view. In films especially there’s an auteur angle – it’s the director’s complete vision. I’m looking to get to know the places or situation it is that they are writing about.
I grew up with European films. It was very much my education of the world and humanity. I liked to see how other people lived, how they did things as simple as serving dinner which were so different to North America from what I was used to. I think that really teaches us tolerance and acceptance to see how people all over the world lead different kinds of lives.
I saw Mustang last year and was really blown away by the subject matter and how they got that film made. It was extraordinary learning how life could be for those young women. These are the sort of films that I really respond to.
On British filmmaking
It’s a very small industry compared to America especially. The amount of films being made here in the last decade feels severely reduced from what we’ve been used to – and part of that is funding. The other part of it is to get a feature film made is such a long process.
I tried to make a feature film out of Sensitive Skin but it was so difficult – so I understand why there are fewer films – especially independent films because of cable television. The level of the work was very cinematic and so many filmmakers are now going into cable television. It’s a plus for television and kind of a bleed for feature films.
I always loved David Lean and John Boorman’s films. They had a sensibility, a world view again that was different from the Hollywood films – which I also enjoyed, but they were more fun or fantastical. I’m rewatching European films on Hulu like Bergman or Fellini films and realising that I didn’t know what they were about. I mean, when I was about 18 how could I know what Scenes from a Marriage was about – but I understood something, I was drawn to it. Now I get to experience those again and also experience young filmmakers, new filmmakers.
On her current career
What’s changed is the reason why I say yes to something. It’s not just to work because I’ve worked a lot and I feel very satiated that way, but it’s the reason that I want to tell the story. There’s something that I want to say with Sensitive Skin. I want to look at an average woman having some kind of self-examination at this stage in her life. I’m reflecting that in my life too. There are very personal things that recently I’ve been writing about with an essay I did for BBC Radio 4 and Sensitive Skin that are very connected to questions and experiences that I’ve never had before. I feel that I’m strong enough to observe them in that way and not care as much as I did when I was younger about what people thought.
What’s more important is telling the story truthfully and making entertainment. There is humour in everything, but comedy for me is evolving – especially the dark comedy aspect. I’m really proud of that in Sensitive Skin. It doesn’t take you into a surreal heightened experience, the comedy is much more subtle and has a lot of irony in it which I enjoy.
On the lengthy development process of Sensitive Skin
It was about finding the right collaborators. Hugo Blick gave us this brilliant blueprint, but people wanted to film exactly what he did with Joanna Lumley and Dennis Lawson in the original British series. North America is not England, it has a different sensibility and we couldn’t just do what the British had done. Then they wanted to make it very situation comedy with a laugh out loud humour but it took away from the pathos and story which was much more complex and interesting than that. Then it went on the back-burner and I thought I’ll do a feature film. It wasn’t until I met my collaborators and we ultimately built it together.
The pace of the show is very different. It’s not hectic, it’s not crazy, it’s not working too hard. It allows the audience to come into the world in a very open way and that I’m most proud of that its real. The humour in it is very funny, intelligent and witty, but it’s a black comedy and that’s always what I felt it would be.
On Sensitive Skin opening discussions about ageing
That’s exactly why I did it. I wanted to examine and reflect questions – as this is a period of life that nobody really prepares you for. Things that you’ve had your whole life you start to lose gradually – emotionally, intellectually and physically. We can’t stop change, we can’t freeze it. Things are finite. You start to understand mortality in a different way. Why not use comedy to access that, the way we did to explore women’s complexity and sexuality in Sex and the City? Having been there and done that in a very active way, it became addictive – I don’t want to just work to work anymore. There’s isn’t a purpose in that. I didn’t feel like I had a focus on what I would do next. I know what was expected of me and what was desired of me because of monetary gains and ego gratification, but I wasn’t interested in that. I found that I’d seen people who’d done it and they didn’t see it as repetition or selling out, they did it for their own reasons or their own concerns but for me I wanted more challenges and to stay on the point of the blade of going too far and not going far enough instead of playing safe.
On the public reaction to Sensitive Skin
My whole career I’ve played so many different characters and with Davina people have started saying “Wow. She’s not just a one off” and “She really shows her ability” I think there’s a difference between an actor and a movie star. I think a movie star plays the same role over and over, but an actor plays different roles. I never thought I was a movie star, I always thought that I was an actor – but for other people who mainly know me from Mannequin and Sex and the City, when I do something else and its considered to be done well it shows I’m more versatile. I was surprised with that in Sensitive Skin because its just another character – and in many ways much closer to myself.
On Sensitive Skin‘s Davina in Season 2
I loved the device of the delusion in the first season, because all of the delusions were women speaking to Davina: the mother, the old lady, the three women at different points in their lives and I loved all of that because to have a character who is not so overtly active, we needed to get the audience inside her head. I didn’t want to abandon that for Season 2 because I felt it was such a useful device for the comedy and the drama of it.
I don’t want to give too much away, but we wanted to put her in the driver’s seat because she’s not active. She’s a woman who things have always happened to her and a lot of it is because she looks a certain way. She doesn’t make waves. She starts to make little waves.
I see myself as a feminist and it’s really a shame that that’s become a negative connotation of late. History teaches us very little – we don’t remember the heroes because people have been born into it and those are the rights they had.
On telling women’s stories
Sheila Nevens (the HBO documentary producer) was introducing Gloria Steinham because they had done a documentary about her. Sheila said she had made this documentary because she was in the office one day and her intern had told her she didn’t know who Gloria Steinham was. I said Gloria Steinham was one of my heroes. How could they not know? She marched with Martin Luther King. She was a game-changer for women. She started a magazine. She created a whole world and I just thought wow, we can’t let that go. You can learn from what women had to – and still have to – go through. We need those stories.
I’m not interested in polemics, I’m more interested in entertainment. I recently wrote an essay about insomniac episodes and I found it incredibly gratifying that through the notes that I had taken through this crisis point that I could tell that story exactly as it happened. I ultimately knew that it was going to be judged in one way or another, but I didn’t care. I felt that the content of it was real and I felt that it was a story, it was my story, but I felt that it needed to told. I’m not the only woman suffering from insomnia. I’m not the only woman in the world who thought sleep was a very low priority. So I felt it was relevant. I think there’s many ways that without becoming a symbol for something that you can tell stories. I don’t want to create my list of important people, I’d just like to tell the story.
Humour goes a long way. In America they tend to preach and when things become more of a melodrama they often miss the point. It’s the struggle and truthfulness of that struggle that I think people will take away with them. It’s a human struggle, whether it’s a man or woman’s story – although I am particularly interested in women’s stories because I feel there aren’t enough of them.
On coping with insomnia
I found a doctor that practices Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which gives you a clear, disciplined structure on changing your routine. It’s changing your life, not in a religious way. It’s a lot of hard work: keeping a diary, banning electronics from the bedroom – which is really hard to do now because it’s addictive. It’s kind of a monastic exercise getting through and over something that I’d always taken for granted and realising that without sleep I didn’t realise who I was.
On the Sex and the City experience.
Oh fun. Real fun. Life-changing, irrevocably in real positive ways. The character was so appealing and so brave and so honest. I think something happens to you in this work when you get to be involved in something that slightly changes people’s views or perceptions – especially for women. That’s why I wanted to continue in that vein. I was offered a lot of opportunities to replicate what I’d already experienced and I felt that there wasn’t anything there for me. I couldn’t do it better. There weren’t better writers or co-stars. I couldn’t have a better platform to play a character and make her so powerful but also so vulnerable – so when Sensitive Skin came on it took about ten years, I realised that there was something I wanted to say there.
Sensitive Skin airs on Sky Arts Wednesday nights at 10pm