The Sunday Telegraph - Stella


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

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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

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Be­low A young Cyn­thia (left) with Kristy McNi­col in Lit­tle Dar­lings. Right As lawyer Mi­randa with Car­rie in Sex and the City se­ries 2, 1999
Be­low A young Cyn­thia (left) with Kristy McNi­col in Lit­tle Dar­lings. Right As lawyer Mi­randa with Car­rie in Sex and the City se­ries 2, 1999
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? With Sarah Jes­sica Parker, Kim Cat­trall and Kristin Davis in Sex and the City 2
With Sarah Jes­sica Parker, Kim Cat­trall and Kristin Davis in Sex and the City 2
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Clock­wise from be­low With wife Chris­tine Mari­noni; as Emily Dick­in­son in A Quiet
Pas­sion; and Nancy Rea­gan in Killing Rea­gan
Clock­wise from be­low With wife Chris­tine Mari­noni; as Emily Dick­in­son in A Quiet Pas­sion; and Nancy Rea­gan in Killing Rea­gan
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