[This story contains spoilers for the fourth episode of HBO Max’s And Just Like That.]
Just four episodes after And Just Like That’s premiere delivered a shocking character death, the latest chapter of HBO Max’s Sex and the City continuation revealed how it handled yet another goodbye.
“Some of My Best Friends” sees Carrie’s long-time best friend Standford Blatch, played by the late Willie Garson, make a significant decision to pivot the course of his life. In an episode the show’s writers told The Hollywood Reporter was reworked following the actor’s passing in September from pancreatic cancer, Standford decides to divorce his husband before moving overseas to manage a rising 17-year-old TikTok star in Asia. He notifies Carrie through a letter, in which he writes that “by the time you read this, I’ll be in Tokyo.”
“I couldn’t tell you — not without crying. And you have had enough crying,” Standford says in the note, alluding to the death of Mr. Big (Chris Noth) in the series’ first episode. (Noth was accused of sexual assault after the show’s release; he denies the claims.)
In an exchange between Carrie and Standford’s husband, Anthony Marentino (Mario Cantone), Standford’s unexpected departure is revealed through a comedic exchange that nods to the couple’s long (and bickering) Sex and the City history. “I don’t get it — we were so happy,” Anthony tells Carrie.
The two started out on the original HBO series despising one another after being set up on a blind date. But that antagonistic relationship developed into a romance through the two follow-up Sex and the City movies, the second of which featured the couple getting married.
When THR spoke to three of the show’s writers during its New York red carpet premiere, they confirmed that Garson would be featured in the series’ “first couple” of episodes and described the send-off as “beautiful,” noting that it had to be worked into the show since all the scripts had already been completed when Garson passed.
“I think [showrunner Michael Patrick King] figured it out in a very beautiful way,” said writer Samantha Irby. “It’s not treacly, which we’re all allergic to. We don’t want anything super sweet.”
King, who also spoke to THR ahead of the series’ release, said losing Garson was “a shock,” and that the team did not get to film everything they wanted to with him. “We had a whole journey that we weren’t able to do, but what he did is fantastic,” King said.
In a December interview with Vanity Fair, the And Just Like That showrunner expounded on what those initial plans were, and how — as Garson’s diagnosis was made aware to the team — they had to pivot.
“When we started [filming], Willie was in all 10 episodes. We wrote the most hilarious comic, tragic arc for Stanford,” King told the magazine. “I didn’t know he was so sick, and I was on set one night saying, ‘And then this happens to Stanford and then this happens and then this happens and this happens.’ And he’s just looking at me. Then he took a turn for the worst. I really thought we could get through the season. When he took a turn, we had to talk about the fact that he couldn’t make it. And we had to adjust [storylines].”
In an interview with THR following the series debut, star Cynthia Nixon revealed that Parker “was the only one that knew [Garson] was sick when we were filming until things became undeniable,” after which the cast was told.
“Thankfully, we were able to shoot with him not just before he was sick but after so it could be something we could discuss and listen to him about. I know that was very important for us and I think it was something that was important to him, too — not to be hiding that from us anymore,” she said.
As a result of his worsening condition, Garson left the production to be with his son in his final days, according to star Parker, marking episode three as his last appearance on the show. In a cast remembrance with Vulture that featured several key Sex and the City actors and creative team members, Parker confirmed she knew before everyone else.
She also described the “fraught” process of having to honor his wish to keep his diagnosis confidential while he worked on a show — though vaccine-mandated — in a pandemic.
“He intended and wanted to complete the entire season. He had a very significant storyline, moreso than ever, so it was my fervent hope that he would be able to do it all,” she said. “And for Willie to have to leave, you knew that it was serious. If Willie could be there and do one more episode or one more scene, he would have done it. But he knew what he needed to do to take care of his son and of himself, and I am so glad that he did that because when he passed away, he wanted to do so in an environment and circumstance that made him feel safe and comfortable.”
When speaking to Vulture, actress and executive producer Kristin Davis reflects on a moment filming a scene with Garson on the And Just Like That set that feels different after his passing. “We have a scene together in the new show where Charlotte and Stanford are alone, and we filmed that scene before I knew of his diagnosis,” she recalled. “There was a moment when we were sitting together in our chairs between takes and he said, ‘That was fun,’ and something about the way he said it caught my attention. I look back now, and I feel like he was talking about our whole wild ride together.”
According to King, Garson was “magnificent” during Big’s funeral, which ended up being the last scene he filmed as he was unable to complete an additional scene the showrunner had written to explain Stanford’s impending absence.
“There was one more scene that I wrote to more thoroughly explain his absence by [his character] going to Japan. That was a beautiful scene — I say that because Sarah told me it was beautiful between Carrie and Stanford. It was really their goodbye. But Willie was too sick to complete it,” King told Vanity Fair.
While King ultimately killed off Big, when it came to Stanford, he added that he didn’t want “lean into” Garson’s death for Stanford’s storyline as it was “too tragic.”
“It’s not a fictional death. It’s a real death. So I just kind of put a little patch of thin ice that Anthony and Carrie had to skate over to get to the other side,” he said. “I knew by then that the audience would know he wasn’t alive, and his character wasn’t in Japan. So I just sort of made it as light and as silly as possible and we went forward.”
The first four episodes of And Just Like That are now streaming on HBO Max.