Sarah Jessica Parker covers Vogue USA May 2010 photographed by Mario Testino
This woman here, poised, polished, and utterly composed in her Dior Haute Couture, is a phenomenally influential force (and driver of merchandise) in terms of culture, fashion, style, and beauty for vast numbers of women in their 20s and up. In terms of her own trade, she changed everything: She turned the twentieth-century American screen heroine on her head. In a black-and-white world with no ambiguity, nice girls were not style icons or sex goddesses. Carrie Bradshaw—as played by Sarah Jessica Parker ("the star next door," in the words of director Michael Patrick King)—is a triumph of the nice girl who, along with her gal pals, has an interesting and occasionally eyebrow-raising sex life as well.
Her publicist offers a couple of days in London in December for an interview opportunity, so we meet for tea. In the holiday season, the tearoom at Claridge's hotel becomes sumptuous and Dickensian. Log fires are a-crackling, teacups are a-clinking, adorable little choirboys in gowns and ruffs are a-caroling "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" with their mouths in cartoon Os. The state of bonhomie is so heightened, you suspect there's something besides bergamot in the Earl Grey tea. When a slight, golden-haired creature in an emerald jacket skims through the room and slides onto the banquette beside me, she says, "It's like living in a snow globe!" Sarah Jessica Parker stands up again to pirouette the jacket's perky tail at my request: "It's Ms. L'Wren." She identifies her cream Balenciaga jeans ("old, old") and black patent heels (Pierre Hardy), and unties the Louis Vuitton/Stephen Sprouse shawl that's wrapped around her neck like a cravat to display the cabbage roses. "All my favorite colors, geranium and poppy and vermilion," she says. "It was a gift, and I was very vocally appreciative immediately." Her sweater is "Topshop! Thirty dollars!" She bought it around eight o'clock last night, she says, looking guilty. "I never shop when I fly into a city—I always think you should run to the museum, do something cultural. But I felt a little crazy after being in another culture for so long."
London is the staging post between Morocco (where all four female principals from Sex and the City 2 were on location for seven weeks) and New York, where Parker's husband, Matthew Broderick, their son, James Wilkie, and his new baby sisters wait to welcome home their globe-trotting mom. So she is in a somewhat heightened state herself, partly from disrupted sleep (her last day in Morocco consisted of shooting, wrapping, traveling, and falling into bed in London 37 hours later), partly from the pure pleasure of dress-up. "I haven't dressed like this for months!" she says, having left a suitcase here back in October. After seven weeks in the desert, she is bubbling like a freed hostage about the small blessings of city life: "I can put my toothbrush under the tap here! I can open my mouth in the shower!" She appears enchanted as the waiter bores on about the specialness of his specialty teas. And then she notices Whoopi Goldberg, a couple of tables away, who comes over to tell Parker that (a) she is doing a royal command performance for the queen, and (b) she just bought Thomas Edison's house in New Jersey.
At which point everything goes crazy because the sophisticated international luxury-hotel crowd become totally unable to restrain themselves from begging please-please to sit on the banquette with Whoopi on one side and SJP on the other, and will they both "lean in" while my friend takes the picture? Three Irishwomen; a bunch of girls having a preholiday office party who come back to say please-please do it again because Whoopi got "half cut off"; two Qatari girls (heads covered); a Saudi mom and daughter (uncovered). Parker says, "Layla sa'eeda" ("Good night") to these in her newly acquired Arabic. I say, "Your lives! My God!" Parker says, "There are worse things." Goldberg says, "But this is what allows us to have the lives we have." King, SATC2's writer/director, tells me later that one of the great parts about shooting in Morocco was "being very beautifully protected by the king's security." Every so often there'd be a little accented voice, "Carrie Bradshaw! Carrie Bradshaw!" But they were not mobbed.
What is exercising Parker way more than the amateur paparazzi is that "I haven't seen my daughters for almost two months, with the exception of Skype, and I have to tell you," she says, "I never felt like this." She and James Wilkie, now seven, flew to London—"Stayed here; he loved it." He also visited Morocco briefly, flying home without her (and filling in his own customs card on landing). But the babies were too young to get their H1N1 shots. They were born on June 22 last year, Tabitha Hodge ("or Babe") and Marion Loretta Elwell ("or Kitty"). "Aren't those great names?" their mom asks, her face split in a grin. "Babe Broderick! Kitty Broderick! It's like it's 1940. I wish it were 1940."
She tells of the day Michelle Ross—their surrogate mother, from Parker's home state of Ohio—went into labor unexpectedly. Parker's husband wasn't even home, so it was just she and her son running around the house throwing things into a suitcase. "And I came back into the room and saw James Wilkie combing his hair down in a certain way and standing in front of the mirror. And he doesn't know that I heard him say, 'I have to be handsome when I meet my sisters.' It killed me."
When I visit her in New York a few weeks later, after her shoot with Mario Testino, Parker has issued the first pictures of those little sisters (who are very cute) since they were newborn bundles, and she tells me how long she had "tried and tried and tried and tried and tried to get pregnant, but it just was not to be, the conventional way—I would give birth as often as I could, if I could. I cherished all the milestones, the good and the bad." Parker is one of eight, her husband one of three. There's a family baby boom going on; her mom has ten grandchildren now. Parker had wanted her son to have siblings partly for his own delight but also because she and Broderick are older parents (her words), "and I didn't want him to have to shoulder the burden of us—later in life—by himself." They pursued both adoption and surrogacy, and it was the surrogacy option that came up first.
"Meeting your children rather than giving birth to them, it's as if, um, it's—suspended animation. The gestational experience is gone. It's as if everything else disappears for a moment, and the world goes silent and—I can't explain it except to say that nothing else existed. I don't remember anything but the blanket on the bed that they were lying on and my husband's face and their faces and my son's. It's literally as if sound is sucked from the room. Time stands still. It's so different, and equally extraordinary. I am very poor at describing it. But it's amazing."
Leading up to the birth, she says, "I think the biggest thing is you can't celebrate something that is potentially filled with joy, nor can you share fears and worries about every checkup, you know—the sixteen-week checkup, the amnio, the this, the that. The bone scan, the nuchal test. And the waiting is different, the whole nine months. We couldn't talk about the fact that we were having children to anybody for soooo long. All the stuff that matters is secretive and worrisome. You can't talk about how you feel about the woman who's carrying your children; you can only talk about it to your husband." She laughs. "And he just doesn't want to talk about it as much as you do."
Nope. That's why women need other women to talk to. And that's why Sex and the City felt so real; that's why it was such a phenomenal success for HBO, that's why the first movie made close to half a billion dollars, and why SATC2 will likely trigger a multimillion-dollar spendfest—even during a downturn. And why SATC3 (Indulge me! It hasn't been officially denied) would do that magical, amazing thing: get millions of women—some of whom are really quite old—into movie theaters. Mr. Big (Chris Noth), who loves working with Parker, would be up for number three, no question. "We're married now. If we make another one where we're grandparents, we'd still have a good time."
They're hitting the aging demographic full-on. Samantha celebrated (if that's the word, which it often isn't) her fiftieth birthday in the last go-round. Parker says firmly that Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda are not that old. "We're still playing—uh, I don't know how old Carrie is! Is she about 42 now? I think Carrie's younger than I [Parker is 45], and Miranda and Charlotte are younger than they are in real life. Samantha was always the older lady, so she's 52 now and talks a lot about what comes with that. In the movie. Talks about menopause. Comedically."
Is everyone desperate to know what SATC2 is about—or are we all grown up enough to wait until it opens this month. Michael Patrick King wouldn't let me watch a single frame; no one would offer the merest hint of a plot point. We know there are camels involved. And dunes. We know that Misses Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis were on location in Morocco in the dunes where the camels are. However, Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte are not, I'm here to tell you, in Morocco in the movie. King says that Morocco is standing in for the Middle East, which is a little bit like saying Tribeca is standing in for New England, but there we are. Think Kuwait or Dubai. He says his movie's big übertheme is tradition "and how we still struggle with traditional roles. Even in an advanced society like you find in New York or London, people still struggle with their roles as women. And men." It was the weirdest thing, he says, long after the TV series finished, how often he was asked, "even by smart, liberated women, Did they ever get married? People still wanted to define relationships by the word married." And since the Middle East is where women's roles are most conventionally defined, he decided to set part of the movie there. "Also because America slash most of the world is in a bit of an economic crunch still, I felt like everybody needed a big, extravagant, splashy, expensive vacation." He reminds me that Hollywood made Top Hat the last time the banks fell over.
Any Western woman who visits the Middle East finds herself reevaluating what she wears to walk down the street. Parker found the restrictions and limitations fascinating, but says at first costume designer Patricia Field thought, Where does that leave me? "She wanted all the characters to be interesting, sexy, all the stories that Pat likes to tell with clothing, but we had religious and environmental and cultural standards to respect," says Parker. "You have to look at clothing and women and women's bodies completely differently. And you start to see how you can still see so much with someone covered. And how exciting that is and how beautiful it is and how draping can be incredibly sexy." They ended up wearing a lot of long dresses, she says (which we'll all have to do soon because that's what famously happens in downturns). "I don't think Carrie's worn a long dress in years; she doesn't really do that. Unless it's whimsy. Or over-the-top couture."
Despite the tough location and the hard hours, they all enjoyed it. "What I'm most happy to tell you," says Parker, "is that we four women, despite I guess what a lot of people hope, have never been better. This movie—and maybe it's because we actually lived together—it was the best! We were together all day long, at night, in the restaurants, in our hotels. It was wonderful."
I ask her if doing theater isn't easier for an actor mother than movies, and she says no: It's harder. "Because I really like putting the kids to bed. And when I'm doing a movie, for the first few days of the week I can almost always get home in time to put James Wilkie and my daughters to sleep. If I'm doing a play, I miss all of that." There'll come a time, she knows, when "my son doesn't like us the way he really loves us now. He certainly won't want to have us there and pushing his hair back and tucking him in and putting lotion on his body and the routine that we love. My daughters have a bottle at 6:30 to 7:00 and then they get like a dream feed at 9:30 to 10:00, and I love it."
It's quite difficult for civilians to pinpoint any bits of reality in the mad life of twenty-first-century celebrities (and quite hard for the celebrities themselves, maybe). And yet there's something about Sarah Jessica Parker that feels straight-up authentic. I think she'd choke before she'd describe herself as a "global celebrity." (Though King would so describe her—and did: "It was when we did the London premiere that I realized these girls were citizens of the world.") Parker would dub herself a working actor. And wife and mom. "We painted our patio furniture ourselves," she told me, defensively. (I had asked her the deliberately faux-naïf question "How many people work for you?") "I make my children's food myself. We put together their high chairs ourselves; we do a lot ourselves! We do our own grocery shopping, we go to the market ourselves, you know? I do my laundry."
She might also call herself a parfumeuse (there is no end to the popularity of Lovely and Covet and SJP NYC). And a brand: It's hard to define precisely when it was that the Carrie Bradshaw brand turned into the Sarah Jessica Parker brand, but the transition was definitely made. But she wasn't yet, when I interviewed her in January, the president and chief creative officer of a New York design house. And now she is! Front-rowing with Halston investor Harvey Weinstein at the fall 2010 collection, in a Halston gold-colored tunic. When the announcement was made that she would head up their archive-inspired Halston Heritage line (the main line is designed by Marios Schwab) starting with the spring 2011 collection, I put in a call to ask, What possessed her? Isn't she busy enough? What was she thinking?
She was thinking, They've made me an offer I can't refuse. "I came to New York originally in 1976, and then I got this part in Annie," she says. "Around the corner from Studio 54. I was a little girl, and for some reason they always invited the cast of Annie to Studio 54, so there I was at thirteen and fourteen, and the doorman would usher us in, literally underneath his arms. And it was 1977 in New York City, and you couldn't be alive and not know the name Halston." She says it took a long time to make the decision. "There was every reason to say no, and there were very compelling reasons to say yes." They were very persuasive, she says, although she gave them every possible excuse to walk away. She told them they were taking "a very untraditional route" and that they'd be bludgeoned for it. (I don't know that she has been "bludgeoned" for it. We live in interesting times, and from what I hear, people are more curious than disparaging.)
"It's an exciting time at that company," Parker says. "It has had some false starts that are well documented and it is relaunching itself. It has a wonderful legacy, and I couldn't say no, and I'm…uh, figuring it out." So figure this: How many hours are there in the day, Sarah Jessica Parker? "Well, there are 42 hours in the day," she tosses back. "How many hours are in your day? We'll see how successfully I manage this. I, you know, I don't do movies all the time." As she says of all her professional choices, "Does it scare me? Am I intimidated? Am I challenged? That's kind of the way I've always made decisions. And luckily, the Halston offices are about a ten-minute walk from my house." source http://www.vogue.com/