‘Sex And The City’ Star Ian Kahn on Ben Being a Gen Z Sex Symbol

Lifestyle

Real Sex and the City fans know that over the course of six seasons, Carrie Bradshaw had impressively abysmal taste in men (Berger, Politician Pee Guy, the stoner dude who lived with his parents….the list goes on). But even a broken clock is right twice a day, and amidst all those duds, a few gems have stood out. Most notably, there’s Ben, Carrie’s bespectacled, shaggy-haired politics writer in the Season Two episode “Freak Show,” with whom she famously blows it after he catches her rummaging through his apartment on a hunt to find something “freakish” about him.

Now that Sex and the City is on Netflix, it’s reaching an entirely new audience, prompting zoomers to discover the show and share their thoughts on social media. It’s also prompted discourse about how the dreamy, gentle Ben, a 6’1″ political magazine editor with a Tweety bird tattoo and a penchant for Rilke, is basically the ideal man. “He’s soooo boyfriend-shaped. Boys just don’t look like this anymore,” one viral tweet gushes, while another quote tweet says they no longer exist “because all of the media woman with dark hair and a kind of bisexual past married them all.” (As someone who falls squarely in this category: can confirm.)

One person who has yet to weigh in on the Ben love, however, is the man himself: Ian Kahn. After acting for more than 25 years, in 2018, he quit Hollywood and embarked on a second career as a political communications consultant — or, as he put it in a Zoom call on Thursday morning, he trains Democratic political leaders “on how to be their best selves and how to be their most conscious selves, and how to live and lead our country in the best way.”

Kahn’s new role in politics contains echoes of his SATC role, which he tells me was based on John F. Kennedy, Jr. (Ben is an editor at a political magazine, and the JFK, Jr.-founded monthly magazine George was still in print at the time.) But that’s not the only instance of art imitating Kahn’s life: one of his two children is also named Ben. Though he says he was named after his grandmother Betty and not the character, the parallel did cross his mind. “[I thought, Ben] was a good guy on Sex and the City. And I’d like to have a son that kind of is like that guy,’” he says.

It is not an exaggeration to say that however much both new and old SATC fans are endeared by Ben, they’ll find Kahn about 10 times more charming. Unlike the archetypical guy from the meme, who would rather develop a deep-rooted obsession with the Roman empire than go to therapy, Kahn is prone to self-reflection, meditating twice a day, every day: “I live a spiritual life,” he says. One of the first things he does when we meet is help me set up my shot on Zoom so he can look into my eyes as we speak. In his role as a communication coach, he says Zoom is his “medium.” “I’m looking for the next generation of founding mothers and founding fathers of this country and then finding them and training them,” he says. “So they can deliver messages of truth and try to bring our country back together.” (Cue the dark-haired media bisexuals instantly melting into a puddle.)

Kahn, who is perhaps best known for playing George Washington on the 2014 series Turn: Washington Spies, had no idea that his turn as Carrie Bradshaw’s One That Got Away was going viral until I reached out to him. “At first, I was like, is this a joke?” he tells me. “What’s Ej? What’s that? What are you talking about? Then I saw it on Twitter, and I was like, oh, OK. So I guess this is kind of happening.”

Brandi Nicole*

This interview has been slightly condensed and edited for length and clarity.

How did you book the role of Ben?
I was terribly young for this part. But I had such a crush on Sarah Jessica Parker growing up watching her on Square Pegs, that my agent called me. This was back in the Nineties. There was no internet. If you wanted to get your audition script, you had to go to the office to get the script. So I met him at like 7 at night and he was like, “I got something for you, bub,” because that’s how he talks. And I said, “What is it?” And he said, “It’s to play Sarah Jessica Parker’s boyfriend on Sex and the City.

It was Season 2, so it hadn’t exploded yet. Season 2 is when it kind of exploded. And I said, “I’m getting this part.” I grew up wanting to be with that girl, like, I wanted to date that girl. So I went home, and I worked on it. And I decided to look as much like [Parker’s husband] Matthew Broderick because I could. That’s where the glasses came from. Because I got a callback. And then you meet with her, because you have to kiss her and she’s got to approve you. So I was just like, “What does Matthew Broderick look like, because that’s who she likes.”

And I went in for the callback, and she walks in, and I’m just like, “She’s so adorable.” We did the audition, we did the callback, we talked about the Yankees. And I got a call saying, “Yeah, all right, you’re him.” It was really a first big job, because I’d done an after-school special and a lot of theater before that. And it turned out to be a pretty big deal.

What was the character description? Do you remember?
Editor of a political magazine, who’s a really nice guy who Carrie falls for and then screws up the relationship — something like that. So I was just like, “Okay, be your best guy self.”

Why do you think you were cast?
I think it was before it was huge. Later, [the roles all] went to stars, and I think it was still a time where actors could get a job on that show without it being straight offered. And I really wanted it, and I believe that you get what you want in your life if you focus your attention in the proper way. And I was determined to get that part. But I was so inexperienced, and so young, I felt kind of bad for her because she was kind of bringing me along. She was like, “No, sit here. Turn this way.” She’s a delightfully kind person. I was just like, “What am I doing here?” I was very much a puppy back then.

Was the Tweety Bird tattoo written in the script? Do you actually have one?
No, it was literally one of those things where you put water on it, and then you take it off. That was for the show.

A lot of people have been sort of aghast that Carrie fumbled Ben so badly. Was that your primary reaction upon reading the script?
It was really my reaction after the show. [I’d] never watched the show. It’s gonna sound kind of actor-y and weird, but I kind of took it personally. So every time it would come on, I’d be like, “She went through my stuff, man!” Which I know is absurd and silly. But then, at the end of the series, I was like, “I should probably watch this.” So I started watching her with [Mikhail] Baryshnikov [who plays Carrie’s love interest Aleksander Petrovsky], and I was like, “I don’t want to watch her kiss another guy.” I know it seems weird. It sounds a little strange. When I talked to my wife about it, she was like, “Come on, you don’t do that, you’re not a Method actor,” but I don’t know. It was like first love on TV for me. And I’m like, “Oh, man, why did you go through my stuff? We could have been something.” [It’s] like looking at an old girlfriend.

What was the initial reaction when it first aired? What kind of impact did it have on your career?
Not much. What’s weird is, when I travel in airports, people know me from all these different shows, but they don’t know where they know me from. So they’ll look at me like this [adopts a very focused expression]. I’d be on the subway, and I’d get off being like, “Honey, there’s this guy trying to kick my ass.” Because they would look at me like this, and I’d be like, “What did I do? I didn’t do nothing.” [One time this happened], finally, after a long enough period of time, this guy gets off with me, and I’m like, “Alright, hey, if we’re gonna go, we’re gonna go. I’ll fuck you up.” And he says, “I got to figure out where I know you from, man.” I was like, “Oh, so all these years, people were just trying to figure out who I am.” Because I’m not Tom Cruise. I’m not a major star. But I’m somebody that people know because they know my face from stuff. And it was funny because I was starting to feel it really heavily again, like when I was playing Washington it was happening a ton. But last week, I’ve been feeling the same energy from people, so it might be that they’re watching the show again.

You never got recognized as Ben?
Oh, no, there are people who [did], but the glasses kind of threw people off. Because I don’t wear glasses, they’re prop glasses. But people have always loved him. They’re always like, “Oh, no, she messed it up.” Because he’s a nice guy. I think the story that they were trying to tell was, here’s Carrie, this lovely person that we all love, and she meets the guy that actually she could have a happy life with, and she blows it.

It’s upsetting me thinking about it — you opening that box she finds with the baseball cards in it.
People say, “Would you ever go back [to the SATC franchise]?” I was like, “I don’t think I would.” Because I’m doing work that is different that I really love and that I’m passionate about. But I think there’s something about the character that’s kind of nice that he never came back, that it never [was] solved. Because this is really how life works: sometimes you think there was something, and then it’s gone and never comes back. You have to kind of take that loss and live through it and find your best way forward.

What has your favorite reaction been?
So I have two sons, Ben and Sam. We didn’t name him for the character. We named him after my grandmother. [And] they’re both playing Shrek in individual productions of [Shrek: The Musical]. My oldest son is playing Shrek in his eighth-grade musical, and my 11-year-old is playing Shrek in Shrek Jr. at the Y. And so yesterday, you send me this, and I had no idea about this. I do not google myself or tweet myself at all. And I looked through [Twitter], and somebody put in, “He looks like Shrek when he becomes a human.” Sometimes the universe winks at you if you’re listening and if you’re watching. [And] when I saw the Shrek thing, I was like, “Oh, this is a thing.”

What is it like being a sex symbol among Gen Z 20 years after you shot this role, where they’re saying, “this guy is the ideal boyfriend”?
I think it’s nice. He’s a really good character. He wasn’t perfect because nobody’s perfect. But he was kind. And I think it’s sweet. I’ll say this: I think it’s great that people could look at somebody who is an authentically kind man and see the upside of that, that people still do want to be in relationships where it’s about kindness and empathy and love because he was a thoughtful guy. I remember saying originally, [while shooting the scene where Ben meets Carrie], “I’d really like to be reading a book when I meet her, rather than just sitting and looking out.” I was reading Letters to a Young Poet by [Rainer Maria] Rilke, because I was reading Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke at the time. And I like that women want to meet men who are kind, and not just strong and not just tough, because it’s not our way forward to show our best selves at all. [We] need to elevate how we care for each other in this world to survive as a species, really. We’re at an inflection point in how we handle ourselves moving forward. And kindness is the way.

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Why do you think people resonate with this character so much?
We all have relationships that we kind of blew. We all have relationships where you look back and you’re like, “That was going to be something. I really shouldn’t have said that. That was dumb.” We can all relate to this idea that we make mistakes and that sometimes we don’t get to fix them, that sometimes it’s just gone. And sometimes, you don’t get a second chance. When we watch something that relates directly to us in this way, that touches us in this way, that’s what art is for. That’s what television is for. And I think was a really good episode of a show.

So what have you been doing for the past 20-odd years? What’s the Cliff’s Notes version?
I was a professional actor for 25 years, playing General Washington for four years, and living this man, this imperfect man who owned other human beings and did some terrible things, but also did so many sacrifices for the greater good, seemingly. I believe that things happen for a reason, and I got that role for a reason, so I’ve been able to take my skills and take what it is that I do and try to help our country right now in its time of challenge. I do train Democratic leaders, but it’s for everybody. Whatever party you belong to, we need to find a way really to come to our best selves and come together and find a way forward with our country.

Read original source here.

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