Kim Cattrall found many reasons to seize the role of Carrie Kipling, wife of British literary superstar Rudyard Kipling, in the film “My Boy Jack.”
Airing on PBS’ “Masterpiece Classic” (9 p.m. EDT Sunday; check local listings), the project had instant appeal: Cattrall is a lifelong Kipling fan.
“He wrote a poem that I loved as a kid called ‘The Way through the Woods,”’ says the actress, 51. “I read ‘The Jungle Book,’ and my dad bought me ‘Kim,’ ’cause it was called ‘Kim.’ Then I was shocked to find out someone with MY name was a boy.”
Cattrall saw other reasons to sign on: “I had never played anyone who actually existed.”
Prominent among the characters she has played is larger-than-life Samantha Jones, the seductress from “Sex and the City.”
But in “My Boy Jack,” she plays the real-life mother of John (Jack) Kipling, who, despite being just 17 and plagued by poor eyesight, is determined to fight for his country as World War I breaks out. Jack’s influential father supports his patriotic zeal, and pulls strings to get the lad inducted. But as this true story unfolds, Carrie fears the worst for her son.
Jack is portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, with no hint of Harry Potter. Meanwhile, Rudyard Kipling seems channeled by actor David Haig. He also wrote the script, adapting his own stage play, which opened in London in 1997.
“I always was very excited by the whole imperialistic period of the 1890s and the turn of the last century,” says Cattrall, who, though raised on Canada’s Vancouver Island, was born in Liverpool, England. “It was very grand and romantic, then came crashing to a halt after the first World War.”
A revelationA grand yet wistful tone permeates “My Boy Jack,” and Cattrall is a key agent. In her performance, she manifests grace, tenderness and firm resolve.
“We’ll manage,” says Carrie late in the film. “Oh, yes, we’ll manage. I don’t doubt that.”
But what she’s saying, without saying it, is: An era has begun where doubt takes hold.
For viewers who know her only as Samantha, Cattrall in “My Boy Jack” will be a revelation.
Of course, Samantha isn’t gone from her life. “Sex and the City,” though having finished its six-year HBO run in 2004, will vault to the big screen next month.
Just two weeks after wrapping “My Boy Jack” last summer in Ireland and England, Cattrall was back home in New York to start filming “Sex and the City” the movie.
“The first day on the set was just mayhem,” Cattrall laughs. She and her co-stars — Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon and Sarah Jessica Parker — were on Park Avenue.
“We were just supposed to walk down the street. But there were SO many people out there watching! And paparazzi, trying to get the first shot of the four of us together! I have felt overwhelmed before, but THAT day I felt like a Beatle. It really unnerved me.
“But other than the first day, I had a real blast,” she adds hastily. “It really was fun.”
Late approvalThe film’s May 30 opening is eagerly anticipated, especially by the series’ devotees who wait to be convinced (while yearning to be) that a movie version was a good idea.
“Even at this late date, you just hope that it works,” says Cattrall. “But it was also that way with the series. There was always a feeling of ‘I think we’ve gone too far’ or ‘I think we said too much’ or ‘I think we stayed too long”’ — as the show’s popularity and cultural impact proved otherwise.
Cattrall remembers being offered the role. By then, she’d had a busy, if not always artistically fulfilling, run (she was in the original “Porky’s” and “Police Academy” as well as “Mannequin”), with lots of films and dozens of TV performances.
“But at that point,” she says, “I sort of felt the heyday was coming to an end.”
That is, she had left her 30s behind her. She figured Hollywood wouldn’t approve.
“I would continue to do plays and, occasionally, a smaller role in a film,” she told herself. “I thought if I did a television series, it would probably be as someone’s mother in a recurring role.
“And that was actually OK for me,” Cattrall insists. “I felt sad that maybe I wasn’t gonna get to play the really plum roles in movies. But I felt that I’d done well.”
Reconciled to that career track, she was skittish about taking on the role of Samantha.
“I didn’t think I could play this vamp in her 40s. I didn’t think I was up to it,” she says. “Now I think: ‘How ridiculous!’
“Then I met the other girls. They were all in their early 30s!”
More trepidation. She took the leap anyway.
“I thought, ‘Well, OK! I might get laughed at. But here we go!”’