January 10, 2013 9:00am PT by Philiana Ng
Carrie Bradshaw's Back! 'Carrie Diaries' Boss on Reintroducing an Icon and Tweaking Her Backstory (Q&A)
Ready for the '80s?
The CW's Sex and the City prequel The Carrie Diaries is just days away from debuting, and already executive producer/showrunner Amy B. Harris is feeling the pressure. "Sometimes I want to bury my head under my bedsheets and not come out, because I feel so lucky," she told The Hollywood Reporter.
Harris, who previously served as a producer on HBO's Sarah Jessica Parker comedy, is well aware of the criticism concerning how part of Carrie Bradshaw's backstory was modified from Sex and the City to Carrie Diaries. (In SATC, it was revealed that Carrie's father left the family, but in Carrie Diaries, it's her mother who dies, and her dad serves as a key parental figure, as it is in Candace Bushnell's novel.) "We are an origin story and a prequel to Sex and the City, but we also have to exist, hopefully, for years to come," Harris said.
Much of that will rest on star AnnaSophia Robb, who has the daunting task of playing a young Carrie. "We weren't even trying to fill the shoes, in a way, because nobody is going to touch Sarah Jessica Parker in my mind. She's perfection," Harris said. "It was about finding a fresh girl to play an icon. [AnnaSophia] brought such intelligence and grace to the screen and continues to do so."
Harris, who often consults with her 17-year-old niece, chatted with THR about reintroducing an iconic character, whether she's thought of ideal entrances for Carrie's Sex and the City friends, and the "Mr. Big" of her high school years.
The Hollywood Reporter: You were a producer and penned a few episodes of Sex and the City. Knowing where Carrie ends up in a few short decades, was that prior knowledge particularly helpful or detrimental?
Amy B. Harris: It was extraordinarily helpful. From the very beginning, when I was pitching the show, it was an origin story. If Smallville taught you who Clark Kent was before he becomes Superman, then The Carrie Diaries is very much about someone who becomes an icon to women and how she got there. Part of it was the fun of putting in Easter eggs for the Sex and the City audience, like when she ripped her pantyhose on the first day of work and that’s why she doesn’t wear pantyhose as much.
THR: There will be people nitpicking Carrie’s backstory and certain timelines not lining up from the HBO series and the movies. How will you address that?
Harris: I had to tell a version of the story I thought I could write to for not just one episode but for many. In the Carrie Diaries book, Candace [Bushnell] did something very interesting, which was she had the mother having passed away. We debated a lot about whether or not to include anything about Carrie’s family backstory in [Sex and the City] and we mentioned once [on that show] that the father had left. It didn’t feel like the right version to me, because the story felt more complicated than a parent leaving, and Candice’s version in the book really spoke to me, the idea that she has a good relationship with her father, which is why she's looking for a certain type of man. The idea that when you get your heart broken in such a major way, like the loss of a parent, you are more afraid of commitment and what could happen if someone you cared about disappeared. That was appealing to me.
THR: Did you take cues from your real life?
Harris: I never saw my parents’ relationship as a relationship until I was in my 20s: “Oh, wow, they’re just people in a relationship!” To me, they were a unit. That helped me as an adult become more functioning in relationships. For Carrie, if she never saw that, you really romanticize that. It felt like the right move. I’m fully aware that there are people out there who are angry about the change, but I also feel like, give us a shot and [hopefully] you like it and are invested. It has to live on its own, it can’t just live as a prequel, and so I felt I had to tell the story in a way that it allowed us to do that.
THR: How is the tone different from or similar to Sex and the City?
Harris: It’s an hour, not a half-hour, although HBO and the network hour have only about 12 minutes' difference. Sex and the City in the first season was more a straight-up comedy, and as it went on, it became more of a dramedy. This show starts [tonally], in a weird way, where that show ended. We’ll have funny [streaks], like how to give a good handjob; we’ll explore those in very comedic ways.
THR: You’ve said that season one will primarily feature Carrie’s friends that are introduced in the pilot and not Miranda, Samantha or Charlotte. How are Carrie’s high school friends precursors to the three she’ll meet later in life?
Harris: I didn’t want to do baby Muppets where we meet all our girls right off the bat as little versions of themselves, and I didn’t want to create the same archetypes for the series. I don’t feel that Walt, Maggie and Mouse are the younger versions of the people you’ll meet later. What I love about the characters as they stand [is that] you can start seeing Carrie’s attraction to a certain type of person from the type of people she’s with now. Maggie to me is one of those friends you’ve known since kindergarten, but you’re aware of how different your lives are and probably where your friendship is going. Maggie’s funny, ballsy and more id than anything else; Mouse is intense, hyper-intellectual and living her life that way. In a way, Maggie is almost the opposite side of the coin of Samantha. If Samantha was using sex for her own empowerment, Maggie is that friend who uses sex as a form of intimacy.
THR: Have you thought about the ideal introductions to young Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha when that time does come?
Harris: I have been thinking. I have some ideas about how I think each of them would come into the universe, for sure. The TV gods smiled on us when AnnaSophia showed up, because she’s so winning and wonderful; she brings all the qualities that I hoped for in the character, but I really wanted the audience to get used to the young Carrie Bradshaw and her world and her group of friends. As the seasons go on, god willing, I definitely have some ideas about how she’d meet her friends.
THR: Since this is Carrie before her Manhattan days, I assume we’ll be seeing a lot of firsts during the course of the series. What pivotal moments should we expect?
Harris: The first time she thinks about writing possibly being her career for her, the first time she says “I love you,” the first time she thinks about having sex, whether she goes through with it or not, the first time she truly defies her father, the first time she chooses Manhattan over a man. Those are all firsts we’ll be going through. Some of those will be in the season and some will be in seasons to come. We first met Carrie when she’s already had sex, was a writer, had met Manhattan. That’s the fun of Carrie Diaries, watching all the firsts play out.
THR: So is it fair to say Sebastian Kydd is the Mr. Big of Carrie’s high school years?
Harris: Yes! Someone described him as the “Mr. Big man on campus,” and I think that’s a good description. Candice gave him the last name Kydd, which I thought was an appropriate [name]; he’s the Mr. Kydd to the Mr. Big. He’s certainly going to loom very large for her in the series. The first person you fall for definitely helps define who you are and who you’re attracted to, whether it was a great experience or a horrible experience. He’s very much, for me, the guy that looms large for you for a very long time.
THR: In the pilot, we saw Carrie wearing scrunchies. What other fashion faux pas will we see her be guilty of?
Harris: [Laughs] But they weren’t faux pas then! One of the things I wanted very clearly, and costume designer Eric Daman, was in agreement, we wanted it to feel like this was aspirational authenticity as opposed to the worst version of the ‘80s. In the pilot, the first dream sequence on the streets in Manhattan, where Carrie is in a black sequined dress, the dress was something Stephanie Savage and I went into the Warner Bros. archive and found from the early 1980s. But the jean jacket was a new purchase. We’re mixing and matching, but it’s also another place for us to do the Sex and the City Easter eggs. For example, we’ll find out in an episode why she wears a flower on her lapel.
THR: Would you be open to having Sex and the City cast members drop by The Carrie Diaries in some capacity?
Harris: It’s similar to when we on Sex and the City gave up Carrie talking to camera because it breaks you out of it. I'm not sure how it would work. I would obviously be honored if they wanted to appear in some way, but I'd have to come up with some very meta episode.
THR: We shouldn't expect Sarah Jessica Parker making a cameo as a teacher?
Harris: I don't think so. Maybe if she had a flash forward. In my mind, I haven't gone there.
The Carrie Diaries debuts 8 p.m. Monday on The CW.