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.”’
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So what was it like being part of the phenomenon?
WILLIE GARSON: It was bizarre and fantastic. I always say that you get one of these, if you’re lucky, per career. Certainly in New York, there was nothing like it. It was like being on the Yankees. We were hometown heroes. If you picked up any magazine or newspaper, you’d feel like we must be getting an audience of 90 million people a week…because the themes and the styles and the heat around it just kind of permeated throughout society. So it was really satisfying. We have a line in the movie: I’m drinking a cosmopolitan and I go, ”Why did we stop drinking these?” And Sarah Jessica goes, ”Because everyone else started drinking them.” And I thought, wow, it’s so smart. The writing is so smart. We actually tried another [drink] for a couple episodes — the Flirtini. We tried, but it didn’t catch on. It’s nice to be on something iconic. A lot of us — certainly character actors — work really hard in everything that we do. But it’s nice when something catches on to the point where everyone’s noticing.
Did you have any weird fan encounters?
It’s always weird. Certainly toward the end. The season when Sarah was pregnant was really weird. We’d show up on location and there would be 5,000 people standing there. I didn’t even know where we were shooting that day. It would be like, ”How the hell did they find us?” And, you know, it’s hard to lock down a street in New York, so I’ve had people come up me and ask me for a quarter in the middle of a scene. Some homeless guy literally would walk up to you in the middle of the scene and ask you for a quarter.
Did you expect Stanford to start dating a good-looking man like Marcus (Sean Palmer)?
Oh God, no. I was like, ”What kind of troll are they going to put me with?” And then we have the scene where Samantha walks in the bathroom and I’m getting serviced, and she tells [Carrie] and she’s like, ”Hold on a second — he was getting one?” And Samantha goes, ”I know — surprised me too.” [Laughs] You never know.
Was it easy to slide back into your roles for the movie?
It was really easy. It’s so comfortable. We had a very ambitious script and Michael kept saying to the studio, ”Just imagine if these people didn’t have a seven-year [relationship], how long it would take to shoot.” 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.” So that’s pretty glorious. That made it really easy and fun. And as we were getting to the end, there was a scene that we were shooting where all of us were sitting on the table. And we had the same emotions that we had during the series at the end. I remember I was the one — I’m the corniest one — I’m the one [who] said to Michael, ”You know, you realize this is probably the last time we’re all going to be sitting here together.” And everyone got all teary again. It’s just like, we’re in each other lives. Except for me and Chris Noth. I don’t want to be anywhere near that guy’s life. [Laughs]