satc anniversary

Being a Male Jerk in the Sex and the City Pilot: An Oral History

Photo-Illustration: Stevie Remsberg

Sex and the City aired its first episode on June 6, 1998. In honor of the occasion, we’re taking a look back at 20 years of SATC. Read all the Cut’s anniversary coverage here.

Sex and the City is often credited for its bold decision to allow women — with all of their flaws, and all of their desires, and all of their uncomfortable womanness — to be on television. The pilot was groundbreaking in that way, but couldn’t you ever help but wonder: What was it like to portray those male characters we never heard from again? How does it feel, to live each day knowing that you played “the asshole” in the first episode of one of the most influential television series in history?

Capote Duncan, the guy who slept with Samantha after going on a date with Charlotte; Kurt Harrington, the guy who’d broken Carrie’s heart multiple times, but was still the best sex of her life; Peter Mason, the guy who said that women should “just marry a big, fat, tub of lard” and Miranda was like, “they’re just as self-centered and unappreciative as the good looking ones!”; and Tim from the cold open, who ghosted that poor lady and set the tone for the entire series. To satisfy our curiosity, we spoke to the actors behind these roles about filming the pilot, toxic bachelors, and, mostly, the greatness of director Susan Seidelman.

‘Why don’t these women just marry a fat guy?’

Jeffrey Nordling (Capote Duncan): This just makes me feel so old.

Bruce McCarty (Peter Mason): Susan Seidelman directed the pilot — she did that film Desperately Seeking Susan? — and I was most excited about it because I liked her so much, and I liked her work so much. I thought she was so smart. She gave me the best direction, she said to me: “Do it like a guy who had been really overweight in high school.” I burst out laughing. I think in the script part of the joke was he was described as being really heavy, and I was not that. So I was surprised she and [Sex and the City creator] Darren Starr wanted to have me play the part. I got on set and I asked and she said, “No, we’ll do it this way,” which I thought was very funny — a very funny way to look at male pomposity. Very much in the spirit of the piece.

Bill Sage (Kurt Harrington): I played Kurt Harrington. He’s known in Sex and the City lore to be the first one to bed Sarah’s [Jessica Parker, who played Carrie] character. It was great to work with Susan Seidelman, and the leads were all women, and it was unlike anything else — we knew it was special in that sense. Susan and Darren explained what they were doing a little bit, just that women were going to be allowed to be promiscuous and unscripted about relationships, and they were going to be flawed and exciting. And I gotta tell you, I was honored to be a part of it.

Bill Sage (Kurt Harrington)

Nordling: I was Capote Duncan, the original toxic bachelor. I take so much pride in that.

Scott Bryce (Tim): I was toxic bachelor number one. I was “Tim,” an incredibly wealthy investment banker dude who spies this beautiful, hot girl at an art gallery. I seduce her, and woo her, and schmooze her, and start talking about the future and babies, and we start looking for a house together, and I start talking about “let’s go meet my parents,” and then I vanish and break her heart. And it’s the first sort of realization — it goes into Carrie’s description of, you know, how she didn’t tell her [Carrie was her friend, recounting her story in voiceover] that love is dead in New York, and this is the new age; she didn’t warn her about toxic bachelors. So I am, indeed, toxic bachelor number one.

‘Look, I understand where you’re coming from and I totally respect it, but I really need to have sex tonight!’

McCarty: I didn’t really have a sense of the show; I didn’t know Candace’s writing. [Candace Bushnell’s column for The New York Observer was adapted into a series of Sex and the City books, which were adapted into the TV series.] I mean, I was aware of it, living in New York, but I hadn’t read her. I’d done readings with Sarah over the years, and I knew Cynthia [Nixon, who played Miranda] — well enough that my girlfriend and I hosted an event for her campaign the other night. That’s probably the most exciting thing to come out of that show, that Cynthia is running for governor! I didn’t know the other two as well, but I knew Cynthia’s work and what a fine actress she was. She’d always been super smart and super talented. So that also spoke really highly about the project. And like I said, that Susan Seidelman was doing it. She’s a very smart woman. So that made me think, oh this is going to be interesting.

Bruce McCarty (Peter Mason)

Bryce: Reading the script I was puzzled by the title. I was like — that’s pretty risqué, it sounds like a porn, what is this? Then I read the script and realized what it was, and as I saw those characters on the page, I thought — this is really going to be actor-critical, it’s about chemistry, and will these women have chemistry. If they do, it’s gonna be great. And, indeed, they were amazing.

Sage: It was much rarer that a TV show would have content that was really kind of relevant. It was all things like All in the Family, or Hill Street Blues. So these were rare things. Now you find them all the time, there’s so much great writing and acting in television. But artistic content was mostly in indie film at that time. And I feel like at this point that was moving over — just take Susan Seidelman directing the pilot. That excitement and that artistic relevance in New York indie film was branching out to TV, and HBO knew it.

Bryce: The only odd thing we had was security because Rudy Giuliani’s soon-to-be first ex-wife played the real estate agent. I think her name is Donna Hanover? So she was the real estate agent showing us the place. She had, like, security detail around her that escorted her on the set, which was kind of fun.

Sage: That first day, we read through everything and did costume fittings over at what is now Chelsea Market. That’s where we were. I remember exactly where it was in there. And every time I go in there now I think, Oh shit. That’s where we did the first read through! It felt like we were showing up to make an indie film, people were there to make something good. I think Sarah in particular, and Cynthia Nixon too, they bring — they’re jovial and not pushy or anything. Nobody was overbearing. It was really, really easy. It was fun to work on.

Nordling: There’s a scene where, in the script, someone goes down on Kim’s character [Kim Cattrall played Samantha]. And it was me! We didn’t know each other, and we sat down at the table and I was sitting next to her, and in walks Chris Noth. And she looks at him and goes — oh my god, I hope he’s the one that goes down on me. And I went, “Ahh, no. No, Kim. That would be me. Sorry, dude.”

Jeffrey Nordling (Capote Duncan)

‘I thought you weren’t talking to me for the rest of your life?’

McCarty: Those day on set were just really, really great. I remember that we had such a good time on set, with everybody just working and hanging out and stuff like that, that Darren said he was going to try to find some other places for the character in the pilot. And then he apparently wrote some stuff into another scene, and some AD forgot to call my agent. So it was never shot! That was the story I was told, anyhow — that somebody forgot to call somebody. I was having lunch with my girlfriend and called into my answering machine and had all of these frantic messages were from the production team. And I was like, “What do you mean I was supposed to be there?!” I was like, “Oh man! Dammit!” But now we can live in the mystery of what could have been with that guy. What he could have said, from his former-fat perspective.

Sage: I was asked back, but the timing didn’t work out. I had a conflict with another job. It was one of those things where it’s like, what are you gonna do? Break your contract with that other job and be that guy who sort of abandons what he’s doing? So I couldn’t do it. I wish it worked out, but I’m really glad and honored to be a part of that pilot.

Nordling: I was going to be a series regular, and my twins had just been born. In one of my more brilliant career decisions, when it was picked up, I said, “Look, I can’t move to New York.” So. That went well.

Bryce: I had a fantasy that in the very very last episode, Sarah [Wynter, who played an on-screen love interest] and I should be in the background coming out of a church getting married. [Laughing] Unspoken, to see if any hard-core fans would catch it.

Sarah Wynter (Elizabeth) and Scott Bryce (Tim)

Nordling: Friends who see the episode will say — oh my god! Year after year after year more young people keep seeing it and they’ll say, “Oh my god, I saw you in the pilot!” It just keeps living.

McCarty: One time I was walking up Fifth Avenue and this bicycle messenger, in this very funny moment, was flying down on the west side of Fifth Avenue like between 19th and 20th. He pulled over to the curb in a very graceful move, he hopped off his bike and put his bike over the curb on his way to a delivery, walked down, and as he walked by me he said — “You gotta get back on TV!” It was very funny. Whether or not that was particularly tied to Sex and the City or some of the other stuff that I’ve done I don’t know, but Sex and the City was certainly something that got a lot of airplay — people all the time stop me and say like, hey, I saw the pilot, that was you.

Bryce: When the pilot first came out I was walking down the street with Chris Noth, coincidentally, and somebody recognized me. She said, “Oh, Mr. Big and the first —!” and she used a terrible word. I was like, “Yep. That’s me.”

Male Jerks in the Sex and the City Pilot: An Oral History