For six years, Kristin Davis played Park Avenue–posh Charlotte on the HBO hit series, a role she reprises in the new big-screen version. So its strange to imagine the Emmy-nominated actress in a sweltering South African village, serving lunch to orphans with AIDS. But, in fact, she recently returned from a trip during which she did just that.
Kristin began supporting Oxfam International, a confederation of aid groups working against poverty and injustice, after the December 2004 tsunami in South Asia. Later, she became a global ambassador, a role she describes as “basically a witness” to share peoples stories. Shes a natural fund-raiser, too. After reuniting with her castmates for Sex and the City: The Movie, the actress auctioned a chance to accompany her to the films premiere. The winning bidder donated $52,100 to Oxfam.
Here, Kristin shares what she saw in Mozambique, South Africa, and Uganda, why the people she met thereand the generosity of Americanshave given her a greater sense of hope, and how her travels have changed her life forever.
Q. How did you learn about Oxfam International?
A. After the tsunami, I had that helpless feeling you get when something bad happens and you dont know what to do. I went to a Web site that analyzed how much of each dollar donated actually goes to charitiesand Oxfam was at the tippy-top of the list. The thing that struck me is that they try to rebuild in a way they think will be self-sustaining. They dont want people to end up in a state of poverty because this disaster happened. So I gave money to them.
Q. Why did the tsunami affect you so deeply?
A. Two things: I was brought up in a household where it was assumed that you would do volunteer work. That was a huge gift my parents gave me. My mom used to volunteer for Planned Parenthood, which in South Carolina is a very important and even dangerous thing to do. My parents still go on Habitat for Humanity trips to build houses. But also, Id been to Bali and Indonesia four or five times, so I think I felt a little more connected because Id been there.
Q. How did you go from donor to ambassador?
A. I was at a party George Clooney was throwing to help with the crisis in Darfur, and I started chatting with two women who work for Oxfam. One said, “You should go on a trip with us.”
I said, “Id love to. Where do you need me to go?” And she said, “Literally, if you name a place, we need you to go there.”
Q. How did you settle on Mozambique, South Africa, and Uganda?
A. Oxfam identifies areas where people are living in extreme poverty, which means they earn less than $2 a montha lot of people we met live on less than $1 a month. My main focus is womens issues. In a war-torn area like Uganda, the women are putting things back together. And in South Africa, theres a lot of violence against women, and, of all the countries in the world, it has the most people with AIDS.
Q. You visited Soweto in South Africa. What was your impression of the AIDS crisis there?
A. During that first trip, I kept asking, “Why arent these people on ARVs?” (Antiretroviral drugs, the standard medications used to manage HIV and AIDS.) But that was two-and-a-half years ago, and, at that time, those types of drugs were too expensive.
Q. Theyre more affordable now, right?
A. Yes, they are. But part of the problem is getting people to want to take ARVs. If they dont have hot meals to eat, taking ARVs is not going to matter. These people dont have food. They dont have doctors. I met women taking care of people with AIDS, and they didnt even have gloves. On my first trip I felt just shocked, the whole time.
Q. Youre tearing up as you talk about this. Did you cry while you were there?
A. Sometimes, in my hotel room. But when Im there I feel like the people there have the right to cry. I dont. Im the most blessed human being in the world because I have the chance to visit. When youre there, it doesnt feel as hopeless as it does back here, reading the depressing statistics in the newspaper.
A. In Soweto, we went to a place called Mama Graces Soup Kitchen, where we served lunch to an adorable group of children wearing school uniforms. Mama Grace is an older, single woman who feeds 250 kids a day.
Q. Where are the kids parents?
A. Because of the AIDS epidemic, there is a missing generation. There are just children and older people. Before we got there we read that wed be serving “heads of household.” These are AIDS orphans left on their own in the householddirt floors, no electricity, no running water, and raising younger brothers and sisters. They come to Mama Graces to eat.
Q. Are you hopeful about South Africa?
A. Yes. Everywhere I go, I see people making an effort. The government is making an effort, and the pharmaceutical companies have made a huge effort. That absolutely gives me hope.
Q. On your second trip, you visited Uganda, where warfare has forced thousands of people from their homes.
A. They live in IDP camps, which means Internally Displaced People. We need to help them to get back into their villages. Oxfam helps them get clean water.
Malaria is a big problem in Uganda. If you have no water, have to walk miles to get it, and have an open bowl, a malaria-infested mosquito could get into it. We give them jerry cans with tops.
Q. Is there one presidential candidate you think will be most responsive to these issues?
A. I love both Democrats [Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama] and would support either one. But people Ive talked to in Africa are excited about Obama. I loved hearing people around the world be excited about our country.
Q. Has it been jarring to travel back and forth from America to places of abject poverty?
A. Its weird. We were in northern Uganda, and I got an e-mail from one of our wardrobe people. Versace wanted to make bags for us and was asking what color Id like: “Do you want red or turquoise?” The juxtaposition of the two situations is mind-bending. But if I didnt have the one, I wouldnt be able to expose and help the other. When I got back, I really felt the generosity here. My friends always ask me about [Oxfam], and they send checks. I believe Americans want to help.
A. Quite frequently, yes. And I mostly feel that there is. If Id just been here [in the United States] and hadnt gone there [to Africa], I might have decided there isnt a God.
Q. Why is that?
A. In our world of fame theres a lot of meanness, and for no reason. Personally, I really wish we were not at war. People are dying. Its wrong. If Id just been sitting here with that kind of thought, I might be thinking there is no God.
Q. So, the work that you do with Oxfam has changed your perspective?
A. Yes, because Ive had a chance to see people who dont have anything and are still doing OK, people who dont have any reason to feel hopeful yet still have hope.
Q. Was it strange to return home and promote Sex and the City: The Movie, whose characters are famous for loving to shop?
A. It was, but it was never our goal to sell shoes and bags. Our goal is to talk about women who are there for each other, who prop each other up. Were not about the shoes and the bagswhich isnt to say we dont love them. Cynthia [Nixon] is the stark opposite of what these characters are about. I think maybe the other three of us enjoy it a little bit more than Cyn.
Q. After the show ended, did you keep in touch?
A. Absolutely. We were never really apart. Cynthia and I live literally blocks from each other in New York City. I have a place in L.A., too, and both Cynthia and Sarah [Jessica Parker] have worked in L.A., so I got to see them. Kim [Cattrall] did some plays and movies in England, which made it a little harder, but we have a strong bond.
Q. How do you deal with gossip about so-called catfights on the set?
A. Theres a point when you say, “I cant control the media. I cant control the world.” Among us, we know the truth.
Q. Is there pressure to be in shape for SATC?
A. I know we have to be thin, but our producers have never told me to lose weight. Focusing on being thin really doesnt work for me, so I focus on being healthy and having energy. I think life is too shortand, frankly, I love chocolate. There was a certain point when I realized: You know what? Im just not going to be the thinnest actress out there. Theres always going to be a thinner girl. I dont think you get parts based on being the thinnest girl. I dont think you fall in love based on being the thinnest girl. It sounds simplistic, but I think we forget that.
A. Thank you. I dont know. My mom looks great for her age, so I think genetics has a lot to do with it. Also, I dont drink, I dont smoke, and I love my Ahava sunscreen.
Q. You dont drink at all?
A. No, Im a recovering alcoholic. Ive never hid it, but Ive been sober the whole time Ive been famous, so it wasnt like I had to go to rehab publicly.
Q. So you pretend to sip Cosmos.
A. Its caused a lot of confusion out in the world. I get sent many a Cosmo! I never drink them. I believe [alcoholism] is a disease. I dont think you can mess with it. There was a time when people who didnt know me well would say, “Couldnt you just have one glass of champagne?” And I would say, “No.” Im doing well. I still have occasional bad days. Why risk it?
Q. The SATC characters are admittedly fashion-obsessed. Do you like to shop?
A. Theres not a Prada collection I dont enjoy! But sometimes Im like, “Do I really need another pair of shoes? No.”
Q. You play a character whose No. 1 goal in life is to marry and have children. Do you relate?
A. Well, obviously not! If that were true, Id be miserable right now. But I can relate to feeling the pressure society puts on a person. My family has never been focused on that for me. Id love to have children, though. Id also love to adopt a childI think about it a lot.
Q. Would you consider going Angelina Jolies route and adopting from abroad?
A. After my first trip, my friends asked, “Wheres the baby?” And I said, “We didnt go to any orphanages,” which doesnt mean I wasnt tempted. But Id see children who were being cared for by their grandmothers and older siblings, and I wouldnt want to take them away from that. Also, Im working on myself. If Im going to be a single mother, I dont want to take it lightly.
A. Absolutely not. And frankly, I dont know anyone who does that. Sarah and Cynthia are very, very hands-on mothers, and its been amazing to watch them be able to do it. But if Im by myself, then Ill have to be the provider and the good mother. Id still like to find a man and have a baby with him if thats possible. I havent given up.
Q. When do you feel happiest?
A. When Im walking my dogs.
Q. What woman most inspires you?
A. Wow, so many. My mom. Angelina. Hillary Clinton. Maya Angelou. Helen Mirren.
Q. Have you met all of them?
A. Ive met Angelina. I dont know her well, but what shes done is fantastic.
Q. Because she gives a significant portion of her salary to the charities she works with?
A. Yes, and just because of the fact that she has adopted kids. I admire anyone who adopts children.
Q. Many people involved with charities say they get back more than they give. Do you?
A. Absolutely. I love acting, but you can get lost in the shallow aspects of it. The charitable work I do makes me feel like my fame is worth something, like theres a purpose to the famousness.
Inspired by Kristin?
Here are three easy ways you can make a difference:
- Go to www.oxfamamerica.org/join, and sign up for Oxfam Internationals e-mail list. Youll receive important alerts about how you can help end poverty and injustice around the world. Spread the word by writing letters to policy makers and local newspapers.
- Skip a meal or organize a lunch fast among your co-workers, then donate the money you save to Oxfams fight against hunger. Want to do even more? Host an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet to educate your school, group, or the public on hunger issues and to raise funds to support Oxfams efforts in helping some of the 2.5 billion people struggling to survive on less than $2 a day.
- If youre looking for a truly meaningful gift, visit www.oxfamamericaunwrapped.com to donate a goat, plant 50 trees, or give dozens of other gifts in a friend or family members name. Or make a tax-deductible donation at www.oxfamamerica.org/whatyoucando/donate.
Additional reporting by Brittani Tingle