She's Bringing Sexy Back: In This Summer's Sex and the City, Kim Cattrall Is Back for More. but the Woman Who Symbolizes Sex with No Strings Isn't Anything like Her Screen Persona-Except of Course When She Is

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[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Oh, my God, look at these prices!" gasps Kim Cattrall, her eyes bugging in horror at the Four Seasons' continental breakfast menu. And she's right--$30 for lox on a bagel is insane.

But still: Samantha Jones? Wringing her hands over menu prices? Shouldn't she be ordering mimosas with impunity and fearlessly flirting with our waiter, a Hugo Boss model with Crest Whitestrips teeth?

Actors encounter this delusion all the time: the expectation that they are the character they're known for-in Cattrall's case, a brazen practitioner of sexual immoderation. It's a common enough problem that using it to open a magazine profile feels a little cliched. But for Cattrall, who for six seasons played a role that is now inked indelibly on the American consciousness, it's a bigger issue than for most. Even I'm a little shocked when our server turns out not to be a statuesque Hugo Boss model but a small Asian woman who cries out, "Anything for you!" when Cattrall asks for some sak.

"Some people have that lifestyle," she says of Samantha's "appetite," as she calls it. "I don't. I never have." She'll reassert this fact several times during our chat--you get the sense it's the one point she really wants to make sure ends up in the article. For our interview, she's not even wearing much makeup, and her shoes look suspiciously comfortable. Her carefully chosen words are spoken almost sotto voce, nothing like Samantha's voice, so sassy-kitten it's almost vaudevillian.

"People book me on jobs and expect Samantha to show up," which can be exasperating. Why me? Cattrall must think. No one expects Kristin Davis to arrive at an event as a relentlessly sunny type-A husband hunter. For some reason, Samantha's personality stubbornly adheres to its vessel, possibly because it represents an ideal, the kind of person we like to imagine there'd be more of, if the world were a different place. It's such a powerful persona that Cattrall refers to Samantha in the third person without even seeming to notice she's doing so. "She has a tremendous fan base," she says of her character, as if talking up a colleague.

By "fan base," of course, one can deduce to whom she's referring. Could Samantha Jones be any gayer? Saucy, witty, usually single, sexually unabashed, and on the far side of 40, she's also the oldest of the four Sex and the City women by nearly 10 years. "And definitely the most theatrical," Cattrall says. "I think [the producers] wanted her a little bit older because when she speaks there's a life experience there that weighs in."

In other words, she's the very definition of a diva, and as such she brings a certain wisdom that validates the lifestyle she's chosen--which in turn validates gay men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s with lifestyles similar to hers: not settled down, too flamboyant for their age. In an era where being 40, gay, and not partnered in a civil union is considered vaguely shameful-even "bad for the cause"--Samantha makes it seem hip and fantastic.

I ask Cattrall if she'd recommend marriage to the gays, now that it's nominally possible. "You know, marriage doesn't work for me. Never did. I've done it a few times"--three, to be exact--"and I didn't do very well at it. But I've found that for a lot of my friends who are gay who have gotten married, it means so much to them to have a marriage that's an open celebration. It's not just an exchange of rings."

Samantha's age and for that matter Cattrall's lends her another appealing attribute: a memory of an era of sexual decadence.

"I'm a child of the '60s and '70s," Cattrall says. "It was before the plague, and sexuality wasn't thought of as a scary thing. Samantha was like a voice from the recent past saying, 'If it feels good, go with it. Protect yourself, but go with it.'"

"Go with it" was something a lot of gay men were ready to hear when the show debuted in 1998. …

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