Cynthia Nixon Says Trust Yourself
Cynthia Nixon is no doubt a favorite of ours, and with this week’s news that she’s running for Governor of New York, we could think of no better time to throw back to our interview with her. It’s pretty amazing so hold on to your hats, New York…
Photographed by Danielle Kosann
What’s your ideal food day, from start to finish?
In the morning, I’d like some healthy things to start. My wife makes a really great frittata with marjoram, tomatoes, and spinach, so I’d have that with a lot of fresh fruit, like mango and berries. Lunch is hard; I think I’d have to have some oysters, lobster and cheese then. There would be a lot of tea throughout the day, too; all different kinds, both iced and hot, green, jasmine, lemongrass and fruity black tea (but the English kind, so it’s very strong). There would be a mid-afternoon snack that would involve a lot of dumplings: soup dumplings, pork dumplings, spicy dumplings. It would end with Blue Hill at Stone Barns, definitely. Dessert would be all different kinds of creme brûlée and gelato from il laboratorio del gelato. Real mint, salted caramel…and I’m not above a chocolate chip cookie dough.
You grew up in New York City and shot Sex And The City here. How do you think food is central to New York’s identity?
New York is a place where you can pay as little or as much as you want for a meal, and it’s always delicious. You can pay a thousand dollars per meal or four dollars per meal. When I think about New York food, I think about when I was a very busy teenager in two shows in college, and I just didn’t have any time for a normal life. I just lived on pizza, because pizza is a food you can eat while you walk. When you go to other places outside of New York, and you can’t have food delivered, it’s so confusing. It’s such a New York thing, to live on delivery. This will lead you to believe I mostly eat out, and of course I do: When I have a day to myself, going and sitting in a restaurant and being served or meeting a friend, is a great way for me to really indulge and relax. But with three kids, both my wife and I spend so much of our time cooking. I like to cook a lot.
What’s your favorite thing to make?
I like to make soups. I grew up on a lot of uncooked vegetables, carrots sticks, salads, stuff like that. I was not raised on a lot of cooked vegetables, so the way I get them now is cooked in a soup. I’ll puree them.
Do you like juices?
I do! I like them because they’re really flavor-intensive. When we designed our kitchen, my wife specifically wanted a refrigerator with two drawers, and her goal was that we would always have that full of greens for juicing. It hasn’t always worked out like that, but we try. When I have the psychic space to do it, juicing is great on every level. I’m not above paying eleven dollars for a juice that’s already made in one of the many, many places you can get that in the city.
Congratulations on the Tony win! And you have the film coming out – Only Living Boy In New York. What are the differences between how you approach stage and screen? Do you prefer one over the other?
Film is so much about trust: in yourself, in the camera, in the other actors, and trusting the director first and foremost, always. There’s just not enough time to get the lay of the land in film; everything is so quick, and you’re working with people you may have met only five minutes ago. In theatre, there’s so much more control. You’re the captain of your own show. That curtain goes up, and you’re in charge. It’s you on stage, trusting yourself. If you didn’t want to say the lines, you’d be in charge of that. Not only do you control your acting, you can also control the audience; you’re in charge of them, like a captain of a ship. You’ve got the reins. I think that would surprise them, how much they’re along for the ride.
Do you feed off the audience?
You feed off them, but you also manipulate the audience. We spend so much time backstage talking about the audience: if they’re a laughing house, or a dumb house, or an engaged house, or a particularly astute house, or an eager-to-show-how-astute-they-are house. Sometimes an audience laughs too much, and you have to back off a little bit. You need to modulate it – in a way, like a cook. You taste and say “Oh, it’s a little bit too salty, let me put a little wine in” or “It’s too sweet, let me throw in a little cayenne to sharpen it.”
Film is so much about trust: in yourself, in the camera, in the other actors, and trusting the director first and foremost, always.
Do you prefer to delve into that longer experience with theatre?
When a film just clicks, you don’t know that it’s clicking at the time; you can think it’s a disaster. Then you go to see it and you’re like “Oh, that director did know what she was doing” or “That actor I didn’t think too much of who seemed like a dead fish…they know what the camera loves.” So it’s very exciting when a film is working, but there’s much more risk for failure.
For television, did it ever get to the point at the end of Sex And The City where you felt it was easy to just nail it every time?
Television has a lot of virtue; one of the things about movies that I find really hard is how slow they can be. You can spend a whole day on one page, going over and over the angles…there are hundreds of extras, and an enormous crew. You feel very scrutinized, and it’s hard to experiment when there are so many people watching and you’re moving at this glacial pace. So you trip yourself up a little bit. One of the freeing things about television is, like journalism, it’s very quick and dirty. You film, three hours later it’s done, and you film more. There’s also something powerful in the “good enough.” You know what works, it’s good enough, you move on to the next.
In a movie, there’s only one story. In a television series, over years, you’re playing the same character. One of the things that I think gave Sex And The City its longevity was that we didn’t just keep prodding over the same territory over and over. Our writers really let new things happen, and forced new things to happen to these characters. We really tried to break new ground in what our characters were experiencing but also in our relationships with each other. There is, of course, a great amount of comfort when the set is like your home, you know every member of the crew, and you’ve known them for years. I was on Touched By An Angel one time, and Roma Downey was so sweet to me; she talked to me about how close their crew was in Utah, where they shot. She said to me, “My crew is my family, they’ve been through everything with me and I’ve been through everything with them. Deaths of parents, divorces, births of children. My crew was here when I met my husband, they were here when we got engaged, they were here when we had our first child, and they were here when we separated.” It’s a fine line between being there to work and being there to bond, but it always inevitably happens.
The Little Foxes play is from 1939. In what ways do you think it’s relevant now? Why do you think it resonated?
It is an indictment of American capitalism, and not only that, but the most unsavory parts of American capitalism, racism, and misogyny. We love our capitalists, as we should, but we shouldn’t give them a free pass. We should look at our business people and their capital, and not ignore the crimes they committed along the way. It’s a story of a family trying to figure out the line between family members and business partners. They don’t know how to relate on a personal level, and in business, they’re trying to vanquish each other. It is the story of how they lied, cheated, and stole to amass an American fortune.
We have to ask – where in your home do you keep your Tonys?
I keep them on the piano. It is kind of the default spot for them.
Who plays the piano?
My wife did, when she was younger, and our six-year-old is starting to learn a few little things. Honestly, I think the answer is none of us. It was my mother’s; I got it for her because she played, and when she died, I inherited it. When we invite people over, around the holidays, they’ll all play.
What are your favorite things about New York?
I just love the energy of the street, and to me, the subway is just an extension of the street. I love the subway. I know the subway is really messed up nowadays, and there are so many delays that are frustrating to me too, but the subway is the miracle of the city. Almost every other place in the US, you’re just in your car all the time. When I’m driving alone, I peer into other peoples’ cars, and that’s not nearly the same as when you’re walking down the street interacting with people or sitting in a subway car and striking up a conversation. I often play a game when I’m on the subway, like if this particular car were transported to a desert island, how would we do? Who would be the leader? Who would I pick as my mate? It is very interesting to figure out what you can glean from people by the way they’re dressed, or how they’re sitting, or what they’re doing while they sit.
What’s your favorite thing about shooting in New York?
I love shooting in New York. Growing up, and especially now as a fifty-one-year-old woman, I’ve always love how many things there are to do in New York. As a teenager, growing up elsewhere, what do you do? You go to your friend’s house and drink, basically. Here, you can do that if you want, but you can also go to a museum or a show or a happening. You know, my son goes and skateboards by the West Side Highway. Whatever interest you have, you can nurture here.
I love how many different kinds of people there are here. As a former New York kid and as the mother of New York kids, you can tell right away when you meet a New York child. There is a way in which they are used to interacting with strangers. New Yorkers move very fast, and people sometimes think we’re unfriendly, but we aren’t unfriendly. We are actually very helpful and outgoing; we just move quickly and don’t have a ton of time for niceties. I love the way New York kids are exposed to so much, unless they’re really, really poor or really, really rich, in which case they’re kind of isolated in their spaces. You learn to engage with people, because even as a child, you’re meeting a million people a day; you get a sense for people.
One of the things I like about shooting in New York is, I don’t go to the trendy places alone, but when you shoot, they take you to these amazing places you haven’t been to. On Sex And The City not only would we shoot in the best places, but they’d also bring us their food. It was amazing!
The same way the show catapulted Manolo Blahniks, do you think it did that for restaurants? For Magnolia Bakery, for example?
I think there was a time, a friend of mine said, for hundreds of years the holy place in a city was a church. Then around the Gilded Age, all the lavishness and splendor and grandeur that had lavished on houses of worship, became lavished on banks and opera houses. It’s good to look at what a society reveres. Nowadays, that is the restaurant. There’s a truth to that.
Do you ever get tired of being associated with your character? What’s your experience with it now?
People approach me in so many different ways. One thing I don’t like is when I’m yelled at. When people yell “Miranda!!” I ignore them. I don’t like the yelling. If you approach me and you’re sweet, that’s different. To me, the classic New Yorker way they compliment you is they don’t break their stride. They pass you and they’re walking and they compliment you like, “Hey, I like your work,” because they don’t have time to stop and you don’t have time to stop. That’s the classic New York way.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? The worst?
The worst advice I’ve ever received was from an accountant, when I was a young woman. I started acting when I was twelve. By the time I was a young adult, I had saved money. When I was about twenty-five, I wanted to buy my first apartment. My accountant said I couldn’t afford it, and he tried to scare me out of it. It was a two bedroom on 86th and West End, and it was selling for like $250,000. I ignored him. He said I couldn’t afford to invest in real estate in New York, and that wasn’t true. That was the worst advice.
The best advice I’ve ever gotten…I always think of this thing Laurence Olivier said. He was asked what the most important thing for a young actor is to learn, and he said “how to become an old actor.” I think that’s true in the theatre and also in life. The thing to learn and to focus on is longevity – in terms of your career, your health, your relationship, your stamina. If you’re serious about something, typically you’re in it for the long haul, and you gotta be thinking about that rather than “this week is going to be the greatest week of my life.”
Which issue do you feel most passionately about right now and why?
There are so many I want to say, but I think I have to say income and inequality. Certainly in this city, in this country, and all over the world, we are looking at a time where a very small amount of people are becoming richer than the richest maharajas ever were, and they’re doing it on the backs of people who used to be able to make a living wage, who can’t support their families now. It doesn’t have to be that way, and we need to fix it or we’re going to have a really bad revolution on our hands. Let’s have a bloodless revolution, let’s not do the French Revolution again. People may not think that that’s where we’re headed, but God, that’s where we’re headed. It’s hard to say whether you think the most pressing issue has to do with people or with the environment, but if i really had to pick one, it would be inequality among people.
We saw Kristin Davis finally got you to join Instagram! How are you liking social media?
I really don’t understand it yet; for years, people have been pretending to be me, and they’ve acquired a lot of followers. When I finally joined, though, I got all of their followers. So, thanks to them, I’m doing pretty okay after six posts!
Do you like short content or are you more of a long-form person?
I don’t like reading online; I like print. I read the New York Times online and in print, and now I have an iPad, so I check the notifications from the difference sources (The New York Times, Slate, Fox News, Wall Street Journal). I don’t enjoy reading Fox News, but I think it’s worthwhile to take a look. A friend of mine was telling me yesterday that it is hard to know what to do in this moment and not exhaust yourself, and she was telling me about a group she was considering joining that was based on a Noah’s Ark approach. They have a policy where they have to accept a Democrat every time they accept a Republican and vice versa, and they either match you with someone [of the opposite party] to talk to or you find someone, so the conversation isn’t just within whatever party we align ourselves with. You can’t just talk to the people you agree with, because honestly, it isn’t doing us very much good. It is good to huddle with your people, to mobilize and to fight, but I think there’s such a lack of understanding on both sides, and that is the bigger problem.
What are your favorite NYC restaurants?
What would your last meal be and who would it be with?
Since it’s my last meal, I would want it to go on for a very long time, like at Per Se; it would never end! It would also involve a lot of alcohol – a lot of wine pairings – so you’d be really smashed by the time you went in front of the firing squad. It would be my wife, if it were just one person, but really it would be with my wife and my fifty closest friends. It would maybe be a little aspirational – like people I’m not really friends with, but they are so impressive I don’t usually want to bother them. I’d invite them; why not for the last one?