Meet Kim Cattrall
“When I read the script, my agent said ’You’re not going to want to do this because it’s about sex again,’ Well, I don’t think it’s really about sex, I think this is a feminist film…This is about sexualisation and marginalisation. But it’s not about sex.”
A feminist film? Hmmm… I’m not sure I agree with Kim Cattrall that her new movie, Meet Monica Velour, is a feminist film but, this being my first celeb interview, I’m not in a hurry to antagonise the subject. I’m one of a dozen or so jaded hacks who’ve gathered in an anonymous London hotel room to shower the star of Sex and the City with questions like some sort of journalistic bukkake.
Which is kinda apt given the plot of Meet Monica Velour; a heart-warming tale of a porn-obsessed 17-year old mouth-breathing geek who travels halfway across America to see his favourite star of ‘80s grumble flicks, strip in a dingy club in the Midwest. It’s as if Napolean Dynamite woke up one day and became a horny stalker. The film is slight, a gently funny character comedy, but Cattrall’s enthusiasm for the film is seductive.
“I rehearsed this like I did a play. I met with Keith (Barker, writer/director of Meet Monica Velour) who used to write for a film magazine, I went online, listened to some of his interviews and I thought he was really smart because he’s written this amazing script, first time off. And it’s a great part for a woman. Who writes a great part for a woman in her 50s? Nobody. Especially a first-time director. I met with him and we talked about a lot of different things and I said: ‘I want to get a rehearsal room.’ And he said: ‘There’s no money,’ I said: ‘I’ll pay for it, I don’t care. We need to rehearse this because this is not a job I can just show up and do.’”
As the titular Monica, Cattrall dominates the film, delivering her best performance in years, obviously relishing lines like “You screw a few hundred guys, and the whole world turns against you,” and “You wouldn’t be the first guy to drive me out to the woods and try to kill me.”
“This was such a departure. I kind of had to go away and rehearse it, like, bit by bit. The voice. What does the voice sound like? No, that’s not right. It’s lower. My voice goes up, her voice goes down. It’s huskier. Let’s put her in the mid-West. She smokes, she drinks, she does a lot of drugs. ‘Who do you know that’s got that kind of voice?’ Keith says: ‘There’s this woman. She used to work with me at this production company.’ I spend time with her. This woman is now a masseuse! So she massaged me for weeks on end. And it was not a good massage. But I was just paying her $250 just to listen to her speak, just to hear her cadence. And to get to these kind of details on film, it’s truly a privilege.
“I was never out of character, I was Monica, I was saying things and doing things I never would do as Kim. Having a couple of drinks after work, I would never do that, never, I don’t even like to drink that much but it was kinda like I needed to come down from it. It was so effortless…I didn’t feel like, oh, here comes that big emotional scene I have to do, I didn’t feel that…It was just another day way with Monica.
“There’s a jazz metaphor called ‘scatting’ (very different from the sexual practice of ‘scatting’ beloved by German pornographers)…I felt like I was scatting…I couldn’t do any wrong, it was all fitting into place so beautifully. And the thing that I love about this work that I’ve been able to do in the film is that it unfolds in such a subtle way…There’s no heart of gold, she’s not completely likable…Which is very unusual for an American film, to have an antihero, a female antihero, it’s just, basically, unheard of…And to get away with it…To make it work, it’s really exciting. It’s breaking boundaries for women as well. And this whole marginalisation thing which I’m fighting, most of us are fighting as we get older…whatever profession we are in, also comes into play.”
Cattrall bulked up for her role as faded porn star Monica Velour. Not a lot, maybe 20 pounds. Hardly a transformation of Charlize Theron or De Niro-esque proportions. 20 pounds is just enough to make the taut, toned, glamorous Cattrall look heavier. Older. Normal. Like a trailer-trash single mom. And that’s somehow braver. Monica Velour isn’t a showy “Look at me, look at me,” Oscar-friendly role but, for Cattrall, it was a liberating experience to let it all hang out.
“It was fantastic! I have a huge appetite, so to be that 20 pounds extra was heaven. I loved eating and putting it on. I savoured every bit of it! Wonderful meals…crap meals…McDonalds…chips…just whatever I wanted. Gaining the weight,…just how that made me feel physically.
“Keith said: ‘I see her as, like, this Catholic schoolgirl who’s protecting herself ‘cause she’s got a lot of wounds, inside and out.’ So this whole character…and working with the costume designer and then working with this wonderful woman, Julie Atlas Muz, who is a burlesque performer in underground New York, she did the strip for us, she choreographed the strip for us…just spending time with her and looking at her body and how she works with it. And doing the strip itself, all of these things…grabbing my stomach…and feeling fat and human and dirty…Without that kind of prep, I couldn’t have done this role.
“There’s actors who show up and do the same role over and over again and I consider those movie stars but, I think, this is an acting job, this is a real acting job.”
Monica may just have been one of the toughest roles Cattrall’s ever played and some scenes, particularly the aging Monica’s strip show (when she’s heckled for her age by a group of young jocks) have a raw honesty that’s difficult to watch.
“It was the last scene that we shot. And I’m really glad it was the last scene because it was the heaviest that I was. I gained 15 pounds before we started shooting and then another 5/6 in the course of shooting…and I made a very clear choice that she wasn’t in her body…which protected me, quite a while, through the many different angles we had to do. But after a while, it did seep through. And it did affect me. And I think that, also being the last night we shot until 5 in the moring in this place, we called it The Petting Zoo but it was an equally horrific name…and all of the people you see there were actually dancers, you know, no budget to get anybody, to get anybody else to come in, so there was a…taste…a bitter taste of reality there. And I went into my dressing room at the end of it and had a good cry. And I think a lot of it was just coming down from the high of what we were doing…But having that…age rage. Hearing it…because it’s everywhere. It’s on the Internet…if you google someone over 50…It’s pretty horrific the things that people say. But they say it facelessly. Even though those kids were acting, you know, I’m not made of stone…And it does have an effect on you…but that’s what the film is about. That’s why it’s a brave film.’
Like many films made by a generation of men (Boogie Nights, Zack And Miri Make A Porno, The Amateurs) who grew up before the Internet exploded and became the masturbator’s best friend, Meet Monica Velour has a wistful affection for the mythical golden era of porn and, in particular, the porn parody.
“There’s one on Sex and the City someone sent me. It’s unwatchable…but you have to watch a little bit, right? I think pornography is getting scarier. Pornography was, you know, one size when Monica Velour was doing it and look at it now, I mean, it’s just huge, it’s bigger than we could ever imagine. And what it does to young people like the Toby character…the expectation of what a woman is sexually it’s just…it’s so damaging, just so damaging! I mean, where do you go? What are your expectations? They’re just totally unrealistic.”
For Cattrall though, there’s definite parallels between being an actress in mainstream Hollywood and its grubbier shadow.
“I don’t see them, in some ways as far off some young women who come to Hollywood to be actresses. They have a dream. Maybe it’s to be a model. And they show up at an open call and someone says: ‘Well, it’s this kind of modelling.’ And they’ve gotta pay their rent so they do it once. And then they do it twice. And then suddenly they’re getting known for it and they’re getting paid and they have recognition…they have respect. They have an industry. I think some women, Boogie Nights, you’ve seen Boogie Nights…I don’t see those women as victimised. They create a family within the industry they have. And some women have come out and created their own industry, making porn films for specifically women. But this character is a victim. She has no education and she has no choices. To be a porn star, you’re outside of society. I’ve been at the opening of Monica Velour, there was a couple of porn stars there and my publicist was, like, ‘Well. That’s interesting,’ And a little nervous about it. And I was, like, you know, well, they’re here because they’re part of something that I played. We gotta relax a bit about this. And these are sophisticated people. So you take that to sort of rule America and what does that mean? It means she’s like a pariah. She can’t get a 6 buck an hour shampoo job in this town, in any town. Because she’s labelled. Out of date. And used. Abused, used, done. It’s tragic.”
After decades of playing dolly-birds and eye candy, Cattrall is obviously enjoying this stage of her career and is finally getting the roles, and the respect, she deserves.
“It was not just the deprivation of having to play these two-dimensional characters, on film in particular, for most of my career because when I was younger, the choices I made whether it was Porky’s Police Academy, Big Trouble in Little China, those were all supplementing my theatre career whether I was in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, wherever I was. Because I didn’t come from any kind of financial stability so my work in television and film was supporting my (theatrically slaps arm like a smackhead trying to find a good vein) theatre habit. And I was glad to do it and never really took it that seriously and thought ‘Well, yes, I’m being sexualised but that’s ok, I’m making a living at it, that’s fine, and these films are fun and I’m learning a little bit in front of the camera.’ I was one of the last contract players at Universal Studios. I got to work with some interesting people. But it’s not where I lived but I just couldn’t financially get to do just do theatre ever. So now, I thought, this is the time, this is the time to say yes to things that scare you. Which is something that Jack Lemmon said to me very early on in my career. I said: ‘How do you have longevity in this business?’ And he said: ‘You take risks.’
“I think that initially, when the series (Sex and the City) ended, I was really tired and exhausted and I really wanted to go home. And home to me has been two places; it’s been Canada and it’s been England. Sir Peter Hall asked me to do a play in the West End, he’d asked me to do many plays but I was never available because of the series, so I thought I’m going to go back to what I know, which is the theatre, I’m going to go back home where I have family and support and I’m just going to get away from what has been my life for the last 8 years.
“And I’m so glad I did it because it gave me a tremendous amount of support and courage and some kind of…objectivity, of how that, how I wanted the rest of my life to be and the kind of choices and the kind of actress I wanted to be. And where the next block of 20/30 years my career could go. And the feeling of if not now, when? I was fortunate enough to do the series and financially be secure enough to make those kind of choices as well and I’m very grateful for that. But it wasn’t easy. And I didn’t know if a lot of people would get it or understand it or criticise it. I didn’t know if I’d succeed. But it was better than staying where I was and fortunately it has been a terrific dive and I’ve landed on my feet, like a cat each time but this role in particular because its on film and not just stage or television meant a tremendous amount simply because to play a character…different than myself but also to reinvent that character physically, emotionally and have the role to do it.”
For now, Kim Cattrall just seems happy to be here.
“The industry is getting better. That a part for a woman in her 50s like this exists…Mamma Mia exists….Sex and the City exists…It’s better. It’s job by job. Me saying yes to this got it made. Which made me extremely happy. And if I can continue to do that, for as long as possible, you just fan the flames.’
Meet Monica Velour Was released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 4th July.