BY GENE TRIPLETT
NEW YORK — From the number of guys stationed all over the place in gray suits with little electronic receivers in their ears and watchful looks in their eyes, one would think we were entering the private presidential quarters of the White House or the Federal Reserve Bank’s bullion-filled basement.
But this was Bergdorf Goodman, one of the highest of New York’s high-end department stores, one hour before opening time on a Sunday morning. A large group of reporters was being led through rows of expensively-draped mannequins and display cases sparkling with astronomically priced bling-bling and up the escalators to the establishment’s vaunted women’s shoe department.
It was in this appropriate setting that a press conference would be held with the stars of “Sex and the City 2,” the second big-screen sequel to HBO’s hit comedy series about four fashion- and romance-minded gal pals, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis.
One wasn’t sure whether the heavy security was for the merchandise or the movie stars. Probably the former, although the Fab Four of fashion were often mobbed like the Beatles while filming on Manhattan locations.
Producer-writer-director Michael Patrick King called those occasions “celebrity petting zoo” moments, which always caused delays in the NYC shooting schedule. But for the first time in the history of the series, much of the filming took place far beyond the city limits of the Big Apple, in the sands of the Sahara Desert and exotic Morocco.
“It was in the middle of the desert, not a sound, not a paparazzi,” King recalled. “Just the crew, the hot sun, and the sun falling out of the sky quickly. And us. It was a completely different, bizarre and magical time. Different colors, different smells, great crew. South Africans, Moroccans, Brits, Germans. It was an IHOP of a crew, big meals in tents.”
But there was much more to their desert adventure than that, as the dazzlingly dressed women of “SATC” would relate after breezing into the room — fashionably late by 20 minutes — and settling gracefully in a row of chairs before the crowd of journalists.
“It was laborious and Herculean,” Parker said. “It was one of the great experiences of my professional life, to live and work with this cast and that crew every single day, to see the sun rise and set over our locations in the most far-flung places, to lie in bed all day with these women, exhausted and laughing, to be on a camel with Kim Cattrall ….”
“Not many people can say they’ve done that,” Cattrall piped in.
Since its debut on HBO in June 1998, the “Sex and the City” series has followed the lives of four very different women who become fast friends and share three common interests: great sex, gorgeous clothing and the search for true love. Carrie (Parker) is the ringleader, an autobiographical columnist and best-selling author observing the sexual politics of singles in New York; Miranda (Nixon) is the dedicated career woman with an eccentric taste in men; Charlotte (Davis) is the traditionalist of the group, a gallery curator looking to settle down with Mr. Right; and Samantha (Cattrall) is the sexual huntress, a public relations executive who prefers one-night stands to lasting relationships.
Their favorite pastime has always been gathering over Manhattan cocktails to share gossip, romantic exploits and their most intimate secrets. The television series ended in 2004, but its popularity never waned, and when the first big-screen sequel hit theaters in 2008, audiences lined up to check in on a slightly older and wiser “SATC” crew, with Carrie settling down with the love of her life, Mr. Big (Chris Noth), Miranda juggling marriage, motherhood and career, Charlotte enjoying domestic bliss, and even Samantha committed to an exclusive relationship to a younger client/boyfriend.
But “Sex and the City 2” finds the foursome dealing with all manner of midlife crises.
“I think Miranda, the real issue she’s dealing with is what to do when you have a really terrific job that you’re well paid for, that you’ve worked for decades to get there, and all of a sudden you’re just miserable in it,” Nixon said. “So I can totally relate to that.”
“Better take that back,” Cattrall warned.
“Say that again?” asked Parker, who is one of the film’s producers.
“I’m kidding, honey, I’m kidding,” Nixon said with a laugh. “No, I think … as you get older and as you get more of a sense of yourself … learning to value yourself and say, ‘You know what, if someone is treating me badly, even though maybe it’s in my vested interest to keep my mouth shut, I actually have to speak out for myself and I have to protect myself. Because I may define myself as a lawyer, but if I’m a miserable lawyer, better not to be a lawyer at all.’”
Meanwhile, Charlotte’s discovering that being married with children is not as perfect as she’s tried to make it.
“Charlotte’s always been very, very traditional, and she has very, very high expectations of herself in those traditions,” Davis said. “And oftentimes she doesn’t live up to them, and possibly the things that she’s trying to control in life are not really things that you can control.”
And what’s Samantha’s dilemma? “Menopause, menopause, menopause,” Cattrall said, wearily. “And I didn’t need to do any research. I don’t need to say anymore.”
Finally, Carrie, the once-eternal single girl, is struggling with the new role of wife, finally having married Mr. Big, the man she’s been pursuing most of her adult life.
So, it’s time to get away with the girls, where all can gain a new perspective on the changes in their lives, and figure out how to redefine tradition.
“And what better place to ask these questions than in the Middle East?” Parker joked.
Next stop, Abu Dhabi (actual location, Morocco), for desert adventure and enlightenment, not only for the characters but the actresses who play them.
“I’m telling you, it was indescribably wonderful to be so far away in such a wonderfully foreign place, to have this incredibly cinematic experience,” Parker said. “To be in the dunes of the Sahara for days and see things we will never see again. To smell things, to eat things. Yes, it was hard, but we could not have done it anywhere else this way.
“I would say the thing I cherish most about it, and therefore my most vivid memory, is that I got to live with this cast,” Parker said. “We were removed, we were shooting out of country for the first time. We’d never done that, and we had this chance to live together and to know one another in a way we never have had the opportunity to do in New York. In New York, we’d go home to our friends and our family and our children and our animals. And for me, it just changed everything.
“And I just came away loving them more than I ever have, because I got to see them in a new way, and I was so reliant upon them, and they became even more necessary, and I was challenged by the work that they were doing and how good they were and what thoroughbreds they were, and how nothing could get us down …”
So life imitated art on the set of “Sex and the City 2,” forming bonds even more valuable than that pair of Manolo Blahniks over there, with the $665 price tag.