Actress discusses working with Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito, her fashion sense, and what kind of movies she wants to make
First bursting on the scene as Brooke Armstrong in the immensely popular Melrose Place TV show, Kristin Davis spoke to women and men everywhere with her turn as Charlotte York in HBO's Sex and the City.
In the funny new family film, Deck the Halls, Kristin Davis is married to Matthew Broderick. They play a conservative New England couple with two children, gearing up for their usual traditional Christmas, complete with classic decorations and carolers. Their seasonal festivities epitomize good taste. But their perfect plans fall apart, when the uncouth, uncultured Danny DeVito, Kristin Chenoweth and their kids move in across the road. DeVito sets about creating a garish, extravagant light display, turning his house into a gaudy theme park attraction - so dazzling it can be seen from space. Broderick's stuffy character finds his neighbor vulgar and totally irritating. It looks like the Christmas spirit is gone for good.... unless the women in both families can save the day.
What kind of woman is your character, Kelly Finch?
Kristin Davis: I am married to Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) and we are the "preppy" over achieving couple in our New England town. Matthew has his optometry store; he knows everyone and he is well respected. It's a small town and everything is very well ordered in our lives. Kelly works, she does have a career, but she is devoted to her family, she takes care of her husband and children. That is her priority. Matthew is in charge in the family, and she just lets him be the boss. She rolls with it and makes sure that whatever he wants happens. He is controlling and overly ambitious about everything. And he doesn't listen to the needs of his family. He tells her what he wants the family to do and she says "OK."
What happens to her and the Finch family during the course of the comedy?
Kristin Davis: At the start of the film, Matthew is totally into Christmas, he is in charge of "Winter Fest," he loves the seasonal festive spirit and has always been viewed as 'Mr. Christmas' in the town where they live. She tries to live up to everything he wants the family to do and to represent. Then suddenly, everything changes when a new family moves into the house across the street. Danny DeVito and Kristin Chenoweth who play Buddy and Tia. They have two glamorous teenage daughters and are very different from our family. A strange competition begins between Buddy and Steve, because Buddy decides to put up outrageous Christmas lights and Steve thinks they are completely tasteless and will spoil the look of the town and his street. It is very funny.
Do you think this kind of competition and rivalry could happen in real life?
Kristin Davis: I think the friction between them is pretty true to life, because the holidays do bring out the craziness in everyone. This time of year tends to being out the insanity in otherwise normal people. In the film, Christmas highlights the insecurities that Buddy feels, because he has never been successful. Then Buddy competes with Steve, who also wants to be loved by everyone. But they are both trying to do the same thing in a way, they want to be appreciated and give something back to the community. Buddy gets more and more ambitious in his plans and the lights become more extravagant. At first Matthew and I try to humor them, then we get frustrated with them. The two women (my character and Kristin Chenoweth) end up becoming friends, which is something I really loved about the film. We separate from the men and refuse to get involve in their ridiculous row. Our family learns a lot about enjoying life from Buddy and Tia, because they are much more free spirited and lively than we are.
What changes does your character undergo as the film develops?
Kristin Davis: In the beginning I am focused on everybody else, taking care of my family and I do not spend time on my own life and talents. I compile cookbooks of other people's recipes; it is really a job for underachievers. My husband is the one with the 'important' career. I don't write my own recipes, which deep down I would love to be doing. Kelly is not fulfilling herself creatively; she is playing it safe because she is scared of experiencing the rejection that could happen, if she plucked up courage to write her own cookbook. In the end, it takes someone else coming into her life, that is Tia, her new friend, to explain to her 'you should do this yourself, do your own books and you would be really good at it'. You can be stuck in the rut of your life and it often takes an outsider to point out there are alternatives.
What was it like working with Matthew Broderick? That must have been interesting, given the fact that you and his wife Sarah Jessica Parker are such good friends from Sex and the City?
Kristin Davis: It was very, very interesting and very different from anything else I have done. Normally you get hired for a role and you might have met the actor before in passing, but you probably do not know him well and then you have to create a relationship from scratch, usually in a week or two. And during the course of the film, that develops. But of course I have known Matthew for a long time now. Sarah and I are really, really close. Luckily though, there are actually a lot of similarities between Kelly and Steve's on screen relationship and my real relationship and friendship with Matthew. You know Matthew is not that organized though he is brilliant. I am like Sarah is with him, organizing him. Sarah is the one who says 'here is your coat honey'. So I take on that role, it comes easily to me as Kristin and it is also Kelly's role in the movie. So in that way I didn't need to create the relationship, it was already there.
What was it like actually working together as husband and wife?
Kristin Davis: Great, I love Matthew. He is funny and different and he is a fascinating man. That all made it easier. But also we were obviously playing parts, doing things we would not normally do. Thank God it is a family film. It wasn't a romantic, sexual movie. There are some romantic parts, though which developed as the film progressed. There is one scene when we are in bed and I have to tell you that scene was not there when I first saw the script.
What did you think when you discovered you would have to do that scene?
Kristin Davis: I panicked. I had dinner with Sarah and Cynthia (Nixon) in New York the week that we were rehearsing and I was saying "What am I going to do?" I was so embarrassed. Actually the scene is totally playful and not at all serious, this is a family comedy, but I still felt embarrassed. Sarah said 'ooh'. We both had our hands over our faces. We both felt embarrassed at the thought of me having to do that scene. But the funny thing was, Matthew couldn't understand at all why we thought it was funny or why I felt awkward. We had some silly arguments about it. I said to him 'it's weird to be doing that, it's just odd. It's not normal' but he did not agree. He thought it was fine, because obviously we're just actors playing roles in a movie. We never actually do anything in the scene. And it is not hard to be light and playful with him, he's so sweet. You know, It was strange afterwards looking at the pictures they took on the set, because partly we looked like brother and sister in some of the shots, but I also think we look like a convincing married couple. I think it really works.
What was it like working with Danny DeVito?
Kristin Davis: He is amazing. What an interesting person. He is just like you would think he would be, just lovely. Everyone knows him so well because he has been famous for so long. He has so many fascinating stories and is knowledgeable about everything. He knows about the business from many different perspectives, because he is a producer and director as well as an actor. At one point we were on the set late at night and he said: 'come here I want to brush your hair'. I said 'ok'. He sat there brushing my hair and told me that his job before becoming an actor was as a hair stylist in Manhattan. I said "what?" But it is true. He has had a fascinating life, so it was great working with him.
Were there any particular challenges involved in this role?
Kristin Davis: I do a lot of comedy and I like that. I am happy doing funny films. I am often the straight person in a comedy, which is great as long as there are talented people to work with, which there were in this film. They are crazily talented. It is interesting, because Matthew often plays the straight person too, we relate a lot to the parts we get, but in this film he goes crazy. It is so much fun and very funny to watch him doing it. I enjoyed him in this film and really encouraged him, because he is so good when he lets himself go, rather than having to remain restrained.
How much did you contribute to the style of the film and your character?
Kristin Davis: The costume designer, Carol Ramsey, did an incredible job because we did not have very long to prepare or to shoot the film. The challenge is that Kelly is supposed to be preppy and have a New England look, but John Whitesell the director wanted me to look modern and stylish too. I appreciated that. Carole ordered several adorable traditional toggle or duffle coats that had to be sent in from Paris specially. I have a red car coat from Paris that I love and I do wear really beautiful classic clothes. It was quite a drama getting them to the set in time. But when they arrived they fitted perfectly and did not need any alteration. Kelly's style is very different from Charlotte's New York look. I wear Brooks Brothers Pajamas; I have great riding boots, Daryl K pants and Sally Hershberger jeans. We did not want to focus too much on her style, but she had to look good. I do have to wear a silly Christmas sweater and I wear it begrudgingly let me tell you. It is terrible. My character wears it to please her husband, who loves getting completely into the Christmas spirit. It is a really ugly sweater, which has a snowman with a carrot that sticks out of it, but it is funny. I don't mind looking terrible and wearing a bad sweater for the part.
How important is style and costume for you in the films you choose and roles you play?
Kristin Davis: I do feel that film and TV are often behind when it comes to the way women look, they often dress them in khakis and denim shirts, but women and mothers these days look great and films need to reflect that. Real people look very fashionable, moms are at the forefront of the style. But things are getting better in that way.
Can you talk about your personal style?
Kristin Davis: I am definitely not a fashionista, I can't live up to that title, I don't want to. Sometimes I look like a slob, but I wouldn't do a job if I couldn't be involved in the style and wardrobe of my character. Also though, I think fashion can have a very negative impact on young people who feel they have to be thin. I am not part of that trend. There is so much pressure on teenage girls just now. The whole subject worries me because a lot of young actresses are really unhealthy. It didn't happen to me when I was younger because I grew up in South Carolina in a very safe and secure environment.
Is there any pressure or responsibility placed upon you since Sex and the City, because people do think of you as a style icon?
Kristin Davis: I mostly disappoint them I think. I tried to look decent for this interview today, but normally I dress like a slob during the day, believe me. I am the antithesis of what Charlotte would wear, I am often wearing baggy, drab clothes for yoga and everyday, for working out. That is what I feel comfortable wearing, because I do not want to be recognized everywhere I go. It is very sweet when I am recognized but it can also slow you down when you are trying to accomplish things. So in terms of color schemes and designs, I want to be more subtle, I wear casual clothes by Great China Wall and Juicy Couture.
Would you literally go out in sweats?
Kristin Davis: I wouldn't go out in boring gray sweat pants. I don't even own anything like that. I don't want to feel depressed; you know how you can feel miserable if you put on pair of sweat pants? But I want to be comfortable. I go to Pilates right next door three or four times a week and I will wear my Juicy outfits but I will also put on a cute top.
Do you think that people expect Kristin Davis to look fantastic?
Kristin Davis: I do see the disappointment on their faces occasionally (laughs). But I have a very strong distinction between work and my life. They are not the same and I don't want to ever feel that on a day to day basis that I have to live up to people's expectations, because you never can do that so I don't want to put that pressure on myself. Sometimes you just get burnt out with fashion. I feel a little behind at the moment because I was in Africa working for Oxfam when the fashion shows were happening this year. But when I go out, I want to look good. I did go to 'Prada' when I was in New York last week and I did buy things, because it is impossible to go to Prada and not spend money. Prada is still my favorite, they are my 'go to people', though I like lots of other designers too.
Of course this is a Christmas film, how much do you enjoy the holiday and time of year?
Kristin Davis: We all enjoy it in my family. Last year my family came to Los Angeles and we went to Ojai (in the countryside outside Los Angeles) for a few days and rode horses. This year I am going home to South Carolina to see my grandmother, Flossie, she is 97. She is sweet and hysterically funny and doing really well. So we will have a traditional southern Christmas.
How extravagant does it get - does the family decorate like Buddy and Tia or with more subtlety?
Kristin Davis: We do things tastefully but we do a lot. My mom has a lot of traditional Christmas things she likes us to do together. We get fresh greens and make garlands for the house. She has a list of things to do, we bake cookies together and deliver them around the neighborhood. My mother likes to make gifts for everyone we know, including all my friends. She remembers everyone. We always have a pilgrimage to the zoo because the lights go up there every year and it is very festive. That is one of our local rituals. My mother is crazy about Christmas, I try to stop her wearing the silly Christmas sweaters (like the one I wear in the film) and Christmas earrings, but she loves it all. This year, I am going to make her watch this movie, to see how crazy it can get and I am going to make fun of her, though she is not as bad as Steve Finch.
What are you looking for in your career at the moment?
Kristin Davis: I just want to work and be in films that I like, it is so simple. I think from the outside it seems as though as actors, we are picking and choosing our roles, but it isn't like that at all, perhaps unless you are George Clooney. There are not that many movies I would want to be in. I am not really interested in the comic book movies for example. They send me very violent scripts that don't interest me. One I was sent involved me playing a woman, a mother and wife who gets killed, shot in the stomach. It was a thriller and it did not excite me at all. So I turned it down. You create a little world when you are making a film and you have to feel that you would want to be a part of that world. I sometimes look at the scripts I get and think 'what are they thinking?' it is very hard because there are not a lot of female driven scripts. So when I read the script for Deck the Halls, I liked it immediately. It is a comedy, based on relationships and you could visualize this kind of thing happening. I could picture myself playing this character. I always read the script, try to imagine myself in the role, then decide whether I have anything to give to the part. If you don't feel like that in the beginning, it is not going to go well.
Did you always want to act?
Kristin Davis: I've been acting since I was ten years old. I had two lines in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the community theater I was very focused and I loved it. My parents believed in the arts and being well rounded. So I played piano and violin, I danced and acted. They never thought I would go into acting though. They just wanted a well-rounded child and it was a bit of a shock to my dad when I said "I want to go to acting school" because he is a psychology professor and was thinking of something more academic. But of course they are pleased now.
When you look back at Sex and the City, how significant was the series in your life and career? And how do you view your career at the moment?
Kristin Davis: We enjoyed such amazing success on Sex and the City. You don't expect success on that level, it was such a big deal, and it was so intense and wonderful that it is hard for anything else to live up to it, quite frankly. So now I just try to have fun and work with interesting people. I think that there is a perception that certain films won't be popular. So it was great that The Devil Wears Prada did really well. I think that when you are famous, it can work against you, people have preconceptions about your image. Also, it is hard, as you get older finding good scripts, which is why I was thrilled to get Deck the Halls. But I do have a blessed life. I am blessed to have had a rich, wonderful creative success with Sex and the City, most people don't ever have that and I feel fulfilled in that way and so proud, so anything else that comes along is icing on the cake.
Can you talk about your health and fitness regime?
Kristin Davis: I live up in the hills and I have dogs, so it is my responsibility to get them out and walk with them and I love being outside and I go on lots of hikes. I think it's good mentally to do that as well as physically. I enjoy Pilates and I do yoga at home where I get peace and quiet. I think it helps that I don't drink and I never smoked. You see so many young girls smoking and you want to say to them 'it's bad for your skin and health, everything'. I think it is about having balance. Right now I am eating an almond croissant with a latte and I am really enjoying it - my whole attitude is that I am not going to deprive myself of anything.
What is important to you now apart from acting?
Kristin Davis: I went to Africa and Mozambique recently and it was a really amazing experience, overwhelming in terms of the differences between our world and their world. I was with Oxfam on an awareness-raising trip. Oxfam have very broad goals, trying to help people in extreme poverty. That is complex and takes in a lot of different issues such as women's rights. In South Africa one in four women have AIDS. When you are there it is shocking. So many people are dying from the disease and the same number are getting the disease each year. My main goal was to learn and call attention to some of the things that were happening. It was really inspiring because Oxfam works with local people rather than coming into a situation and imposing their ideas and trying to fix things with a band-aid. They are teaching people skills so that they can sustain themselves, like raising chickens, rather than just giving them food and medication. They are looking at the long term future, which is what the people there want. I would absolutely love to go back there.
Deck the Halls opens in theaters November 22 from 20th Century Fox.