When HBO? Sex and city first presented in June 1998, the world was a completely different place.
It was more than three years before the 9/11 attacks. The #MeToo revolution was almost a generation away, not to mention the racial justice movements or the pandemic.
All of this was yet to come, that summer when 30-something Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha first appeared on screen.
Changes in the world and changes caused by age are among the things Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and many new characters have to deal with when they meet on HBO’s new show, That’s it.
Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda, and Karen Pittman, who plays newcomer Professor Nya Wallace, spoke with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly about how the new show is working to better reflect New York City’s racial diversity, character portrayal. originals in their mid-50s, and the fashion that everyone knows and loves.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity and includes some web-only answers.
Highlights of the interview
Cynthia, I’ll give you the first word because I’ve been watching you since 1998. How does it feel to pick up on a character you played a long time ago? Do you have to know her again?
Cynthia Nixon: No – I mean, I think when you play the character for that long, she lives inside of you. And certainly when you’re back together with so many of the original people on screen and some really crucial ones behind the camera, it really feels like you’re wearing a bespoke suit. But I think what’s really exciting for all of us who were there before is to come back and really allow these characters to grow and change. And yes, age, but something our show hasn’t been good about previously is expanding our universe. It was a very, very white show, and so to have the chance to revisit it and expand our world and to have these amazing new characters played by these amazing actors is a real treat. And how to throw these original women into new situations.
Speaking of awesome new characters, Karen, the storylines are all new to this show, but I wonder for you, do you feel like you’re going to a party everyone else was invited to 20 years ago?
Karen Pittman: Yeah, and it looks like the best party to hit, right? I mean, I think part of my goal as an actor and as an artist is to work on the material with collaborators who are interested in saying bold and bold things and great stories with great storytellers and actors. And this is obviously an amazing playground for people living in New York in 2021.
Well, let’s dive into how the show is different in 2021. I just want to zoom in on this great scene that kicks off the relationship between your two characters. Karen, you play Miranda’s law professor, which is embarrassing because she has a professor. He is about 50 years old. You are younger than her. And the first meeting between you two is like Miranda puts her foot in her mouth and then puts it deeper and then, like, swallows it all. It is so hard.
In the scene, Nixon’s character Miranda makes a series of increasingly embarrassing comments, including expressing surprise that Pittman’s character is the professor “because of your braids” and then trying to correct by saying that he is. joined the class in part because the professor is black.
Was it supposed to be a train wreck? And I’m asking because, you know, some critics have panned that scene and said it kind of hits the wrong note. For example, nobody is that embarrassing. Does it look like it works as a scene, Karen?
Pittman: I mean, the people in my circle, definitely the African American women in their 30s and 40s and even 50s who absolutely feel that scene deep inside. Like, “Yeah, definitely. I’ve faced this problem.” I think because we live in this society where our audience has experienced so much of this culture of cancellation, we get the impression that Miranda is in danger, but she isn’t. He’s just trying to figure something out.
Nixon: Yes, no, Miranda is in no danger. And I think Miranda has always been a person who jumps and says what she thinks, although she may want to retract a little later. And I think for myself, this is her going out and trying to have conversations that she has never had before. And I mean, I think the idea of the show is like, we don’t want to show these characters doing things they know how to do, right? We want to pull the rug out from under them a little bit and actually put them in new situations and watch them work.
Another big change this time around is that the entire original group of characters are over 50. Everyone is middle-aged. That very awkward scene we just heard, you know, you’re looking in your bag for your reading glasses, Cynthia, and your gray hair is like it’s texture. It seemed very intentional. As you were saying to everyone watching, “Hey, folks, this is what 55 looks like.”
Nixon: Right, and in the first scene we’re actually discussing Miranda’s hair color is gray and Charlotte’s unhappiness with it. And what does it mean when you dye your hair? Or what does it mean when you have some work done on your face? Are you trying to look your “best”? Or are you really trying to pass yourself off as younger than you?
Karen, your character is on the younger end of the spectrum and is trying to figure out whether to start a family, whether to have a baby. But do you want to answer this question only about the challenge of getting the green light for a show that will feature women who, God forbid, have gray hair and wrinkles?
Pittman: Well, I think the interesting thing about this is how, you know, we’re discussing something that I don’t think we’d probably see in a men’s show, we’re talking about hair. You know what I mean? Is your hair gray? Should it stay gray? For example, these are actually conversations in which women have to somehow navigate. I know we spend a lot of time talking about Nya’s hair. You know it’s natural. And I wanted to have that conversation with the Sex and the city audience to talk about what an African American woman in New York City looks like with natural hair. You know, braids. These are women I see on the subway and who we always see on the subway, but they may not have been introduced that way on this platform.