TORONTO—The first show Kim Cattrall ever binge-watched was the BBC’s “Sensitive Skin.”
Cattrall was performing on stage in London at the time and met with then-BBC comedy boss Jon Plowman to discuss a different project. But when he introduced her to the half-hour comedy starring Joanna Lumley as a woman facing a midlife crisis, Cattrall was hooked.
“These are questions that I’m asking myself as a woman. So if I’m asking myself, other women must be asking themselves,” she said in a phone interview. “And it’s a social commentary about midlife crisis. I thought, ‘Wow, this could be really interesting in North America.”‘
After a long road to the small screen, Cattrall’s “Sensitive Skin” will premiere Sunday on HBO Canada. The series co-stars and is also executive produced and directed by Don McKellar (“The Grand Seduction”).
Cattrall stars as Davina, a former actress and model who now works in an art gallery. She and her husband Al (McKellar) sell their middle-class suburban home and move to a glassy condo in downtown Toronto to feel hip and relevant again.
Both Al and Davina are growing older in a world that prizes youth and beauty, and they react to it in different ways. While Davina takes hormone replacement therapy and gets her hair done, Al becomes obsessed with a “tickle in his throat” that could be cancer.
Cattrall, 57, has spoken out often about sexism and ageism in Hollywood. And as perpetually single, sex-crazed Samantha in “Sex and the City,” she shattered stereotypes about middle-aged women, commitment and sex.
The U.K.-born, B.C.-raised actress said ageism is an interesting topic to her because “it’s my life, on an everyday basis.”
“It’s not just my life, but it’s every woman’s life,” she added. “I’m not saying it doesn’t happen for men, but I’m a woman and I’m experiencing it.”
She said actresses over 35 often have more to offer as performers than 25-year-olds, but as their commercial viability fades with age, so do worthwhile roles in television and film. Of course, she notes she was lucky to experience massive success in her 40s with “Sex and the City.”
“I’m not saying that I haven’t had a successful career in that arena, but as you grow as an actor, you want to continue to challenge yourself and play different kinds of characters, but you don’t always get the chance,” she said.
“The role can be a scene. Everyone says, ‘Oh, yeah, you’ve got great scenes with this wonderful actor.’ I say, ‘Yeah, but the character doesn’t do anything.’ What am I getting out of it? I’m not learning anything. I’m sitting in a trailer. I don’t think so. I’d rather go do a play and have a great role.
“I’m very fortunate to make those choices and to have those choices. So why not use it to explore something that I’m experiencing? And if I’m experiencing it and other women are too, then that’s the audience.”
Cattrall met with the writer of the BBC series, Hugo Blick, and originally tried to get the show made on HBO in the U.S. But when it languished in development for four years, she briefly tried making it a feature film before turning to her friend McKellar in 2011.
Once the two were committed to making the show, they partnered with Toronto-based Rhombus Media and signed comedian Bob Martin to write the series. Two years later, they were filming in Toronto.
“It was like a dream. I kept pinching myself. It was really nerve-racking because I had waited so long, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re finally here. I don’t want to screw this up.’ But Don was an amazing collaborator. I really loved working with him as an actress and as a co-executive producer. We had an amazing cast. Everybody we sent it to said yes,” she said. “It was just great.”
Following the show’s premiere Sunday, all six half-hour episodes will be available on digital platforms—including TMN Go, HBO Canada OnDemand, Telus Optik on the go and the Shaw Go Movie Central app and Bell TV app. The series will continue to air weekly on HBO Canada.
Cattrall said she would never try to emulate Lumley, the wickedly funny British actress of “Absolutely Fabulous” fame.
“I can’t do what Joanna does. Nobody can,” she said. “She’s extraordinary. I’m a big fan of hers. But she does what she does, and I do what I do.”
While Davina is going through midlife experiences that are very familiar to Cattrall, many aspects of her life are totally different—Cattrall hasn’t had a 30-year relationship and has never been a mother.
“One of the things I’m most proud of in the series, as far as my work as an actor, is the relationship between Al and Davina. I totally believe that they had been married for 30 years. I felt if people would buy that then they would really go on this journey,” she said.
“In the first six episodes it is a journey of this relationship, and in many ways a love story. We like love stories about young nubiles getting together, but (in “Sensitive Skin”) we see two people of a certain age, in their 50s, approaching 60, going through a lot of painful things that to my knowledge … haven’t really been explored this fully.”
The show is both filmed and set in Toronto, with plenty of familiar shots of the CN Tower, construction cranes and streetcars—even jokes about rich downtown condo-dwellers clogging up the transit system.
Cattrall said that she had originally planned to set the show in the U.S., but once she partnered with McKellar it only made sense to move it to the Big Smoke.
“I have such an association with New York because of ‘Sex and the City.’ I thought it would be really interesting to just break away and make it Canadian,” she said. “And nobody knows Toronto better than Don and Bob. They grew up there, they went to university there, they’ve known each other so long.
“I thought that was sort of natural. We could cast all Canadians and have a fantastic crew, which we did. So it all seemed there was no downside to it. It was just an absolute pleasure to come home and work.”