The Sunday Telegraph - Stella
‘ MY WIFE AND I ARE GOING THROUGH THE MENOPAUSE TOGETHER’
Happily in a same-sex marriage since 2012 and playing iconic women from Emily Dickinson to Nancy Reagan, Cynthia Nixon tells Celia Walden why she’s embracing middle age and leaving Miranda behind
When Cynthia Nixon left her boyfriend of 15 years for a woman, people had views. It was 2004, Sex and
the City was on its sixth and final season and the actress had just won an Emmy for her portrayal of Miranda Hobbes, the show’s career-minded lawyer, so perhaps the paparazzi on the front lawn and the column inches were to be expected. One thing, however, left Cynthia bewildered. ‘ There were articles where people had written, “How could this happen? She kissed a girl once on SATC and didn’t like it!” and “No, no – Samantha is the one who is bisexual.” Isn’t that crazy?’
‘Crazy’ is one word for it. ‘Silly’ is another – and both could be applied to me right now. You see, meeting Cynthia Nixon is an odd thing. As much as your logical brain understands the concept of acting, the familiarity of that face and voice is both surreal and unnerving. It helps that she’s blonde now (her natural hair colour), definitively unlawyer-like in an asymmetrical red sheath dress and suede pumps – and of course not a fictional Candace Bushnell creation. But the fact remains that the 50-year-old woman sipping tea across the table from me in London’s Browns Hotel is a cultural reference. One that, along with the hit show she starred in, has never quite left the zeitgeist, despite being off air for 13 years.
‘It’s wild that SATC has never really gone away, isn’t it?’ she smiles, and I’m surprised by the lack of resentment there. After all, before the show started filming, New Yorkborn Cynthia was already a household name in the US, having made her film debut at 14 in the coming-of-age drama Little
Darlings opposite Tatum O’Neal. She won critical acclaim in Tom Stoppard’s The Real
Thing and David Rabe’s Hurlyburly on Broadway, and was recognised as one of few child stars to keep working consistently in theatre, TV and film into adulthood.
‘I think it did help having celebrity so early on,’ she muses. ‘It wasn’t Sex and the
City- style celebrity, but it was still celebrity. So by the time the show took off I had been acting for almost 20 years. And actually it was sort of amazing, wasn’t it?’ she whispers, eyes wide. ‘I mean wild! Because it wasn’t just a popular TV show: they put us on the cover of Time magazine with the headline, “Who Needs a Husband?”. Part of it was down to the fact that these women weren’t 20, but also that Candace wrote from real life, so even when some of the things that happened to them seemed absurd and fantastical, they had a core of truth to them.’ A truth that still resonates today. And although some of the characters’ motivations seem laughably off-message now, Miranda has stood the test of time better than the rest. ‘ Women are always coming up to me and saying, “I’m a Miranda.” Because she is this total feminist with a level of ambition that has to do with the eye on the prize, all else be damned. My friends, OK, but personal life be damned and motherhood be damned. She’s like this career machine who becomes a mother and then a wife sort of by accident, right?’ There’s something touching about Cynthia still referring to her alter ego in the present tense. It must have been hard to move on. ‘It was,’ she nods. ‘And we’ve moved on a bunch of times. We moved on after the series, then after the first movie and the second, and now I feel like I’ve gone so far that there’s…’ No going back? ‘ Well the roles I’m doing now couldn’t be further from Sex and the City.’ Cynthia admits making ‘a conscious effort’ to de-Miranda herself at first. And it’s certainly hard to find any parallels between that character and the promiscuous pharmaceuticals saleswoman she played in the The Big C alongside Laura Linney, or indeed the cancer patient she chose to portray in Josh Mond’s
in 2015 – a project of personal significance to her, as her mother died of breast cancer in 2014 and she had the disease herself in 2006. ‘I was lucky – they found it early,’ she says of the lumpectomy and radiotherapy she underwent. ‘And although I didn’t want to talk about it while I was having treatment, I didn’t feel I should keep it a secret afterwards.’
But it is her next role – as American poet Emily Dickinson in Terence Davies’ A Quiet
Passion – that is surely the biggest leap, and we spend a whimsical few minutes trying to find any common ground between cynical, strung-out Miranda and the 19th-century recluse, who died aged just 55. ‘She was also a feminist, I guess,’ shrugs Cynthia. ‘Although I don’t think Emily would have thought of herself that way. She was such an individualist, so she wouldn’t have wanted to align herself with any political movement. And you couldn’t be a feminist at that time without thinking it was important to be given the right to vote. I assume she would have been in favour
‘It wasn’t just a popular TV show. They put us on the cover of Time magazine’
of that, but she wasn’t a political person.’
Although Davies has made it clear that he was not a SATC fan (‘I watched it once or twice and I was appalled,’ he has said. ‘All they do is have sex, eat and shop’), the show’s pernicious premise didn’t seem to mar the director’s vision of Cynthia as Dickinson. ‘I’d auditioned for him back in 2007 and I could barely get a line out without him correcting me, so I couldn’t believe it when he sent me the script. Then again, if someone was going to write a lead for me, this one made perfect sense.’
It makes sense to the viewer too – who can fail to be convinced by Cynthia’s poignant and nuanced portrayal of a complicated woman who could be vivacious and witty, but spent the latter part of her life as a recluse, locked away in an upstairs room in the family home (her sisters had to leave trays of food outside her door), obsessing about death? And it makes even more sense when you meet Cynthia, who is every bit as opinionated and defiant as Davies’ Emily, with a hint of the poet’s introspection. Indeed, when she sums up Emily to me as ‘more interested in the flowering of her own mind and soul as opposed to any marker that society would have in terms of her success or popularity’, it feels as though she is describing herself.
The only daughter of a radio journalist and a TV executive, who divorced when she was six, Cynthia was raised in a frugal, intellectual environment. As a child she longed to become a writer. ‘I was shy. Groups seemed pretty scary to me and I worried that kids would say mean things.’
Encouraged to act by her mother, Cynthia got her first role in an ABC
After School Special at 12 and made her Broadway debut two years later in
The Philadelphia Story. Although she worked consistently from that moment on, Cynthia was adamant that her schoolwork at New York’s prestigious Hunter College High School wouldn’t suffer. ‘ When I was filming for weeks at a time,’ she explains of early movie projects like Amadeus, ‘I only ever had one request: “If you don’t shoot me for two days in a row, you have to send me home so I don’t miss too much school.” And they always said yes, which taught me early on that you don’t have to be endlessly flexible if something just doesn’t work for you.’ Even today, Cynthia’s work ethic means that her wife, 49-year-old education activist Christine Marinoni, calls her ‘ teacher’s pet’, she tells me. And from her small involuntary smile every time she mentions Christine – whom she met while campaigning to increase financing for New York City public schools and married in 2012 – it’s clear that the actress is still very much in love. The couple now live in Brooklyn – along with Cynthia’s two children, Charles, 14, and Samantha, 20, with former partner Danny Mozes – and their fiveyear-old son, Max, who was carried by Christine (and whose
From her small involuntary smile every time she mentions Christine, it’s clear she’s still very much in love