When Sarah Jessica Parker arrived on set, her smile and blue eyes lit up the room. My heart was beating so hard I thought it would burst through my body. Even though my childhood dream of becoming an actor hadn’t come true yet, being in her presence made me feel like I was on my way. That first day on set I worked 16 hours.
The job wasn’t as glamorous as I thought it would be—few are, I now know—but I worked for four seasons, sometimes 60 hours a week. I was sleep-deprived at times but thankful to have a steady gig, pay my rent on time, and finally qualify for health insurance through my union. Whenever Sex and the City went on hiatus between seasons, I got a job coat checking and yearned to return to set.
But there were good and bad days.
First the good: The crew was like family. We shared jokes, meals, and fashion tips. They thought it was funny that I didn’t own a purse and always brought a backpack with books to read during downtime. The most fun was the days I brought my violin to set—the crew guys and I formed a band, and we’d play during the catered lunch.
The bad: Some crew members cracked unprompted jokes about me having a boob job. (I didn’t.) Worse, some suggested I had given blow jobs to a colleague who was in a position of power. (Again, I didn’t.) After that, I didn’t always want to come to work, but I needed the paycheck. So I brushed off the comments. Until, one day, I couldn’t.
Season 4, Episode 2—“The Real Me”—was filmed on a set that resembled a gynecologist’s office for a storyline about Charlotte’s “depressed” vagina. While the actors were in hair and makeup, it was my job requirement to hold the exact position of what the character would later do when the cameras rolled. I did as instructed and laid down on the gynecologist table. The set up was expected to take a long time because of the complicated lighting. The director, writers, and producers left for a meeting.
“I don’t have to put my legs in those. Right?” I asked a crew member, pointing to the stirrups. I was told I needed to for the lighting.
My cheeks burned. I spread my legs, my jeans tight on my thighs. Lights went up around me. Thirty minutes passed. I breathed, relaxed. It was about 4 a.m. on a Friday, and we had worked about 60 hours that week. My eyes began to close. I fell asleep.
I awoke to the sound of masking tape. One of my feet had been taped to the stirrup and a crew member was taping the other, smiling and laughing. I was horrified.
Another crew member took photos of me in this position from the video monitor. A handful jeered at me. I wanted to scream. I wanted to rip my feet out of the tape and jump off the table. Instead, I made funny faces. I wanted to pretend that I wasn’t humiliated, scared. I could feel in my bones this would haunt me forever, especially at annual doctor visits.
As soon as I could, I retreated to a quiet place, my 12-foot-by-12-foot rent-controlled studio apartment on New York’s Upper West Side. I couldn’t afford to quit, and I worried that if I complained I would be fired. So I kept it a secret. I felt the heat below my skin burn. I alternated between chain smoking and puking.
[Editor’s Note: Per HBO, “We have always taken seriously our responsibility to create a safe environment for everyone working on our productions, and we are very disappointed to learn of Ms. Kristin’s experience twenty years ago.”]
After this incident, I realized that being an actor wasn’t a healthy career choice for me. So I started looking for another path. At my local bookstore, I bought Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I started following her advice to write three “morning pages” every day. This exercise led to an essay that won a scholarship through my union, and I returned to college at age 31.