Kristin Davis Fronts Oxfam Kenya Appeal, Reflects On Fame And Sex And The City 2 Criticism
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Kristin Davis has just returned from the Horn of Africa, a trip she describes as "putting everything into perspective".
"I had my moments. I was confused by it. We were on the press tour, and everyone we met was thrilled, so we were somewhat unaware."
Kristin Davis is sipping tea on Sunday afternoon in London's Groucho Club, remembering her reaction to the critical furore that greeted Sex and the City 2 a year ago, when it seemed the departure of the Manhattan Fab Four to on a Middle Eastern adventure managed to press every class, race and feminist pressure point it could think of.
"We were getting little hints from the outside world, but not really," recalls Davis, who played Charlotte York, the indefatigably romantic brunette. "All four of us have different tactics for dealing with it. Mine is to try to understand the business side of the industry, and how it perceives things, especially women.
She laughs gamely, considering it must have been excruciating at the time, something she acknowledges. "I had a moment of stress, I'm not always able to stay above it, but it certainly grounds me to go out into the world and see things for what they really are."
For Davis, going out into the world has included six years of tireless work with Oxfam, travelling to regions a world away from Charlotte's Upper Manhattan duplex and most recently to Tanzania, when news of Kenya's growing humanitarian crisis exacerbated by drought meant a change of plan and a journey to Dadaab Refugee Camp in the north-east of Kenya.
"We were in Dadaab on Friday and it was heart-wrenching, shocking. Today's only Sunday and we're sitting here, so it's kind of surreal."
Davis is visibly moved as she tells of some of her first-hand encounters in the camp.
"One woman had to walk for miles to reach the camp - some people spend 20 days on the road. She had four of her own children with her, and seven more she'd collected along the way. There was no room in the camp for them all, so she built a tiny hut and had to put the smallest children in the tree at night, so the hyenas wouldn't get them. And I was just overwhelmed by her grace in this grace appearing in the most horrendous situation."
The star is well-informed about the problems Kenya is having catering for such a huge influx of new refugees, and the disaster relief efforts that are being orchestrated.
"We know exactly what our goals are. What I'm so impressed by in the UK is a coalition - Disaster Emergency Committee, which is incredibly organised and impressive. For Oxfam, it's about water and sanitation. Dadaab is receiving 9,000 extra refugees a week. Everyone knows what is needed, basically an extra camp.
"Times are tough for everyone, I know, and then I arrived here, and found out that £8million has been raised in just a few days, and that gives you hope.
Davis confounds expectation with her passionate involvement and understanding of such a complex project - it seems a world away from the clinking glasses of the New York social scene which she has done so much to represent on screen, or her own life of privilege, but she seems happy to accept responsibility that such comfort must inevitably bring.
"This is what I think," she says, pulling back her hair and finding energy for such a discussion that is impressive only hours after a long flight from Africa, and ahead of her return to New York.
"You don't get to pick where you're born. I've worked hard all my life, and I've had a lot of luck too. We love what we do, and then we get paid a ridiculous amount for it. I can't speak for others - lots of people in my industry do charity work privately, so it takes different forms. I personally feel it is my responsibility, but that comes from my upbringing, where both my parents did voluntary work, so I thought everyone just did.
"So I wouldn't judge anyone for not doing charity, but I don't know that I would date them either," she adds with a scream of delight at what passes, apparently, for an indiscretion.
And warming to the theme, she adds, "It's very easy to get sucked into the intense, tabloid world and be stressed out by it, and then I get to see the reality of how so many people live, which puts it all in perspective.
And she rounds off with words enough to make Charlotte shudder, "What do I care if someone doesn't like my outfit? (Cover your ears, Carrie) What do I care if my shoes are the wrong colour? So it's been super-helpful for me as a person."
Despite her Hollywood high-profile (appearing in the comedy Couples Retreat with Vince Vaughan and Jason Bateman, as well as embracing her decade of SATC duty), age and unmarried status, Davis has somehow avoided being tarred with the sad singleton brush of, say, Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. So how does she stay under the radar?
"I try very, very hard to keep my life private, and not get sucked in but, for some people, once the media get them in their crosshairs, it becomes impossible. It's like you're like a lightning rod for the issues of the day.
"It's why we made Sex and the City, to try to escape this categorising - it's a project about single, independent women, and it was ultimately the bond of unbreakable friendship that people were drawn to."
More than a decade after Kristin Davis and her co-stars first sat down for a confessional Upper Westside brunch, she remains bemused by her role in such a mould-breaking phenomenon.
"I don't know that I will ever fully put it into perspective, it's too much - so much bigger than the team behind it now - so I just try to be thankful and gracious about it."
Such graciousness is firmly on display when the thorny subject of off-set salary squabbles between the lead four is raised, particularly as Kim Cattrall has since gone on the record confirming what was long mooted:
"The media love the idea of a good scrap," laughs Davis. "I totally get it, but if you can step back from the drama - I have my moments - you think 'I'm so lucky to be part of it.'
"One of the most important things was the unbreakable friendship between the four and that remains true. We don't represent it enough in our media. We all know what is true and what isn't, I'm not confused."
And finally, she knows I'm going to ask, and jumps in first, obviously to deny all knowledge about the prospect of one final outing to round off the big-screen SATC trilogy.
"I don't know anything. There's not a day goes by without people talking to me about it, so it's a living thing. We all love each other, so if we get to make another one great. If we don't, then we'll just hang out."
UK READERS: The DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal will provide life saving aid such as food, water, care for malnourished children and medical treatment. To donate, please go to www.dec.org.uk, phone 0370 60 60 900, text 'CRISIS' to 70000 to give £5, or you can post donations to PO Box 999 London EC3A 3AA.
US READERS: Please donate by visiting http://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/east-africa-food-crisis