Kim Cattrall, More Than Just A Murder Victim In 'Witness For The Prosecution'

Jan 29, 2017
Originally published on January 31, 2017 2:28 pm

Was it the maid, the lover or the lover's partner who killed glamorous socialite Emily French with a candlestick? If this sounds like an Agatha Christie plot, it is.

Christie's novella-turned-play The Witness for the Prosecution — set in 1920s London — has been adapted into a new TV show, starring Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall as the murder victim.

Cattrall tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro that the new adaptation is more complex than Christie's original, thanks to writer Sarah Phelps. "She's really made my character ... a feminist. She was a suffragette, she had a mind of her own, she came from wealth, she married a very wealthy man who died, and she got to be one of the first women who could vote," Cattrall says.

"So I sort of found her this kind of anomaly in 1923. She had all of these advantages, certainly, but she was very alone, and she had this kind of free spirit. What I wanted to try and do with Emily French, not just make her the stock character that's killed, the victim — I wanted to open up and understand her a little more, and also maybe really kind of get into the vulnerability of a woman at that point in our history, and the choices that she had and didn't have."


Interview Highlight

On playing sexually complicated women

Women and the complexities of being a woman — especially in today's society — are not explored enough. I've really, in the last 14, 15, 16 years now, since the end of Sex and the City, spent a lot of time in Europe, working, and really been very fortunate to play characters that are multifaceted and multidimensional. I'm very fortunate to have this stage of my career where I can look at these questions and challenges that I have in the world as a woman now 60, and looking at them and saying, well, how can I, through what I do, through my work, explore that.

The wonderful thing about Sex and the City is that it was explicitly revealing and sharing with an audience four different points of view on any half-hour show. And I think collectively those points of view made up one complete woman. I got to have more fun than maybe the other characters — but the other side of that was [Samantha] was covering up a lot of her fear of intimacy. Which I find, as we get older, can be prevalent — that's something else that I'm interested in exploring.

On her Sex and the City character

What I always loved about Samantha was, she had no judgment. There was an acceptance there, of her girlfriends. She was always always talking from the mount, because she'd been there and done that, she was older and she had that daring side of her. But there was this love, this bedrock respect and love that I loved in playing her, and I loved it because it was such an integral part of those storylines.

On aging and wisdom from Tilda Swinton

Four or five years ago, I was visiting her up in Scotland, and she sort of turned to me — we were walking in this wooded lane — and she said, "You know what's great?" I said, "what?" And she said, "We've got nothing to prove!"

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Was it the maid, the lover or the lover's partner who killed glamorous socialite Emily French with a candlestick? If this sounds like an Agatha Christie plot, it is. "The Witness For The Prosecution," set in 1920s London, has been adapted into a new TV show and stars the award-winning Kim Cattrall as the murder victim. The show airs on the streaming service Acorn TV.

Now, you probably best know Kim Cattrall for her role as the fabulous Samantha Jones in "Sex And The City." Kim Cattrall joins me now from our studios in New York City.

Welcome.

KIM CATTRALL: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I love Agatha Christie. But for those who might not know her or her work, give us a brief synopsis of this show.

CATTRALL: First of all, "Witness For The Prosecution" is one of her, I would think, lesser-known novellas. And then it was a play in London in the '30s or early '40s. It's a whodunit as - and Agatha does whodunits like nobody else.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

CATTRALL: It's really - she leads you through the story of this woman who's a socialite, who is very lonely. And then, she met this young man who was very charming. And they started to have a relationship of sorts. She was older than him. She gives all of her money to him. Through all of these different events, they become closer and closer, and she doesn't trust anyone else around her. So she makes him part of the will, actually. He has everything, not just part of it. He has everything.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He gets everything.

CATTRALL: And then, mysteriously, Emily French is found dead.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why don't we listen to Emily French, your character, in action. Here she is talking to her young lover, Leonard Vole.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WITNESS TO THE PROSECUTION ")

CATTRALL: (As Emily French) When one is a woman of a certain age, one becomes subject to all manner of tedious lectures about what one should and shouldn't be. I'm supposed to no longer have any particular needs, wants or appetites. My fires are supposed to be out. But they rage unchecked.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now that is not the Agatha Christie I knew.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me just say that I was reading it when I was about 10 or 11.

CATTRALL: Right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Clearly, the dialogue has been updated, shall we say.

CATTRALL: Yes. A wonderful writer called Sarah Phelps has her fingers all over this. I think what Sarah Phelps has really done here is she's changed the timeline to 1923, which was after the first world war, which is a very dark, scary time. She's really, I think, made my character, in a lot of ways - and I, of course, happily added to that - a feminist. She was a suffragette. She had a mind of her own. She came from wealth. She married a very wealthy man who died. And she got to be one of the first women who could vote because she had property and she had money.

So I sort of found her this kind of anomaly in 1923. She had all of these advantages, certainly, but she was very alone. And she had this kind of free spirit. What I wanted to try and do with Emily French - not just make her a stock character that's killed, the victim - I wanted to sort of open up and understand her a little more and also maybe really kind of get into the vulnerability of a woman at that point in our history and the choices that she had and didn't have.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have been drawn to characters like this.

CATTRALL: I have, in a sense...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, you portray sexually complicated women. I mean, definitely "Sex And The City," this is another...

CATTRALL: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why is that important, to show women having complicated sex lives, especially older women?

CATTRALL: Well, I think women and the complexities of being a woman, especially in today's society, are not explored enough. I've really - in the last 14, 15, 16 years now - since the end of "Sex And The City," spent a lot of time in Europe working and really been very fortunate to play characters that are multifaceted and multidimensional. I'm very fortunate to have this stage of my career where I can look at these questions and challenges that I'm having in the world as a woman, now 60, and looking at them and saying well - how can I through what I do, through my work, explore that?

So these kind of characters, these kind of sort of challenges of what middle age brings - it brings a lot of wisdom - you lose, you gain, as in every stage of your life. But I think that I'm very attracted to that. More than just the sexual energy, I think that the wonderful thing about "Sex And The City" is that it was explicitly revealing and sharing with an audience four different points of view on any half-hour show. And I think, collectively, those points of view made up one complete woman. I got to have more fun then maybe the other (laughter) characters...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just a little.

CATTRALL: ...But I found also with that kind of voracious appetite of someone like a Samantha Jones - I don't see Emily French - she's more lonely and desperate of some kind of connection. Samantha - it was a totally different ballgame. That was just her appetite. But the other side of that was she was covering up a lot of her fear of intimacy, which I find, as we get older, is - can be prevalent.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess it must be asked. We must do it. It is, I think, contractually obligated for me to ask you, and you know what's coming here. When is the band from "Sex And The City" getting back together (laughter)?

CATTRALL: You know, I take that as such a great complement, Lulu, because wherever I go, invariably, people say that they're interested or they want to know if there's going to be more. and...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I would watch it in warzones. It kept me sane.

CATTRALL: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It made me happy.

CATTRALL: No, it - I guess, you know, being at this juncture of my life, I'm thinking - how do I want to spend my time? What would be the reason behind it? What is there to say that has been left unsaid? Is - that's my question. And who would write it? And what would it be about? And that, to me, would be the reason to go back and do a film.

I look back on that experience, and the only thing I say is - oh, God, I wish I would've enjoyed it even more than I did. And what I always loved about Samantha was her - she had no judgment. You know, there was an acceptance there of her girlfriends. She was always, always talking from the mount because she'd been there and done that. She was older, and she had that daring side of her. But there was this love, this bedrock respect and love, that I just loved in playing her. And I loved it because it was so an integral part of those storylines and the experience.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You seem to have always played these sort of older and wiser roles, even when you weren't necessarily that old (laughter).

CATTRALL: Acting, acting...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Acting.

CATTRALL: Yes, my - I had a teacher who'd say, acting acting. But the jobs that I'm being offered now and the opportunities and to work with such amazing people, it's just joyous. I was with a fellow actress about four or five years ago. I was visiting her up in Scotland. And...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You got to name drop. I'm sorry. You have to do it.

CATTRALL: It was Tilda Swinton.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK.

CATTRALL: Oh, gosh, I hate doing that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, once you said Scotland, I kind of knew.

(LAUGHTER)

CATTRALL: And - I just think she's fantastic. And she sort of turned to me and - we're walking this, like, wooden landing - and she says, you know what's great? And I said, what? And she said, we got nothing to prove (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF BOBBY MORGANSTEIN'S "SEX IN THE CITY")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kim Cattrall - you can see her in Agatha Christie's "The Witness For The Prosecution." It airs tomorrow night on Acorn TV. You can access it by going to acorntv.tv.

Thank you so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thanks, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOBBY MORGANSTEIN'S "SEX IN THE CITY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.