From sex in the 70s to Sex And The City: Boogie Nights star Nicole Ari Parker is stepping into Samantha’s Jimmy Choos after a toxic feud with Sarah Jessica Parker ruled Kim Cattrall out of TV’s most hotly anticipated reboot
When producers announced that Sex And The City would be coming back, fans around the world rejoiced.
Nearly two decades after the groundbreaking series broadcast its final episode, the reboot, called And Just Like That…, promises to introduce a new generation of women to the delights of Cosmopolitan cocktails, Jimmy Choos and Mr Big.
But then the penny dropped.
The £35 million ten-part series by streaming giant HBO Max would bring back Sarah Jessica Parker as fashion-obsessed New Yorker Carrie Bradshaw, but there would be no Kim Cattrall as the feisty, bed-hopping Samantha, a character who once famously declared: ‘I’m a try-sexual. I’ll try anything once.’
Nearly two decades after the groundbreaking series broadcast its final episode, the reboot, called And Just Like That…, promises to introduce a new generation of women to the delights of Cosmopolitan cocktails, Jimmy Choos and Mr Big
The fan backlash was immediate. ‘How can there be any Sex And The City without Samantha?’ one woman moaned on social media. ‘Without her it will be all city and no sex.’
But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Samantha’s towering designer heels have been filled by Nicole Ari Parker. The 50-year-old American actress and model has previously appeared in the film Boogie Nights, which charts the life of one of the world’s biggest porn stars in the 1970s.
She is set to replace Samantha as a key member of the ‘gang of four’. The fact that she is mixed-race is significant as the original programme has been criticised in some quarters for lacking ethnic diversity. Several other new actors of colour have been included in the new cast.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Samantha’s towering designer heels have been filled by Nicole Ari Parker
But the true importance of Ari Parker’s involvement has so far slipped under the radar.
It was hinted at last week when SJP posted a stunning picture of herself on set embracing Cynthia Nixon, who plays whip-smart lawyer Miranda, Kristin Davis, who plays Charlotte, and a beaming Ari Parker.
‘Oh so fine,’ wrote 56-year-old SJP, who is reportedly earning more than $1 million an episode. ‘I’d sing along to 70s love songs with this trio deep into any night. I’ll see you ladies tomorrow!’
Now The Mail on Sunday has learned that Ari Parker will play Lisa Todd Wexley, a mother-of-three and documentary-maker who is Carrie’s new best friend. Lisa is married to hedge-fund billionaire Jackson Herbert Wexley, played by Hamilton actor Christopher Jackson.
Casey Bloys, HBO’s chief content officer, says: ‘The new show is very much a story about women in their 50s and they are dealing with things that people deal with in their 50s. Just as in real life, people come into your life, people leave. Friendships fade and new friendships start.’
A source close to the show told the MoS: ‘Everyone has been saying there can never be another Samantha but, actually, Nicole’s character is very much inhabiting that space. She’s someone who has come into Carrie’s life in the decades since the original show ended.
‘They are fast friends and the character of Lisa bears more than a passing resemblance to Samantha. She’s feisty and fearless. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She knows what she wants in life and in the bedroom. She’s Carrie’s best friend and an integral part of the plot of the new series. She’s slipped very easily into the foursome.’
Kim Cattrall, 64, who famously feuded with SJP over recent years, appeared to take a sly dig at the new ‘fab four’ by posting a video clip of herself taken on the set of her 2014 dark comedy Sensitive Skin.
The footage showed a Jack Russell called Pixel trying to lick Cattrall’s face, which the actress cheekily captioned: ‘When your co-star is a real dog.’
The source added: ‘I think Kim’s leaving it up to fans to draw their own conclusions about who she is talking about but it can’t be easy for her to see the show moving on so easily without her.’
Fan anticipation over the new series, set to air early next year, has already reached fever pitch.
Dozens of online fan sites have been poring over every new official and unofficial photograph from the set. Filming is currently going on around Manhattan.
One paparazzi shot of dozens of mourners dressed in black, filing into a church, prompted speculation the writers could have literally killed off the character of Samantha, but the source says: ‘No, that’s not true. A major character dies but people will have to wait to see who it is.’
Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall – she will not be reprising her role as Samantha
Meanwhile, a leaked page from the script which appeared to hint at marriage trouble for Carrie and Mr Big led to rumours that the couple are divorced.
For Ari Parker, a married mother-of-two, the role of Lisa is set to catapult her to global superstardom.
Already a respected actress in Hollywood, friends say she is more than ready for her moment in the spotlight. Born in Baltimore to dentist father Donald, who is black, and antique-loving mother Susan, who is white, she studied acting in New York and has worked steadily in TV shows such as Empire and Chicago PD as well movies including Boogie Nights and Remember The Titans.
There was also a critically acclaimed turn as Blanche DuBois in a multi-racial version of A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway.
Of her mixed-race heritage, she says: ‘I’m just light-skinned and from Baltimore. My mother’s from North Carolina and she has green eyes and freckles.
‘I’m sure there’s a whole lot of white and Native American mixed in there. But I’m only claiming African-American because that’s really what I know.’
A brief early marriage to actor Joseph Falasca ended in divorce after just eight months in 2001.
She married German-born former-model-turned-actor Boris Kodjoe, 47, in 2005 after meeting him on the set of TV series Soul Food.
But it is her charity work that has earned her widespread admiration. The couple’s oldest child, Sophie, was born with the congenital disability spina bifida, a neural tube defect that affects the spine.
Although Sophie is now 15 and doing well thanks to a combination of surgery, conventional medicine and her parents’ belief in the ‘natural healing’ power of clean foods, meditation and exercise, their journey was not easy.
Ari Parker has spoken openly about how Sophie needed round-the-clock care as an infant. Her condition meant her parents had to learn to empty her bladder through catheterisation every three hours. ‘It’s like your whole world just crumbles,’ she told People magazine. ‘We had to come together as a new couple. We went from a fairy tale to the fast track. I’ve racked my brain, been to therapy, cried my eyes out.’
When Sophie was 19 months old, the couple welcomed son Nicolas.
‘I suffered from postpartum depression pretty bad with Nicolas because the anxiety level of protecting Sophie was so strong,’ the actress explained. ‘I couldn’t afford to cry. There was no way.’
The family started a charity, Sophie’s Voice Foundation, which has raised millions. They built The Center For Spina Bifida Research at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia (the foundation has since changed its name to The Kodjoe Family Foundation).
Ari Parker refused to allow her daughter’s condition to limit the youngster’s choices. When doctors said Sophie would never be able to do ballet, her mother encouraged her to enrol in dance school and later sent the doctor a photo of Sophie in a tutu saying: ‘She’s doing it!’
An executive who worked with Ari Parker on a previous project told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Nicole is a 50-year-old woman who has learned her craft and has dealt with real-world problems like having a sick child.
‘She’s one of the most popular actresses in Hollywood because she has been helping others, long before Black Lives Matter came along.
‘She’s a strong woman who believes very much in supporting women and minorities. Everyone is so happy she’s landed this life-changing role – and you don’t usually get people saying nice things about other actors in Hollywood. But in Nicole’s case, no one deserves it more. She has earned this.’
Ari Parker’s problems seem a world away from the petty feuding between SJP and Kim Cattrall which led to Cattrall turning down the chance to reprise her role in the third Sex And The City movie or the new series.
After years of backstage rumours about their rift – always reportedly over money (SJP was paid twice as much as her co-stars in the original series) – the enmity exploded publicly in 2018 when Cattrall’s brother Chris, 55, died suddenly.
SJP immediately wrote on social media: ‘Dearest Kim, my love and condolences to you and yours and Godspeed to your beloved brother xx.’ But the message provoked a furious attack in return.
Writing on Instagram, Cattrall – who was born in Liverpool but raised in Canada – said: ‘My mum asked me today, “When will that Sarah Jessica Parker, that hypocrite, leave you alone?”
‘Your continuous reaching out is a painful reminder of how cruel you really were then and now.
‘Let me make this VERY clear (if I haven’t already). You are not my family. You are not my friend. So I’m writing to tell you one last time to stop exploiting our tragedy in order to restore your nice girl persona.’
The source said: ‘During the original series, SJP was the lead and became an executive producer. There was tension between her and Kim early on. Kim felt SJP got more screen time and as the character of Samantha took off and became a fan favourite, she didn’t understand why SJP was paid more than the rest of the cast.’
Cattrall would later tell chat-show host Jonathan Ross she felt ‘after six years it was time for all of us to participate in the financial windfall of Sex And The City. When they didn’t seem keen on that, I thought it was time to move on’.
In another TV interview with Piers Morgan, she said: ‘The common ground we had was the series and the series is over. For me, it’s over. It’s over with no regrets. I just wish that Sarah had been nicer.’
As for the new series, those closely associated with it say the on-set atmosphere has been ‘harmonious and blissful’.
‘The original cast and crew can’t believe how well the newcomers have blended in. There was always criticism that Sex And The City was too white, that it didn’t accurately reflect the diversity of New York City and the wonderful melting pot the city is. This new show will highlight all of that diversity.’
As well as Ari Parker, new characters of colour include Sara Ramirez, a Mexican-born non-binary actor who will play Che Diaz. Actress Karen Pittman will play Dr Nya Wallace, a black law professor, and Sarita Choudhury is Seema Patel, a real estate broker.
LeRoy McClain plays Andre Rashad Wallace, husband of Nya Wallace, and Cathy Ang will play Charlotte’s adopted daughter Lily.
Executive producer Michael Patrick King said: ‘Each will add their unique spark and big heart to these new characters and the stories we are about to tell.’
For years, despite the public spats, producers insisted the door would always be left open for Kim Cattrall should she ever choose to come back as Samantha. But as filming continued last week – with Ari Parker front and centre – it looks as though that door might have finally been shut for good.
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