- How Cynthia Nixon Found Her Voice
- ELLE: Have you always been outspoken, even as a child?
- Plus, you were working at such a young age. Do you remember what you did with your first paycheck?
- How do you think acting has prepared you for politics?
- Being combative doesn’t come naturally to many women
- Have you ever regretted being public about your personal life?
- Women are saddled with the notion that they can’t give everything to both their careers and their kids in a way that men never are. How has that played out for you?
- Who’s one woman you admire, other than those in your family?
- Which is maybe how it goes for everybody all the time?
- What You Can Learn From Cynthia Nixon’s Creative Process
- On Women And Entertainment
- Life As Art, Art As Life
- On Avoiding Distractions
- On Finding Your Best Creative Life
How Cynthia Nixon Found Her Voice
Marco Grob / trunkarchive.com
It seems, in some ways, that Cynthia Nixon entered the world a fully formed fighter. The actress, known the world over as Sex and the City’s career-driven Miranda Hobbes, Esq., has been working consistently since the age of 12. At 52, she is a Grammy, two-time Emmy Award winner.
For years, she’s advocated for public education (her three children are all products of New York City public schools), LGBTQ rights (she married her wife, Christine Marinoni, in 2012), and women’s health care (her activism informed by her battle with breast cancer and her mother’s illegal abortion, before Roe v. Wade).
Now she’s running for governor of New York against Andrew Cuomo—an incumbent with a family dynasty and a war chest topping $30 million.
It’s a gutsy move. And despite all her accolades, achievements, and extensive history of community organizing, Nixon knows that she’s a neophyte when it comes to running for office—a fact that some are all too eager to point out.
“ everybody, I have deep patches of insecurity and unsureness,” she admits, “but my parents raised me to believe in myself.
” At her apartment last July, with her campaign staff gathered around the dining room—and her seven-year-old son, Max, running around in green underwear and a robot T-shirt—Nixon outlined how she found and continues to find the confidence to speak her mind.
ELLE: Have you always been outspoken, even as a child?
Cynthia Nixon: When I was about 10, I was at my parents’ friend’s house.
I must have been talking [a lot], because she said, «Are you auditioning to have your own talk show?» The way I was brought up, I was encouraged to express my views.
I am an only child, which meant there was a lot of focus on me, but it also meant that there wasn’t a lot of division between the adult world and kid world.
Plus, you were working at such a young age. Do you remember what you did with your first paycheck?
My mother opened a bank account for me, and I deposited it. The first thing I remember actually buying was a black velvet double-breasted pantsuit. My mother had one, so I wanted to look her. She was raised knowing that women needed to be financially independent.
She tried for 15 years to make it as an actress in New York, and there was incredible financial insecurity. My dad had emotional problems. He was depressed and in bed for a lot of my early childhood. It was partly because my mother wasn’t financially dependent on him that she was able to leave him.
But she was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to pay for college. So mostly, I saved.
How do you think acting has prepared you for politics?
I don’t think it has. Being a public person and being able to speak in front of a crowd is certainly a translatable skill, but I think I’m not as combative as an actor. When it comes to activism, fighting against the other side that wants to deny you your rights, that kind of combativeness isn’t something I’ve experienced a lot as an actor.
Drew AngererGetty Images
Being combative doesn’t come naturally to many women
We have to do a better job at believing in ourselves and our opinions. Even the most ferocious and confident of us are taught to defer and consider the other person’s opinion or feelings. That’s a fine quality to have, but not if it means giving away the store.
I notice it with myself on the campaign trail, as well as with so many women supporting me, how much we preface our remarks with «I think,» which means, «Oh, it’s my opinion; you can discount it if you want.» But what we need to do more of as women is to assert things. Not equivocate.
It’s hard, but I’m trying.
Have you ever regretted being public about your personal life?
I’ve wished I’d brushed my hair before I left the house and picked out what I was going to wear a little more carefully. But otherwise, no.
People keep telling me it’s so brave to run for office, but being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not sometimes scared.
Women are saddled with the notion that they can’t give everything to both their careers and their kids in a way that men never are. How has that played out for you?
I’m the daughter of a working mother who was the daughter of a working mother. I come from a line of women who were the main breadwinners in their families.
There was never any question that I’d have to go to work. You can be there [for your kids] all day, every day, every minute, and never give enough of yourself.
I never felt a lot of guilt about that, and I feel children will take a cue from you.
Who’s one woman you admire, other than those in your family?
Eleanor Roosevelt. I played her [in Warm Springs], and she was brave, but so scared all the time. I think about that endlessly. People keep telling me it’s so brave to run for office, but being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not sometimes scared. Eleanor said that being brave is being scared, but doing it anyway.
Which is maybe how it goes for everybody all the time?
I think so. We don’t get less scared because we pretend we’re not scared. We get less scared because we acknowledge we’re scared—and then we move on.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of ELLE.
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What You Can Learn From Cynthia Nixon’s Creative Process
Cynthia Nixon may have played a seminal character on HBO’s Sex and the City for six years, but a résumè full of serious onscreen roles–as well as experience directing for the stage–have helped make her a bona fide storyteller.
Nixon plays a seriously ill mother in the critically acclaimed film James White, which premiered earlier this year at Sundance and will hit theaters November 13. Steve–the off-Broadway play she’s directing–opens November 18.
From the Fast Company Innovation Festival stage in New York City on Monday, Nixon shared how she translates her own experiences into ultra-authentic performances–and manages to leave work behind to live a real life.
On Women And Entertainment
Nixon, who is famously vociferous on marriage equality and LGBTQ issues, surprisingly shared she wasn’t all that concerned about a pay gap between men and women in Hollywood.
That’s not to say she thinks women have equal footing on or offscreen.
“This is not something that concerns me so much, whether a person makes $10 million or $15 million for a film.
I’d be more concerned with roles: getting women behind the camera and getting people in the room deciding which films are made,” Nixon told Fast Company.
“Then the audiences get a picture of the world and everything a woman is and can be, not just the woman standing beside her husband and saying, ‘Great work.’”
She says there’s still an inherent belief that entertainment targeted to men is applicable to everyone, whereas entertainment that’s seen as female-focused usually enjoys an audience of women only. But until times change, the latter films still need to be made.
“Even if no men go, and only women go, this is still a film worth making. Because it’s still women, and there’s a lot of women in the world,” Nixon says.
Life As Art, Art As Life
In addition to her role as the terminally ill Gail White in James White, Nixon will play the American poet Emily Dickinson in the upcoming A Quiet Passion. To play those serious roles, Nixon has to look inward.
While she was working on James White, her own mother died of cancer.
“It was a good thing, I think, for me to work on,” Nixon says of the film and her own grieving process. She says her own loss helped her portray the complicated nature of illness and relationships; the forces that affected a mother and son, for example, are still there when the mother gets sick.
“These are really complicated combative characters, and the fact that they’re now having to deal with this illness–it’s not tidy at all. All of these issue between them are complicated by cancer,” Nixon says.
The forces in her own life helped her identify a creative process that worked for portraying crushing strife on screen: Instead of trying to channel big-picture emotions, she had to take herself through what a character in question would be trying to do or think in a moment, every moment of their lives. She knew what those moments were because she’d already witnessed and felt them with her own mom.
“As human beings, really until we draw our last breath, we are trying to do something in every moment. When we’re dying, we’re not Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights looking beautiful in her bed.
In every moment of our lives–including when we’re sick–we’re just trying to get through that pain, or make it to the bathroom, or get a drink of water, or say what we’re trying to say,” says Nixon, whose own mother died before her dream of being a writer could be realized.
On Avoiding Distractions
Nixon doesn’t have a or profile. “I have a VCR,” she offers as further indication of her Luddite lifestyle. “I don’t subscribe to cable. I’m so not techie. Basically I don’t have reception on my television. So it’s a monitor.”
Instead, she chooses a mindful approach to people she already treasures.
“Here’s the thing. I am surgically attached to my Blackberry. I can type without looking. To that extent, I am very connected. Those people I’m emailing and texting with, I know them. And still they take an enormous amount of my personal attention.
If that much of my attention is being taken with people that I actually know and personally care about, I can’t imagine if I had this obligation that I would send this message to thousands of people that I don’t know and will never meet,” Nixon says.
“That’s a beast that will never be sated. I would self-destruct.”
On Finding Your Best Creative Life
Nixon says part of her success comes from knowing her strengths and making the decision to pursue them fully.
“For a long time I thought I wanted to be a writer. But what I have come to realize about myself with almost no regret at all is that I am not a writer, because acting is actually a very good career for me. Acting is about communication with live people. I don’t want to spend that much time alone. And also I am best in motion, I really am,” Nixon says.
She had the same realization about directing: “If it does resonate with me, I want to be the person that brings that to life rather than the person who tells their own thing, because I’m not a thinker. I’m a doer. And the older I get, I understand that about myself.”
She says instead of being pigeonholed into a genre, she’s learned she prefers to tell stories that are meaningful to her, no matter the theme, á la the director Sidney Lumet. That variety has come to be how she approaches all of her work today.
“If you’re being given a number of takes. Trust that the thing that you were trying to do, you kind of did it. So why not try something else? In my earlier life I tried to do things super, super, super well that I know could do safely and deliberately,” Nixon says. “As I’m getting older, what I try to do is leave more up to chance.”
Nixon, who is a married mother of three, says she’s found parallels between directing and parenting.
“Being a director is sort of being a mother. There’s never really a moment to rest. Except the people that you’re talking to are generally reasonable people—they’re not two-year-olds,” Nixon says.
“When you’re an actor, you traffic in emotions all the time. So when you’re impassioned or angry or frustrated, you have more permission to do that than most people do at work.
When you’re a director, not so much because you always have to be the grownup in the room.”
That’s not to say she has used her directorial instincts solely for serious roles. She’s already (mentally) cast the Sex and the City leading ladies as Greek gods and goddesses (she’s been inspired by Greek myth since reading the D’Aulaires anthology as a kid.) Miranda is Athena, Charlotte is Aphrodite, Samantha is Hera, and Carrie is Zeus, of course.
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