'And Just Like That' stars on the college classroom scene, race and fashion NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks to actors Cynthia Nixon and Karen Pittman about their roles in HBO's Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That.

'And Just Like That' stars talk race, fashion and whether *that* college scene worked

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When HBO's "Sex And The City" premiered in June 1998, the world was such a different place. 9/11 still more than three years away, the #MeToo revolution almost a generation away, not to mention the racial justice movements, the pandemic - all of that was yet to come that summer when 30-somethings Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha first appeared on screen. Well, changes in the world and changes brought on by age are among the things that Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and several new characters are dealing with when they meet up in HBO's new show "And Just Like That..."

Well, here with us, the actresses who play two of them - Cynthia Nixon, who plays one of the original characters, Miranda. Hey there, Cynthia.

CYNTHIA NIXON: Hey.

KELLY: And Karen Pittman, one of the new members of the cast. She plays Columbia law professor Nya Wallace. Welcome to you.

KAREN PITTMAN: Thank you. How are you, Mary Louise?

KELLY: I am well, thank you. All right. Cynthia, I'm going to give you first word because I have been watching you back since 1998. What does it feel like picking up a character that you played that long ago? Do you, like, have to get to know her all over again?

NIXON: No. I mean, I think when you've played a character for this long, she lives inside you. And certainly, when you're back together with so many of the original people on screen and some really crucial ones behind the camera, it just really - it feels like you're putting on a suit of clothes that's made to fit. But I think what's really exciting for all of us that were in it before is getting to come back and really allowing these characters to grow and change and, yes, age, which is something that our show has always been good about.

But something that our show has not been good about previously is widening our universe. It was a very white show. And so to get a chance to revisit it and broaden our world and have these amazing new characters played by these unbelievable actors is a real pleasure and, like, throwing these original women into new situations.

KELLY: Speaking of amazing new characters, Karen, you know, the storylines are all new to this show, but I wonder, for you, does it feel like you're crashing a party that everybody else was invited to 20 years ago?

PITTMAN: (Laughter) Yeah, and it feels like the best party to crash, right? Part of my goal as an actor and as an artist is to work on material with collaborators who are interested in saying daring things and great stories with great storytellers and actors. And this is obviously an extraordinary playground to be on with people living in New York City in 2021.

KELLY: Well, let's dive in on how the show is different. And I want to just zoom in on this great scene that kicks off the relationship between your two characters. Karen, you are playing Miranda's law professor, which is awkward 'cause she's got a professor. She's in her mid-50s. You're younger than her. And the first encounter between the two of you is, like, Miranda putting her foot in her mouth and then putting it deeper down and then, like, swallowing the whole thing. It is - it's so rough.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AND JUST LIKE THAT...")

NIXON: (As Miranda) You're the professor?

PITTMAN: (As Nya) Yeah.

NIXON: (As Miranda) You're Nya Wallace?

PITTMAN: (As Nya) Yes. Why do you seem so surprised?

NIXON: (As Miranda) Well, your braids.

PITTMAN: (As Nya) A law professor can't have hair like mine? Why is that?

NIXON: (As Miranda) Oh, no, no, no. I didn't mean because of the braids, I was just thrown because the braids are so different than the hair in your photo on the Columbia website. My comment had nothing whatsoever to do with it being a Black hairstyle. I knew that you were Black when I signed up for this class. That was important to me.

PITTMAN: (As Nya) You signed up for this class because I'm Black?

KELLY: Ugh. It's so awkward to listen to.

(LAUGHTER)

NIXON: And what I think you're not getting is how many times we cut away to the students, who are just watching this...

KELLY: Who are...

NIXON: ...Train wreck in real time.

PITTMAN: (Laughter).

KELLY: Yeah, train wreck is about the right word. Was it meant to be a train wreck? And I'm asking because, you know, some critics have panned that scene and said it kind of - it hits the wrong note. Like, no one is quite that awkward. What - do you feel like it works as a scene, Karen?

PITTMAN: I mean...

NIXON: I feel like it works like gangbusters.

PITTMAN: You know, the folks in my circle....

NIXON: (Laughter).

PITTMAN: ...Certainly the African American women in their 30s and 40s and even 50s who absolutely feel that scene to their core are like, yeah, definitely I've dealt with that. I think because we live in this society that our audience has experienced so much of this cancel culture. We're under the impression that Miranda's in danger, but she's not. She's just trying to figure something out.

NIXON: Yeah. No, Miranda's not in any danger, and I think that Miranda's always been kind of a person who leaps. And I think, to me, this is like her walking out and trying to have conversations that she's never had before. And, I mean, I think that's kind of the idea of the show, is like we don't want to show these characters doing things that they know how to do, right? We want to pull the rug out from under them a little bit and actually put them in new situations and watch them work.

KELLY: Another big change this time around is the whole core original group of characters are well into your 50s. Everybody's middle-aged. That very awkward scene we just heard, you're fishing around in your bag for your reading glasses, Cynthia, and your gray hair...

NIXON: (Laughter) Yeah.

KELLY: ...Is, like, its own plotline. It felt to me very intentional, like you were saying to everybody watching like, hey, people, this is what 55 looks like.

NIXON: Right. In the first scene, we're actually debating Miranda's hair color being gray and Charlotte's unhappiness with it. And what does it mean when you color your hair or when you have work done to your face? Are you trying to look your, quote-unquote, "best" or are you actually trying to pass as younger than you are?

KELLY: Yeah. One thing that has not changed from the original series - the clothes, the shoes. They are still fabulous. And I do wonder, because as we've been talking about, so much has changed, and I know a lot of people will look at shoes that cost a thousand bucks and say, oh, hello, privilege. Hello, elitism. And I wonder, did either of you worry about how that part of the show was going to play in 2021?

NIXON: I mean, yes, that is a part of - I mean, I think the clothes are beautiful and have all the actors and actresses looking amazing. It's a part of the show I was - I've never been very interested in, particularly the consumer part. And you might notice that Miranda's not really much of a part of that (laughter)...

KELLY: I don't know.

NIXON: ...I guess I would say.

KELLY: I was - you had a couple of good outfits that (laughter) I wouldn't have minded borrowing. Karen, how about you?

PITTMAN: Nya doesn't have a ton of money. A lot of what Nya represents is that African American woman who is influencing fashion from the inside out. And, you know, again, I think that's new. I think that's welcome. But it isn't necessarily a conversation around money. There are women who are fashionable and incredibly culturally relevant and don't have a lot of money. And I think that's part of opening up the aperture of this show.

NIXON: Yeah.

PITTMAN: If you're going to include different women and how they look, you're going to include how they see themselves aesthetically in New York City. And in culture, we are the center of a lot of how that conversation comes about. So I think women are going to look forward to that as much as the conversations and the stories and...

NIXON: And clothes is so much a kind of an expression of who each of these characters are. I mean...

PITTMAN: Very much.

NIXON: ...I feel like you could take the seven of us. You could line up seven racks that had all of our clothes. You would never mistake one character for another - never.

KELLY: We've been talking with actresses Cynthia Nixon and Karen Pittman, who star in HBO's "And Just Like That..." Thank you very much to you both.

NIXON: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

PITTMAN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROOVE ARMADA'S "SEX AND THE CITY THEME")

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