Wherever Carrie Bradshaw stepped in those pricey Manolos, her gay best friend, Stanford Blatch, wasn’t far behind. But behind the dapper Stanford is character actor Willie Garson, who quickly became a fan favorite thanks to his Sex and the City alter ego’s ever-loyal demeanor and side-splitting quips. The 44-year-old actor — who boasts a friendship with Sarah Jessica Parker that predates the series — talks about the power of Sex and the City, the upcoming movie, and strangest thing he’s ever been asked while filming the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you land the role of Stanford for the series?
WILLIE GARSON: Well, I had an audition, and it was just me and [Sex creator/exec producer] Darren Star in the room. As I was leaving [my audition], he stopped me and he goes, ”Willie.” I go, ”Yes?” And he goes, ”Great suit.” And I knew I was in good shape [to get the part]. And there were women in the waiting room, and they were talking and [said], ”Did you hear that Sarah Jessica Parker might play [Carrie]?” And I hadn’t spoken to Sarah in weeks, so I had no idea. I left the network [audition], and I called her and I said, ”What do you know about this thing, Sex and the City?” and she’s like, ”Yeah, I’m probably going to do it, but to do TV again, it’s so hard, and everyone hates TV.” And she goes, ”Why, what do you know about it?” and I said, ”I think I’m doing it.” And she said, ”You’re kidding me. Well, then, I should do it.” So we just ended up doing it together, which is awesome.
So you can say you’re responsible for Parker taking on Carrie Bradshaw!
[Laughs] Yeah. Single-handedly.
It must have been nice to act opposite a friend.
It was very luxurious that they had me and Sarah Jessica playing the roles. If [you use] people who’ve been friends for 20 years, it really reads on the screen… Mostly it was just a lot of laughing. I, inwardly and outwardly, certainly am very different from the character. So it was a lot of us laughing. We could barely make it through scenes.
In what ways are you different from Stanford?
The character is — what’s the best way to say this? — slightly flamboyant. It’s a very specific kind of character that I am not in my real life. To me, it always felt a little over the top, but people who are more attuned to that community feel that it’s actually right on.
So did you feel a lot of the Sex and the City audience identified with your character?
Probably the greatest benefit of the show is that no one really hates us, which is very rare. I’ve been doing [TV] for a long time and it’s rare that you don’t have someone who [says], ”Oh, I hate that show. That show’s terrible.” Everyone has friends like these people or favorite episodes or feel that they are these people. So there’s never an unkind word really ever said to us, which is awesome. It’s probably the only job I’ve ever had that’s like that.
It’s especially really hard to hate Stanford.
That’s a good thing, I guess. I want [audiences] to feel that way forever. It helps when they’re watching you in your next job. Like, ”Oh, I like that guy.”
Do you have a favorite episode from the show?
A very classic Sex and the City episode would have to be the big fashion show [season 4’s ”The Real Me”]. There were models, there were famous people, there was drinking. That was such a monster episode. [It guest-starred] Margaret Cho and Alan Cumming and Mayor Koch and Heidi Klum and Kevyn Aucoin. There was, like, every major supermodel in the world walking on the runway. There’s some that we didn’t even see, really, who are $50,000 dollar-a-day runway models. No holds barred.
It must have been crazy behind the scenes.
It was crazy. When we walked in for the final fashion show and everyone’s there, it was like, Wow. Look what we have created here. You wouldn’t put a scene like this in a $200 million movie. That’s how over the top it was. The show just went on that way. There are millions of examples. I’ll never forget — Sarah and I had a scene where we’re supposed to be leaving Lincoln Center, and they wanted 10,000 extras behind us. How are you going to get 10,000 extras? So I remember specifically we [set up the show] at 8 o’clock, and we had one chance to [film] it. And we waited and waited and waited, and at 10 o’clock, the ballet, the opera, and the state theater all let out, so we stood there and waited until the doors flew open, and then we were walking ahead [and shooting the scene] holding Playbills. And we’re like, ”Okay, there’s 10,000 extras behind us right now.” Stuff like that happened all the time.
NEXT: ”Basically, the direction was ‘action’ and ‘cut.’ Because there’s nothing to do. You don’t have to work on relationships, you don’t have to work on characters, you don’t have to do anything. It’s just, ‘Oh, here we are.”’