TORONTO - "The Carrie Diaries" is presented as a young, colourful look at the beginnings of "Sex and the City" but that doesn't mean "mini-me" versions of the show's memorable characters will be on parade, says Canadian co-star Ellen Wong.
The affable Toronto-bred actress plays Mouse, one of Carrie Bradshaw's teenage best friends before Carrie becomes the Manhattan fashionista and cosmo-drinking socialite from the adult-oriented HBO series "Sex and The City."
The younger-skewing prequel introduces a 16-year-old Carrie who is full of awkward naivete. The year is 1984 and she lives in suburban Connecticut with her rebellious younger sister Dorrit and widower father Tom.
Reeling from the recent death of her mother, she relies on a tight gang of high school pals — including the brainy Mouse — to get through the trials of growing up.
It'll be tempting, but Wong urges viewers to refrain from assigning Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha traits to the individual members of Carrie's young entourage.
"A lot of people are wondering if there are like 'mini' versions of everyone from 'Sex and the City' in 'The Carrie Diaries' and no, I'm sorry, (there aren't)," says Wong, insisting 'The Carrie Diaries' establishes its own quirky identity right off the bat.
"Like, my character Mouse — she is extremely pragmatic, she's kind of formulaic with the way she looks at life and at the same time she's also fun and she's also a teenager. She's a junior in school and applying for university and has that pressure of her home life."
She's also Asian, a notable departure from the book the show is based on and the whitewashed reputation of "Sex and the City," where Carrie's largely homogenous crew drew criticism for not representing the racial diversity of New York City.
When Wong was hired as a cast-member, she says she was puzzled to see the script revealed her character's real name to be the very Anglo-sounding Jill Thompson — the same moniker from the Candace Bushnell book.
"I remember shooting the pilot and I said to the writer and the director at the time, I go, 'So, I have a question. Um, is she adopted?'" says Wong, chuckling now over the exchange.
"And they're like, 'Why?'
"'Well, her last name's Thompson!'
"They're like, 'Oh, yeah. We should probably adjust that.'"
Although generally referred to as Mouse on the show, the character has since been re-dubbed Jill Chen, adds a publicist for Citytv, the series' Canadian broadcaster.
AnnaSophia Robb stars as the impressionable Carrie, while Stefania Owen is Carrie's rebellious younger sister Dorrit. Canuck actress Katie Findlay (Rosie Larson on "The Killing") plays Carrie's snarky best friend Maggie, while Brendan Dooling is her sensitive pal Walt.
More racial diversity comes by way of Freema Agyeman, who plays Carrie's newfound mentor Larissa — a cool, outgoing style editor at Interview magazine who introduces Carrie to New York's free-spirited club culture.
Wong says there are plenty of familiar touches to hook old viewers, along with new ones.
"There's a lot of correlation," says Wong, best known for appearing in the 2010 Michael Cera rom-com "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World."
"If you're a fan of 'Sex and the City,' you'll definitely find the little (clues) that are planted throughout 'The Carrie Diaries' of how she develops her love for certain things."
That includes Carrie's passion for outrageous fashion and a look at her burgeoning literary voice.
Wong notes that as in "Sex in the City," this show is framed by Carrie's narration. But instead of writing a newspaper column, Carrie is writing in her diary.
And Wong gushes over the 1980s time period, a colourful era that allows for eccentric characters, over-the-top couture and euphoric music to be woven into what she says is otherwise a very grounded story.
"(It's) a coming-of-age tale that's not glamourized or sensationalized in the media. There's a lot of fun but it's in a grounded way."
The series is one of several prequels headed to the small screen.
The A&E series "Bates Motel" is set to examine the lives of Norma Bates and her teenage son Norman before the horrors that unfold in the Alfred Hitchcock classic film "Psycho," while NBC's upcoming thriller "Hannibal" centres on the psychiatrist-turned-killer made famous in "The Silence of the Lambs."
Wong says "The Carrie Diaries" should offer longtime "Sex and the City" fans a fresh look at the enduring New York heroine.
"You see Carrie hang out with her high school friends and (how) she's developing that sense of self and discovering her love for Manhattan," says Wong.
"We go with her on that journey of being introduced to this new world."
"The Carrie Diaries" premieres Monday on Citytv.
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