girl?

Who’s that
32 LIFESTYLES MAGAZINE FALL 2012

PROFILE Kristin Davis

Kristin Davis worked her way up from commercial actress to HBO icon. But her new role as a mom is changing everything. By Darren Gluckman

S

urely you recognize her from that commercial for the State of New Jersey? You know, the one where she was in a hot-air balloon? How about that one for Kraft Salad Dressing, where she irts with the guy in the grocery aisle? Or the Miller Light commercial, the one shot in Union Station in downtown Los Angeles? You don’t recall any of them? Well, if you’re an actress trying to make your way up in the business, you remember every rung on that ladder. And that Miller Light spot was a big deal. “ ere were 20 principals and 250 extras. We shot every day for a week. I’d never been in anything big like that,” she says. e shoot comprised a number of scenarios, from which several spots were generated. “My scenario was that I went to this big club with my group of girlfriends, and then this group of guys comes, and in this group is this cute guy, and we start to dance, and we’ve never met each other, and then we kiss on the dance oor. But not a grindy, gross kiss; it was a beautiful, romantic kiss. “ e reason I remember all of this is because it was very hard to cast that guy. We had to go through three sessions where I had to dance and then kiss a guy on camera. e director was very protective and would say, ‘No tongue, no tongue!’ But the guys were all models and very slick and didn’t seem like they were my type. And I remember the very last day I walked out to the waiting room, and I see this guy and he has kind of long, curly hair and he’s wearing beads around his neck, and I’m like, ‘ at guy’s cute!’ And he came in, was very good, and got cast. It was Paul Rudd. We were like children,” she says, a bit wistfully. “Like little children,” she repeats, breaking the modi er into two very distinct syllables. “We laugh every time we see each other about it.”
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PHOTO BY CHRIS PIZZELLO/AP PHOTO

PROFILE Kristin Davis

The ladies of Sex and the City.

When she calls, late one afternoon, she’s just returned from the park with her 8-month-old daughter, Gemma Rose. But the nanny’s around and, with the toddler gurgling in the background, Mommy is all business. Not show business, mind you. International relief business—Oxfam business, to be precise. She was recently in Washington, D.C., where, with a group of 70 women, she went to lobby Congress. e occasion was International Women’s Day, and as one of Oxfam’s celebrity ambassadors, her jurisdiction, so to speak, is women’s issues, at least in part because she’s associated with shows whose fan base is primarily women. If you don’t recognize her from the Miller Light ad, maybe you were conscious during the early 1990s, when a little something called Melrose Place captured 90210’s erudite audience for a few years. Or, perhaps more recently, you caught a glimpse of a little HBO show on reruns, the one with that actress who used to be in Square Pegs?
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If so, Kristin Davis would rather not discuss it. Or at least not too much, and not if it’s at the expense of her advocacy work. “Sometimes if you say too much about certain things that are kind of obvious, like Sex and the City, then that’s all they print.” It was her rst time in D.C., and she was, to her surprise—and perhaps to yours—impressed by how well versed in some rather serious issues were the congressmen and women she met with (though she won’t name names). She was there, along with her sistersin-arms, to shine a light on two issues in particular: the sharp increase in the number of the world’s subsistence farmers, most of whom are women struggling to feed their families, and the antiquated buy-America regulations that greatly diminish the e ectiveness of the federal government’s United States Agency for International Development, which, among other things, provides food to the starving masses.

But the law mandates that USAID only supplies American-grown corn and rice, and only ships those provisions on American-owned ships. ese requirements end up being grossly ine cient, not to mention needlessly expensive, as it can take up to three or four months to furnish these foodstu s to famine-ravaged areas like the Horn of Africa, where conditions are, as Davis attests, “shocking.” It would be much cheaper and faster, and would save many more lives, she argues, if USAID weren’t shackled by such onerous requirements, if instead it were allowed to buy food from more proximate sources and to use local means of transport. According to Davis, such a change would be the right thing to do morally, and it would serve America’s strategic interests, too—so that, for example, a terrorist organization doesn’t get the opportunity to foster local goodwill by responding to crises before USAID, with its cumbersome regulatory constraints, gets the chance.

PHOTO COURTESY PRESS ASSOCIATION VIA AP IMAGES

PROFILE Kristin Davis

Davis is keenly aware that while her pro le helps, there’s also the risk that it raises the usual cynical response; but when she speaks, it’s clear she’s not just some sheltered starlet reading from a script. She’s traveled extensively, and to places that might give a foreign correspondent pause: post-quake Haiti, Uganda, the Dadaab refugee camp in northeast Kenya, and poverty-stricken regions of Mozambique and Tanzania. She was in the last of these places, with Oxfam, when reports began ltering through of a possible famine in Somalia. ere was a dramatic increase in the number of refugees streaming into Dadaab from across the Somali border. But Davis knew that it can be di cult to raise money or awareness on the basis of a “possible” famine. So, after pressuring the organization to arrange it, she traveled to Dadaab, arriving just as the famine hit its peak. “I was able to witness what was happening,” she recounts, “and to hear a lot of horri c personal stories. I ew directly to London, where I talked with virtually every news organization, and they were very receptive and covered the story. And then I ew home, and nobody here would talk to me. I really went into a depression from it.” She contrasts that indi erence with the outpouring of goodwill that followed the Haitian quake. But maybe an earthquake, as a single, destructive act of God, so to speak, elicits a more intuitive sympathetic response than does a drought, which is typically a more slowly evolving event, less visually dramatic, and very often the result of human failings, like ethnic or tribal con icts that prevent the ow of aid. Davis considers this hypoth36 LIFESTYLES MAGAZINE FALL 2012

esis but isn’t convinced. en maybe Africa itself, the whole damned (or so it seems) continent, is such a basket case that Westerners have, over the years, developed a kind of “Africa fatigue” syndrome. She allows that the place is “riddled with problems and people feel it’s overwhelming,” but she objects to a simpli ed view of the place. It was Davis’s curiosity that drew her to Oxfam in the rst place. She’d been on safari in Kenya and Tanzania—just another pampered American tourist—and as her traveling contingent was whisked from locale to scenic locale, she’d periodically ask her guides about the vaguely disturbing in-betweens, the apparent poverty, the hunger, the general sense of social dysfunction. But her guides were keen to gloss over the muckety-muck, and Davis had to wait until an opportunity presented itself, as it typically does, at a party at George Clooney’s house. A Kenyan girls’ choir was on hand, which captivated Davis, who inquired about the visiting songstresses. Turns out the party was to bene t Oxfam. And it was there that she met Claire Lewis, “this wonderful woman,” who is responsible for Oxfam’s ambassador program. When Davis told her about her desire to learn more about the places she’d been, Lewis told her, “You should travel with us.” And so she did: to Haiti, where Oxfam was responsible for water and sanitation (Davis is somewhat of an expert on the critical division of labor among various large-scale relief agencies, a process overseen by the United Nations O ce for the Coordination of Humanitarian A airs), and back to Africa, including an encore tour of Kenya and Tanzania. is time, she

kept a very di erent itinerary. Given how rewarding the Oxfam work is, has her interest in acting dissipated? ere are times, she admits, when the acting community can feel like “a small, claustrophobic world.” An exhausting one, even. “I have told the Oxfam people that I would like to quit acting at some point, and they’ve said, ‘Please, please do not quit acting.’” In the erce competition for donor dollars, celebrity helps. Besides, Davis adds, “Truth be told, I really miss acting if I don’t do it for a while.” Born in Boulder, Colorado, Davis was raised in Columbia, South Carolina, and her parents divorced when she was very young. When her mother remarried, her stepfather, Dr. Keith Davis, now a professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina, took the unusual step of adopting her. How was it possible that you were even up for adoption? What happened to your dad? “You’d have to ask my biological father that question,” she says. “I can’t answer for him.” She pauses. “My parents were young.” Are you in touch with him? “Not really. I’ve met him. He’s pleasant. ere’s no bad blood.” Was he in your life at all, growing up? “No. My mom was kind of mad at him. And then he moved to a di erent country. I think he made an e ort when I was in my teens and my mom was like, ‘We don’t need you.’ And then later, when I was an adult, I thought, ‘Well, I should meet him, it’s crazy not to meet him.’ And I met him and I was like, ‘It’s all ne.’” She makes a point of emphasizing that it’s Keith Davis she considers her real father. Is there a connection between your decision to adopt Gemma Rose and your father’s decision to adopt you? “Hard to say. It mattered that he chose

PROFILE Kristin Davis

Davis visiting Oxfam’s work in South Africa.

to adopt me,” which he wasn’t obliged to do, Davis says. She adds, “Sure, it in uenced me, but I think what in uenced me more, with my parents, was that both of them were always very active politically, and my mom was active as a volunteer. I think that had a big impact.” Her father’s academic work focused on the development of intimate relationships, on friendship and love. Growing up, did he give you insights into those matters? No, she says, though he would provide her with an analysis of her boyfriends. In view of South Carolina’s tortured racial history, her parents decided to “make a statement” by refusing to send their daughter to an all-white private school. e result, says Davis, was an education at some of the worst public schools in the state. “Literally, there were like two of us in my fth-grade class who could read.” Maybe that schooling made you more well rounded?

“Maybe,” she allows. “I turned out okay.” She was accepted to Rutgers University, in New Jersey, where she shot that hot-air balloon spot and earned her B.F.A. She spent the next year living in New York, booking commercials, and waiting tables at the River Café in Hoboken, which she describes as “a happening watering hole of obnoxious drunk yuppies in the ’80s.” After serving one Tom Collins too many, she moved to Los Angeles, where, while pursuing work, she opened a yoga studio with a friend. As pat as that might sound today, at the time, yoga was a relatively new urban phenomenon, and Davis gave serious thought to making the studio her livelihood should the acting thing not pan out. But then TV gigs started rolling in. A multiepisode arc on General Hospital. Spots on e Larry Sanders Show and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Yet Davis says, “ e biggest break I ever got was getting cast in

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LIFESTYLES MAGAZINE FALL 2012

PROFILE Kristin Davis

a tiny, tiny part on the rst season of ER, irting with George Clooney. at was awesome. I also got cast on Seinfeld. But ER was before Melrose, and Seinfeld was after. ER was exciting because you could feel the energy on the set, that something was happening. If I was on the Warner Brothers lot, I used to make up excuses to go back to the set. And I wasn’t alone.” She was friends with the girls from Friends. “I knew them from yoga.” eir set was adjacent to the ER set. So Davis would visit with Aniston & Co., say hi, shoot some hoops, and then they’d all stroll over to ogle the young Clooney. And then she got Melrose Place, the mid-’90s prime-time soap that aimed low and consistently hit its mark. Davis, clearly struggling to say something positive about it, digs up the old bromide—“It was such a great learning experience”—before wondering, out loud, “if I should be totally honest or semi-honest.” e most she’ll admit is that, while she’d tried to bring her best to the set, in terms of acting and professionalism, “it wasn’t the kind of environment where everybody was into that.” Which may be why, irked by her high standards, they decided to kill o her character after a single season. And, the business being what it is, despite her qualms about the show, Davis says, “I was devastated. DE-VA-STA-TED. It’s so funny to think back on it now, but I was like, ‘How could they do this?’ I didn’t see it coming, and I experienced the powerlessness that you feel as an actress.” But the death itself was pretty enjoyable for her. “I remember dying in the pool. ey had to weight me down to get me to sink, and I loved shooting underwater. at’s always an adventure. at was maybe my most fun episode, when I died.”
LIFESTYLES MAGAZINE FALL 2012

Post-Melrose, her manager, Dave Fleming, told her, “‘Listen, we’re going to have to turn down some jobs because they’re going to o er you every soapy nighttime show there is, and you cannot do that because then that’s all you’ll ever be cast in. We’re going to nd some comedies. You might have to audition, and you might not make as much money this year.’ I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘Trust me, that’s the plan.’ at was when I got Seinfeld and a few other things. I think they made me audition for Seinfeld three times. I literally had to go to therapy about it. Like, ‘Should I continue to humiliate myself ?’” Isn’t auditioning just par for the course for an experienced actor? “Auditioning is horrible in general, and when you have to keep going back, you feel like, ‘Why can’t they cast me already?’ I’m not a great auditioner, either. Auditioning is totally di erent from acting. Two di erent things.” Nevertheless, she stuck with her manager’s advice. “I did call him and yell at him when I did my taxes because I made no money that year. But he was very right and wonderful, and still is.” And how right he was: It was only a year later (though “it felt like forever and a day”) that Davis was cast as Charlotte York in Sex and the City. Did you know it was going to be massive? “No. I had a feeling in my gut it was going to be good. But, like e Larry Sanders Show, I thought it was going to be a small cult hit on HBO. And I would’ve been totally happy with that. at would’ve been cool. But it took a while to build.” How long before it exploded? “It took them eight months to pick us up from the pilot. Which did not instill con dence. Sarah Jessica was

living a block away from me, and I would run into her and say, ‘Did you hear anything?’ en eventually, thank goodness, they picked us up. We shot our whole rst season with nothing being on the air and no one knowing who we were. People thought we were doing that show Real Sex, from the HBO of the ’90s, which had real people doing really strange sexual things, fetish-type things. en the rst season came on and we did okay. e second season we picked up some steam, but we didn’t really hit until the third season.” NOW THAT YOU’RE A PARENT, are you less inclined to book tickets to the world’s misery zones? Her daughter “is portable,” she notes, adding, “so I’m mulling over what’s appropriate to take her to. I talked to Colin Firth and his wife, Livia, about it.” e Firths have a couple sons, older than Gemma Rose, but at an age where refugee camp vacations don’t hold much appeal. So, while the little one is still small enough, less able to object, Davis is still willing to parachute into places not likely to feature a Relais & Châteaux designation any time soon. at said, she mentions that Ray Offenheiser, Oxfam America’s president, has currently nixed her proposed return to Dadaab, given the danger that’s since ared up in the region. Gemma Rose, who’s been exceedingly patient until now, by turns blowing bubbles and playing with her stu ed penguin, has nally decided enough’s enough. So there’s just time to inquire about what Davis has been reading lately. “I Am a Bunny. e Runaway Bunny. Basically, all the bunny books.” And now, having cast herself in the role of mother, she’s needed on set.

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PHOTO BY NABIL ELDERKIN/OXFAM

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