“What a drag it is getting old,” a young Mick Jagger sang five decades ago — though he may have changed his mind since.
That’s also a theme of “Sweet Bird of Youth,” Tennessee Williams’ play about a faded movie star and a frazzled young hustler drifting toward disaster in a steamy Southern town.
Few feel the creep of time more acutely than actors, whose physical appearance is key to their livelihood. So for Kim Cattrall and Seth Numrich, tackling these exposing roles on the London stage was a special kind of challenge.
“Doing theater is scary,” Cattrall said in an interview in an Old Vic rehearsal room, in a tone that suggests it’s a thrilling sort of fear. “It really is. You’re really vulnerable. I think that’s also what makes it irresistible, because I don’t want to not go there. I think the other stuff is just too easy at this point. And I’m not a personality actress — I don’t want to play just one role for the rest of my life.”
There’s little doubt Cattrall could have coasted comfortably after creating one of the most indelible TV characters in years, the vampish Samantha Jones in “Sex and the City.”
Since the show ended in 2004, the 56-year-old has done two “Sex and the City” movies, but has taken stage roles in London and New York in “Private Lives” and “Antony and Cleopatra.”
It took some persuading by Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey — the Academy Award-winning actor — to get Cattrall to agree to play the physically humbling, emotionally demanding role of Alexandra Del Lago, a drug-addled falling star on the run from a disastrous comeback attempt who finds herself holed up in a Gulf Coast hotel room with tarnished local golden boy Chance Wayne.
Cattrall went over the play with Marianne Elliott, a Tony Award winner for “War Horse.” In the end they decided there wasn’t another play that dealt so honestly and revealingly with issues of image and aging, failure and desire. Cattrall said yes.
Spacey said he wanted to cast Cattrall because “here’s an actress that in many ways has had a parallel career to the character in the play, in that she’s known for her sex appeal.”
“I also felt she was the perfect age. Now that did take a little convincing,” he said. “The fact that she was able to face and deal with those very issues was another indication that she was brave.”
The central characters in “Sweet Bird of Youth” are among Williams’ roster of “beautiful monsters,” whose need is as overwhelming as their honesty.