It’s been a decade since Kim Cattrall famously portrayed the confident and sultry Samantha Jones on the hit HBO series Sex and the City. On Sunday (July 20), the B.C.-raised actor returns to the television network’s Canadian channel—HBO Canada—in a new series, Sensitive Skin.
The six-episode show is based on the UK series of the same name created by Hugo Blick, which aired on BBC Two from 2005 to 2007. Cattrall was introduced to Sensitive Skin shortly after she had wrapped up Sex and the City and immediately felt a connection to the show’s lead character, Davina Jackson.
“It was my first binge-watch experience,” Cattrall said to the audience after a Vancouver screening of Sensitive Skin’s first two episodes on July 15. “After the first one [episode] I thought, ‘Wow, this is really exciting and really different. Where do these characters go? I’ve never seen this story before.’ So I watched all of it and it took about three hours in total.”
Cattrall portrays Davina (who was played by Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous fame in the UK version), a woman in her 50s suffering a mid-life crisis. Davina and her husband Al Jackson (portrayed by Don McKellar, who also directed the series) have recently moved to a modern-style loft in downtown Toronto. Their adult son Orlando (Nicolas Wright) occasionally drops in on them, but he mostly views his parents’ change in lifestyle with disdain and blames them for his own shortcomings.
Despite a seemingly successful 30-year marriage to Al and a job as an art-gallery owner, Davina is clearly uncomfortable in her own skin—especially as it ages. In the show’s opening scene, she picks up a prescription for hormone replacement therapy (“But it makes you look younger, right?” she says to the concerned pharmacist). Later in the episode, she visits a hair salon hoping to recapture a morsel of her youth, which she spent working as a model in Milan and New York.
Her husband, Al, is as supportive as one would expect—trying to find the right words to sooth his sensitive-to-everything wife—but has his own set of problems to deal with that include work, relationships, appearances, and mortality.
“This is a human story, and they’re all so flawed, these characters. They’re so narcissistic,” Cattrall noted. “There’s a humor that’s subtle, but very real.”
“For Al’s character, comedy is his defence mechanism. That’s how he operates, which is sometimes successful, sometimes not,” McKellar, who was also at the Vancouver screening, added. “It’s not a sitcom obviously, but it’s real genuine character comedy, and that’s crucial.”
When Cattrall, who is an executive producer on the show, was given the green-light for a North American adaptation, she first took it to HBO in the U.S.
“We had it in development there for almost four years, but it was very frustrating. Taking an adaptation of something that’s successful in one country, one place, does not necessarily mean it will translate. It can’t translate in its original form,” she said. “At HBO U.S., what was happening was that it was actually too faithful to the British version and it was too slapstick.”
While performing in Private Lives on stage in Toronto in 2011, Cattrall decided to move Sensitive Skin north of the border. She connected with Toronto-based actors and writers McKellar and Bob Martin—who are the same writing duo behind the Tony Award-winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone.
“It took about two years to really get the scripts where we wanted them, and then we started shooting last October and finished around the middle of December,” Cattrall explained. “We rehearsed more than I’ve ever rehearsed for a television show…. These are people who don’t know each other in reality and you come together and you’re creating a family.”
Cattrall added that because Sensitive Skin is adapted from an existing series, creating the first season was in many ways easier than when she started Sex and the City.
“The first episode of any series is really a challenge because you have to introduce all of your characters, and you have to set the scene. Then as the series progresses, you really start to understand what’s going on,” she said. “I remember the first episode of Sex and the City was terrible because we hadn’t found our way. It wasn’t until the middle of the first season that I think the writers in that case knew who they were writing for and the actors started to get more comfortable with the characters. Here, we’ve had this amazing advantage of having a version that already existed and adapting it, so we learned so much from their mistakes.”
Sensitive Skin premieres Sunday (July 20) at 8 p.m. on HBO Canada. Following the show’s premiere, all six half-hour episodes will be available on digital platforms, including HBO Canada OnDemand, Telus Optik, as well as the Bell TV and Shaw Go Movie Central apps. The series will air weekly on TV on the HBO Canada channel.