LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon returns to the small screen on Wednesday as the murderous, scheming Petranilla in the miniseries of Ken Follett’s best-selling medieval novel, “World Without End.”
The 2007 book is a sequel to 1989’s “The Pillars of the Earth,” and is set in an English village in the year 1327 against the backdrop of the Black Death. The eight-part TV miniseries starts on Wednesday on Reelz Channel.
Nixon, 46, spoke to Reuters by phone about playing the show’s villain, her post-“Sex and the City” career, and why television is banned in her home.
Q: It seems like you left the “city” in your acting choices over the past few years. Were you afraid at some point you would be typecast after the enormous success of “Sex and the City?”
A: “I got (offers for) 5 million lawyers and corporate people. As you get older there are fewer and fewer female roles. But they do tend to get more interesting, and that’s a plus.”
Q: You’ve made interesting choices. Aside from Petranilla, you’ve played Eleanor Roosevelt in HBO’s “Warm Springs” (2005) and are next set to play poet Emily Dickinson. How do the experiences compare?
A: “With Eleanor Roosevelt, it was really tricky. There is so much writing by her and about her. And there was also endless footage and audio recordings of her. Everyone knows what she looked and sounded like. And she didn’t look and sound like me.
“With Petranilla, I just really used the script and the book, which was so large and meaty. I didn’t do any research on the period. I was in the universe of Ken Follett, and anything I needed to know … I could find in the book and the script.
“With Emily Dickinson, should I read the poetry, letters or her biography? I imagine it’s a combination thereof. At least I will start out knowing something about her already, as a buff.”
Q: In “World without End” your character Petranilla is truly evil and deceptive. Did you draw on anyone you knew to play her?
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A: “I have to say there are people I know like that, and I did draw on them and their jealousy of younger female relations of theirs and of people who had an easier life. I don’t know people who have murdered people, but I know people who have that kind of vengeful jealousy of others and feel that anything they do can be justified because their survival is at stake.
“Petranilla was wonderful to play because she is so murderously ambitious and vengeful, but she hides it all behind a mask of sweet, pious, feminine helplessness. I don’t get to play murderers or sweet helpless feminine people too often.”
Q: Do you think parenting with two moms is a very different experience in today’s world, or is it becoming business as usual nowadays?
A: “It’s definitely very different. I mostly think it’s a plus. I think most people’s experience is that their mom is the more hands-on parent, so when you have two there is a greater degree of help, whether it’s homework or emotional issues or getting to soccer practice … We have different strengths, which is nice. My wife is better at talking and getting down to the nitty gritty and talking about how you are feeling emotionally. I’m more of the culture vulture and about spinning a million plates in the air.”
Q: How do you exercise your power as the culture vulture?
A: “It’s about turning them onto Shakespeare early on and poetry and that kind of thing. My kids are very big readers. I’m always pushing the books. We don’t have TV in our house.”
Q: You don’t have TV? Why not?
A: “We have a monitor, we can rent Netflix. But I haven’t had a TV since 1986 … It’s like keeping candy in the house. There’s great stuff on TV and a lot of garbage on TV. You kind of watch what’s there. It’s like hot and cold running images. TV is a lot better and a lot worse since I got rid of it, but it doesn’t mean I want it in the house.”
Q: Did battling breast cancer change the way you approach your work and life?
A: “My breast cancer was diagnosed when I was 40. It’s hard to attribute whether it was to breast cancer or turning 40, but turning 40 was really a big thing … I really did feel like it was a mid-point in my life. Certainly the cancer contributed to the feeling that we’re not going to be here forever.”