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What was Kim Cattrall doing in Rudyard Kipling's bathtub?

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Though Kim Cattrall is best known as Carrie Bradshaw's man-eating friend Samantha Jones in the HBO comedy series "Sex and the City" and in this summer's hit movie based on the show, the English-born Canadian-raised 51-year-old actress has a strong background in theater.

A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she has appeared in such plays as Arthur Miller's a "A View From the Bridge" and Anton Chekhov's "The Three Sisters," as well as more recently on the London stage in David Mamet's "The Cryptogram" and a revival of "Whose Life Is It Anyway?"

Cattrall is almost unrecognizable as Caroline Kipling in the Masterpiece Theatre drama "My Boy Jack," which aired in the spring on PBS. The heartbreaking drama -- from a play based on Rudyard Kipling's classic 1915 poem of the same name -- deals with the 17-year-old son (Daniel Radcliffe of "Harry Potter" fame) of the famed writer of "The Jungle Book" and "Captains Courageous." The boy is declared missing in action during the bloody Battle of Loos in France during World War I. Kipling, who used all of his influence to get his myopic son into the armed forces, and his wife search for many years to find out if their only son died during the battle or is still alive.

Carrie Kipling is such a change of pace from Samantha.

It really was. I have always felt more like a character actress. There is something about playing roles like that that I really feel like 'Oh, this is what I should be doing.' I think coming to Hollywood as a young actress and being under contract, which for me, coming from the theater in Canada and England, was an amazing situation because suddenly I was taken into this system that wanted to mold me and look a certain way.

Were you signed to Universal?

I was of the last [contract players]. Sharon Gless, Jamie Lee Curtis and I were the last of that generation. I was instructed to lose weight and let my hair grow and take makeup classes. I would always show up in some kind of T-shirt that said 'Vote Liberal.' I was from the Canadian north. I was like this hippie-chick theater brat and suddenly I was being put into high heels and wearing makeup. I felt like "La Femme Nikita" -- I was being transformed. I would go in to read for these roles and they would say she has the role on the way she has read and her talent, but I can't cast her because she's not pretty enough.

My agents would literally say you can't wear jeans anymore to auditions. No more T-shirts. You have to wear skirts or dresses. I never felt comfortable.

What were the challenges playing a woman of a century ago?

She didn't have a voice. She couldn't have an opinion.

You didn't stand [up to men]. It was such a patriarchal society. There is no room for questioning. It was extraordinary for me as a woman of my generation to hold [her voice] in.

Did you do a lot of research on Carrie?

I [had] never played anybody who actually lived. So I went up to Vermont, where there is a Kipling house that he built for Carrie and where the kids were born and where he wrote the "Just So Stories," "The Jungle Book" and "Captains Courageous." I went up with my boyfriend. It was a snowy, snowy spring day and we walked around the grounds. You can rent the house to sleep in for a night. So I actually slept in [Kipling's] bed. It was extraordinary. And bathed in his bathtub. There were a lot of artifacts in the house because they had abandoned the house after their first daughter Josephine died, when she was 7. Kipling and [Josephine] had gotten very ill on the crossing over [from Vermont to England] and [the family] never made it back to Vermont. Their little girl died. ... That's why the death of Jack is even more devastating.

What happened to Carrie?

She was [Kipling's] agent, his bodyguard, his manager. Everything went through her.

He would read things to her. She was his copywriter, she was his muse. They were devoted to each other. They lived into their 70s. She outlived him. She went to see a screening of "Gunga Din" [in 1939]. And they portrayed Kipling in "Gunga Din" and she didn't like [the character]. She had done all the contracts for it. ... She had so much power going in with those contracts that she had the power to change the final cut of the film. That is how protective she was.

Can you talk about your new series for HBO?

It's a half-hour comedy called "Sensitive Skin." It is about a woman in her 50s going through a mid-life crisis. It was so great in "Sex and the City: The Movie" that Samantha turns 50, which I have done, plus a few more years.

When I was in England [doing theater], I was watching a series called "Sensitive Skin" that Joanna Lumley was doing and the writing was so amazing and the storyline so original.

They are writing the script right now and, hopefully, by the end of August and early September we will have the cast together. I miss being on TV. I love doing theater and I love doing the films, but I missed that family that television gives you. I think that is why I really felt that this was the best move for me to make.

I think it's a really good match. We want to bring in a lot of New York actors. Since it was announced, I have been getting a lot of texts and e-mails from friends and crew members saying "Do you need an A.D.?," because it was really like a family on "Sex and the City."

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