Kim Cattrall gets serious

As she prepares to take to the Broadway stage, Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall tells M why she is taking on more meaty roles.

Kim Cattrall prepares to take to the stage in Noel Coward's Private Lives.
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Samantha Jones is dead; long live Kim Cattrall.

The 55-year-old English-born, Canadian-raised actress, best known for her TV and film role as Sex and the City's glamorous Samantha, says she plans to bury her vixen image, starting with playing a fat and frumpy one-time adult film star and preparing for a run on Broadway this winter.

"I wanted to smash it," Cattrall says of her image, over the phone from New York. "I don't want to be a Barbie doll anymore. I want to be a woman, a person. I want to get scared."

The stunning blonde with the sultry smile has done all she can to distance herself from Samantha, the life-loving, independent New York public relations executive she played on TV's Sex and the City and in the two Hollywood films based on the HBO series.

Cattrall has worked hard to steer her career away from her trademark provocative roles towards more theatre in the past few years. The scathing reviews for Sex and the City 2 came out while she was earning praise for what one critic called her "confident and assured" take on Amanda in Noël Coward's Private Lives in London's West End. The play is in Toronto now and moves to Broadway in November, enabling the actress to return to her roots.

She's no stranger to the stage and has earned solid reviews. She played an "utterly captivating" Cleopatra, the critics said, in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra at the Liverpool Playhouse in her hometown last autumn. She hopes to bring that production to London's West End as well.

She also bravely took on a role in the indie, low-budget US film Meet Monica Velour that opened last spring in limited release. Cattrall gained nine kilograms and let herself go in every way possible. She changed her impeccable posture to a world-weary slump and dropped her voice an octave to sound defeated and flat. Without hair styling or make-up, this incarnation of Cattrall wouldn't earn a second glance on the street. On the screen, rolls of fat spill over her jeans as she plays a chain-smoking, drug-using drunk.

Cattrall says she took the role as soon as she read the script about a 49-year-old object of desire for a nerdy teenage fan who drives hundreds of miles to meet his idol, only to find her living miserably in a trailer park.

It was "scary to be photographed like that", she says, adding that gaining the weight was easy. "That was the least of it really - anybody can gain 20 pounds. You just eat."

Cattrall is confident people will finally stop associating her with her siren roles, which started with the laughably amorous gym teacher in the 1982 comedy Porky's.

"My role in Police Academy? Please! I didn't even have any jokes. On Porky's, I had more to do and it was fun and crazy, but it's not what I do. I was doing these films at the same time I was doing [the plays] A View from the Bridge and Three Sisters.

"Look at my résumé," she says. "Look at the theatre and look at the film. You'd think you're looking at two different actors."

She doesn't specify, but nobody will mistake her dramatic and sometimes darkly funny portrayal of the down-and-out Monica for the one-dimensional women Cattrall played in Porky's, Mannequin and SATC.

The role reflects a time of change for her. Two years ago, she split from her boyfriend, Alan Wyse, a Toronto chef who is 22 years her junior. She began to concentrate more on theatre work and also made the critically acclaimed film The Ghost Writer with Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan.

And of a Sex and the City 3? "Oh, please don't ask. I'm the last to know," she says.

She'd rather talk about championing the Canadian film industry - she has her own production company in Toronto - and the cause of mature actresses.

"I am one of many wonderful actresses of my age that never get a break, especially in Canada," she says.

And if her fans have trouble adjusting to her new path, that's their problem.

"This Monica is my creation," Cattrall says. "I'm not going to flinch. I'm not going to pull any punches and I don't care if people don't like it. I don't care any more."

Private Lives runs until October 30 in Toronto and is to open on Broadway on November 17.