— Kristin Davis is hanging out in Times Square with her gal pals, preparing for a scene the same way she’s done hundreds of times before.
This situation feels different from 10 years ago, when she was shooting her first season on HBO’s new femme-skewed half-hour series “Sex and the City,” based on a series of risqué columns by Candace Bushnell for the New York Observer. Back then, before the series began airing, only a few fans would have been able to single out Davis in a crowd. She’d been an actress with steady parts — most noticeably as Brooke Armstrong on the Fox hit “Melrose Place” — but nothing that would deem her a star.
Now, shooting with friends and co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon, Davis is amazed at the hubbub. Not just the usual New York whir of activity, but the attention given specifically to them. The movie production is a midtown obsession. Blogs post where the movie will be shooting every day and hordes of fans come out, hoping for a glimpse of the women. Female viewers say that these four women have given them a voice and identity that they couldn’t adequately describe pre-“Sex.”
“We were used to having a little group with us while filming before, but in Times Square buses were honking and there would be 200 people standing around all day long hoping for an autograph,” she says.
All the distractions would seemingly make it difficult for Davis to re-enter the mindset as preppy socialite Charlotte York. Yet, it’s a character she adores. Davis kept in constant contact with Michael Patrick King, who served as executive producer on the TV series and wrote and directed the movie, due May 30.
“We had spoken about Charlotte’s storyline and, in that way, it was a smooth re-entry,” she explained. “When you play a character that long, it’s pretty seamless. For Cynthia it might be different, but Charlotte is so close to me, and we were talking about the movie for so long, that it was never far away.”
When when we last left Charlotte...
She remembers vividly where Charlotte was headed after the series ended with the two-part “An American Girl in Paris” in February 2004. While the focus on “Paris” was Carrie’s return to New York and her reunification with Big (Chris Noth) after breaking up with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Charlotte and Harry Goldenblatt (Evan Handler) were last seen finding out they were adopting a little girl from China.
It’s still an open question as to whether audiences will flock to theaters to see the big-screen version of “Sex.” And the road to the big screen wasn’t exactly smooth. There was a lot of talk about a movie soon after the show left HBO, but rumor had it that Cattrall wanted too much money and held everything up.
Plus, films born out of TV series are a mixed bag — “Bewitched” was a complete disaster, yet “The Simpsons” was a huge hit — and while the HBO series certainly had buzz aplenty, it wasn’t particularly a large audience that was doing all the buzzing.
Not that the business of “Sex and the City” matters all that much to Davis. She’s quite OK with forever being associated with Charlotte, a woman who always yearned for a prim and proper life. And then when she found it with Trey MacDougal (Kyle MacLachlan), it turned out that a meddlesome mother-in-law, a sexually dysfunctional husband and her own reproductive challenges would quickly quash her ideas of a perfect life. When she met Harry, Charlotte realized love didn’t have to come in a perfect-looking package — and even converted to Judaism for him.
Charlotte was very different the other three women: Carrie, who was never quite sure what she wanted in men; Miranda, who was always yearning to find the right balance between her personal and professional lives; and Samantha, a sex-crazed publicist whose pleasure threshold could rarely be satisfied.
“I’ve had two sets of offers for me (since leaving the show),” said Davis without any regret. “Charlotte in the suburbs and Charlotte turning into a drug dealer. Both parts I wouldn’t be cast in if it wasn’t for the show.”
Learning to embrace her inner Charlotte
She’s grateful to have been given a role that affected so many viewers in ways she could’ve never imagined. Early on, though, she had to distance herself from the character before fully embracing it.
“I went through a phase where people would talk to me like I was Charlotte,” Davis recalled. “There was a time I had to make it clear that I wasn’t her.”
Yet, when “Sex” became a cultural phenomenon — a Time magazine cover asked “Who Needs a Husband?” — Davis realized it was silly to reject and keep a distance from all the hoopla. Sure, she was an actress just playing a role, but how often do actresses get to play a part that affects so many viewers on such a personal level?
Over the years, other networks have taken notice of the “Sex and the City” craze. In a copycat business that often lacks originality, we’ve seen the fruition of series such as “Lipstick Jungle” and “Cashmere Mafia,” trying to capture what “Sex and the City” had. But as anyone can tell you, the magic of one series can rarely, if ever, be recreated.
“There’s never been another show like it,” Davis said proudly. “And I don’t think we realized that when we were doing it. These four women were so different from one another. It was the reality of Candace’s column that was the jumping off point.”
Currently, Davis is excited about “Jack & Addie,” an indie movie she’s working on now — as both an actress and executive producer — but is welcoming the tidal wave of publicity and affection that’s bound to arrive up for “Sex and the City.” Again.
“We’re all thankful for it,” she said, speaking for her friends who’ll never, ever, go unnoticed walking the streets of Manhattan.
Stuart Levine is an assistant managing editor at Variety. He can be reached at stuart.Levine@variety.com.