Kim Cattrall: Cleopatra is my greatest challenge so far

Performing at the Liverpool Playhouse next month will be like returning home, Kim Cattrall tells Laura Davis

KIM CATTRALL clearly remembers her first sniff of cold cream. She was 11 years old, backstage after her first theatrical performance in an amateur dramatics version of Lady Windermere’s Fan.

The pot was handed to her by her great-aunt Mai – am dram enthusiast, elocution instructor, nursery teacher and talented watercolourist.

“I remember liking the smell of the cold cream on my face,” recalls the Sex and the City star.

“Even when I smell it today, I think about the first time that I was taking my bits of make-up off. For me it represented a lot more than acting. It was a different kind of life.”

Cattrall was just a few months old when she left Liverpool, her birthplace, for rural Canada – and aged 11 when she returned for a single, wonderful year.

For a girl used to living on the outskirts of the tiny village of Little River – population 500, with no theatre and an unreliable television set with just two channels –late-60s Liverpool was a revelation.

And who better to introduce her to the bright lights than Mai Bradbury, with whom Cattrall stayed in her home near Childwall Fiveways.

“I’d only really seen school plays and a touring company once, which so excited me, much more than sports or boys or anything else my friends were interested in,” explains the Hollywood actor, who is returning to Liverpool next month for a five-week run of Antony and Cleopatra at the Playhouse.

“It was quite a transition going from rural life to this urban existence of so much around me. So it was a very exciting time in my life and my association with Liverpool was always about culture and the arts and family.”

She attended St Edmund’s College for Girls in Princes Park, wearing her first school uniform, and was made captain of the swimming team. For the first time in her life, she was surrounded by a big family, with relations from both her mum’s and dad’s sides living in the city.

Great-aunt Mai bought her niece illustrated copies of Shakespeare’s works and took her to shows at the Liverpool Playhouse, as well as to a Royal Shakespeare Company production of As You Like It, starring Janet Suzman – who coincidentally is directing Antony and Cleopatra.

“It’s phenomenal really that all those years ago she unknowingly inspired me and then we worked together as actors (in Brian Clark’s Whose Life Is It, Anyway? in 2005) and now we’re working together as director and actor,” says Cattrall, who is 54 but could easily pass for mid-40s.

“It’s a great privilege to be in the room with someone who has that great amount of knowledge. She’s tough, too.”

We meet in an office at Jerwood Space, in London’s Bankside, where the cast is currently in rehearsals.

Cattrall drums excitedly on the desk when I ask what it’s like to play Egypt’s most dazzling queen – her second theatre production this year after Noel Coward’s Private Lives, in the West End.

“You know those roles always seem so far away and then they come closer,” she says, grasping for the right words. “Then sometimes you’re lucky enough and courageous enough to say ‘I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna take that leap’.”

Her facial expressions shift as she describes each trait of her character.

“Sort of like the fleeting moon. She turns on a sixpence and she’s dangerous and she’s kind and vicious and mean and brutal and savage and graceful and beautiful and sexy and funny – sometimes within four lines,” she laughs.

“So it is my greatest challenge to date.”

She is thrilled, she adds, by the casting of her co-star and on-stage lover Jeffrey Kissoon.

You don’t know if you’re going to have chemistry with someone,” she explains – and she should know, having played next to a stream of handsome men as the extremely sensual Samantha Jones in Sex and the City.

“You can be with the most amazing part and with the most terrific leading man and that doesn’t happen for whatever reason.

“In Private Lives, Matthew Macfadyen and I found it and it’s something I feel I have with Jeffrey, in a completely different way.

“I feel there’s definitely a current there. I enjoy working with him so there’s a generosity and an incredible support for one another.”

She is looking forward to returning to Liverpool – she calls it “coming” rather than “going” as if talking about her home. Cattrall got to know the city again while filming the genealogy programme, Who Do You Think You Are, screened earlier this year, and accepted an honorary fellowship from John Moores University in person back in July.

Despite working in America and considering herself Canadian-British, she feels very English, she says. At school in Canada, she would sing the British National Anthem each morning and always has the kettle on at home – “steamed tea is the aroma. It’s quintessentially English”.

Today, dressed all Continental chic in light coloured trousers, a white top and cardigan, she could pass for Italian or Spanish.

“I’m very excited to be coming home,” she says.

“I can’t even describe how it is . . . I can’t believe it’s come full circle.”

Liverpool Daily Post, 22/10/10