Press Tour: 'The Carrie Diaries' talks big hair, neon and Sarah Jessica Parker
It's hard to believe Carrie Bradshaw, the main character of "Sex and the City" ("SATC"), was ever a teenager, but that's the concept behind both Candace Bushnell's YA books and the TV series "The Carrie Diaries" (premieres Mon. Jan. 14 at 8:00 p.m. ET). The stars and producers behind the show said at press tour that the series will feature big hair, neon clothing, a dirty Manhattan and, perhaps, some ideas about why Carrie grew up to pick Big over sweeter, kinder Aiden on "SATC."
While based on the books, the show will be taking some creative liberties, according to executive producer Amy B. Harris. "Losing the sister [character] and a couple of the friends was about creating a clean [slate]," she said, noting that the story has been "aged down" to high school. "This is an origin story… I want to meet her before she had sex, fell in love and met Manhattan. I wanted to explore all of that in the first season."
Bushnell freely admitted that all of this backstory was never on the radar when Carrie Bradshaw was first invented. "I was just trying to write about Carrie Bradshaw and this phenomenon of single women in their thirties… finding themselves with this life they never envisioned they would have when they moved to New York. I wasn't thinking about her backstory at all. The 'Sex and the City' franchise has just evolved over time."
Bushnell also noted that the decision to have Carrie grieving her mother's death also came late to the creative process. "When I was writing the books, in the first draft Carrie had a mother. When I was writing 'The Carrie Diaries,' it just wasn't working. So I had to go back and think about it, and I just did what I thought was right for the character in writing the book. And I did draw a lot on my own experiences when I was a teenager in my small town and all I wanted to do. I knew there was a big world out there and I wanted to explore it."
AnnaSophia Robb was also told not to channel Sarah Jessica Parker on "SATC." "When I landed the role, I remember having a conversation with Amy [B. Harris]… She said we don't want you to emulate Sarah Jessica's performance… so my character is a combination of the books, the scripts, what I'm bringing to the role, Amy's vision and myself. I feel I'm becoming more like Carrie or Carrie's becoming more like me… I realize some of the things, I wish Carrie would calm down [but] I just want to calm her down when I should let my own neurotic self come out. It's really just feeling it out." Robb did say that Parker sent her a "really lovely note giving her blessing" shortly after she was cast.
Something else that's being felt out by Harris is when we'll meet the young versions of Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte. "I felt like let's see [Carrie's] world; really develop this world that she's in. I've really thought of ways to introduce them. I've thought a lot about that." As to whether or not their inclusion on the show will follow what's in the books, Harris would only say, "Some yes, some no."
One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is the 1980s setting, which will be authentic… mostly. "I didn't want it to feel like the joke version of the '80s," Harris said. "Even in the '80s, we were like, is this a mistake? It's inspirational authenticity. The very bright colored denim jeans, shoulder pads, we're mixing and matching. What I love about having Carrie's mothers' closet to play with, is we can mix in elements of the '50s and '60s… this is how [Carrie's style] becomes vintage mixed with couture."
"I went to a birthday party of a friend of mine's daughter, who was 15, and I was actually shocked, because all of those girls were dressed like Carrie in the '80s," said Bushnell. "These fashions come back around."
Still, New York has changed a great deal since the '80s, which makes location shots difficult. "We travel with our '80s kit," said Harris. "Some graffiti, trash, gross garbage cans… the '80s was very different in Manhattan. It was scary Times Square. It was very sexy but had a lot of danger to it. Every extra goes through hair and make-up… and we have to green screen stuff. The 646 [phone] numbers didn't exist. We're trying to stay authentically true to the period."
As AIDS was having a dramatic impact on New York City at the time, Harris promises that the illness will play a role in the storyline for Walt. "He's figuring out his sexuality… and I don't think we can not examine that in a real way."
Walt's struggle with his sexuality will also be handled in a way realistic to the times. "In the pilot we hint at it. I don't think I knew anybody was gay in my entire high school at all," says Harris. "I wanted to play this out. I think Dan Savage said, 25 years ago to imagine you could have family, marriage… [Being gay was] saying no to a life a lot of people want to have, a home life with a partner and children, and that's the struggle I really want Walt to go through. There are a lot of small towns where that really exists. If [the show] could be comforting, that would be amazing for me."
And as for Carrie's sexuality, Harris says, "We've definitely been talking about [her losing her virginity] a lot, because it's a first that means a lot to everybody, whether it's in the back of a car or… romantic. We've been talking about it a lot but we haven't nailed it down yet. No pun intended…" Harris is also interested in exploring the emotional impact of Carrie's first relationships. "I love that it gets to be the first, how does that first love play out? Why she ends up with someone like Big and not Aiden, to let that shimmer for the 'SATC' audience, maybe that will explain, oh, if she hadn't fell for that a-hole maybe she would have fallen for the Aidens of the world."
How the character's other relationships impact her life circa "SATC" will also be dealt with. "On 'Sex and the City,' I was a writer on the series and we had an episode in which she talked about why her father left, and we debated a lot in the room if that was a good path to go on, because almost everyone in the room had both parents and were still screwed up and neurotic about relationships. When I read Candace's book when she sent me the galleys, Carrie not having a mother made perfect sense as to why she's so damaged.. your parental relationship is totally romanticized, [and now it's] this perfect thing can't be touched. Carrie as an adult is so romantic and has such high expectations, and that's because she has a good relationship with her father, and she's afraid. So I was very excited to chase that down… She's damaged and afraid and we'll see that playing out with her first relationships, about how screwed up she is about embracing a good guy."
On a lighter note, Harris discussed Carrie's very '80s hair. "The thing we really wanted, but when we did camera tests, she really felt that it should be the kind of hair if you brushed it, you destroyed. It was important to us it look like '80s hair that's unstoppable. So I don't think it's getting toned down."
For the show's producers, the toughest part of working on the series may be realizing how long ago the '80s really were. "I have never felt so old in my entire life," Harris laughed. "I feel pretty hip… and then I see blank faces when I explain what a Rubik's Cube is."
"It's like 'Downton Abbey' sometimes," said Executive Producer Josh Schwartz.