When you talk to Candace Bushnell, you don’t really see Carrie Bradshaw.
Instead, you see more of a Samantha Jones, a fabulous blonde woman wearing sunglasses inside her Sag Harbor home in the Hamptons. She’s put together, and eager to get down to business — she says she’s working on being her own Mr. Big rather than searching for him.
In the mid-1990s, Bushnell wrote a column for the New York Observer titled Sex and the City. There, she examined Manhattan life through the sex lives and relationships of her and her friends. As the column progressed, she began writing about herself under the pen name “Carrie Bradshaw.”
Later in that decade, Darren Star created the HBO series “Sex and the City” based on Bushnell’s column. It ran for six seasons, from 1998-2004, and then launched two films and the subsequent where-are-they-now spin off series, “And Just Like That,” the second season of which will premiere on Max on June 22.
The onscreen version of Bushnell — the journalist Carrie Bradshaw, as played by Sarah Jessica Parker — was based closely on Bushnell’s column. At times, the translation from newspaper to TV was spot on. For instance, Bushnell wrote about a “Mr. Big,” her former GQ publisher boyfriend Ron Galotti. Other times, HBO’s “Sex and the City” was a bit less daring than Bushnell’s. In Season 6, Carrie writes a piece for Vogue about taking trapeze lessons. In real life, Bushnell had covered New York’s couples-only swingers sex club, Le Trapeze, for her first Observer column.
“It all started the way it always does: innocently enough,” Bushnell wrote in that first-ever column in 1994. “I was sitting in my apartment, having a sensible lunch of crackers and sardines, when I got a call from an acquaintance. A friend of his had just gone to Le Trapeze, a couples-only sex club, and was amazed. Blown away. There were people naked — having sex right in front of him. Unlike S&M clubs, where no actual sex occurs, this was the real, juicy tomato.”
Bushnell is now 64 years old, about 30 years older than she was when she started the column, but she’s not slowing down a bit. She has a touring one-woman show, she’s trying to get a television series off the ground and is even flirting with the idea of acting — if given the opportunity.
Bushnell spoke with Variety for the 25th anniversary of the premiere of “Sex and the City” on HBO — which occurred on June 6, 1998 — to give a glimpse at what the real Carrie is like today. She shares her opinion on Kim Cattrall returning to the franchise, unmarried life and her fear that no one wants to see women over 60 on TV.
Hi, let me get my video on. You guys aren’t going to show this, are you?
No, but you look great anyway.
Where are you right now?
The Hamptons. Sag Harbor.
Are you out there for the summer?
I go back and forth. I’ve got a little apartment in the city. And I’ve got a tiny little cottage out here. And it’s fine. Nice.
I was reading an interview that you did about five years ago, where you said the New York Observer was like a school newspaper for 50,000 people who lived in a certain New York. Given that, why do you think your column got so big?
I think some women in New York related to it, but I wasn’t writing to be relatable. I’m a writer because I have something that I feel is important to say. In some ways, the audience should be a little shocked and disturbed by it, because it should be new and daring. So for me, that was really what drove me to write it. To tell a truth about women that wasn’t being told.
And it was this truth about women that resonated. Of course, there are going to be some women who are very traditional, and don’t relate to it. And in fact, they hate it, because they’re threatened. And then there are other women who totally relate, because that’s how they really feel inside, but nobody’s yet given voice to it.
It was a different voice, a different outlook. That’s why it came to the attention of people — and Hollywood, who pretty immediately wanted to buy it. It’s really about having a voice and letting people find your work, as opposed to saying, “I’m trying to get a bunch of likes.” It just doesn’t work that way.
And so what made you want to sort of put this sex lens on Manhattan — was it sort of that shock factor?
Absolutely not. It came out of the truth. I’ve been writing about New York since 1979. And you will learn all of this, if you come to my one woman show, “Candace Bushnell: True Tales of Sex Success, and Sex in the City.”
I’ve been writing about New York, and what I saw in New York, since I first came there when I was 18. And I wrote about a group, a subset of people in Manhattan, who come to Manhattan to make it. Because back then it was Manhattan, you didn’t go to Brooklyn. They come to Manhattan to find themselves, to make new families — they’re the person who didn’t fit in back in their small town.
So you come to New York, and it’s like Oz. You finally find all these other people who are like you. So “Sex and the City” was just a continuation of what I’d been writing since 1979.
Do you feel like the show and your columns still resonate with people today, when people are supposedly having less sex?
The column was really about people’s behavior. It really tackles people’s relationship behaviors: dating and mating, social and sexual politics. Those things don’t change. We have different technologies, but there are still power hierarchies, who gets to do what, who’s allowed to do what, when, where. All that still exists.
Although people have more freedom, now, in terms of how they want to live their lives, which is fantastic.
Because of the freedom and openness surrounding sex today, do you think the show and your stories would have been seen as shocking?
No, I don’t think so. I feel like the TV show was a forerunner of so many trends. I mean, wasn’t it really the first influencer show? Whatever they put on that show, people bought it.
If you could go back to when they asked to turn your column into a show, do you think you still would have done it?
Absolutely. Why not? If something like that comes along, it’s fantastic. I’m always trying to get my books turned into TV shows. TV has a huge influence. Like, if you’re on TV now, you will be famous. You could be on the most obscure reality show, and you will still be more famous than pretty much any writer.
And a lot of people wanted me to be on TV. And I was like, “No, I’m a writer. I want to win a Pulitzer Prize.” And you know what? I was stupid!
So you would have wanted to be on screen?
I should have been on screen. That’s what I would change — I would have been an actress. People treat you a lot better when you’re an actress. Because everybody thinks they can write a book. People do not think that they can get up on stage and talk for an hour and a half straight.
Would you ever try it? Is it something that you would do?
I would definitely do it. It’s much easier than writing a novel, I’m sure.
Someone online said that without Samantha, the show is just “…and the City.” How do you feel about Samantha’s character and the wild sex life that they developed for her throughout the show?
I loved it. They did it in such a fun way. I remember one time they had Samantha on a bed with a chair or something. Her character represented a lot of freedom and permission for women. And I think the fans are super excited about her coming back, even if it’s just one cameo in the car.
It’s a business decision, as these things always are. There’s a lot of goodwill towards “And Just Like That.” People want it to work.
Do you want it to work?
Absolutely. Yes. And I think it’s gonna be really good from the clips that I’ve seen. I’m excited.
Has anyone ever come to you since you left the writers’ room to ask about what direction to take the show?
No. They know what they’re doing.
So you trust them with that?
Yes. I’ve actually never had any criticisms of the show. I’m a big fan.
And do you think Carrie still stands to represent you?
No. I mean, I didn’t marry a rich man. My message is very different. It’s about being your own: Mr. Big as opposed to being with Mr. Big. Which is something that I talk about in my one-woman show as well.
Are there any other endeavors? Are you working on turning any of your later books into a series?
“Is There Still Sex In the City” was sold to be a series. We wrote a script, and it all fell apart in the pandemic. Since then, I’ve written an original script about a Candace-like character in the city. But now there’s the writers strike, so everything’s kind of on hold.
Do you see a Candace Bushnell, or a Carrie, in any women? Writers, actors or anyone out there today?
There are lots of different voices out there, and lots of different types of women. The most important thing is that women speak for themselves. It’s really about being the original, being self-actualized. I don’t really believe in following in somebody’s footsteps.
Well, I think a lot of women wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw once they saw her on TV. They wanted to be like you. So how do you feel about that?
I think that they probably don’t really want to be like me.
You know, I don’t have a traditional life. I don’t have kids. Most women want kids — about 86% of women over the age of 50 are mothers. So being a child-free woman is a very unusual situation.
But that was your choice, no?
Yes. I’m really glad that I had that choice. I don’t feel like I could have done what I did if I had kids. Most women who have big accomplishments do have kids, but personally, I just didn’t feel like I could do what I wanted to do if I had kids.
Sometimes I used to write for eight hours a day for 10 days straight and then take a couple days off. And if you have kids, you gotta take them to the doctor, you’ve got a schedule, you’ve got to do like so much. And I just couldn’t have done that.
You said you don’t really write every day now, but do you ever see people around and think, “I want to write about that.”
Yes. That happens all the time. And that’s why I wrote a script for a TV show, because I really wanted to put in all of these crazy things that happened in terms of dating and my career into a TV show.
Now someone’s got to buy the frickin’ thing.
I would love to see that.
Yeah, well, who knows if that will happen? Hopefully it would star a woman over 60. I’m scared to even pitch it. Because I know they’re gonna say, “Oh, can you make her 55?”
It’s a scary, daring thing, trying to sell a TV show with a main character who is a woman over 60.
And would you want to star in it?
Yeah, I’d do it. That’d be fun. Would I be allowed to do it? Probably not.
Well, you can cross that bridge when you get to it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.