Sarah Jessica Parker is the reigning queen of HBO, and has been since she first captivated audiences with her globally-beloved role as Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City – which first aired in 1998 (20 years ago!), and picked up a total of 54 Emmy nominations. It won 7, including the 2004 Best Actress in a Comedy Series for SJP. She also won four Golden Globes and three Screen Actors’ Guild Awards for the role.
Over a decade after Sex and the City concluded, Parker is back with another HBO series, Divorce, (now on its second season) which takes a decidedly more somber tone on the subject of relationships. With a stellar cast that includes Thomas Hayden Church and Molly Shannon, it is a dark, unflinching look at the state of the modern American marriage – which is exactly what Parker set out to portray when she began to develop the show, via her Pretty Matches production company.
We sat down with the certified icon to talk about making Divorce, if her own marriage played a factor in how she handled the new role, and what it’s like to date in the digital age.
How did you and your production company, Pretty Matches, chose Divorce over any other projects you had in the works?
I had an idea that I wanted to develop a show about an American marriage. We worked on it for about four years to arrive at the pilot episode, for the first season. I think I was particularly interested not because of my own marriage, but rather what I was seeing around me: family, friends, relations, people I didn’t know, who were attempting divorce. Most people aren’t good at it, most people only do it once; and it is for many devastating, for others triumphant. It can be the undoing, it can be devastating for children, and there’s much about it that I think we haven’t really looked at in the tone which I was most curious about. We’ve seen stories of marriage and family, and they are romantic or funny, but the tone I was trying to get to I felt HBO was uniquely qualified for.
This story feels eternal, just because divorce is something that just continues to go on. Can you define the ‘American marriage’ more, in your own words and experience?
I think the marriage, the portrait that was most interesting to me was a marriage that is not unlike many, in which two people come together. They’re products of what looks like, from the outside, successful marriages. They grew up in homes where parents stayed married, the father worked, he pursued the American dream, they had some luck achieving middle class status, and that was for many what a successful, happy, joyful marriage looked like. And I think (Divorce characters) Robert and Frances were products of that ideal and that idea. And it didn’t prove to be the case for them, they weren’t finding contentment in it. Or at least Frances wasn’t. She had given up the things that she was most interested in. She was feeling alone in the marriage; and I felt like that was rich in possibilities.
Well in Season 2, Frances does online dating.
Briefly, briefly yes.
My mom wanted me to ask you, because she’s doing some online dating now, if you might have any advice?
I have none. I’ve been married, been with the same person for 25 years. I just played a character who had one scene with online dating. One scene around…was it Tinder I think?
It was like texting and he gets mad when you don’t respond, which is something my mom has experienced.
Oh, she has? She would be far more equipped to have advice than me. I rarely have advice for people. But what I would say is that I hope she finds somebody wonderful, who is deserving of her time.
You mentioned your own marriage. Without prodding too deeply, I’m wondering, if you prepared for the role and played the role with your own marriage in mind at all?
Not at all, no. I don’t think it’s necessary to have experiences to play a part. I think as actors, what we’re mostly trying to do is find things that are different, unrelatable, foreign, unfamiliar. No, there was no point of reference in my own marriage. But I didn’t need that to be the case, nor did I need it to play Carrie Bradshaw or any of the characters I’ve played. I think what’s most important are words that feel truthful. That, if they’re telling the story of a real person, I’m well-researched. And at that point, you’re just trying to be an honest presence on screen who’s responding to the people around you. That’s what I most require. Not necessarily any ability to even to sometimes empathize or like what your character is doing.
You talk about how you’re very separate from this character’s life. But I wonder, and I really want to know this about Carrie too – she’s someone I’ve aways been a big fan of – what you do feel like you have in common with Frances and Carrie? If you have anything.
With Frances, I’m a parent. I’m a mother. I’m a working parent, so I understand very much how complicated that is and how hard it is to try to feel like you’re doing right by all parties, all things to all people. I think that is something that I relate to. I think that it is something that I experience. And also, a desire to find meaning in life. Even something as simple as how do you spend your days. What do your hours add up to? That of course is a sentiment, an exercise that I understand. Carrie’s love and affection for New York City. Her friendships, playing such a pivotal and necessary role in her life. Those are certainly things I relate to. And share.
Images courtesy of HBO