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Karen Pittman Isn’t the New Samantha on ‘And Just Like That’


“World peace,” the actress Karen Pittman said, placing one penny beneath a stone fox. “And my peace.”

This was on a misty Sunday just after New Year’s and Ms. Pittman had paused at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden to set some intentions for the new year, leaving pennies alongside the coins and oranges offered by other visitors.

The garden stands near her apartment in Prospect Heights. When she returned from Los Angeles, where “The Morning Show,” on AppleTV+, is filmed, to Brooklyn for HBO Max’s “And Just Like That,” she rented it for this exact reason.

Most weekday mornings, after Ms. Pittman sees her two children off to school, she slips into the garden to decompress from the stresses of life and work. “I used to be able to meditate,” she said. “Now it’s just too stressful trying to figure out how to meditate in a pandemic.” So she sits in the garden instead. “It just immediately replenishes,” she said.

That Sunday she had found a new space for replenishment. The shrine, hidden among conifers, is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto spirit who blesses the harvest. For Ms. Pittman, who declined to give her age, the harvest of the past few years has been plentiful.

After lead roles on Broadway (“Disgraced”) and off (“Pipeline”), she has graduated to major roles on television: as Mia Jordan, an overextended producer on “The Morning Show,” and as Nya Wallace, a Columbia law professor contending with infertility on “And Just Like That.”

Nya is one of four new characters devised, it seems, to correct the overwhelming whiteness of “Sex and the City,” the predecessor of “And Just Like That.” The show’s creators had promised that Nya — along with Che (Sara Ramirez), Seema (Sarita Choudhury) and Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker) — would join Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte as main characters.

In the early episodes, Nya’s scenes mostly abetted Miranda’s journey toward self-actualization. But later episodes have offered Ms. Pittman more substantial material and even a sex scene of her own. “I don’t feel like I need 10 episodes to tell a great story about my character,” she said. “I am much more interested in the ensemble work.”

Whether the role is large or small, casting directors typically don’t hire Ms. Pittman for frivolous or lightweight parts. She almost always gets cast as hyper-competent professional women with messy inner lives.

“That’s certainly been my life experience,” she said. As a woman who juggles co-parenting with her former husband with a successful career, she can relate. “I bring that deeper, resonant emotional life to the characters that I play,” she said. “This thing of having it all, like, it actually doesn’t work.”

On that morning, however, Ms. Pittman seemed to be giving it a try. The garden was dressed for winter — bare branches, untenanted beds, patches of dirt. But Ms. Pittman had dressed for spring in a lilac Altuzzara coat and spindly gold heels with eye shadow to match, mixing meditation with glamour. (Sensibly, she switched to flats after posing for a few photos.)

After entering the garden, she made her way through the cherry esplanade, where she stopped to compliment a toddler on her bright blue boots. She then headed to the water garden, passing an installation for the garden’s winter lightscape, which she had visited with her children on Christmas Eve.

“It was all very festive,” she said. “There was mulled wine and hot chocolate. We were in the middle of that surge. And people were trying to stay away from each other. But it was very Christmas-y.”

And just past the children’s garden, she lingered to admire some winterberries, which appeared scarlet and orange against the gray sky, and a Norwegian spruce that seemed to be extending a branch to her. “A tree that comes out and gives you a hug,” she said.

Did she need a hug? Last year had been difficult, she said. Shooting “The Morning Show” in the middle of the pandemic had meant constant testing and frequent stoppages. (She and some colleagues had taken to calling it “The Next Morning Show.”)

“There were days where I was like, definitely going to catch this thing today. Definitely,” she said. And the turbulent emotional life her character Mia, a producer who had a consensual relationship with the disgraced former host played by Steve Carrell, hadn’t helped.

“My character went through so much,” she said.

A child in a stroller seemed dazzled by Ms. Pittman. The child stared at her, then offered her a rock, which she kindly let the child keep. Past the lily pads and the magnolias and the hill of daffodils, all resting for winter, she paused at the Shakespeare Garden, which contains every botanical mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.

Opposite some lemon balm, she recited a line of Cleopatra’s — “The poison is as sweet as balm, as soft as air” — which she remembered from her classical training in the graduate acting program at New York University. Shoes aside, she looked every inch the queen.

Finishing her walk at the Hill-and-Pond Garden, she admired the koi rippling just below the pond’s still surface. Even though she didn’t have extra pennies, she set one more New Year’s intention for herself.

“I love ensemble work, but I need to lead a story,” she said. “Power is being able to tell the story you want to tell. That’s real power. I’m ready.”




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