Kim Cattrall and Don McKellar On Aging, Acting and Sensitive Skin
Sometimes, if middle age sets in like dust upon a marriage, life-altering decisions like a move to a downtown city condo can result in a husband and wife enjoying more excitement, adventure and sex – sometimes even with each other!
Enter 50-somethings Davina and Al Jackson, spouses who uproot their lives and move to a condo in downtown Toronto in an attempt to reignite their marriage and their lives. The fallout — hint, things didn’t exactly go to plan — is what made the first season of Sensitive Skin, the HBO Canada comedy starring Canucks Kim Cattrall, 59, and Don McKellar, 52, as the Jacksons, so popular among fans.
“People my age are free. Their kids are gone, or they’re divorced, and they don’t want the lawn and the two-car garage anymore,” Cattrall told Zoomer in an interview prior to the launch of the series in 2014. “They want to be around young people so they can feel young.”
Based on the British comedy series that starred Joanne Lumley, Cattrall worked to bring Sensitive Skin across the pond for nearly a decade to help fill the void of “stories of women going through a mid-life crisis, using comedy and drama and pathos and irony … as they did in Sex and the City.”
The series is written by long time McKellar collaborator Bob Martin and co-stars Canadians Colm Feore and Mary Walsh, as well as American Elliott Gould of MASH fame. Cattrall, meanwhile, says Davina’s story speaks to her even though she and her character share little in common. “Yes, I’m looking at issues of mortality, but I didn’t take the conventional road.” And McKellar’s tendency to shirk stability for “opportunities to throw myself off balance from outside sources” sounds very un-Al. Still, he notes, “Every choice and reaction has bigger consequences” in mid-life. And that makes for compelling TV.
With the second season of Sensitive Skin kicking off this Sunday on HBO Canada, we reach back into our archives to our discussions with Cattrall and McKellar prior to the series’ debut, where we talk everything from aging stereotypes to the wrinkles, both real and metaphorical, that mid-life brings.
Why stories about aging and the boomer demographic matter:
Avoiding stereotypes about aging in the show:
KC: The cliché I think is that [middle-aged people] don’t have a say – that you have no validity anymore because you don’t know who the latest guest star was on The Bachelorette or whatever. This is ludicrous but I think part of it is because people who are middle-aged and over don’t buy as much. They don’t need as much. So society – commercialism – they say they’re not going to go see a movie three times. We’re going to make movies for young kids … but the place that I think a lot of middle-age people get relegated to is the beauty – stay young, this kind of magic wand cream, Botox, face lifts, whatever. It’s suffocating. For me I feel like I’m just getting started. And part of that is finding projects like Sensitive Skin to continue having a voice and having validity simply because I can still get product made. And it’s of a very high level, I believe. And it’s good storytelling, I believe, about a woman who lives in Toronto at this date and time and has these challenges ahead of her. And it doesn’t make her a bad person, it doesn’t make her a sad person. I think it gives her humanity and strength because she’s facing it.
Using Toronto as a backdrop for the series:
DM: We always thought Toronto is a perfect location for this. For one thing it’s about a couple who move downtown and immediately I thought of all these new condos here and the way the city’s so rapidly gentrifying. It’s perfect because it’s also about a midlife crisis in a city, not just in the characters. And Toronto seemed perfect for that … I didn’t want to do it in New York, I guess, [because] that’s so strongly associated with Sex and the City for Kim. It just seemed, without much question, we thought [Toronto’s] perfect.
KC: First of all, [the city] has never looked like Toronto to me. It’s always looked like a city with no name. We went into Etobicoke, we went into Queen West, we went into all these neighbourhoods … that I didn’t even know of. So I really appreciated that as well because as truthful and authentic as the script was, and the actors who were drawn to it, the visuals of the city, and the streetcars, and the rhythm of the city, and the glut of condos that are going on, and the use of signs that were in the street that we didn’t have art directed. They were just there, but nobody has ever seen those things, you know? That was the exciting thing about it, sort of unveiling another part of Toronto which, in itself, is in crisis.
And don’t forget the fashions!
KC: We used a lot of Canadian designers. We went from Joe Fresh to Jeremy Laing to Lida Baday – we just really wanted to use as much of Canada now as possible. It’s about making the story Canadian and using as many Canadian artists as possible … Almost every outfit, whether it was shoes, or a bag, or a belt, I’m wearing a Canadian designer.