Evan Handler is best known for his two “lighter” roles: Jewish divorce lawyer Harry Goldenblatt on “Sex and the City,” and Charlie Runkle, agent and friend to novelist Hank Moody (David Duchovny) on “Californication.”
These are highlights of a remarkable career that almost never was. At age 24, Handler was diagnosed with cancer, which he battled for four years. He recounted that period in two books: “Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors” and “It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive,” both just reissued as e-books.
The Arty Semite caught up with Handler to talk about bargaining with God, fooling the Angel of Death, and what Marilyn Manson said about his genitals.
Curt Schleier: How did illness impact you?
Evan Handler: I don’t have a snappy philosophical answer to sum up that long a period of time. To spend four years scratching and clawing had some effect to say the least. But I didn’t have any religious epiphanies. I pray on bumpy flights and I did my share of bargaining and begging and pleasing, but I did not do it any firm belief that anyone was listening.
But you had an interesting religious experience in the hospital?
Apparently in the Jewish religion there is a belief that everyone’s name is in the book of life and when your time comes that’s how the Angel of Death finds you. So when your life is in danger, they will often rename the person so the angel can’t find him. I was offered this ceremony. I find it odd that no one in the Jewish faith gave the Angel of Death more credit. But I became Chaim and wondered if that was really enough to outsmart the angel. I’m sure there were other data bases that could lead him to me.
Your breakthrough role was Goldenblatt on “Sex and the City.” How did that come about?
After 20 years as an actor living in Manhattan I moved all my things to Santa Monica. Two days later, an ex-girlfriend of mine [who] was a member of the writing staff [called]. She told me she’d heard Sarah [Jessica Parker] and Cynthia [Nixon] talking about a part they said I’d be perfect for. The brought me in to read and I wound up moving back to New York.
Did you have any reservations about the role? After all, Harry was crass and boorish and Jewish.
I thought it was a really clever thing to do for her character. Jewish or not, to have this woman who was most recently invested in finding a certain kind of man to find happiness giving up this rigidity. I wondered whether people would find my character endearing or insulting. I got a lot of elderly men coming up to me saying “I love what you’re doing on that show” and whisper “Give it to her good.” I guess it was a shiksa fantasy for Jewish men. And I also had a lot of young beautiful women tell me they wish they had a Harry Goldenblatt for themselves.
That role seems to have changed your image. You became a sex symbol.
In my first 25 years in the business I may have had two romantic kisses. I think over the last decade, since [“Sex and the City”], I have appeared nude and performed more fictional orgasms than anyone in the medium. I don’t know that anyone is keeping those statistics, but I think [my count] would be difficult to refute.
Now you’re on “Californication.” Any funny anecdotes?
Sure, but most of them involve special effects bodily fluids and things that are not appropriate for this publication. I know this past season, Marilyn Manson couldn’t stop telling me how good my [genitals] looked in scenes where I wore tights.
Both “Sex in the City” and “Californication” are about love. Do you think the shows are similar?
Not really. “Sex and the City” is about people searching for their proper partners. “Californication” is about what happens if you find the right one and screw it up. Is there a way to get them back?