Sarah Jessica Parker: Show and Tell
Sarah Jessica Parker: Show and Tell
You could say that your mid-40s are an age when you pivot—into an acknowledgment that you are no longer exactly young, into some sort of idea of the rest of your life. Pivot and, if you are part of the growing ranks of older mothers with demanding jobs, juggle: work, home, sanity. And who better to demonstrate the nonstop circus of modern motherhood than Sarah Jessica Parker, former ballet dancer and stage performer, current producer and actress repositioning herself after the long-playing phenomenon of Sex and the City,ubiquitous New York fashion icon, and devoted mother of three?
“Like a ship avoiding icebergs” is how she cheerfully describes the running of her life. “The internal lists, the children’s doctor’s appointments, the letters to write, the school projects. . . .” At night she lies in bed and does what she calls every mom’s “strategic planning” for the day ahead: “What you have to do and how to get the kids from A to B, and whatever is required of you at your work. And maybe you can toss in friendships that need to be attended to. . . . The thing that’s most surprising to me is how much we do in a day.”
Parker is eating breakfast in a West Village restaurant, breakfast that looks more like lunch: salad embellished with bacon. Her day, she says, usually starts well before seven, and by ten, lunch is sounding pretty good. She could, of course, be much lazier than this. With her movies, production deals, fashion work, perfumes, and ad contracts, Parker could keep her entire family in personal assistants round the clock. But “it’s a pretty simple setup,” she says of the domestic situation she shares with her husband, Matthew Broderick. There’s a nanny for their toddler twins, Loretta and Tabitha, and someone else to help with the logistics of eight-year-old James Wilkie’s schedule. “We don’t have any live-in help. We’re pretty hands-on parents. That’s something that’s important to both of us, and we don’t shirk it, because what’s the point in having a family if you’re not going to really participate in it, you know?”
All of this was perfect preparation for her starring role in September’s I Don’t Know How She Does It, an adaptation of Allison Pearson’s 2002 best-seller centered on Kate Reddy, a financial executive and mother of two young children struggling to balance the pressures of her job with the needs of her family. A business trip beckons; a husband, played by Greg Kinnear, gets fractious; a mother-in-law disapproves; a nanny (Jessica Szohr) oversteps; other mothers judge; a best friend (Christina Hendricks) intervenes. The script—which director Doug McGrath calls “a perfect mix of sympathy and satire”—is full of richly comic moments of the kind every working mother can identify with: Kate arriving at work to find she has pancake batter on the lapel of her suit; Kate feeling an irresistible urge to scratch her head as she is preparing a presentation and simultaneously receiving a text message from school announcing that her daughter has lice. It’s as if we’re seeing Carrie Bradshaw, the character that has dominated Parker’s career for the past twelve years, in a new phase of her life.
“I loved the part, and I can obviously relate to Kate,” says Parker. “I tried to make myself look more presentable today”—in fact, she is the picture of mommy chic in a yellow silk Gerard Darel sundress, a loose-weave striped sweater, flat pumps, a Chloé handbag, and large Chanel sunglasses—“but the odds of not being, when I leave the house in the morning, are pretty high.” All the evidence points otherwise: Parker has developed a genius for pulling together glamorous and appropriate looks for every hour of her day, but the truth is, she doesn’t identify herself with Carrie the way everyone else does. “Bradshaw’s life is nothing—nothing—like mine,” she says. “I loved playing her, and it changed my life in lots of wonderful ways, but I’m not a crazy shoe lady, I don’t think about fashion all day long, although I have a great respect for the industry. Every choice we’ve made has been different, but with Kate I really understood the attempt at a life.”
Around us in the restaurant, Parker’s presence creates a sort of low-level celebrity static. Everyone sits up a little straighter and sparkles a little brighter, as though her star wattage has lit them up too. Her way of dealing with fame is to face it head-on. She doesn’t draw attention to it, but she doesn’t hide from it either. The paparazzi may stalk her every single time she walks James Wilkie to school or takes the girls out—“They follow every move I make until I’m back inside the house”—but she refuses to withdraw.
“You do start to understand the behind-the-gate mentality, the getting in the car in your driveway,” she says as she pours herself tea, “but I can’t imagine living in seclusion. We flirted with it. We went outside the city and troubled all these Realtors and stood in these homes and fantasized, and then I kept picturing nine o’clock at night and”—she breaks into mime, drumming her fingers on her crossed knees and staring into the middle distance. “The beautiful thing about New York is, you have to expose yourself to other people the minute you step outside the door. There is no choice. And I love that.” Plus, of course, there’s the cultural life. Broderick, a born-and-bred New Yorker, works mostly on Broadway. Next spring he will star in Nice Work if You Can Get It, directed by Kathleen Marshall. As for Parker, “If I didn’t have kids,” she says, “I would be at the theater or the ballet every single night of my life.”
One of Parker’s endearing qualities is the sense that, even though she is 46, there’s part of her that is still a little girl with her nose pressed to the glass. Her well-documented childhood as one of eight siblings and half-siblings in a struggling but striving family has left a legacy of discipline and humility. She’s diligent, a constant student, learning from every new experience and never wasting an opportunity. “My father used to tell me not to stare all the time,” she says, “because I was always staring at everyone, and he would say, ‘You’re making a spectacle.’ But I couldn’t help myself.” When Sex and the City, to her own surprise, made her a fashion star, she launched her own design label and perfumes, as well as signing on to run the Halston Heritage label, a relationship that recently came to an end. As the show took off, she increased her involvement by becoming a producer—she now has her own company, Pretty Matches, makers of Bravo’s Work of Art, which has a host of other projects in development.
When she’s out for the evening, she throws herself into dressing up with pleasure and thoughtfulness. For the Spring Gala of American Ballet Theater, where she serves on the board, she chose a black-and-white lace Valentino because “it was his birthday, and I thought that was a nice way of acknowledging that.” At the Met last May in tribute to Alexander McQueen, she borrowed a nude beaded column from the designer’s archive. “I love the opportunity to wear something really special and go to a wonderful event at some great cultural institution,” she says. “Not to sound too Pollyanna about it, but I really didn’t imagine when I was a little girl that I would be there to see it all myself.” It’s as though her drive is fueled by the Cinderella feeling that if she doesn’t stay vigilant, she could turn back into a waif at any moment. And she’s big on social responsibility, having been a Unicef ambassador for almost fifteen years—a few nights ago, she spoke at a global business conference on behalf of a new initiative to simplify the detection and treatment of HIV/AIDS in developing countries, and she works with Caroline Kennedy to raise money for New York public schools.
By now we are sitting in a secluded public garden of the kind Parker has become expert at finding. She talks about her work ethic. “It’s kind of all I’ve known,” she says, laughing as she adds, “I’m a bitter-ender. It’s potentially my fatal flaw that I do not give up on something. I will not rest. I work and work and work until I can no longer and someone has to remove me from the premises.”
After all these years, she still cares enough about her job that it fills her with terror. “I lose my appetite,” she says. “By Wednesday of the first week on I Don’t Know How She Does It, I was sobbing, I was apologizing. I was feeling so awful and ashamed, like I had let the director down. If only they would not tell me when the camera was running, I would be OK. I’m like that two weeks into every movie. But the beauty of nerves is that you can always find a comrade in it. When Pierce came”—Pierce Brosnan plays her colleague and potential romantic interest—“he was a nervous wreck! Of course, by then I was really relaxed, but I was so comforted by it.” Even James Bond gets the jitters.
Confessing to feelings of shame, anxiety, unworthiness . . . it all contributes to the unsnooty humanity Parker emanates. “I think people really feel that somehow she’s on their side,” observes Pearson of the actress cast to play her heroine. “She’s not too proud. She’s not one of those stars who you can’t imagine having spit-up on her jacket. It’s very important with Kate that she’s presenting a wonderful front to the world but also that there’s the constant comedy of maternal derangement around every corner.”
Parker’s qualities also play into comic gifts that McGrath describes as “very natural. She doesn’t make anything wackier than it needs to be. Whatever it is, big or small, she makes it real.” She was also able to use her own experience to the production’s advantage. As McGrath says, “She was great when it came to the kids. She’d say, ‘I don’t think it would be safe for him to have this’ or ‘I wouldn’t let him sit over there,’ or ‘We’d have this kind of stuff on the table during dinnertime.’ She had a great sense of all those details that are true to life.”
If women’s lives unfolding all around her are anything to go by, Parker’s ability to tap into the moment the way she did when she took on Sex and the City may be about to see its second act. A few days later I escort her on a trip to the playground with the twins. She arrives, having eluded any pursuers, with the girls in a double-decker stroller—they take turns on top—and a nanny, and leads the way to a little park that can be entered only with a key. In an old, beloved gray Marc Jacobs sundress, light yellow Converses, a vintage Hermès bag, and huge Ray-Bans, she blends in with the cool downtown moms, somewhat over the national average in age, with their straw fedoras, floral caftans, and embellished Birkenstocks—a hip urbanite look that you can’t help feeling that, as Carrie, she helped to invent.
Though some might argue that the franchise is still going strong—Candace Bushnell, who wrote the original columns on which the series was based, has just published a second prequel, Summer and the City, to say nothing of Melissa Tredinnick’s forthcoming novelty book Sex and the Kitty: A Celebrity Meowmoir—Parker knew it was time to move on. The 20-hour days on set, during which she also worked as producer, were no longer viable once she became a mother. “It wasn’t hard when I didn’t have children,” she says. “I loved it. But I ultimately chose to stop doing the television series because I felt like it required, and deserved, a lot of time when I really wanted to be a parent.” Also, she says, circumstances had changed. “It was such a different time in the city, culturally, socially, economically . . . the kind of liberty that Carrie Bradshaw had. You couldn’t start off with a story like that today.”
Meanwhile, the relevance of Pearson’s novel, though it was written ten years ago, appears to have only grown stronger. According to Pamela Haag, author of the just-published and fabulously subtitled Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules, “That have-it-all dream has fallen on hard times. Marriage and family life are under unprecedented financial stress today, and the workplace is still designed with a 1950s idea of who a worker is.” Much of the story’s (tragi)comedy derives from the degree of dissembling its heroine has to practice, the sense of living a double life in which it is inadmissible to allow any sign of motherhood to intrude into the office, or of work into the home.
Parker says she hears the double-life conversation around her all the time, in interviews, in books, at dinner parties, like the fashion executive she met recently who described getting the lice call—just like in the movie—and debating whether it was more embarrassing to collect her daughter in high heels and a miniskirt or to change into gym clothes in the car. “There are probably more women, even now, who are trying to be all things to all people,” she observes. All of which is good news for the timeliness of I Don’t Know How She Does It.
How Parker does it seems to come down to a combination of organization, boundary-setting, and formidable will. If she set her mind to it, you feel, Parker could do anything—how about mayor of New York City? For now, she schedules her meetings after walking James Wilkie to school but tries to be home after the twins’ afternoon nap. “I feel like if I’m only missing up until 3:30, when they wake up, that’s not so awful.” She doesn’t use a cell phone, except in emergencies; for her it’s e-mail or texts, “otherwise it’s one more thing I’m trying to keep up with.”
She escapes to the Hamptons on weekends and in summer and occasionally to Matthew’s family’s cottage in Ireland, though it’s so small she hasn’t yet figured out how to fit the twins’ cribs in. She dreams of reading the papers on the beach on a Sunday morning with her husband, but it never happens. Where Carrie had her girlfriends and Kate Reddy has her e-mail buddies, Parker has her mom friends, fellow parents at James Wilkie’s school with whom her relationships “have evolved over time in a very natural way.” Once school is out, Parker and her brood will join a group of their families on vacation in Italy, where the twins will celebrate their birthday.
After her much-publicized struggles with fertility, Parker had her daughters via a surrogate, and, in their white sandals, slightly outgrown smock dresses, and hair ribbons, they couldn’t be more adorable. Loretta is bigger and fairer than Tabitha, who is tiny and olive-skinned, with enormous brown eyes. “Tabitha’s very, very outgoing, but physically she’s very shy,” says Parker. “She shakes in elevators; it’s very sweet, like Bambi. And then Loretta is pale, like my husband, with piercing blue eyes. But she’s physically bold.” Watching them, she marvels at how they could be so different and yet so recognizably related. “I think it’s funny how much she looks like my husband,” she says of Tabitha. “Except then I look at Loretta and she has my husband’s mouth and sort of sad eyes, you know the kind that go down? The Broderick eyes. They both really look like him.”
Being a little older as a parent, Parker says, means that she’s probably a lot more patient than she would have been. “I guess I think there are things about it that I hope have made me a better mother,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do the things that I wanted to do, like sleep. I have slept till 11:00 for a lot of years. Honestly, the only thing that I’m concerned about is the energy: I hope I can maintain the energy. I think about all the years I’ve spent parenting James Wilkie and everything I put into it, and there are two of them.”
As for her professional life, Parker continues to redefine the rules. “I kept thinking that this age was the one to be worried about,” she says. “Like probably for the last five, six years I kept thinking, Oh, this is that age that I’ve heard about; this is that bad age where the work slows down. I assumed that at this point in my life I would be feeling frustrated, left behind, or marginalized, playing parts I was reluctant to. But I’ve been so busy, I’m not so sure that I see this fallow period yet. I’m not saying it’s not coming and that it won’t hit me like a ton of bricks, but I do find work that I’m excited about and interested in with people that I want to work with.” Later in the year she will appear in the ensemble movie New Year’s Eve, by Valentine’s Day director Garry Marshall, alongside Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, Zac Efron, and a long list of others. “I play Abigail Breslin’s mother, who is the wardrobe supervisor at Radio City Music Hall, which of course I loved!” She’s mulling her fall schedule and is considering breaking with type by taking a role in a thriller. “I don’t know how to even telescope the future,” she continues, “except to say that I like to be an actor and I like to be a working actor and I don’t know how long I’ll be doing that, but it seems to stretch itself out in front of me more than I thought.”
Time has zoomed by, and suddenly Parker realizes she’s late, something you sense rarely happens. “Oh, my God, it’s 11:59,” she says. “I’m going to run home and change clothes because I have to be at a business meeting at 12:00.” With that she says goodbye to her daughters, who burst into heartbreaking tears, and, a little torn but still determined, she literally sprints up the block to her next appointment, ponytail flying behind her.
Ref : Vogue magazine
Regards, Velvet Magazine