More than 23 years after the television premiere of Sex and the City, Candace Bushnell, the bestselling author and creator of her iconic alter ego Carrie Bradshaw, is ready to talk about if there is still sex in the city.
According to HBO, the answer is definitely yes—the highly anticipated revival of the beloved SATC series is in full swing, with leaks galore and a recently announced premiere date of December. But Bushnell wants to pose that question directly to the people of New York with a one-woman show that kicks off the same month.
It’s a full-circle moment for Bushnell, 62, who moved to New York City at the age of 19 with just $20 to her name and dreams of being an actress. Those hopes were short-lived: as Bushnell readily admits, she wasn’t a great actor and couldn’t fathom how she would turn it into a stable career.
So, she pursued writing instead and ended up with her own column in The New York Observer in 1994, which focused on her dating life. Not wanting her various sexcapades so closely linked to herself, Bushnell decided to create a pseudonym so as to attribute the whirlwind lifestyle to her “friend”: Carrie Bradshaw.
As history has it, Bushnell turned her column into a book and her friend Darren Star snapped up the rights to spin it into the celebrated HBO series, which ran for six seasons from 1998 to 2004, plus two feature films.
Speaking to The Daily Beast ahead of the upcoming 12-week engagement Is There Still Sex In the City? at Daryl Roth Theatre, which a preview is set for Nov. 13 and opening date of Dec. 7, Bushnell explains how her life story is threaded throughout the show, with lessons she and friends have learned in their different phases of life—being single, married, and even divorced. And of course, Bushnell says she’ll be getting into the origin story of Carrie and Mr. Big.
Fans of Sex and the City have long debated over which character they most relate to. Carrie is fun-loving, quirky, fashionable, and an It Girl; Samantha Jones is sex-positive and unapologetic; Charlotte York is conservative and a hopeless romantic; and Miranda Hobbes is the blunt voice of reason.
While many a twentysomething woman was quick to want to be the irresistible “Carrie,” over the years, public opinion has slowly shifted and many have pointed out numerous examples of Carrie being a truly terrible friend, like when she ignores her friends’ serious issues to gripe about Mr. Big’s lack of attention. The New Yorker called her “the first prominent female antihero” and there’s even a website dedicated to hating her, dissecting episodes when she’s almost unbearable to watch.
So, for someone who created a character as an extension of themselves, wouldn’t it slightly sting for the character to be labeled a whiny, narcissistic, bad friend?
Not for Bushnell. “First of all, the show is not real life,” she says. “I think because of my perspective, when I see the show, I see Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth. At this point, it’s really hard for me to suspend disbelief. So, when people say, ‘Carrie is a bad friend.’ Honestly, I don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“I don’t really pay any attention to it, to tell you the truth,” she adds. “I think the show is great entertainment and I think the TV show is really funny… So, when people say things about Carrie Bradshaw, about the TV show, I don’t take it personally.”
Plus, Bushnell says that in the early days of HBO’s SATC, the women weren’t necessarily trying to be likable—they were being themselves, before the show seemed to cater to more of what the audiences wanted from the women.
“I love those early shows when the women are kind of badass and they don’t really care what people think,” she says. “That’s what’s so fabulous about it… To me [that] captures the real ‘Sex and the City’ woman. It’s that New York quickness, that sharpness, that wittiness, it’s that New York sense of humor. As it goes on, it caters more and more to the audience.”
It’s in that same vein of not feeling any type of real ownership over the show or how it has evolved that Bushnell shrugs off the controversy of Kim Cattrall not returning to the reboot to play her beloved character of Samantha Jones.
Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker have been entangled in a lengthy feud that managed to boil over onto social media in February 2018. Cattrall took a public swipe at her former co-star, calling her a “hypocrite” and “cruel” in response to Parker sending her condolences after Cattrall’s brother died.
Many wondered how And Just Like That... could successfully erase or explain away Samantha’s absence from a show that’s based on the longstanding friendships and dynamics between four best friends. Could the show go on and still be a success? Doesn’t she put the “sex” in the city?
But that’s not Bushnell’s cross to bear. “This is an entertainment product,” she explains. “All of these shows have their own interior logic and their own rules. This is a show that Michael Patrick King is doing and he’s very skilled at doing these kinds of TV shows. He’s going to do what he feels is right for the show and I totally respect that.”
“Honestly, I really don’t understand that kind of fandom where people are like, ‘Oh my God [Samantha’s gone],’ it’s so anathema to me,” Bushnell continues. “I don’t have that personality, so I don’t actually even understand it. I don’t understand why people are even interested in celebrities. It mystifies me.”
Instead, Bushnell says she has always been interested in real experiences and real people. And she’s seen some things over the years. But one of the most fascinating changes she’s witnessed is how women’s attitudes toward dating and relationships have transformed with time.
“We’ve seen over the years that if you really give up a lot for a man, you can end up with nothing,” she explains. “We live in different times, where even 15 years ago the world wasn’t set up for single people. You couldn’t really operate as a single person. These days make it so much easier—you don’t have to be in a group, and you don’t have to be a part of a family unit to survive.
“What’s interesting to me is that you know there are quite a few people, if they don’t have to be in that kind of intense relationship, they’re fine being single or seeing somebody some of the time.”
“Women have become so much more independent since I was in my twenties, and that was back in the 1980s,” Bushnell continues. “In the 1980s, women still really felt like, ‘I have to find a guy before I’m 30.’ There weren’t the career possibilities that women have today—that’s something that really changed a lot. Young women in their twenties are working on their careers, they’re developing themselves, they’re finding out who they are, before they feel like, ‘Oh, I need to find a relationship.’ In my twenties, yes, women had jobs, but the jobs were really something to do until they got married, and that has really, really changed.”