Nineteen years after her debut as Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker is still one of the Big Apple’s favorite “It Girls.” The blockbuster show was a love letter to New York City and as it’s star, Parker became a—fashionable—symbol of the city. Since then, she’s built a successful shoe line and continued to shine on screens big and small. In her latest show, relationships are once again front and center. Parker stars in Divorce as Frances, a woman in the midst of a complicated and painful separation from her husband.
Tell us about your current role.
Frances is very different from any role that I’ve ever played. I find her as interesting as Carrie Bradshaw, but they are striking in their differences. What is challenging in playing the role to me is not so much about the part, but the process of getting the show right. We’ve had a big change in writing staff for Season Two so a new language had to be learned. On Sex and the City, Darren Star was there for the first season and then he handed it over to Michael Patrick King who was there for the entire time. Because of that there was such a strong, consistent point of view so I could step back a little bit. So the challenging part is the storytelling, and in some ways, the producing. Playing the part of Frances, I love.
The first season of the show focused on Frances and her husband making the difficult decision to separate and divorce. What direction are you going in for Season Two?
We wanted Season Two to feel more like the season of hope. We wanted to maintain the tone, but lighten the mood. It definitely feels very different than Season One. I knew what Frances imagined as a new life was more theoretical than real—especially when she became a single mother with financial issues. They are in debt and she’s taken on a new business. I knew that this imagined freedom was not entirely going to be what she had hoped for.
Are you similar to the character you play?
I don’t feel more similar to Frances than I do to, say, Carrie Bradshaw, but I relate to her as a mother. I understand a lot of the worry and concern and screw-ups and shortcomings of being a mother and how we interact as parents and children. The personal stuff is very different, but that’s what I like. I would not want to play me!
You film Divorce in Westchester. Had you spent time there before?
When I first moved to NYC with my family we were supposed to move to subsidized housing on Roosevelt Island, but it wasn’t ready. My dad found a rental in Dobbs Ferry and the rental became our most favorite house in our lives. It’s a total coincidence that we film there. Last year, when Divorce premiered I did a piece in the New York Times and we went and knocked on the door of that house. I remembered the address and everything. The owners were so nice and the house was as beautiful as I remembered. I don’t have a lot of free time when I’m shooting up there, but I did find some incredible little jewelry shops, great vintage shops and nice restaurants in Tarrytown and Hastings. And more than anything, very nice people. I know our production caused [an] inconvenience and everybody was always so kind.
Tell us about your new literary imprint SJP for Hogarth, and how it came about.
I wasn’t looking to have an imprint but I met Molly Stern [the publisher of Crown] at a lunch and we started talking about books. We eventually started a book club where we read soon-to-be-published books and discussed ways of getting them into people’s hands—just the way in which book lovers want to support books. At one point Molly asked if I would consider an imprint. Thus began the process of reading manuscripts, which I love, and meeting with literary agents. We recently announced our first acquisition—a debut novel by Fatima Farheen Mirza tentatively named A Place for Us—and the book is extraordinary.
Which of your careers—actor, shoe designer and now book publisher—do you find most satisfying? How do you do it all?
The same way you do. The way a lot of busy people do. First of all, I have child care and that changes everything. Because of that I am able to make choices, and it really isn’t that impressive. What is impressive to me are the women working two or three jobs and they’re not being rewarded for it, financially or otherwise.
I love being an actor. Figuring out what to do every single time the camera rolls and feeling good about that work is hard—meaning it’s internally hard. Days are long on sets—14, 16, 18 hours —I still don’t understand why, but that’s just the way it is. It’s thrilling when it feels good and the camera is rolling and you’re playing opposite great people and you’re just simply reacting. It is the thing I love the most when I’m proud of the work and the project.
Reading, to me, is a joy. It connects me to all of the things I can’t do because of choices I’ve made. I’m a mother so I can’t travel the world whenever I want; I am a working person so I have obligations that don’t let me disappear. For some reason, reading a book feels the closest to being indulgent and selfish and reckless and transported.
I love working in the shoe industry because I love a shoe so much and I love the process of building it. The retail business also gives me a chance to connect with women. I really like meeting people and I like working—a lot.
What role does fashion play in your life as opposed to your career?
There is a practical part of living that dictates fashion. If I’m walking the kids to school or running errands it is not realistic to be in heels. And I love heels! I had meetings all day yesterday and I cared a great deal about how
I looked. My life calls for occasions to get dressed up and it’s really nice. I still love getting fitted for a beautiful dress and borrowing beautiful clothes. I like thinking about what I’m going to wear, but I also want to be comfortable.
Unlike many Hollywood actors, you and your husband, Matthew Broderick, have always stayed in NYC and you’re a symbol of the city. Have you ever thought of moving?
Of course! We thought of moving a lot more when the girls were young, but now it’s kind of passed. We spend time in Long Island and there is a feeling of safe independence for the kids to run and play. We flirted with the question of, “Would it be better for our kids to leave the city?” but ultimately we couldn’t and we didn’t. I always tell people that have left the city and I see that they miss it, that it’s not going anywhere. It’s just waiting for you to come back.
What do you consider the keys to a happy marriage?
Probably that it’s private. I think it is so devastating for anybody who is remotely public to have talked a lot about how wonderful their marriage is and then to have it not work out. For us, we’ve managed somehow to be out in the world, but to be private.
What is your ideal New York City day?
Walking to as many places as possible. I also love being on the subway.
I think I would walk around, go to the Museum of Modern Art, go to the Whitney, and have lunch or dinner with friends.
Do you like to cook?
We cook a lot. Matthew is a great, great cook and I’ve learned a lot from him. We cook every night when we’re home. If we have friends over in the winter I like to make a lamb stew or a roast chicken with salad.
What is next for you?
I just finished filming a movie. Divorce starts its second season in
January. And then the books, the shoes and the kids!
A Very Warm Parka
“I’m a massive fan of Fleischer Couture out of Norway, run by two women. The Norwegians know how to show respect to frigid temperatures.”
“Always. I buy mine used from different vendors on Etsy—vintage, classic waffle long johns. I never leave the house on a winter day without wearing them under my jeans, pants or trousers. Always affordable and always all cotton.”
“My version of a presentable ‘winter boot’ is our SJP Collection RAYNA. When I need to be warm and safe but out of my snow boots, this is my most favorite choice. And we work hard to assure it’s comfortable all day long—handmade in Italy is the trick.”
“I have a few ole’ reliables that can handle the glare of snow and fit under my winter hat.”
“Lip balm, gloss or whatever soothes.” One that SPJ recommends is Bigelow Chemists Mentha lip tint.
“My favorite fragrance is [SPJ] Stash. Always. Winter, Summer, Spring or Fall.”
“My Fleischer Couture parka has pockets that can accommodate one.”
“The subway is, for me, always the best option. Far better than standing on a street corner in the bitter months of winter trying to hail a cab.”
SJP’S NYC FAVORITES
Hector’s on Washington Street in the
West Village (“Go on Fridays for the corn beef and cabbage!”)
Place to Take the Kids
The MoMA, The Whitney or a walk around
any neighborhood in NYC.
Place to Hear Live Music
The Village Vanguard in the West Village
Three Lives & Company in Greenwich Village
Madame Vo in the East Village
Text by Holly Parmelee
Photos by (opener) Jennifer Livingston / Trunk Archive; (SJP) Ryan Pfluger / AUGUST; (SJP on set) Craig Blankenhorn/HBO