There are several words that could describe the actress Kim Cattrall as she sits in an armchair by a fireplace in a London hotel.
She is, at 62, beautiful with an old-school natural glamour. She is relaxed in Stella McCartney printed jeans and a casual blouse and she remains, in the flesh, exactly like Samantha Jones, her character in the series that made her name, Sex And The City. She’s cool, expensively dressed, poised and defiantly sexy at an age where women are no longer meant to turn heads.
But to me there is something different about Cattrall, who I last met three years ago round the corner from her home in New York. There is a sadness that is somehow detectable even as she smiles and tells amusing tales about her latest film, Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans, in which she plays the evil, manipulative mother of Emperor Nero, Agrippina.
For the first time, Sex And The City star Kim Cattrall opens up about the tragic loss of her younger brother to suicide
‘There is a well of sadness in me,’ she nods. ‘I am not the woman who met you in New York. That was me before this terrible thing happened and this is me after. I am different now and I will never be the same.’
The ‘terrible thing’ she refers to is the death of her younger brother, Christopher, who passed away unexpectedly last February at the age of 55, after going missing from the home in Canada he shared with his wife and seven dogs. He had left his keys, mobile phone and wallet on the table and the front door was unlocked.
His death was later confirmed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who reported there was no reason to believe there was anything suspicious. Earlier, the actress had posted a picture of her brother on social media appealing for help. She then put up a second post thanking people for their support but asking for privacy for the family.
Ironically, the subsequent media coverage focused largely on the spat between the grief-stricken Cattrall and her former co-star Sarah Jessica Parker (Carrie in the seminal TV series) after the Liverpool-born actress responded to a sympathetic tweet about her brother’s death from Parker – with whom she has a long-running feud – telling her: ‘You are not my family. You are not my friend. So I’m writing to tell you one last time to stop exploiting our tragedy in order to restore your “nice girl” persona.’
Kim Cattrall with her brother Chris at the 2003 Emmy Awards. ‘No one can prepare you,’ she says. ‘He was suffering from depression but depression is a curious thing and it can be impossible to detect if someone does not want you to know’
We don’t initially talk about Parker. We talk about Christopher. Her funny, gentle, younger brother who loved animals and who, along with his wife, Morgan, was a massive part of Kim’s life. He was her date at the Emmys when her third marriage, to jazz bassist Mark Levinson, broke down and was a regular at her Christmas and Thanksgiving table, where her family gather at her home on Vancouver Island every year.
For the first time, Cattrall explains that her brother took his own life. She has never spoken of this publicly before. She speaks slowly, carefully choosing her words, opening up about her private grief.
‘No one can prepare you,’ she says. ‘He was suffering from depression but depression is a curious thing and it can be impossible to detect if someone does not want you to know.
‘And so I didn’t know. We [her family] didn’t know. And when you lose someone to suicide there is always the question, “If I could only have, if I did only, if I was only…” and it haunts you. And you have to learn to live with those endless questions, the endless guilt, the endless frustration every day because you are in a new reality and there is nothing you can do to change it.
Cattrall with her Sex And The City co-stars Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon and Sarah Jessica Parker
‘It breaks you. It is so hard. There is a whole process for you and everyone around you of picking yourself up every day, going from a bad day to having a better day and then going back again. And it goes on.’
She pauses to compose herself: ‘I lost my father [in 2012] to Alzheimer’s. Intellectually I was prepared, he was suffering from a terrible condition and he was freed from that condition. I thought I would be OK, but emotionally I was not at all prepared. It devastated me and led to years of debilitating insomnia [in 2015, on her doctor’s advice, she had to pull out of a Royal Court theatre production due to sleep deprivation] but it hit all of us. And then this. To lose a father and a sibling before their time, two people who have meant the world to you… and you will never see them, never hear their voice again,’ she says, falling silent for a moment.
‘Christopher was a very sweet man who was quiet about his needs and wants and that is how he died. It is unbearably sad. He left behind a lot of people who loved him. I have never been to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] but I now know the wisdom of the rule of taking one day at a time. It is all you can do.’
I ask her how she dealt with her grief and she gives a sad smile. I know she is extremely close to her mother Gladys – now 90 – and her two sisters, Lisa and Cherry – as well as her British partner, the public-speaking coach Russell Thomas. Family to Cattrall, who has no children of her own, has always been everything.
‘It is hard to talk about suicide and I also don’t think in our society today we are very good with grief. But since we lost Chris so many people have privately shared their losses of family members or friends and you realise suicide is an epidemic. It’s just that we don’t talk about it.’
Kim Cattrall with Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex And The City. ‘When Sex And The City began I was 41. I felt I was too old to be sexy; I was being ageist about myself’
In the months after his death she was unable to work. She set about finding homes for all seven of Chris’s dogs and sitting with her sorrow. Cattrall has never been one to take to celebrity fixes such as reiki or crystal healing. ‘I got through the worst of it by walking,’ she says. ‘I didn’t feel strong enough to work. I came back to England and I walked from London to Ipswich. I then walked from Ipswich to Cromer, to see my cousins, and then I went up to Fife in Scotland to see friends, and I walked. I walked and walked and walked and thought about my brother, thought about where I was, thought about my feet and the land and the air. It helped.’
A few weeks after Chris’s death, she went to St Cuthbert’s church in Edinburgh, lit a candle for him and her father and had his name written in the prayer book so he will be remembered every year by the priests. ‘That felt incredibly special to me,’ she says. ‘After we had done that we walked through the eaves of the church and out through a sort of window into this cold February morning. I could feel the rain on my face and it felt a bit like coming into a light. I took a picture to remember it by, to remember my brother. The Reverend [Peter Sutton], was so kind and gracious to us. And I took a memento to take back to Chris’s wife.’
She has not felt strong enough until now to publicly talk about her loss. She has been in touch with the Campaign Against Living Miserably, the leading movement against male suicide, and quietly supported its powerful installation last year of 84 sculptures of hooded men on top of London’s ITV Tower. ‘Eighty-four men committing suicide every week,’ she says, shaking her head. ‘We need to understand, we need to know how to help.’
She thinks about her brother every day. The second child of a construction engineer, Dennis, and secretary, Gladys, she was the adventurous one who knew from an early age that she wanted to perform. The family moved from Liverpool to Canada but at the age of ten she returned to Liverpool to spend time with her grandmother. During this time she visited London and fell in love with the city and its theatres.
At 16 she went to try her fortunes in New York. ‘When I look back now I [realise] I was on my own, but I was fearless. My dad supported me because he knew I had direction, and my mum once had ambitions [to act] but she came from a different era. My dad used to say: “See what you can get, kiddo.” I would apply for drama places, scholarships, bit parts and people just kept saying yes.
She made her film debut at 19 in Rosebud and quickly appeared in others, including Porky’s, Police Academy and Mannequin. She appeared on stage in Chekhov and Arthur Miller but it wasn’t until Cattrall hit her 40s that she really launched herself on the world with her portrayal of the wise-cracking, sex-mad, super PR Samantha Jones in 1998’s Sex And The City, breaking boundaries in all senses – particularly in what a woman was allowed to get away with on television.
‘There were so many times I’d read my script and be speechless with shock about what Sam was going to say and – in particular do – next. But in the end it was good for her and good for me too. I loved her.
‘When Sex And The City began I was 41. I felt I was too old to be sexy; I was being ageist about myself. A woman over 40 back then was just not viewed as vital or desirable and I didn’t think I could pull it off. I didn’t think people would believe in her like they did. But I was absolutely wrong. Samantha broke the mould for the older woman.’
In Horrible Histories she again plays a very sexy, smart woman, Agrippina, who has to put up with being ruled by her vain, stupid son, Nero (Craig Roberts), who is constantly trying to kill her. The movie, which also stars Rupert Graves and Sir Derek Jacobi, is a hilarious romp focusing on Nero’s attempt to defeat the Celtic queen Boudicca (played by Kate Nash) in AD 60.
Cattrall looks perplexed by the notion that there is something of her Sex And The City alpha female Samantha Jones in Agrippina. ‘She is nothing like Sam,’ she insists. ‘She is manipulative and hard, which Sam never was. I loved Sam and I actually loved Agrippina. I mean, back in those days when everyone was trying to poison each other, it must have been pretty hard to be nice.’
Kim Cattrall with her brother Chris and his wife Morgan at the 2003 Emmy Awards
Horrible Histories was the first movie she made after her brother’s death. Why a children’s film? ‘In the after period, I decided I would never do anything that didn’t feel fun or supportive in some way. My brother had a great sense of humour. He loved to have fun. He loved coming with me to the Emmys. He came as my date – I bought him a tuxedo and I got a beautiful gown for his wife and we all spent the night together laughing, dancing and just having fun. Everyone would come to awards ceremonies – my mum, my dad, my sisters, teachers I’d had along the way – because they were all part of my life, all people who had supported a girl from nowhere who wanted to be in the movies.
‘And I wanted to do something British. There was a very small budget but a very big-hearted cast. On one of the first days of filming, someone came up to me, put his hand on me and said: “I can’t imagine the weight of what you have been through.” I was taken aback by the kindness of the remark. So many people find it hard to address these things and in that moment it was just the perfect thing to say. I found myself just having an image of myself climbing up a steep cliff with a weight on my back and that weight starting to fall away because someone understood. I knew I was in exactly the right place. We didn’t have the most amount of money for costumes and sets but that was all part of the charm and the movie is brilliantly funny and incredibly educational.’
Although Cattrall is now successful enough never to need to work again, she says: ‘I am compelled to work, but now I feel I can only do work that makes me happy.’
Kim Cattrall as Agrippina with Craig Roberts as Nero in Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans
It is impossible not to return to the subject of her feud with Parker, her co-star for more than a decade in Sex And The City, though Cattrall won’t go into any detail, refusing to rake up too many negative memories at a point when she wants more positivity in her life. The show was all about girl power and friendship but in real life they were never friends. Parker was paid more than the rest of the cast, something Cattrall found unfair. Six years into the show she made her feelings public and the same year – at the 2004 Emmys – was seated away from the rest of the cast.
In 2017 there were reports of major fall-outs, with Cattrall being excluded on set, and claims that the actress was making too many demands to do a third Sex And The City movie. Given that situation and what she has been through with her family, I ask her if it is likely the world will ever see another Sex And The City reunion. ‘Never,’ she says. ‘It’s a no from me. You learn lessons in life and my lesson is to do work with good people and try and make it fun.’
‘Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans’ is out on July 26