More ‘Sex and the City’? Michael Patrick King Dishes on ‘And Just Like That,’ Samantha’s Texts and the Future of Carrie Bradshaw
Michael Patrick King, the executive producer, writer and director of “And Just Like That … ,” the HBO Max revival of “Sex and the City,” talks with exclamation points in his voice, sounding invigorated as he discusses Season 1 of the show, which concludes this week. Continuing the stories of Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) — who became both icons and archetypes during the original series, which King ran as an executive producer — has been a delight for him, and he uses variations on the word “thrill” multiple times. “All I’m really interested in now in my career is following creative risks,” King says.
One risk for “And Just Like That …” was an obvious one: There’s been no in-person Samantha, the beloved, sexually free “fourth Musketeer” of the group (as she’s called during the show’s premiere) after Kim Cattrall declared years ago that she was done with the character. But King has found a workaround for Cattrall’s absence — more on that later — and the chemistry among Parker, Nixon and Davis (also executive producers) has anchored the show. “I think the joy of it is you’ve known them!” King says. “You’ve known them for 20 years, from 35 to 55. You’re so into it because it’s home.”
That’s how it was for Parker too. “It always felt exciting to play Carrie,” she says. “To consider doing it again and to be on the set, it felt really good.” She credits King with carrying the burden of figuring out how to continue the story while adding new characters with their own stories. “There is a singular trust that I have in him as a storyteller and writer and director that I haven’t experienced with anyone else,” Parker says.
Casey Bloys, the chief content officer at HBO and HBO Max, likens the experience of watching the show to “running into a friend and getting caught up on their lives.” But on top of any emotional component to “And Just Like That …,” Bloys says it’s been HBO Max’s most successful original series to date: “In terms of viewership, it’s been phenomenal. I couldn’t be happier with how it’s doing in terms of reception.”
Though the show hasn’t been officially renewed yet for a second season, both King and Parker are certainly interested in continuing. “We did something that was hard to do, which is we took something familiar and did make it new,” King says, “for better and for worse.” When asked whether she wants to do more, Parker says: “Definitely, yeah.” They just need to figure out everyone’s schedule. “Michael and I spoke two weeks ago, and said: ‘OK, when are we going to talk about this?’” Parker says. “Because there’s a calendar and you don’t want to let too much time pass. There feels like there’s momentum.”
In a conversation with Variety, King discusses how “And Just Like That … ” came to be, Cattrall’s absence (and Samantha’s presence) and his thoughts about the internet’s outsized reaction to Sara Ramírez’s Che Diaz, to whom he refers as “Miranda’s liberator.”
In 2016, there were reports about a third “Sex and the City” movie in the works. I emailed you then, and there wasn’t a script yet, but you had an idea. What happened after that?
The idea of the movie was really strong, and there was interest. And then all of a sudden it was impossible to get all four ladies to participate: Kim didn’t want to do the movie. Kim had finished playing Samantha, and despite conversations back and forth she just said, “Yeah, I don’t want to do this.” So she pulled out, and I thought, “Well, then there’s no movie.”
How did that feel?
It was disappointing at the time, because I had a good story and I love writing Samantha. You have to look at the reality of something: You can literally not make an actress play a part. The idea of the movie was born because I loved writing these characters, and I thought that they were still alive somewhere in my mind. So it wasn’t like, “Let’s make another blockbuster, woo, let’s try to top ourselves!” It was really, “I love these characters.”
I had the idea that Mr. Big would die — that was the movie. And I’m so thrilled it didn’t happen in the movie, because I wouldn’t have been able to explore the journey for Carrie.
I can’t imagine how you would’ve packed that into a movie. With HBO Max, who approached who?
I approached everyone. I approached Sarah Jessica. And I said, “What if this happened?” And she was like, “Yes!” Because she knew that there was a great challenge there.
With HBO Max and HBO — Casey and Sarah Aubrey and I, and Suzanna Makkos — talked on Zoom with Sarah Jessica. They were very excited, but curious and protective. And then when I said, “Mr. Big dies, and Carrie is single again at 55,” it was like, “That’s an idea!”
The thing that everybody was most concerned with, including me, was to not be labeled a pure reboot. And when I started talking about that seismic shift in Carrie’s life, and started talking about how of course there would be new characters in it to widen out the world, it became very clear that this was something is dangerous and exciting and new — versus someone trying to catch a vibe that was from many years ago for some programming need.
What else did you want to see?
Carrie’s story was to test the thesis that she says in the voiceover at the end of the series: She says the most challenging relationship you have is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone else to love you, well, that’s fabulous. I always wanted to test Carrie’s relationship with herself, to see if that was literally something that could stand the test of a great tragedy.
And Miranda had to explode; that was what was going to happen. She’s always been the one who said the thing — always. She’s also the first one to try everything sexually in the series. Tuchus lingus, dirty talk — Season 1 dirty talk with Miranda! So I thought, “OK, what’s sex now?” And it became, “What about gender? What about sexuality?” Look at Cynthia, where she is — where Miranda could be. Men have a midlife crisis, and it’s expected. They leave their wife, they get a car. Miranda had an incredibly interesting break from her social self. She let her red hair go gray. She quit her corporate job, and she threw herself into improving herself. And what came at her was something bigger. A big force! Life came at her, just the way death came at Carrie.
And Charlotte’s always been the one who tried to be perfect. When they were single, she was the one who tried to do everything by the rules. So the idea of parenting, what’s happening with gender, and knowing that Charlotte had two kids and a very secure love relationship, she was going to be the mother. In between the two radical extremes of where Carrie is and where Miranda is, Charlotte’s the connective tissue between all the families.
What was that first table read like?
We were the first table read in-person that HBO or Warner Brothers had done since COVID. Everybody had been in a room that hadn’t been in a room for many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many years. And sitting around a table was thrilling, plus the new characters — and the new characters were in their out-of-body experience. Because Sarah Jessica’s about to start reading Carrie next to Chris Noth, who’s Big.
And it was thrilling. We read three episodes, which is daunting. It was a workout. There was a terrace outside, and I said to Sarah Jessica, “Let’s go.” I go, “Went well!” She said, “You sweat through your suit.” And I looked and there was a sweat stain from my arm to my mid-waist.
Well, that’s our relationship. “Yeah, it went really well!” “You sweat through your suit.”
How did you decide what the first scene should be?
The very first thing I wanted to address was them in a crowd, and to reference the pandemic: “Remember when we had to stand six feet apart?” But I had to get Samantha out of the way immediately. So Bitsy von Muffling (Julie Halston) was invented to ask the question that was on everybody’s minds: “Where’s Samantha?”
I had them have this awkward moment that created a mirror of tension about what everybody was feeling about it — in the world, not necessarily in the three actresses — which is, “Oh, she’s no longer with us.” And then, “She moved to London,” in a very television way — and the audience can calm down. Then I can do jokes about Brady’s semen, Miranda’s hair, etc.
And I can get Carrie and Miranda by themselves and go that one step deeper, which I thought was exciting — they start talking about the rift. It was a big day for me as a writer when I realized that even though Kim Cattrall didn’t want to be in the series, Samantha could be — because of texting. I was like, “Right! Samantha can be in the show.” Because she should be: She’s part of the show and people love her. And I wanted to respect the legacy, wanted to respect the fans.
Yes, I’ve been surprised by how much Samantha is part of the show!
I feel when someone’s in your heart and in your soul and friendships, how do your friends support you when you’re going through the worst thing that can happen? I found it interesting that Carrie would reach out to Samantha in certain specific times. And it’s kind of magical that all of a sudden on a text, Samantha makes a Samantha joke. And you feel like she’s there again.
It’s the power of writing. It’s all make believe. It’s all pretend! There is an obstacle: Kim Cattrall doesn’t want to do the series. What do you do with that? It’s a normal writing problem. So I love the idea of the dance — the true love being the reach. Carrie says, “Do you want to talk?” And Samantha goes, “Soon.” Like, they’re getting ready. It might as well be Carrie and Aidan.
Knowing that Kim doesn’t want to be Samantha anymore, does writing those scenes feel loaded?
No, it feels exciting! I’m happy to be Samantha. We use it sparingly and well. I love Samantha! I’m happy when she’s in the show. It was important emotionally for everybody. Me and the fans; me and the viewer.
Is the door open for her to come back? Would that ever happen?
No. Just like there was no thought that Kim would ever participate in “And Just Like That,” because she’s said what she had said.
The only place I participate in magical thinking is in fiction. You take people at their word, and you’re a smart producer — you don’t back yourself into a corner. Magically thinking, it’s great to have Samantha. I have no realistic expectation of Kim Cattrall ever appearing again.
Did you always know you didn’t want to do the Carrie voiceover, except at the end of each episode?
I always knew there would be no voiceover, because the thesis of this show is that Carrie has no overview. She’s in it. And the fun of “Sex and the City” was that she’s almost looking at it from above, and she’s summing it all up. There’s a writerliness to the show that was all very tidy. Even if it was an ugly moment, Carrie would have a voiceover that could lighten it and give you distance on it and make the audience feel taken care of.
Have you been monitoring the reaction to the show?
I monitor in macro, not micro. I monitor in the drum beats: “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen! This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. They should all be killed! I can’t live without them. The clothes are terrible; the clothes are great.” I’m not into the minutia of anything.
Sexual assault allegations against Chris Noth were reported in mid-December. How did you experience that news?
I can’t comment on it. It really has nothing to do with me, and no comment on those allegations.
Can you talk about the logistics of cutting Chris Noth’s image from the finale, and how that worked?
I wanted the show to be focused on the stories of these amazing actresses and their efforts in these last 10 episodes. And I didn’t want the entire story to be about whether someone was or wasn’t in the show. Mr. Big and Chris Noth, they’re not the same person — and that would’ve made them the same person.
Willie Garson’s arc was short because he was sick. What would it have been? Stanford meant so much to people.
And to us. He was in all 10 episodes. Before I knew that Willie was sick and couldn’t complete it, Stanford was going to have a midlife crisis. Stanford’s character always had a borderline career as a manager, and we were like going to explore the fact that it wasn’t a real career. It was going to be Carrie and him, feeling the shifts. Anthony and him were probably going to have split anyway.
Then we would keep both of them in, and everybody would be relieved that they were divorced because it was not pleasant for anybody. But there was a series of really fun, flirty, hilarious confidante scenes with Carrie that I loved. That old, old, very specific chemistry that Carrie and Stanford have, which is based totally on the uniqueness of Willie and Sarah Jessica’s history.
Life and death is one thing in fiction: When it’s real, it’s not funny or cute. I didn’t want to even flirt narratively with cute business about where he is. I knew the audience would never invest in it, because they knew he was never coming back. It’s the most threadbare writing I’ve ever done just to move him along without much maneuvering, because it was just so sad. There was no way I could write myself out of that in any charming, cute way.
Since you’ve been paying attention to macro reactions, have you noticed the extremely macro reaction to Che?
I said in the writing room, “Uh, get ready. Because what’s coming is outrage about Miranda calling out her marriage.” Whoever is in the activating of that will be an issue. But the real issue is — and I say this with love — 90% of long-term relationships are watching television, sharing dessert and talking about kids. So that’s trouble when Miranda points a finger at that relationship, which a lot of people are very happy with, and says, “This isn’t enough.”
People are going to look for who’s the villain. Che is, in my estimation, honest, dangerous, sexy, funny and warm. What everybody else is projecting on that character has a lot to do with what they want to have happen to Miranda in the story. It has so little to do with Che.
My editor is forcing me to ask you about the role of Barneys on the show, which Carrie and Seema (Sarita Choudhury) discuss as they’re starting to become friends — and Carrie puts Big’s ashes in a Barneys bag when she’s going home. He wrote this question for me: What does Barneys represent to Carrie? And he also wants to know who wrote the genius dialogue about Carrie missing the Barneys Warehouse Sale?
He just answered his own question! Why Barneys? It is upsetting that Barneys is gone because it was — talk about a period piece! It was the Taj Mahal of fashion in New York. So the idea that Barneys was gone and that she put him in a Barneys bag, that’s an Easter egg to me. First of all, the fact that the Peloton bike was the most current thing that everybody was doing, that would be why Big would die, because he was trying to stay current and then to put the body in a Barneys bag, which is like King Tut at this point.
And secondly, the Barneys sale it’s a signpost. And I knew that if Seema said that she would seem like a legitimate character. The Barneys Warehouse Sale it is that sweet, sad, nostalgic thing that happens in New York — when things go away and you miss them. I can’t tell you how many times people say, “Oh my God, remember that sweater you used to wear”? And anyone has been in New York is tied to that moment. Anyone who’s aspirational knows what Barneys was. It’s just one of those great things, something that existed in real life that I can use in fiction to make the fiction seem more real.
Ramin Setoodeh contributed to this story.