"I arrived on this island at exactly
3:30 PM on Tuesday, June 11, 1986.
It seems like only yesterday."
Twelve years, six seasons and one hugely successful feature film. Since its inception, "Sex and the City" has grown into an international phenomenon, with audiences around the world feeling so close to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda that they practically consider them more like personal friends than fictional characters.
"When the first movie opened," recalls writer/producer/director Michael Patrick King, "I would see lines of women at the theaters all dressed up as if they were going to a party, not just a movie. It felt to me like they were excited to celebrate this special time with their girlfriends--both the ones in the seats and on the screen. So when I thought about the sequel, I knew I wanted it to be the continuation of the party. I wanted the movie to be the party."
Sarah Jessica Parker, who not only reprises her role as Carrie Bradshaw but is once again a producer on the film, says, "It's very moving and truly thrilling to be part of something that people have connected with and have strong feelings about, something that they've welcomed into their homes every week and then gone to the theatre to watch. So we gave a lot of thought as to how we'd take them into the next phase, two years down the road."
Despite the resolution of the first film's major plotlines, there remains plenty to say about these four women and the loves in their lives. Producer John Melfi offers, "It's exciting to go to the next chapter, to see what happens next."
As King began to reflect on how far the characters have come, and to explore where they might be after we last saw them two years ago, a theme began to emerge: tradition.
Though he didn't want "Sex and the City 2" to be a conventional comedy, the various forms and facets of tradition played right into King's hands, and he turned the genre on its ear. "These four women are not traditional and never have been. Miranda had a baby out of wedlock, then got married late, and she's the alpha spouse. Charlotte converted to Judaism, adopted an Asian daughter and had another daughter. Samantha has tried relationships and decided she's always going to be single. And Carrie is somebody who has tried everything she can to make her relationship work with Big and still be a self-employed writer."
In fact, Parker notes, "Carrie, who at one point thought she might not be the marrying type, is finally married to the love of her life, the man she spent most of her adult life pursuing." She further adds that Carrie is not alone in reaching a crossroads in her life. "All the women, at this point in their lives, appear to be content with having what they thought they wanted. But, as Michael Patrick so cleverly does in his writing, there's nuance and layers and complications under the surface."
"At the start of this movie, each of these four characters has found herself beginning to feel boxed in by one of those 'female' roles," King says. "Carrie Bradshaw, the eternal single girl, now finds herself struggling with the title of wife. How does the title of 'Mrs.' affect a woman whose identity, not to mention career path as a writer, has been tied to the idea of being single? Miranda, a partner at a prestigious New York Law firm, has discovered that despite all her years to prove otherwise, there can be a glass ceiling for women who work. Charlotte, who always dreamed of being the perfect mother to a loving family, now has the loving family and is discovering just how far out of her reach being the 'perfect' mother really is. The outrageous and outspoken Samantha takes on the taboo of menopause and aging by fighting the idea that when a woman goes through the 'change,' she should have to change."
Still playing with their theme, the filmmakers found a way to amp up the level of fantasy in this film by taking the four friends on a vacation to one of today's most exotic, sought-after locations in the world, a place at once completely modern and entirely traditional, the United Arab Emirates.
Melfi notes, "In this movie, our characters get to experience a lifestyle that most of us could only dream about. But that's what movies have always done--allow us to escape for a couple of hours and live vicariously through beautiful people in a glamorous world where we might otherwise never have an opportunity to go."
"Gotta hand it to you, Samantha - not blowing us off for a guy...very classy."
"Well, we made a deal a while ago. Men, babies - doesn't matter. We're soulmates.
The Fabulous Femmes...
In bringing "Sex and the City," in any incarnation, to the screen, King, Parker and the rest of the filmmakers and cast felt a great sense of responsibility to their characters, especially Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, because each of the women is reflected somewhere in the audience. Therefore, in "Sex and the City 2," even though they vacate their daily lives and take an exhilarating romp in a stunning locale, the women continue to face very human, true-to-life concerns, as voiced by the ever-questioning chronicler, Carrie.
"Carrie is truly the heart and soul of it all," says King. "Even when the story focuses on the other women, we hear and see it from Carrie's perspective to some degree."
When we first glimpse Carrie and Big in their home together, Carrie Bradshaw--now also known as Mrs. John Preston--is feeling a bit unsettled in her settled, married life, wondering "what happens after you say 'I do.'" And because Carrie is also a writer, she has even gone so far as to express her feelings about the idea of marriage in her new book, I Do, Do I?, a collection of comic essays in which she lampoons the idea of traditional wedding vows.
"Carrie has spent her career writing about being single, and for the first time she's writing about a different topic, being married," Parker observes. "The truth is, she doesn't know a lot about it yet. But she's learned that there's a difference between having a wedding and being married. She's been married for a very short time and she's not quite wearing it as comfortably as she wants to."
"The exciting thing for me when I was writing the Carrie and Mr. Big storyline for this film was to try to figure out what the concept of 'happily ever after' might mean to them today, after their passionate, dramatic and mostly turbulent courtship of the past 10 years," says King. "In the first movie, I really wanted people to believe that Mr. Big finally understood the jewel that he had almost lost by jilting Carrie at the altar, so the end of that movie was deeply romantic, a much-earned 'happy ending' for this well-deserving couple. And here they are now, two years later, about to discover what the 'home-sweet-home' of it all means. She's spent two years carefully decorating their new apartment, making their house a home, and now she's made that married bed and she has to lie in it. And for an 'out-on-the-town kinda girl' like Carrie, it's a 'Big' change. Pun intended.'"
Parker adds, "Carrie likes to go out, she likes to live the city life, looking, watching, participating. One of the many things she's secretly struggling with is the idea of staying in, of these shackles she has figuratively projected onto herself. She's able to intellectualize it, but emotionally, she's not actually where she would like to be in the marriage. She wants to be able to say she feels good about the expectations she has had of her partner and herself. So for Carrie, it becomes a story about 'Yes, I had a wedding, but am I married? Am I married?'"
Miranda Hobbes, having gotten past Steve's infidelity in the last film, finds herself finally comfortable and secure at home. It's her job that's causing her grief. She's grown increasingly frustrated at work, where her obvious talents are being thwarted by her arrogant and clearly chauvinistic boss.
"Miranda has always defined herself as a career person," says Cynthia Nixon. "Men might come and go; maybe she would be a mother, maybe she wouldn't, but she was a lawyer. Now she's made partner in a great law firm, she has a terrific salary, but she has a new boss who can't stand the sight or sound of her. We all have our breaking point, and Miranda is reaching hers. To all of a sudden be set adrift and to try to figure out, 'If I'm not a lawyer, who am I? What else is left of me?' That would be a big deal for anybody, but particularly so for someone who has defined herself through her career for her entire adult life."
Miranda's work-life isn't the only thing about her that's changing. "I think the most exciting thing about returning to the character is the way Michael Patrick always keeps her evolving," Nixon continues. "If you look at who she was when we met her, she was bitter and suspicious and cynical, quick to anger and defensive. She had a lot of trouble with men. Now, although her career is still very important to her, she is a fairly happy wife and mother. And in this film, she is the cheerleader among the four women; she's the one taking emotional care of the other three. It's a mark of how much she has grown."
"An intriguing subliminal thought about the Miranda storyline to me," says King, "is that in the first half of the movie she is tied to her job, her face always buried in her BlackBerry. But once she makes the decision to put down the BlackBerry, she sees the world."
Also a wife and mother, Charlotte York-Goldenblatt has spent the last two years in the midst of her growing family, and now finds herself in the middle of the "terrible twos" with her daughter Rose. "Things are not going smoothly for Charlotte," admits Kristin Davis. "She still really wants everything to be perfect, and it's hard for her to accept the fact that it's not...and that she's not perfect either. It's been her ongoing struggle throughout the life of the character. It's a continuous battle as to how overachieving she can be and how many surprises have to be thrown her way before she can actually let go a little bit and stop this pursuit of perfection. And now baby Rose is the biggest challenge of all, even if Charlotte can't admit it."
Another thing Charlotte doesn't see is how attractive her new nanny, Erin, played by British actress Alice Eve, is. But, thanks to observations from Samantha, she wonders whether Harry may stray in that direction. "Charlotte begins obsessing over how gorgeous her nanny is, something she originally didn't notice because Erin is so wonderful with Rose and Charlotte so desperately needs her," Davis says.
"Charlotte's storyline has a lot to do with trust," says King. "Because of the exhaustion that can come with the demands of motherhood, she is too worn down to trust her own instincts about the choice of her nanny, her husband's fidelity and even her own abilities as a mother. This little getaway with the girls gives her the luxury of some much needed sleep and she regains her ability to trust her instincts again."
While Charlotte is mired down with the challenges of parenthood, a single Samantha Jones, back in New York and back on the prowl, once again represents the epitome of freedom. "Samantha is back in her seat of power, back in her town with her girlfriends--her family--around her," Kim Cattrall says.
The most outgoing of the foursome, Samantha is a smart hedonist who lives life on her own terms. However, this time around, life is throwing the sexy blonde a few curveballs as she is forced to deal with the idea of aging and what locking horns with the first symptoms of menopause means for her liberated lifestyle. Cattrall looked forward to approaching this fact of life from a comedic point of view. "For me, incorporating comedy into a menopausal storyline was incredibly gratifying, because you hear so many negative stories about what women have to go through at that time of their lives," she comments. "I feel we've taken that subject and mined gold out of it by making it human and funny and accessible. Samantha has a tremendous lust for life and she's a powerhouse about her sexuality; she enjoys it and integrates it into every aspect of her life. So when that part of her is challenged, she fights back with all she's got."
"One of the successes of the 'Sex and The City' brand," says King, "is its ability to evolve. The idea of Samantha entering menopause never frightened me for a second because I knew that if anyone could play an outrageous menopause story, it's Kim Catrall, and because some of the audience is experiencing what Samantha is going through, and she is having the struggle and the victory for them."
The filmmaker continues, "These four actresses embody something very special, something everyone relates to," says King. "Whether people feel that they are like Carrie, or Miranda, or they have a friend who is like Charlotte or Samantha, the audience has an investment in these actresses and their characters, and in the emotional journeys they take."
"You knew when you married me
I was more Coco Chanel than coq au vin."
The Loves of Their Lives...
Accompanying the women on many of these journeys are the various men who've come in and out of their lives--after all, what is "Sex and the City" without, well, sex. And Carrie's writing has depended equally upon the women and men in her life to keep it both racy and relevant. However, no man has had a bigger impact on Carrie than her on-again, off-again boyfriend, friend, lover and, at long last, husband...Mr. Big. Or, as we now know him, John James Preston. When we last saw him, Big was finally able to say "I do," proving to Carrie that to him she was, indeed, the one.
Now, approaching their second anniversary, the couple is still trying to agree on their own unique definition of marriage. "This movie's a wonderful example of where it's possible to go, because a relationship doesn't end with the wedding, or the party and laughs afterward," Chris Noth comments. "There is the next day, the next series of moments between people, the next series of challenges. You have a life together and all the ups and downs of that, and that's what we deal with in this film. Once you get what you think you've wanted for so long, what happens then? There's a whole new set of questions. It's always a work in progress."
"Big and Carrie are that New York couple who go to the ballet and to a great dinner and then have champagne on top of a skyscraper, looking out at the Manhattan landscape, and Carrie loves that about them," says Parker. "But they're celebrating their anniversary at home, and he's very romantic in the way that Big can be, and she loves that, too. Then what should have been a romantic exchange of gifts suddenly makes her wonder if he really knows her at all."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Miranda and Steve's marriage, having come through the turmoil of his one-time infidelity, couldn't be on firmer ground. "Miranda and Steve are very real, very honest with each other," David Eigenberg says. "They're down to brass tacks; they understand that you have to finesse the relationship a little and they are supportive of one another, but they don't manipulate each other. They just say what they need and they've learned how to compromise. It's a very real relationship."
"Steve Brady was created specifically to soften Miranda who, at the time, was really sarcastic and really brittle...and really alone," King offers. "He was an antidote to that because he is a regular guy, and over the years they have, I think, become the most relatable couple."
While Charlotte and Harry also have a very solid marriage, for the first time, Charlotte begins to have doubts about her loyal husband. Evan Handler explains, "Charlotte has hired a wonderful young Irish woman to help take care of their children. This woman also happens to be extremely gorgeous and to have never worn a bra in her life. This causes Samantha to question why Charlotte would bring such temptation into their home, leading to suspicions that had never occurred to Charlotte before. The movie poses the question of whether Harry has become untrustworthy, or whether Charlotte has grown paranoid."
"Charlotte's journey was always to find a tall, dark, handsome, rich WASP; her evolution as a character was that she saw past what she had imagined and was able to feel what real people feel, and fall in love with Harry Goldenblatt," says King. "She never had to question his feelings for her, and even now the impulse to do so isn't coming from him, but from an equally influential source: Samantha, one of her best friends."
Not to be outdone by the ladies, Stanford and Anthony--Carrie and Charlotte's best gay friends, respectively--have each found the love of their life: Anthony and Stanford, respectively. And though Carrie may have ultimately opted out of the big wedding, nothing can compare to this movie's black-tie gala nuptials--complete with swans, an all-male chorus and none other than Liza Minnelli herself officiating--all arranged by Stanford, not his wedding planner fiancé, Anthony.
"I've been on a lot of movie sets, but I had never seen anything like this," Willie Garson declares. "It was reminiscent of a Busby Berkeley musical of the `30's and `40s, with hundreds of extras and an orchestra and two camera cranes. It was probably the biggest thing I'll ever be part of."
Mario Cantone turned the occasion into a true family affair. "I got my sisters, Marion and Camille, to walk me down the aisle, so it was actually very emotional," he relates. "And for my character to have this great sequence at the beginning of the movie was really thrilling and magical, something I'll never forget."
"Stanford Blatch and Anthony Marantino are polar opposites," King says. "Anthony's an opinionated, bossy, prickly, hilarious man, and Stanford's sweet, vulnerable fussy and emotional; but, as they say, opposites attract, so really they're just like any other couple. And now they're having this over-the-top wedding, and Anthony is uncomfortable with the tradition of it all, so he fights off the wedding emotions...until the vows."
One character who has vowed never to be tied down again is Samantha...though she's not opposed to possibly being tied up by former boyfriend Smith Jerrod. In New York for the premiere of his newest film, Smith invites his former flame and her friends to the big event. For the splashy red carpet scene, the filmmakers were able to bring in some exciting guest stars in cameo roles, including fashion guru Tim Gunn and teen fashionista Miley Cyrus, who shares an unexpected paparazzi-fueled moment with Samantha.
Of course, getting such A-listers to New York for the filming took some careful juggling of schedules. "Miley was in the middle of a concert tour, and flew in for the night from San Francisco with only six or seven hours to work before she had to get back on a plane," Melfi recalls.
The most startling sighting doesn't happen on a red carpet in New York, but halfway around the world, where Carrie runs into her past. Like a true desert mirage, in the middle of the Abu Dhabi marketplace and in the midst of confused feelings about her marriage, Carrie sees...Aidan.
"When he sees her, his first thought is, 'Wow, how beautiful is she?' and how happy he is to see her," John Corbett says. "When you're out of town, in a city where you don't know other people, he thinks, 'What's the harm in two old friends having dinner?' There is so much history and unresolved feelings between them that he just can't resist."
"Sex and the City 2" also features some new faces, including Noah Mills as Anthony's hot young brother, who catches more than Samantha's eye; Max Ryan as Rikard Spirt, a man the ladies encounter on the sands of the Sahara; and Raza Jaffrey as Garau, a butler at the desert hotel with whom Carrie makes a connection.
"These women would be spinning in a false reality if there weren't worthwhile men they were trying to build their lives around," King grins. "So the guys are really important. It's always been about the four friends, the girls, but their lives wouldn't have evolved if the audience wasn't somehow believing in and relating to the men that they chose. John as Aidan Shaw, Chris as Mr. Big...it's been part of my great joy over the years to write the parts of these somewhat silent heroes."
"Once upon a long time ago - there was an island,
some Dutch, some Indians, and some beads...."
If the men in these women's lives are the heartbeat, the pulse is New York City, and while it may have become something of a cliche to tout a setting as another character in a movie, it's never been truer than with--as the name suggests--"Sex and the City."
Filming with all four females leads on the streets of New York has always required some extra effort on the part of cast and crew, and this time was no exception, especially during the scene that takes place at the small park on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, where Bergdorf Goodman meets the Plaza Hotel. Though President Obama was attending a function only a few blocks away, thousands of onlookers and paparazzi stood their ground, cramming the sidewalks for a glimpse of the actresses dressed for a flashback to the 1980s, when Carrie first arrived in the big city.
The production also shot inside Bergdorf's--a rare occurrence as the store only allows filming for something extraordinary, like Barbra Streisand's 1965 TV special "My Name Is Barbra." The "Sex and the City" series had shot in the china department years before, and producer Parker proved especially helpful in securing the store's agreement a second time. Melfi asserts, "Sarah Jessica can cut through the red tape like no one else can. They agreed to close down parts of the store on different days, partially interrupting their flow of business, and we're so grateful to them." Though it was a logistical challenge, overcoming the obstacles was worth it to the filmmakers as the Bergdorf's scene was critical to the story: Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda meet at the upscale venue with a very special purpose in mind, to find the perfect wedding gift for Stanford and Anthony.
Unlike the understated, intimate City Hall ceremony between Carrie and Big, this one, King reports, "is a real extravaganza." The wedding itself occurs about 10 minutes into the film and, while set in Connecticut, was filmed at Brooklyn's Steiner Studios, on an elaborate set created by production designer Jeremy Conway and his team.
"Michael said it was important that this sequence was white," Conway says. "I think the line he used was that 'it should look like a snow-globe had exploded,' which was a funny, really great image for me to work from--brilliant! Then he told me about the swans and a water feature, and it was off to the races."
"We're playing with the idea of what's traditional and what isn't," King adds. "The wedding is right up front and, for me, it's a combination of everything you would ever want to do in a big movie, from elaborate sets and gorgeous costumes, to swans and dogs, to a big musical number with a legend--it was quite a big deal. What's funny and unexpected about this big Connecticut summer wedding is that it's two men getting married," King says, "and just like that, traditional and non-traditional collide--one of the themes of the movie."
Almost every aspect of the set was custom-made, including the tent, the tablecloths, and the floral arrangements in various shades of white. Floral designer Tess Casey even added crystals to the flowers so that they would pop. "As in everything we do," Conway says, "the details are really, really important."
The cast was floored by the sheer size and beauty of the design, replete with such dazzling frills as a graceful footbridge and a huge male chorus attired in white tuxedos. Upon arriving to film the musical number in which she appears, Minnelli whispered to King that she hadn't seen anything like it since, as a child, she visited her father, director Vincente Minnelli, at MGM. Perhaps to show her appreciation, after her final take Liza, accompanied by her pianist, Billy Stritch, gave the entire cast and crew an impromptu, farewell performance of Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye." Everyone from producers to prop masters was spellbound and teary-eyed; even the two swans walked out of the water and nestled at her feet while she sang.
If this wedding was Stanford's dream come true, it was the big wedding and the big house that once nearly destroyed Carrie and Big's relationship. "They tried to be that 'impossibly New York' couple who live in a flashy penthouse, but it's an ideal that's impossible for them to live up to," King states. "Having learned that lesson, the question for me was how do I ground them and yet still have them live someplace fabulous enough for Carrie and Big in New York? So I moved them, as Carrie says, 'a little more down to earth...12 floors to be exact.'"
In the film, we learn that Carrie, while penning her latest book, has also spent the first two years of her marriage making their apartment a home. King relates, "Carrie has decorated their place with an eye toward what would make Big comfortable. It's no longer just Carrie Bradshaw, all color and sparkle, and it's not reminiscent of Big's single life, which was minimal and modern and bachelor-like. The fun for the design team and Sarah Jessica and me was to figure out how Carrie interprets them as a couple, design-wise. We wound up with a good mix: Carrie's into rugs, so you see her taste in those, and Big's in the furniture, which is very retro mid-century, his growing-up era."
"That first apartment, in the original film, was really a big display of his commitment to her, and the closet, after he had it redone, was the diamond ring. But it wasn't them," Conway says. "This time, I wanted to create a space that was elegant but also felt like their home, particularly if Carrie had been working on it for two years. It would be grown up and it would reflect their relationship now."
"It's a mix," says Parker. "It's a hybrid of who they are, Mrs. John Preston and John James Preston. It's a one bedroom on the Upper East Side, and it's not on the top floor, but it's not on the first floor. It has great views and you really feel the city all around them. For a romantic comedy set in Manhattan, it's incredibly realistic in terms of scale and proportion."
Other New York sets and locations in "Sex and the City 2" include Samantha's office, actually filmed at the restaurant Two Times Square in the Marriot Renaissance New York Hotel Times Square; Steve and Miranda's brownstone in Brooklyn; the exterior of the posh Ziegfeld theatre where Smith's movie premiere takes place; the lobby of the newly renovated Empire Hotel, which served as the site of the premiere's after-party; and, of course, the front of Carrie's old East 73rd Street apartment, located on Perry Street in Greenwich Village.
And, though the scenes would take place in an Abu Dhabi nightclub, the movie's karaoke sequence, which involved numerous extras and two musical numbers, was filmed on an opulent set created by Conway at Broadway Stages in Brooklyn, inspired by an elevated, circular dance floor King had seen in a club during a research trip.
In the film, Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda all perform a karaoke song together, which Parker, Cattrall, Davis and Nixon had pre-recorded several weeks before in a Manhattan studio, and then lip-synched during filming.
Nixon recalls, "Somehow when it's just you and a microphone in a sound studio, it's still pretty daunting. I'm not really a singer, but when we actually filmed the scene, there were a few hundred people there, so I was nervous about hearing it played back. But I thought we did good--for us, we did good."
As a matter of fact, King thought the ladies' first take was a little too good. "I said to them, 'Okay, now we know how you would sing it. Let's do another take with your characters singing it. And they got it; they recorded it with a completely different tone."
"Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
Perhaps the most obvious means by which the filmmakers chose to break with tradition was to break out of the series' traditional setting, New York City. Though the ladies had been to a resort in Mexico together, King really wanted to go much further afield this time, someplace where these characters could take in the sights and sounds of a world completely foreign to them, both as Americans and, primarily, as women. Melfi offers, "Michael wanted to take them out of their comfort zone and put them into a completely different culture, so he thought of the Middle East--the new Middle East."
King was particularly interested in the United Arab Emirates. "I wanted to go global," he says. "I wanted to portray a bigger world view of women because when we opened the first movie in cities like London and Berlin and France and Tokyo, I started to see that this was reaching more than just American women, that women around the world were identifying with these storylines and these issues and these characters."
The opportunity to go to abroad comes when Samantha meets a gentleman named Sheik Khalid at Smith's movie premiere. The sheik hopes the public relations maven might be able to do for his hotel in Abu Dhabi what she did for Smith's career--make all of America see it as a star--and invites her to visit, all expenses paid. Of course, Samantha makes bringing her girlfriends with her part of the deal.
Morocco, with a 75-year history of filmmaking, would stand in for Abu Dhabi, and the bulk of shooting there took place in Marrakech. However, the first few days of filming took place several hundred miles away, at the edge of the Sahara. After all, no trip to the desert would be complete without a camel ride across the sand. The sequence, which includes lunch on the dunes, was shot in the same location as "Lawrence of Arabia."
"We went right from shooting a 1930s-style romantic comedy with huge sets and production numbers into a David Lean epic," King laughs. "John Thomas, our director of photography, is like a painter. When I first saw the work he did photographing those dunes, I thought, 'Nobody's going to believe we were really there, it looks so perfect.'"
For the scene, two white camels from the Republic of Mali in Western Africa were brought in, each one able to carry two girls. Though camels have a reputation for being temperamental, these seasoned pros were remarkably calm...most of the time.
"The camels worked perfectly for me," King says. "At one point, Charlotte is supposed to fall off, and after the first take, the camel realized it. After that, every time Charlotte got to the line before she fell, he made this crazy noise, like he knew what was coming and he wasn't happy about it. It was so funny."
Kristin Davis smiles, "Camels--and animals in general--are a little like babies, and I worked a lot with both in this movie."
Following the camel ride, the ladies stop for a lavish lunch in the shade, but their repose is briefly interrupted by the sudden appearance of a fellow guest of the hotel, a handsome Danish architect whom Samantha immediately has eyes for.
"Michael very smartly introduced him like an oasis in the desert for her, while she's been in the middle of her own desert, physically and emotionally," Kim Cattrall observes.
Moving into Marrakech, the production faced new challenges. Some of the movie's key moments take place in the souq, which is the commercial quarter, or market, in a Muslim city. Marrakech, comprised of both an old fortified city known as the medina, and an adjacent modern city, has the largest traditional souq in Morocco. For their marketplace scenes, the production shot through some of the main arteries in the medina, a 1,000-year-old living link to the past where mosques and palaces stand side-by-side with humble dwellings. A major tourist attraction, the medina is comprised of a very tight, narrow series of alleyways and streets containing small stalls, workshops, craft shops and the like. Everything from antique treasures to modern-day trinkets can be found among the merchandise. Production designer Jeremy Conway revamped stretches of the area to make them look more appropriate to Abu Dhabi, toning down some of the vibrant colors of the goods on sale and putting up new signage in the version of Arabic more specific to that nation.
"Filming in the medina was an intense experience," notes King. "To be shooting in such a narrow area with 300 extras, plus 300 people passing through every time you stopped filming, was crazy. But it felt authentic and the atmosphere leaps off the screen."
While in Abu Dhabi, the women live in the height of luxury in a grand suite of rooms overlooking the lush grounds and the bright turquoise waters of the pool, a far cry from the close quarters of the street market. Substituting for the sheik's hotel was the exquisite Mandarin Oriental Jnan Rhama Marrakech. With a breathtaking view of the Atlas Mountains, the palatial resort was designed with a dream-like aesthetic in mind and was still several weeks away from its grand opening when the production became its first "guests."
"We got very lucky with the Mandarin Oriental," King states. "It was almost as if someone had built us an authentic soundstage, but it was a real hotel. It was stunning and exotic, and we wound up creating a magical, faraway place filled with actors and extras of every race and nationality. It felt like nothing we'd ever seen before."
The ladies travel in style on their trip as well. Their beyond-first-class accommodations on the sheik's airline, Afdal Air (afdal is Arabic for smooth) were modeled after an Air Emirates Airbus A380, with every detail of the luxe cabin duplicated exactly, including the individual suites and the lounge-bar, where the girls share a round of Cosmos, naturally.
Once in Abu Dhabi, they are driven from the airport to the hotel and around town in grand style, namely in four Daimler AG Maybachs 62s, full-size luxury sedans that are hand-designed and crafted over a period of six to nine months. King envisioned the cars in white, but because they don't come in that color, each car, originally black, was vinyl-wrapped in white. The wrapping was done in Los Angeles and the cars were then air freighted to Frankfurt, Germany, and transported from there to Marrakech. The very exclusive luxury vehicles--there are only about 2,600 in the world--are equipped with an extremely powerful air conditioning system that allows cool air to come through the seats--extremely useful in the Moroccan desert heat.
The next-to-last week of filming in Morocco happened to coincide with Thanksgiving, making it bittersweet for many American cast and crew members so far away from their loved ones. But the feeling of an alternate, "Sex and the City" family--so many of whom have worked together for several years--prevailed, and the company had a genuine Thanksgiving dinner together to celebrate the holiday.
"We asked a huge amount of our cast and crew to take so much time away from their families, but we really feel like a family ourselves," says Parker.
"I have to say, I'm digging the sequin trim on
the Real Housewife of Abu Dhabi."
While perhaps no one does New York film fashion better than "Sex and the City" costume designer Patricia Field, "Sex and the City 2" presented her and her team with an entirely new set of challenges. Culture shock doesn't begin to describe what might happen when Blahniks meet burqas under the desert sky.
"I get a huge amount of inspiration from the script," Field says, "and I had a lot of fun with this one because it took us away to a magical place. The fantasy element of it was really special, and a great jumping off place to make it gorgeous, and less about reality."
She set up her costume shop in an enormous space in a Long Island City industrial loft building a few blocks from Silvercup Studios. "There were literally hundreds of racks of clothes from every important and emerging designer in the world in that space," Parker remembers. "There was one massive room for just shoes, another for fine jewelry, and another section just for bags. It's like an alternate universe."
Field and her team, including longtime collaborator Molly Rogers, started their research early by taking a trip to the UAE. "We needed to see what the environment was going to be like in the film, so that we could line up the clothing we'd need to dress the extras playing the people native to the area, the hotel staff, vacationers, and so on," Field says. "But insofar as the girls were concerned, that was strictly a product of my imagination, pulling from all the various pieces we had to get each outfit exactly right."
Field, whose parents were from Turkey and Greece, was brought up surrounded by that style. "I grew up in it, and I had family in Egypt as well. There are a lot of similar influences in the Middle East, so it wasn't that foreign to me; I knew a lot of the detail and I was able to weave it into my fantasy of four gals from New York going over there in high style." To contrast with some of the girls' more characteristic, form-fitting pieces in classic colors like black, she incorporated colorful gold and jewel tones, bright whites and rich, earthy hues in flowing silks and chiffons and satins to give a light, airy feel to their desert attire.
The designer saw the Abu Dhabi nightclub scene as a particularly fun challenge. "The Emirates are really interesting. It's a 'multi-culti' place with every level of society, so if you go into a club, it's very international. It's all the people staying in the hotels," she says.
One of the most stunning finds Field made appears in the karaoke sequence: a Leviev diamond ring Field believes is valued in the millions. "I saw this ring in the window, and it was just shining like a headlight," she recalls. "I can usually walk past jewelry stores, but this just stopped me in my tracks. Most of the time I use rhinestones and crystals, because the camera sees the same thing, but this one was, wow, just outstanding and so special." She spoke with the store managers, and they lent the ring to the production for the scene. "They brought me the ring for Samantha to wear. Of course it came with an armed security guard," she smiles.
Another piece audiences might not expect is Carrie's attire for Stanford and Anthony's wedding. As Stanny's "best man," she does, indeed, don a tuxedo. "Dior makes tuxedoes for women," notes Field. "It's the men's construction, but tailored for the female body. I think it's about the smallest tuxedo they ever made. And because it's Carrie, of course we feminized it with a beautiful, black lace hat that kind of looked like a crown, custom-designed and made for her."
Field and Rogers found their inspiration for some of the other wedding looks during a trip to Paris...but not on the runway; they were on the doormen at her hotel. "They had white tail jackets on, but not the regular tails we're used to seeing," Field says. "They had a swoop from the front to the back and it was really beautiful. So we found out who made those jackets, got in touch with them, and put the entire men's chorus in those, with top hats and Swarovski crystal detailing on the outside."
For a somewhat less elegant sequence, and for the first time in "Sex and the City" history, King's script required Field to take the four ladies back in time, more specifically, to what some today might consider a rather fashion-challenged decade--the 1980s.
"The `80s started out as kind of retro-`60s with New Wave, and then it exploded into all different directions, so it was kind of a kick to get to go back to that for a little while." Field approached it as she always does, taking character into consideration first and foremost.
"Charlotte in the `80s? She's Charlotte now, she's very conservative, which today is considered classic. Then, it was preppy," says Field, who dressed the character in a trim skirt and blouse with a matching sweater tied around her neck.
"I have to admit, I was a little relieved that I didn't have to wear a big, scary wig," Davis confesses, though she did wear a wig for the scene. "It was a preppy-style wig, so it was very easy. I didn't dress quite like that in the `80s, but not too far from it."
For Miranda, who has stepped up her style considerably in recent years, Field went back to the character's beginnings for ideas. "In the first seasons of the series, Miranda really had no interest in fashion and she was really ill-dressed. So for her `80s scene, I just backed her up even more." She put the attorney, who would've been in the early stages of her career, in a boxy suit...and sneakers.
"It was very funny," Nixon says. "Her whole look, particularly her hair--it was really a sight gag, but it's believable. I do like a good shoulder pad."
At the opposite end of the style spectrum is the wildly dressed `80s Samantha, reminiscent of a hair metal band member. "She looked a riot," Field laughs. "I took my cues from her 'I-don't-give-a-damn-what-people-think' personality. Of all of them, she was the most outrageous then, because that's how she is now."
"The `80s was a good time for Samantha: she was a bartender at CBGB's, she had a lot of fun, and her look reflected that," Cattrall relates. "Was it heightened? Yes, but why not? That's what the show is about, enjoying those guilty pleasures."
Because the flashback sequence is told through Carrie's memories, the character required two different outfits from the decade. For her "Flashdance" look, Field says she "put a lot of Sarah Jessica into it. I see her in her daily wear, coming to work, and she's a jeans-and-sweatshirt, hoodies-and-sneakers, easygoing girl but, like Carrie, still very style-conscious." While her first costume came out of one of the decade's biggest movies, Carrie's second outfit was based on one of the ultimate `80s trendsetters, Madonna.
"We're all victims of wearing the craziest trends at some point," Parker allows, "I personally made as many bad choices as anybody in the `80s, but I can look back and laugh at it. And in the film, it's a great way to introduce where these ladies came from, especially since we now know how far they've come."
"Eight times zones and a change of clothes later -
we arrived in the future."
For Carrie Bradshaw, an unconventional woman by any definition, doing what's expected of her has never been the norm, and her stance in this film is no different. As Michael Patrick King puts it, "tradition snuck in and it freaked her out." But for the cast and crew of "Sex and the City 2," working together throughout the years has become, perhaps, the best of traditions.
"I think what was most interesting to me about the 'Sex and the City 2' shoot was getting away with everyone," Sarah Jessica Parker says. "We were all removed from the most important people in our lives, our families, and that was very difficult, but I think it also helped us grow even closer than ever--and we've all been pretty close going on 12 years now. It was probably the best time we ever had as a group, and it was so great to have that experience."
"We worked incredibly hard, but it was an adventure and a big, fun vacation, too," King says, "and that's what I want the audience to have--an escape, a total escape."
© 2010 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org. All rights reserved.
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