Sarah Jessica Parker Shares What Motivates Her, and What Scares Her
Sarah Jessica Parker, best known for her role as sex and relationships columnist Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, spoke to an overflow crowd at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday about her many, many roles in life -- several of which intersect more than a little with the role of entrepreneur:
- Actress: She recently wrapped Season 2 of the HBO comedy Divorce and has appeared in more than a dozen movies – including the new film Blue Night, which premieried at the Tribeca festival. But she is probably best known for HBO’s huge hit, Sex and the City (1998-2004) for which she won two Emmys, four Golden Globes and three Screen Actors Guild Awards. Now 53, she was in her first Broadway play at age 11 and won the starring role in Annie at 14.
- Producer: She's president of the production company Pretty Matches, which has produced HBO series like Divorce and Parker's new movie Blue Night, in which she stars as a jazz singer who receives a devastating medical diagnosis.
- Fashion designer/icon/endorser: She’s held lucrative promotional deals with Garnier, The Gap and Jordache and launched two perfumes and her own SJP Collection lines for footwear and bridal wear.
- Book publisher: She is editorial director of the publishing imprint SJP for Hogarth, which releases its first book A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza in June, and a second work in July.
- Arts developer: She’s vice chairman of the board for the New York City Ballet.
- Wife and mother: She’s married to actor Matthew Broderick with whom she has three children.
Asked by her Tribeca interviewer, sportscaster/tennis star Mary Carillo, whether juggling so many roles leaves her tired, Parker was modest in her reply: "Sometimes. I can't complain," she said.
"Most of the people I know in their professional lives are wanting experiences," Parker said about her busy professional life. "What is new? What is interesting? What is daunting? What is scary? What happens that might not be [in your own life] but [you're thinking] 'Maybe I should.' That keeps your work ... you’re more engaged in it, you’re more inspired to try to figure it out, and it’s what I hope I always have an opportunity to do."
During the hourlong interview, Parker, who perhaps disappointed her fans by leaving behind Carrie's Manolo Blahnik stilettos in favor of a casual gray shirt and matching jeans -- plus, gasp, a backpack --offered several pearls of wisdom about her many projects.
On her series Divorce, in which she stars opposite Thomas Haden Church: "The first season we were just simply trying to divorce and doing it not well. Most people don't do it well because they don’t do it a lot. So, it’s not surprising how poorly people behave, how they’re not prepared for divorce … and it’s a cautionary tale. What I was so pleased to discover and hear was how many couples were watching -- happily. Maybe it was a way of not [divorcing]."
On her character, Frances Dufresne's, failure to be sympathetic, versus the widely beloved Carrie Bradshaw: "I couldn’t worry about people’s response to Frances. I couldn’t concern myself about her likability. In fact I was surprised, when we first premiered, how much people talked about whether she’s likeable or not.
"I was struck by it, and not without some emotional response to that, because I found that the reasons people were giving were not going to be applied to a man. This was a woman who’d had an affair and was duplicitous, and she was saying 'My marriage has been over for a long time and I feel this unbearable inertia and I made this decision that was terrible and destructive but I want to recommit to this family.' And that was very clear early on -- not that we were pulling punches, but this was the nature of their relationship.
"I didn’t worry about whether she was likable or not because I liked her and I felt she had a story to tell that was not unfamiliar to people. Marriages can go through periods of great unhappiness; marriages fall apart because people have affairs. ... What drew me to this originally, in development, was that I wanted to see a portrait of an American marriage."
On her production company, Pretty Matches' all-female staff: "I can't say that the process of creating this group was intentionally to seek out only female hires. … I think that what interests me is that I am a woman, I’m informed by my life experiences and what I see around me, around my female friends or watching women in the world.
"What we’re hoping to do is tell whole stories, stories about everybody. But we are keenly interested in a woman’s point of view in stories. How is her story being told? And trying to find stories that haven’t been told but should be told [about] people who are marginalized or overlooked. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about responsibility, but I know we feel it. We’re happily burdened by wanting to right by the female stories that we’re developing."
On Sex and the City's focus on female friendship: "[The portrayal of the friendships] became ever more so, as we had more time. and the attention was to allow everyone a life. And that was a tricky endeavor because there was always this sense that Carrie was telling the story and every show was a column reflecting on [that] experience.
"So, Carrie was the everyman; she was experiencing everything and the other charaacters … were really important as we looked at sexual politics and friendships and and romance and intimacy and love; everybody got a point of view specific to this conversation, about intimacy.
"But [director] Michael Patrick King, when season 2 started, just wanted to dig. So you could still count on 'point of view,' but he let everybody become more complicated, more human, more layererd; and that allowed those friendships to become much more interesting -- much more necessary, much more relied on, much more disappointing when there was betrayal; it cut much deeper. Your forgiveness meant much more, and that is smart, good writing; and that was expectation and depth, I thought, [that was portrayed] so beautifullly.
On the gubernatorial ambitions of Parker's SATC co-star Cynthia Nixon: "She and I have friends since we were 11. We’ve been auditioning against each other ever since we were little girls and I did a movie of the week and Cynthia played my older sister. I liked her; I always admired her.
"I didn’t know she would run for governor, but she has been an activist her entire life. She is incredibly bright, she loves this city. She's been involved in conversations about policy over many of the last few years: education, public schools, housing -- there’s a whole host of things she has spent her time [on], participating in advocacy.
"I think also [Nixon is focused on] the larger issues that affect us here and upstate as well. So, she shared with me that she was going to announce, about a month before. I was incredibly excited and proud of her; I think she’s already been good for the conversation; this is what's exciting about primaries; people can inspire an incumbent to reconsider policy or just have a robust conversation."
What didn't come up in the interview: Parker's much-covered online spat with SATC costar Kim Cattrall; and a lawsuit filed against her claiming she didn't hold up her end of the bargain promoting the jewelry line Kat Florence Design.
On how often she has the conversation with herself, "Am I getting this role right?" "Pretty frequently --all the time. It’s the motivating query. I’d like to get close to a destination that I imagine. But the odds are you don’t always. For actors, everything is an exercise. You can only hope to have an experience that’s been interesting and hard, and turned you inside out a little bit and allows you to be with new people -- and a story and play about somebody that is unfamiliar, someone perhaps you don’t admire or like.
"So, you can’t always get it right, and it takes time to get to know people. The first season of Divorce, I felt that the more that was revealed to me was the only opportunity I got to know Frances a little more than had been shared from the script.
"You’re doing this in front of everybody and you have to hope you have enough experience to hide what’s not known, you know?"