"The idea of being single on New Year's Eve has always been treacherous for everybody," says Michael Patrick King, who wrote, directed, and produced the first film installment of Sex and the City (as well as its sequel and the original TV series).
"There's something about that bullseye of midnight that makes almost an imperative that you check in with yourself," King continues. "You're supposed to be in love at midnight. You're supposed to be in a couple. Which is why it's so great for Sex and the City, because anytime we could underline what society says vs. the reality of where people are was always powerful."
After six seasons of memorable New York nights, Sex and the City got its first New Year's Eve moment in the 2008 movie — but all our heroines are staying in. Having been jilted by Mr. Big, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) watches Meet Me in St. Louis alone in her apartment before going to bed early. She's awakened by a call from Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) who, separated from Steve, is emotional from spending her evening "alone with Chinese food." After hanging up, Carrie knows what she has to do: She throws on a fur coat and a pair of unreasonable shoes and races downtown, so neither of them will be alone at midnight.
"I love that sequence," Parker tells EW. "I loved it because it wasn't about words, it was just about this desperate need to connect to somebody that actually matters to you."
I couldn't help but winter…
Dec. 31 may seem like the perfect backdrop for SATC, but "we always [kept the show in] something we used to call eternal spring, somewhere between spring and summer, and occasionally we would touch fall for story line," King says. "We really never did winter in the series until the last season, when Carrie goes to Paris."
It took a lot of work to make the New York scene winter-ready. Carrie navigates a snowstorm to get to Miranda, but "we were filming in [warm weather], so everything you see is false," King recalls. "All the snow is fake, it's all fake. We asked all the neighbors on Perry Street to let us go in and decorate all their houses with Christmas, and they were like, 'Okay!' And it's a lot to be Sex and the City on your street all the time, but they were really charming and lovely."
The weather isn't the only series first that the scene brings. "It is the only time, in the entire series or either of the movies, that we saw Carrie come up out of the subway or go into the subway," King says (Miranda quite rightly points out on the phone that there's no way she'll be able to get a cab on New Year's Eve). "That was a major thing for me as a writer: Carrie's on the subway — that's how much she's trying to get someplace for her friend."
She emerges from an actual subway station on the Lower East Side — shot right in the neighborhood Miranda was supposed to be living in — where they also had to dress up the street for the scene, including with a neon clock (integrated into the shot, with great difficulty, through special effects) in the window of a shop behind Carrie's head. "I wanted to find a way to let the audience know how close time is now," King says. As the minutes tick away, Carrie races past a drag queen and some drunken bros blowing horns; "There's a lot of New York in that moment when she comes out of the subway."
And how she looks when she does it! The series and films' legendary costume designer, Patricia Field, dressed Carrie with care, as always, even though it might not have looked like it: "I loved that it felt hurried, because that was important" King says. "But even in a hurry, Carrie chose to be in a moment. She still recognized what day it was."
The fur coat thrown over her pajamas was her coat from the series, and "the director in me loves the sparkle hat," King says. But this is Carrie Bradshaw, after all; there's no question which piece of the outfit was her favorite. "I remember those boots so well," Parker tells EW. "I don't know if they were goat or lamb, [but] they were these Chanel boots that obviously we borrowed, and I knew what I was going to do to them; I knew how hard I was going to run. That was all real."
A new lang syne
The entire montage plays out against a haunting version of "Auld Lang Syne" from Scottish duo the Cast, the choice of which ended up changing the scene significantly. When King originally conceived of the sequence, he had it taking place a week before New Year's against "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," since Carrie would have been watching Judy Garland sing it in Meet Me in St. Louis.
"I realized that too many people had already cashed in on that emotion for that holiday," he says. "I said to Sarah Jessica, As much as I want something emotional about Christmas, I don't think we can do 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.'"
Luckily for him, Parker had just the fix. "My husband had been a participant in the Kennedy Center Honors, and that year they honored Sean Connery," she says. "He came home and he said to me, I heard a cover of 'Auld Lang Syne.' This Scottish singer stood on the stage and sang it, and he said it was the most heartrending thing he'd ever [heard]. I can't remember how we somehow got our hands on that CD, [but] I was undone by that. I could not get over that. I said to Michael, I want you to listen to something and I don't know that we can get it and I don't know if it's available and I don't know if it's what you're thinking, but I think you need to use this music in that sequence."
"She played it for me and I was like, Oh yeah," King says. "It's just spectacular, because it's more emotional than any other version of 'Auld Lang Syne.' It's not quite as sad, it's more female. It is magical and mystical and emotional and weird, and it just is so much better because you've never heard it before." The scene was moved to New Year's Eve, with all its drama of midnight and romantic significance.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
As another New York classic teaches us, the tune is all about old friends, so the montage checks in with the rest of the cast, too: A pregnant Charlotte (Kristin Davis) spends the holiday at home with her family, while Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and Smith (Jason Lewis) ring in the new year on New York time from L.A. (and if you look closely, "there's a bottle of champagne for her, and a bottle of Pellegrino for him," King points out, because Smith is in AA). Big (Chris Noth) eats dinner at a restaurant alone while people celebrate around him; meanwhile, Louise (Jennifer Hudson), at a party in St. Louis, makes meaningful eye contact across the room — "That's romance that's working," King notes.
Miranda is alone because Steve (David Eigenberg) has Brady (Joseph Pupo) for the night, and King also included a shot of father and son asleep next to each other, lying in the exact same position. "That was something that [Pupo] chose to do," King recalls. "David chose to sleep like that, and the little kid looked over and thought, Oh, that's what we do, and then he did that."
And then there's Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone) finding each other at a huge party and kissing — reluctantly, after glancing around for other options and chugging their Champagne — when the clock strikes 12. Though the pair had always previously hated each other, "they went through a healing, or a connecting, when Carrie's disastrous wedding didn't happen; they were sort of in that same emotional bubble there," King assesses. Of course, they would go on to get married in 2010's Sex and the City 2 (Liza Minnelli officiates!), which was also written and directed by King, though he insists he hadn't yet envisioned that when he staged their New Year's kiss.
"Oh God no!" he says. "It was just the target of, okay, how many types of New Year experiences can we [fit] in this montage? And that was the awkward, bad party, kiss-the-person-standing-next-to-you moment that everybody's sort of experienced, I think."
Maybe we could be each other's soulmates
The real heart and soul of the scene, however, is Carrie dashing across town for Miranda — which you might also say was the heart and soul of Sex and the City all along. "What we always said in the series was that the girls are the significant relationships for each other, you know: We'll be each other's soulmates," says King. "In the series they were always there to save each other. You could almost draw a direct line [to this scene] from the fact that when Miranda's mother died [in the 2001 episode 'My Motherboard, My Self'], she had no one to walk down the aisle with and Carrie showed up for her. It's a very potent thing."
They had originally shot dialogue for Miranda and Carrie as they hung out after midnight, eating Chinese food, but King ended up using the footage as the final shot in the montage, as the song ends. "I was just like, We're never gonna top 'Auld Lang Syne,'" he says. "I just put it over the end of that scene and that's them just laughing. That's all you need to see." So the last audible line in the sequence is Carrie, as she rushes to Miranda's door right at midnight, telling her friend she's not alone. "It was like nothing else mattered except connecting and finding home," Parker says. "I just loved it."
—Additional reporting by Samantha Highfill.