Born in the UK, raised on Vancouver Island, and trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, actor Kim Cattrall belongs on both sides of the Atlantic – as reflected by the sheer variety of her resume (and also by her Twitter profile: “Liverpool born, Canadian‑bred New Yorker”). Although best known for her award‑winning portrayal of sexual adventuress Samantha Jones in the HBO series Sex and the City, Cattrall has covered miles of dramatic terrain – from blockbuster Hollywood movies to classical theatre productions in London’s West End. Last fall, she received an honorary degree from UBC. As well as her acting pedigree, it recognized her writing on sexual health and awareness and her activism on issues associated with gender, sexuality, and identity. Below is an edited version of the speech she gave to graduating students, including those from UBC’s Department of Theatre & Film.
“I am a product of the BC Arts programs of the 1960s and 70s, without which it’s doubtful I would be standing here today. Those programs – they were my lifeline until I left for New York City and theatre school at the age of 16. After graduation, I was fortunate enough to land my first professional job, and I have been learning as I go. Those early lifelines are important to nurture in the arts. They nurture us all. An arts education teaches young minds how to think, how to question, how to bring wonder and insight to an artist and its audience.
I remember being right where you are this morning, at my graduation. I couldn’t wait to get started. I was so hungry to begin. The speaker at my graduation was the Canadian‑American actress Colleen Dewhurst – one of the greats. It was the mid‑70s. She was appearing on Broadway and had just won her second Tony Award. She was theatre royalty, and my anticipation for her words of wisdom was palpable. She had made it. She had the key to success.
She spoke, and, to my dismay, painted a picture of gloom. I remember her saying: I wouldn’t be in your shoes for 10 million bucks. If you can do something else – God! Do it! This is one of the toughest professions. It was just not what any of us wanted to hear.
In hindsight, I think she meant it was going to be tough, but I don’t think she meant to be discouraging. She just knew how difficult it was going to be, and she wanted us to know that there were no guarantees of success, no matter how talented you were or how hard you worked. And she wasn’t wrong, but that doesn’t mean her message was absolute.
As John Lennon once sang, life is what happens to you when you’re [busy] making other plans. Whatever your path will be – however specific your plans – you can be certain it will take many detours, which could lead to a totally different interpretation of your life choice. And that can be wonderful.
I encourage you to be proud of who you are. Our national modesty is so ingrained in our character that it can sometimes be a cliché. But as Canadians, you stand alongside a legacy of great artists who have [shaped], and continue to shape, this industry for generations.
I will continue to challenge people’s perceptions on topics of gender equality, women’s sexuality, and now, most recently, ageism. As an actor and now a producer, I take on projects that inhabit those topics. Our stories – all of our stories – are as unique as our fingerprint. And we need these stories to remind ourselves of what it is to be human.
I encourage you all to follow your dreams, but to have a life – live, go places, experience. Evolution isn’t failure. And stand up for yourself. Experiment. Be bad. Be badass. And say yes to what scares you. And keep learning. Stay open. Welcome challenge with radical acceptance.
Look – when all is said and done, you’ve already accomplished one of the toughest acting challenges there is, and that is convincing your parents and friends that you’ll be able to make a living at this!”
Describe the place you most like to spend time.
Our home on Vancouver Island
What was the last thing you read?
New York Review of Books hardcover, Guardian and Globe and Mail online
What or who makes you laugh out loud?
Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge
What’s the most important lesson you ever learned?
Follow your gut
What’s your idea of the perfect day?
Sleeping late, pancakes with a cup of tea, a long walk on the beach, then home in front of a wood fire
What was your nickname at school?
KC, my initials – as in Casey
What is your most prized possession?
Photographs I’ve taken or saved
What would be the title of your biography?
Pancake Day, but that title could change
If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be?
Bring our loved ones back
What item have you owned for the longest time?
A now, sadly, one‑eyed childhood doll and my poetry books from my childhood
Whom do you most admire (living or dead) and why?
Gordon and Sarah Brown – for their belief in family, friendship and an unwavering commitment to educating young girls. Marianne Elliott for her belief in theatre as brilliant storytelling.
What would you like your epitaph to say?
If you could invent something, what would it be?
Drop in therapy centres on every street corner. Needed.
In which era would you most like to have lived, and why?
Now. No better time for women.
What are you afraid of?
What is your latest purchase?
A floral headdress for my Mardi Gras costume
Name the skill or talent you would most like to have
Satire – a dying art form
Which three pieces of music would you take to that desert island?
John Coltrane’s “Favorite Things”; Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”; Lou Reed and Metallica’s “Junior Dad”
Which famous person (living or dead) do you think (or have you been told) you most resemble?
What is your pet peeve?
People who are flakey
What is the secret to a good life?
Navigating your passions while enjoying long breaks of ambivalence
Do you have a personal motto?
Make change your companion
What’s the most important thing left on your bucket list?
Getting back to writing