When “Sex and the City: The Movie” hits theaters May 30, Evan Handler will reprise his TV role as divorce lawyer Harry Goldenblatt, loving Jewish husband to WASP-princess-turned-convert Charlotte York (Kristin Davis).
“But I am not that guy,” Handler says.
“I’ve broken up 27 times ... an amazing number when you consider that those breakups have been spread over only 10 women,” he reveals in his new memoir, “It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive.” “That’s an average of 2.7 breakups per relationship.”
The now-married Handler says he didn’t truly start to date, as in regularly taking women out so he could “comparison shop,” until he was in his 30s—courtesy of a long battle with leukemia.
“I was angry about what had happened to me, what had been taken from me,” he says.
Handler made up for lost time by plunging himself into a series of sometimes overlapping relationships. Although he was twice engaged, he says, he had trouble “loving a woman properly in person,” often behaving so badly he forced a girlfriend to leave.
His sexcapades often rivaled those depicted on the HBO version of “Sex and the City.” On one cringe-worthy first date, he took an actress on what he assumed would be a romantic night ride on the Staten Island ferry, only to find the boat crowded with queasy drunks and the terminal overrun by “the homeless, the drug addicted and the peculiarly pierced.”
“I somehow convinced myself it would be an impressive gesture if I were to lean over and kiss her,” he recalls. “It was nothing but disgusting.”
Handler made love to a girlfriend in a “hospital bathroom while a comatose roommate, rendered senseless by a suspected brain tumor the doctors hadn’t been able to locate, lay in bed on the other side of the door.”
He cheated on Fiancee No. 2 with a 25-year-old Australian actress who turned out to have a penchant for public brawling. Another girlfriend, incensed after Handler abruptly left her for a film actress, wrote a play that vented her rage.
“It’s Only Temporary” goes on to describe how Handler matured and married an Italian-born scientist, Elisa Atti, in 2003—around the time that the fictional Harry was tying the knot with Charlotte on television.
Handler won’t reveal much about the “Sex” movie (at press time, officials were still trying to keep the plot under wraps), save to confirm that Charlotte spends much of the film pregnant after years of infertility. Handler does relate to the infertility saga: He was pronounced sterile after multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a 1988 bone marrow transplant, but he and Atti beat the odds and conceived a daughter, Sofia, now 15 months.
Handler was a promising 24-year-old actor when he came down with what he thought was a bad case of the flu in 1985. He was shocked when doctors diagnosed him with acute myeloid leukemia and told him they considered the disease to be incurable. Handler underwent chemotherapy that left him permanently bald and reduced his body to an emaciated 111 pounds.
During remissions, he wore a wig in order to perform in shows such as “Six Degrees of Separation” on Broadway.
Whenever he was readmitted to the hospital, Handler—who was raised in a secular Jewish home—spurned the rabbis who attempted to visit him on their rounds.
“I didn’t have any interest in what they were selling,” he says.
He made an exception for a family rabbi, who suggested he undergo a ritual in which a patient is issued a new name and birth certificate to deceive the angel of death.
“I found that kind of innocent and amusing, so I agreed—even though I didn’t think the angel of death could be fooled so easily,” he says.
His new “name” was Chaim, the Hebrew word for “life.”
After some five years of treatment, Handler was pronounced cancer-free, but he sought revenge against his callous doctors by writing a searing play and a memoir, “Time on Fire,” in the 1990s.
The play and the book received laudatory reviews, but Handler remained relatively unknown, at least on the national scene, until he was cast as Harry on the final seasons of “Sex and the City.”
He learned he was in the running from an ex-girlfriend, who was a writer on the show. She had overheard stars Cynthia Nixon and Sarah Jessica Parker declaring Handler a terrific candidate for the role.
“But the character was described as ‘boorish, overbearing and unattractive,’ which set up an existentialist dilemma for me,” Handler recalls. “I wondered whether to feel happy that they thought I’d be good for this great TV show or upset that they found me appropriate to play the ugly guy.”
Charlotte initially finds Harry to be a robust lover but too gauche (and hirsute in all the wrong places) to date.
“The story lines over the first few episodes concerned Charlotte’s repulsion over Harry’s looks, his sweating proclivities, his table manners, his excessively hairy back and the subsequent rash that resulted from his agreeing to have it waxed,” says Handler, who now has even raunchier sex scenes on Showtime’s “Californication.” “That was before my naked ass was given prominent exposure in an episode about Harry’s tendency to sit on white-upholstered furniture without any clothes on.”
Handler was required to wear a three-piece back wig for his nude scenes.
Even so, Jewish men regularly stopped the actor on the street to praise him.
“I don’t know whether most of the thanks were offered because they thought [Harry] was a positive portrayal of a Jewish character or if they were thrilled I’d defiled television’s ultimate rendition of another cultural stereotype: the shiksa goddess,” Handler says.
By the series’ finale, the Episcopalian princess had converted to Judaism; Charlotte and Harry celebrated nuptials under a chuppah and were preparing to adopt a daughter from China. In the movie, they will return as “the icon of a happy, lucky relationship for the other characters, who have more struggles, to be compared to,” Handler says.
The actor, too, is now happily married, but concedes, “My roving eye never ends. I don’t think that ever goes away; what has gone away is the conflict within myself. I don’t want to trade in what I have for anything, so there’s no question of whether there’s something better out there for me.”
Handler will read from his new memoir at Vroman’s in Pasadena on May 23.
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