Debuts: Jan 14, 8 PM, The CW
Dressed in a kelly green frock and raspberry tights, a dejected Carrie Bradshaw sits at her kitchen counter, surrounded by open recipe books and loose vegetables. Behind her, there’s a charred Thanksgiving turkey inside an oven that, up until just a few moments ago, was shrouded in smoke. ”I’m never cooking again,” she declares. ”When I’m an adult, I’ll use my stove for, like, storage or something.”
Sound familiar? Die-hard fans of Sex and the City know that a grown-up Carrie did exactly that. But this isn’t a deleted flashback from the long-running HBO series. This is a moment on the New York City set of The CW’s new prequel, The Carrie Diaries. Part origin story, part coming-of-age tale, Diaries — which, like SATC, is based on a book by Candace Bushnell — turns the clock back to the start of Carrie’s junior year of high school in 1980s Connecticut, just a few months after the death of her mother. This Carrie isn’t griping about Mr. Big between cosmos with the girls — she’s gossiping with teenage pals between classes, crushing on dreamy transfer student Sebastian Kydd (Austin Butler), and dealing with the stress of having a bratty sister (Stefania Owen) and a protective and well-meaning dad (Matt Letscher).
”To me she’s the unformed Carrie,” says exec producer Amy B. Harris, who, as a longtime writer on SATC, was eager to create a backstory for a character she refers to as a superhero for women. ”I wanted to tell stories like, What did Carrie Bradshaw do the first time she said ‘I love you’? Or lost her virginity? Or saw Manhattan?”
But to tell those stories, she had to answer a bigger question: Who could possibly step into Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolos following Sarah Jessica Parker? Finding an actress to play the young Carrie ”was a nightmare,” Harris recalls. ”Our casting director saw 500 women. There was a moment I thought, ‘Well, we’re not going to find her.”’ Then came AnnaSophia Robb. The Colorado native, who had focused on films (Bridge to Terabithia, Soul Surfer) up to that point, was in the process of applying to colleges and initially passed on the script. ”I went, ‘TV? Sex and the City? No. That’s crazy,”’ remembers Robb, 19. But once the script came her way again, ”I figured, ‘Okay, if it’s coming around a second time, God has a plan,”’ says Robb, who admits that at the time she wasn’t really aware of how significant the role was. (In her defense, she was 10 when SATC went off the air.) At Robb’s audition, Harris recalls, ”she said to us, ‘My prom is as important to me as a red carpet,’ and I was like, ‘That’s Carrie.”’
Since SATC only touched on Carrie’s history, Diaries takes its cues from Bushnell’s novel — up to a point. ”There’s no New York in the book and I felt it was important, if you’re meeting Carrie, [to see the] first time she meets New York,” says Harris. To that end, this Carrie gets an internship at a New York City law firm, which means she’ll be splitting her time between her suburban high school life and Manhattan, where she befriends an influential magazine editor (Freema Agyeman) who introduces her to the fashion world.
And though the show is set in the ’80s, it’s a more endearing Sixteen Candles view rather than a racy Porky’s-style romp — at least initially. Explains exec producer Stephanie Savage, who works on the series with her Gossip Girl partner, Josh Schwartz, ”As Carrie spends more time in Manhattan, she is getting exposed to the party culture and the drug culture and having to make some difficult choices.” Savage continues: ”We definitely want the show to feel age-appropriate for the characters and for the time period…. It wasn’t the idea to put the problems or attitudes of a 35-year-old woman in the mouth of a 16-year-old.” In fact, this SATC prequel is far more innocent than its CW brethren, like The Vampire Diaries, where someone is usually shirtless. ”There is a lot of whimsy to it,” says The CW president Mark Pedowitz. ”You’re setting it 25 to 28 years in the past…. So it’s a little bit of a simpler world.”
Simpler, that is, unless you’re talking about Carrie’s closet. To create her look, costume designer Eric Daman (who also headed up Gossip Girl’s style and assisted Patricia Field on SATC) turned to his high school yearbooks and ’80s magazines for inspiration. ”[SATC] Carrie represents an individualistic and confident style, which was really important to bring to the young Carrie,” says Daman, who admits he feels the pressure to do justice to the character. ”I know that she resonates with so many fans, but young women are going to be looking to her for the first time.”
Robb is well aware of these expectations. Since taking on the part, the actress, who deferred her acceptance to Stanford, has caught up on nearly all of SATC and watches Parker in repeats for help with Carrie’s tone, gestures, and movements. ”But I don’t want to copy Sarah Jessica Parker. I’m doing my own version,” says Robb, who received a sweet letter of encouragement from Parker recently. ”We are doing this for an audience who loves SATC but also for a new audience who can grow with us.” In the meantime, she’s been experiencing her own learning curve as someone new to New York. ”The ground here is very uneven,” says Robb, who admits to tripping all the time. ”You walk out the door and you feel put together — and then there’s a pothole.” Nothing wrong with becoming fashion roadkill, AnnaSophia — just ask Carrie Bradshaw.