Michael Patrick King - 'Sex and the City took sex out the shadows'
As Carrie and co return for more adventures in Sex and City 2, the film's director, Michael Patrick King, tells Gill Pringle why he understands what women want
Friday 21 May 2010
"Let there be no mistake," says Sex and the City 2's producer/director/writer Michael Patrick King. "A gay man alone could never begin to replicate the inner workings of the female mind. There are thousands of gay men who couldn't write these women; its all about the female view of the world, channelled through these characters."
Reprising his triple-threat role in the first big screen version of the award-winning TV series – which surprised cynics by taking in $415m at the global box office two years ago – King aims to beat that record with his much-heralded sequel.
Based, in part, on journalist Candace Bushnell's book of the same name – compiled from her columns in the New York Observer – TV producer Darren Star adapted her work into one of HBO's most successful TV series, broadcasting 94 episodes between 1994 and 2004.
Narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw, she weekly shared her sexual frustrations and fantasies – along with those of her three best friends, Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) and Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) – with millions of ardent viewers across the globe. During the course of six seasons, Sex and the City would be nominated for more than 50 Emmy awards, winning seven times.
A tough act to follow? "There's always pressure," concedes openly gay scribe King, 55, who co-wrote all the SATC season finales and premieres since the second season as well as directing both big screen outings. "Anytime you create a new artistic, anything, there's pressure. Because one of my rules when I did the series, and I maintained it on this movie, was never to repeat a story. I try not to repeat an emotion. I want it all to be new for the viewers and to challenge myself as a writer. But because these characters are so vibrant, both to me and to people around the world who still follow their lives, it's easy to get lost in 'What would they do?' If I'm proud of anything, then it's the fact that we took sex out of the shadows where it was a dirty secret, and made it all pink and fuzzy like a good bottle of champagne.
"My female writers have always been my backbone. I had a writing room of six women for five years so I know what women do. Cultivated by me, by the way!" laughs the former stand-up comedian who previously worked on fem-coms Murphy Brown, Cybill, Will & Grace and post-Friends sitcom, The Comeback.
"The amazing thing about women is that they really will reveal everything about who they are to you. They're very present in their emotions and very available and the fun entry place for SATC was, as much as for those four female characters when it begun, that the real voice I found interesting was the single girl voice; the idea that there's a belief that if you're not married or you don't have children, that you're a leper. So any time you get to write the underdog as your main energy, it's really exciting. I was actually raised with three sisters, and I never got the line that girls were less than men or anything so it was very easy for me to just sort of listen and, like any writer, you have a series of variables and you try to put them in play. So it's really not just about hiring women, it's about hiring writers, and it's not about being a gay man who writes for women because they simply can't do what these women do; Oh, you have that! You're the one that goes on dates that go wrong and is hilarious about it – I'm hiring you. And you're the one that doesn't want to get married – I'm hiring you! And they were also not just women – they were really wonderful writers. I'm the only male writer on the team. I'm not a doctor, but I don't have to be to write an emergency-room scene. But I really enjoy women, and I totally understand and applaud the diversity that they have in terms of their emotions, intellects, vulnerability and strength."
While SATC is cherished by both women and gay men alike, King gets to explore one of his pet topics in the sequel, scripting the same-sex marriage of the TV series' pivotal gay characters Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) and Anthony Marantino (Mario Cantone). Co-starring with the Cosmo-loving ladies are familiar faces David Eigenberg, Evan Handler and Jason Lewis while "surprise" guest stars include Miley Cyrus, Penélope Cruz and Liza Minnelli.
"It's interesting because Penelope said to me, 'I've seen that first movie 15 times! I put it on when I want to feel happy and I put it on when I want to feel sad,'" he says, in a spot-on imitation of her sex-siren Spanish accent "Penelope is a devoted follower of those girls and Mr Big, so I needed a part and I thought, 'Who better to play that part than Penelope?' But Penelope didn't approach me – I went after her. She's not playing herself whereas we also have Liza Minnelli who is playing herself and Miley Cyrus who also plays herself," says King talking in Las Vegas where SATC 2 is being fêted by North American cinema owners.
Shot between New York and Morocco – doubling for Abu Dhabi – SATC fans will once again be torn between Carrie's Mr Big, played by Chris Noth, and John Corbett's Aidan.
In an attempt to discover what happens after "I do" – Carrie rounds up the girls for a trip to Abu Dhabi where she unexpectedly bumps into former flame Aidan – not that Mr Big is exactly innocent as the trailer shows him enraptured by the charms of Penélope Cruz. Charlotte now has two kids while Miranda spends more time with her BlackBerrry than with Steve. Samantha is feeling her age, suffering a hot flush while riding a camel.
"I was very aware of making this film during a time of economic downturn," says King.
"So I thought, 'OK, it's a depression. In the Great Depression, what did people do? What did people need?' And I thought, extravagance. Let's make this a grand road movie, using a big vacation as a plot device to be able to have the girls in a setting where you can still be extravagant. We even got to film on the same dunes where they shot Lawrence of Arabia. I really wanted to be this Scheherazade Middle East adventure. And I got it.
"Also it was fun to take these four liberated American women with the name 'sex' in the title and bring them to the Middle East. The idea of Samantha, a woman who is sexually liberated beyond anyone's expectation, in the Middle East?! What's more delicious than that?" enthuses King, the Catholic son of a janitor and Krispy Kreme worker.
With a staggering $10m costume budget on the film, King's version of "depression" is slightly skew: "Well, I always said, nobody wants to see Carrie Bradshaw selling apples under a bridge. That would be just depressing. My job is to take the audience on a fun thing and have them feel good. There is always, always going to be style and it's filled with everything people want. It's not like, 'Oh, I'm depressed, they're wearing brown'. No. There's no reason to do Sex and the City if it's not going to be everything Sex and the City is, which is vibrant emotions, comedy, drama... and also, style.
"I wanted to use everything that I know the fans enjoy including bringing back Carrie's ex, Aidan. I always felt that women responded to him so well. If I talk to a woman for more than five minutes I can tell you exactly whether she's an Aidan girl or a Mr Big girl. Aidan girls are more interested in nurturing relationships and building a nest while Mr Big girls are more about show and having fun."
But don't expect all the girls to find "happy every after", he warns. "I actually feel that the reason why the audience still follows these characters is because their lives do reflect the people who watch the show or the movie. There's a natural evolution in life, based on society – the great enemy, society! – where some women get married and some have kids and some don't. And because there's four of them, it's my job to never have to say that it's the journey to be married; it's the journey to be married with children, or it's the journey to be single. There will never ever be a moment where all four of the SATC girls are married.
"The interesting theme of the sequel is to explore the idea of tradition. Even in our current-day society, women's roles are still divined by tradition. I always look for: 'What's the thing that needs to be said?' like what's the balm for the horse that is still saying – be this way, be that way – and I go after that. But within these four women's lives, there's so much trust and caring for each other. It's really about trusting that where you are in your life is the right place for you. But that's a lot of work – especially when you're married or in a relationship – people rarely get chance to do that after happily ever after," he says.
For a franchise synonymous with Manhattan, Sarah Jessica Parker told Entertainment Weekly of her joy at the relative anonymity of an eight-week shoot in Morocco. Dogged by paparazzi during the first film, she said: "To not have to hide an actor or a story line or a costume – it was amazing. Nobody was interested. Nobody."
If it's the common consensus that there's no decent roles for women over 40, then SATC surely disproves the theory: Parker and Davis are both 45 while Cattrall is 53 and Nixon, the youngest, at 44.
"We can't deny their years and we don't try to," says King. "One of the great gifts of Sex and the City is that it's been able to evolve. So when the girls were 34, they were 34. And now that Kim is 53, then Samantha is 53. So there's an enormous power in not trying to hide anything. And there's a great story there for women who are in that part of their life, to reflect. For me, it's just about keeping it real and current. And what's great about the series in a very bizarre way – almost like a magic trick – is that girls are still watching the DVDs who are 20, and think that Samantha is their friend. So there's this whole evolution and the girls are still as gorgeous as they ever were."
Ask him about the possibility of a SATC 3, he jokes: "I have no idea. When I did the first movie, I didn't even think about SATC 2. When I'm actually having sex – like I am right now, just finishing having sex, I always like to think about the sex I'm actually finishing. If I was to think ahead, it would just be rude! It would be rude to my current movie."
'Sex and the City 2' is released on 28 May
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