Behind every great woman is a fabulous gay man, but behind four of the most fabulous women in history is Michael Patrick King. A show-runner, writer, director, and executive producer of the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning HBO series, King wrote, directed, and produced the 2008 blockbuster film version of Sex and the City and its exotic new sequel, Sex and the City 2, which opens May 27 in theaters. Discussing both LGBT rights and buzzworthy bulges in a cozy suite at Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the 55-year-old former stand-up comedian also addresses that controversial Newsweek article and — spoiler alert! — tosses a bouquet of behind-the-scenes scoop on the movie’s big gay wedding.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: You look very dapper today. Did Pat Field dress you?
Michael Patrick King: No, I dressed myself. P.S., I do know how.
Are you wearing an SJP fragrance?
No, but only because she doesn’t make one called Director.
Before we talk about the film, what are your thoughts on the recent Newsweek article claiming that gays can’t convincingly play straight roles?
It’s interesting that you would ask me that question on a Sex and the City 2 junket, because Sex and the City is really about people allowing themselves to be whatever version of themselves they want to be. So I don’t like any kind of labeling unless it’s Chanel, Dior, Louboutin, or Manolo. Labeling people by their sexuality is absurd because acting is magic, and movies and the stage are about suspended belief. This might come as a shock to some people, but Hugh Jackman was not Peter Allen when he was performing that character in The Boy From Oz. Richard Burton wasn’t King Arthur when he did Camelot. It’s all an illusion anyway, so the label of actor is all anyone should be talking about.
Sean Hayes, with whom you worked as a consulting producer on Will & Grace, was one of the main actors mentioned in that Newsweek article. Should gay actors like him avoid labeling themselves in the media?
The journey out of the closet into the public is a personal journey, and it can be as rigorous for somebody who doesn’t have a spotlight shining on them as it is for somebody who does. I don’t have any rules about that. It’s amazing when someone comes out, but it’s really a personal choice.
When Cynthia Nixon came out, did you consider for even a moment that she might suddenly no longer be believable as a straight character?
She’s such a strong actress, and it’s such an amazing character. That’s a real testament to the idea of the split in a personality versus a performance because Cynthia is Miranda. So it never dawned on me for a second to suddenly include ideas that Miranda is gay.
When it comes to Sex and the City’s main gay characters, it’s worth noting that you cast an openly gay actor, Mario Cantone, as Anthony, and a straight actor, Willie Garson, as Stanford. Does sexuality ever come into play when casting?
It’s sex, not sexuality, that comes into play, and there’s a big difference. How many guys went through Samantha’s bedroom? I have no idea what their sexuality was. Literally, I blew through — and this is not a pun intended — hundreds of sexy men in the series. So many actors came in and out, took their clothes off, and I never had anyone say, “Oh, you shouldn’t cast him because ... ” They were either sexy or not sexy.
It’s no secret that Stanford and Anthony get married in the new film. Did you ever envision them getting together during the series?
Absolutely not. I liked in the series that they were archenemies. I liked that Anthony was so completely cold to Stanford, because I see that a lot in dating, and just because they happen to be the two gay characters doesn’t mean the rules change. Charlotte has walked out on men on sight just because she’s like, “No, not right.” Anthony’s her best friend, so he has the same kind of dating profile. But then in the first movie I started to have the luxury of seeing Stanford and Anthony together — and Willie and Mario together. In my mind their New Year’s kiss was the fantasy doorway that could open up to something. The other chaser for that drink was the idea in my mind that they got closer because of Carrie’s tragedy. Getting through a humiliating experience like that, they had to look at each other, drop all the bullshit between them, and relate as people.
Their whole lavish gay wedding, complete with Liza Minnelli officiating, felt to me like a special nod or thanks to Sex and the City’s loyal gay fans.
To me, it’s a nod to the big Preston Sturges, black-and-white, madcap MGM musical. For me, the movie’s about tradition and each of the girls struggling with a traditional role, so what’s important to me is that even within our nontraditional — now traditional in some states — gay weddings, even a couple like Stanford and Anthony is struggling with how to be “brooms.” But it’s also important that no one character speak for all gay men just as no one girl speaks for all women.
Did you get to party with Liza?
The only party I saw was the work. She worked her ass off and shook her ass off, as you could see. We did have a couple lunches before we started filming. Just to sit down and have a conversation with her was fantastic. She was so Liza Minnelli! I said to John Melfi, my producing partner, “If this were a Liza Minnelli drinking game, where you did a shot every time she said a word that Liza Minnelli would say, we would’ve been shit-faced 10 minutes into it.”
Miley Cyrus, who also appears in the film, has an interesting history with gay directors. Did you two do any bumping and grinding when she filmed her cameo?
Oh, I saw that! No, unfortunately, we didn’t. When I saw her and Adam Shankman doing that, my first thought was, Why am I always working all the time? I don’t have time to bump and grind like him.
Back to the wedding fantasia, you also got some of New York’s sexiest Broadway chorus boys, including Nick Adams from La Cage aux Folles, to perform as the wedding chorus.
All handpicked! That was not a cattle call. I told [casting director] Bernie Telsey I needed the most amazing boys. Each of them brings something more than you’d want from a chorus boy because they’re all stars, really, in their own right. To have them all in white tuxes and tails, all that energy jumps off the screen — it’s almost 3-D.
It’s made clear in the film that the big wedding takes place in Connecticut, so therefore it’s legal. Anthony and Stanford also reveal to the girls that they’re allowed to cheat in the 45 states in which gay marriage is still illegal. Was that your way of sneaking in a personal political commentary on marriage equality?
Sex and the City reflects the world as I see it, so that joke is in there because it’s current and hopefully funny. It’s emotional more than it’s political. As I was writing it, I was thinking it would be nice if that number was inaccurate when the movie came out, but my hunch was that it wasn’t going to change this year. I try to write things that are sort of timeless, but that was the one joke that people watching in 20 years will see and be like, “Remember when you could only get married in five states?” It also shows that Stanford and Anthony have made a nontraditional rule in their traditional marriage. It’s all about breaking or honoring tradition when you choose to but not being crippled by it.
Do you believe that open gay marriages can work?
I’ve seen marriages work that you couldn’t imagine would ever work. I’ve seen the most bizarre twists and unique turns in relationships that work. My philosophy is that you don’t know what happens behind closed doors, so no matter how close you are to people, you never know what their real relationship is.
Why do we never really see or hear about your partner? I couldn’t even find a picture of you two together on a red carpet.
Well, first of all, he’s not in show business, and he doesn’t like that stuff. At one point, I said, “Do you want to go with me to this premiere tonight?” He said, “No, I’m not in the mood to be Jackie Kennedy.” He’s just a cool cat. We’ve been together nine years, we met in a bar, and — it’s so obviously funny, but we didn’t meet because of this — he works in women’s footwear.
But you won’t say his name?
Oh, no. He wouldn’t want me to. I imagine him! He’s a fantasy, like Harvey the rabbit — only I see him, and he’s fantastic! [Laughs] No, he’s sexy, he’s cute, he’s nice, he’s funny, but he’s very private.
What about visibility being the key to progress and all that?
But I’m out there! I’m on fuckin’ Jon Stewart saying I’m gay, so why does he need to come out? He’s out every night in our house.
Yes, your Daily Show interview was pretty terrific. Are all your celebrity coming-out stories so charming?
No, that was just magical. That was so fun, and I didn’t have a clue where we were going to go, and Jon was just giggling. It was great to see him being so supportive and loving like that.
To which couple in the new movie do you and your partner currently relate?
Oh, he goes, “My whole life’s in this movie,” but he won’t specify which parts of it. We’re all looking at these characters like they’re parts of our lives. I’m a writer, so of course we’re Carrie and Big. We’re also Miranda and Steve, but he’s definitely Mr. Big.
Though the four girls travel to Abu Dhabi in the movie, you actually shot in Morocco. Did he visit you there during filming?
Yes, he came for Thanksgiving.
As a gay couple, what was it like to be in a country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment and fines?
Well, you do understand that we were in Marrakesh, right? Marrakesh is a very sophisticated city. My first reference point to Marrakesh was in Prick Up Your Ears, where it’s the place Joe Orton and all those people would go to smoke opium and be loose. Marrakesh is a very cosmopolitan, exotic city, and we were staying at a very fancy hotel.
But you also did research for the film in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which are more sexually repressed cities, to say the least. Did you ever feel like you had to butch it up?
Well, let’s just say that I wasn’t out flagging on the dunes, but I was just myself. I’m blessed because I travel in this film cocoon were everything’s like make-believe, so maybe I just made believe everything was better than it was, but when I was in the Middle East, I was very respectful of their customs. It’s very interesting because I love my character of Abdul, the butler. I love him because he never says anything about his sexuality, but he’s clearly been liberated by Samantha. Just the proximity to Samantha has made him bloom, but, as she says, he’s private. When I researched the movie in the Middle East, I didn’t ask about people because they’re all very private.
So you didn’t actually meet any gay Arabs like Abdul?
Well, I’m a good writer, so I can look at people and go, “See, here’s his story.” My own boyfriend tells me I’m crazy, because I make up shit. He’ll like, “What are you talking about? He’s the waiter.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I don’t think he’s happy right now.” [Laughs] So who knows what I’m laying on people through my eyes. It’s interesting, though, because in the Middle East you see a lot of men holding hands, but they’re just friends. I’ve always thought that holding hands was the most intimate thing because it’s almost past sexuality, so it’s very sweet to see these men having that much of a connection.
Noah Mills, the model-actor who plays one of Samantha’s boy toys in the new film, is already getting the same buzz Gilles Marini got for the first film. Do you pride yourself on being able to find Hollywood’s next top hunk?
I do have a really good casting sense for some reason. My theory is that there’s one guy only for these parts. You can see 15, and it’s just not him, and then Gilles Marini walks in. And I cast him before I saw him naked! When Noah walked in, I said, “Oh, if this guy can act!” And he’s a really good actor. When I put the camera on him, I was stunned how complicated and simple his acting was. I don’t know if he has any technique, but he’s a delight.
One could argue that you also discovered Twilight star and Calvin Klein underwear model Kellan Lutz.
I did! I often think that. Kellan Lutz and Malin Akerman were both in The Comeback. I take it as a compliment, and I’m not shy to say that I have a really good eye when it comes to casting. Every now and then, you just know, Oh, they’re going to be somebody.
And you showcase the best assets of your hot male actors in Sex and the City 2 with plenty of bulge and bare ass shots.
I love those scenes because that’s what we did with sex: We took it from being dark, oil-dipped, and shame-based to make it pink-y and champagne-y. What’s prettier than an ass and fireworks at the same time? Those bulges are also fun. But with this movie I also went out of my way to make sure there was eye candy for straight guys and lesbians, like Alice Eve as the nanny, who brings the female equivalent of the bulge.
It was recently announced that you’ll return to TV as part of a multiyear deal with Warner Bros. Television to oversee the development of new series. Do you have plans to represent the LGBT community in any projects?
My world contains gay people and straight people, so there will always be a harvest of sexuality in what I write. Whatever I come up with will be similar to what I like, which is vibrant emotion and vibrant colors together, so yeah, you’ll be there.
Advocate.com, May 2010.