The force behind Sex and the City (Carrie to you and me) opens up about new motherhood, a complex marriage, money worries, turning 40—and her dreams of someday running a grocery store(!).Mention one of two topics to Sarah Jessica Parker—her husband of seven years, Tony-winning Broadway star Matthew Broderick, or their 1-year-old son, James—and her voice, already lively, rises to effervescence. A minute after she and I meet up, with a hug, at the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills, we're looking at baby photos. "Are his eyes cobalt blue?" I ask. "They're the color of blueberries," she says. "When we were in Greece, I saw they were the color of the Aegean Sea." "Are you one of those parents who has 6,000 pictures of your child?" I ask. "Yeah," she says, grinning. "My husband says he's already too documented."
The proud mother is herself one of eight children. Parker's father, Stephen, left the family when she was a year old (she had three older siblings); two years later, her mother, Barbara, married Paul Forste—a theater student who later, among other jobs, worked as a stage manager and a teacher—and had four more children. Though money was scarce, Parker's mother encouraged her kids' acting ambitions and moved the family to New York when Sarah was 11.
Two years later, Sarah won a role in the Broadway musical Annie , and in 1979 she took over the lead. In 1982 she got a national audience as a brainy nerd on the sitcom Square Pegs . More than 20 movies followed, including Footloose , L.A. Story , and Honeymoon in Vegas . She dated Robert Downey Jr. for seven years, and in the early 1990s she briefly dated John F. Kennedy Jr. before meeting Broderick; they married in 1997.
Then came Sex and the City , her HBO hit that exploded onto the scene in 1998. Sarah's character, Carrie Bradshaw, along with friends Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), redefined singleness by showing us smart, witty, romantic, lusty women.
Spend 20 seconds with Sarah, and you understand why she has dazzled audiences for six seasons and picked up a few prizes along the way (three consecutive Golden Globes, four Emmy nominations, and a Screen Actors Guild Award). Her ebullience overflows to everyone around her. With the show's ending very much on her mind, Sarah talked to me about acting, producing (she's an executive producer of Sex and plans to tackle movies), married life, motherhood—and finding challenges that terrify and thrill her.
Start reading Oprah's interview with Sarah Jessica Parker
Note: This interview appeared in the March 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
Oprah: By the time this article is in print, you will have taped your last episode of Sex and the City. Is that scary?
Sarah Jessica Parker: What a hard decision it was to end the show! I kept asking myself, How's the party faring? And how am I faring? Right now the party's in full swing, and I hope the audience feels the same. But I don't want to crawl across the finish line with bloodied hands. And as scary as it is to leave—and as lucrative as it would be to stay—sometimes you have to do what's risky.
Oprah: So you're okay with closing Carrie's wardrobe closet?
SJP: For now, yes. But I'm very attached to the crew. I work more with them than I do with the other women, who aren't on the set every day.
Oprah: I understand—the crew become like family. On my desk, I've got a picture of my stage manager, Dean, right there next to Stedman and the dogs.
SJP: That's Bettiann Fishman [first assistant director] for me. I worry about the crew. For them, wrapping up is not just an artistic decision. They're providing for two or three children. So to say to them, "Your job will end in 2004" is a big deal, and I took it seriously. Now that I have this new vocation as a producer, I'll make movies in New York, and they'll be like my repertory company.
Oprah: That's not the same as working every day. But I know you also needed to make this decision for yourself and your family.
SJP: I want to be home with the boy and spend time with him. I want to take him to school. I don't want to be a parent who just hears about some milestone in his life.
Oprah: Have you gotten any sleep since he arrived?
SJP: I'm extraordinarily lucky to have a healthy boy, and I love nothing more than spending time with him. But I do miss my sleep. Even when I'm working [and away overnight], I'm filled with so much anxiety and guilt that I might as well be awake.
Oprah: So I'm talking to a sleep-deprived woman right now.
SJP: Yes. Most of my friends in New York are single women or gay men. And it's taken some time to be able to say, "I can't go to dinner with you. I want to put my son to bed." It's a whole new way of thinking, and it's spectacular. I'm privileged to get to experience it and wrestle with it. But it is brand-new, and at almost 40, it can be weighty.
SJP: Because it's the thing I most want to excel at.
Oprah: Do you want more children?
SJP: Someone once told me that children are like heroin. You always want more. Yet firstborns are special because you'll never have your first child again.
Oprah: Just like your first love.
SJP: I think that's why people have a hard time aging. The firsts go away—first love, first baby, first kiss. You have to create new ones.
Oprah: Speaking of love, you said on one of the biography shows that it's been a honeymoon ever since you and Matthew married. True?
SJP: Not entirely. I have a fantastic husband. Here's the honeymoon part: I still think he's the funniest, wittiest, most clever man I've ever known. He's still the person who makes me laugh harder than anybody—and I still want him to laugh at me. A few times I've said to him, "I'm not getting the big laughs from you today." It means something for him to laugh, because he's so bright. He's from a world my mom held up as really desirable— that Philip Roth, superliterary world. His parents were very much a part of the intellectual art crowd. I think a lot about his career, and I worry about him. This guy's got four movies coming out, and he's about to go back in and save a Broadway show [at the time of the interview, he was returning to The Producers ]. I think people need to know about that. Few people do what Matthew does.
Oprah: You light up when you talk about him.
SJP: He's really swell. Yes, he's a pain and he's indecisive and he's quiet—and I'm difficult with all my complications. We fight, and we bother each other sometimes. But he's one of a kind. And he's my son's father. I feel like I've given birth to a little bit of Matthew. I wanted that. Now that we have a child, I'm harder on him than I used to be, and I regret it all the time. When I say "I'm sorry" so often, the words lose their value.
Oprah: It's like, "If you're sorry, then just stop it."
SJP: Right. I think we have a good marriage. We'll see. We've been together for 12 years. That's a long time.
Oprah: It is. You were in your early 30s when you married, and you're approaching 40 now. What kind of woman do you want to become?
SJP: A better one. So much of my life lately has been Sex and the City, and now I want more. I want to be a better parent, a better actress—to keep myself challenged and terrified. And I want to read books and have conversations with my friends about plays we've seen. I want to mess up a million recipes at home, like I used to.
Oprah: What do you like to cook?
SJP: Roast chicken and pasta. I cook a lot.
Oprah: So after the show, you'll be doing more of that.
SJP: I'll be more present in my own life. My world feels so compartmentalized now: There's work, and then there's rushing home to see the baby and put him to bed. It's like, "Remember me? I'm the one who loves you." Once he's asleep, I run upstairs to answer phone calls and sort mail. After Sex and the City is finished, I might do a couple of movies a year, and I'll have time to see friends. We'll go on vacations again.
Oprah: You'll have more to give to yourself.
SJP: Fill the tank up. I don't know how an actress is supposed to observe and create new stuff if she hasn't been on the streets, brushing up against humanity. You have to have a life. A well-rounded life is more attainable than, say, having a small business by 40. But I do want to own a grocery store one day, much later in my life.
SJP: I've just always wanted one. I want my store to be a place where you can have a running tab. I want to hold mail for people when they're out of town. I want to rent bicycles in the summer. I want a babysitter to be able to call down and say, "I'm watching the Klein children, and I have no money. Can I borrow 20 bucks for baby food?" I want to sell beautiful cheese, maybe some lovely olives from France or Italy.
Oprah: You like talking about food, but you must not eat a lot. I'm lookin' at ya!
SJP: I do eat a lot.
Oprah: Explain that to us.
SJP: I'm not being cagey or modest. I just know how to dress. And so much of it is about genetics. That's why I don't like the endless discussions about how to get skinny after pregnancy. It's crap.
SJP: And it's not good for women. Actresses have this weight standard for professional reasons, but I think the standard is impossible for women in America.
Oprah: And yet you did it. You came back rushing down the street in Manolos.
SJP: My job requires me to put on a little dress and run around the streets of New York in heels. But I also had the financial means to hire a yoga teacher to come to my house while my sitter watched the newborn. For 95 percent of the world, that's not realistic. So when I hear that people are discussing how this actress got skinny, I say, "Who gives a crap how she got in shape?" We should find other role models.
Oprah: I'm with you, sister. Who are the women you admire?
SJP: My mom. My sister Rachel, who's a physician's assistant and a really decent person. She specializes in heart surgery. No one mentions her name in a newspaper, but she literally saves people's lives all day long.
Oprah: Sex and the City made America feel differently about being single. Was that your intention when you took the role?
SJP: No. I just thought it was an interesting part. There's a formula now in romantic comedies: the career lady with fantastic clothes who's a mess with men. But these women aren't flawed and complicated. They aren't on a quiet journey. That's the great thing about Carrie. Yes, she's a bit of a wreck, but she's a romantic and she's a writer and she's an observer, and she makes fantastic mistakes—and she has this beautiful relationship with New York City, which really is the person she loves most.
Oprah: Carrie has a soul. Over the years, you built that for her.
SJP: Well, I was given the opportunity. And I love Carrie. But I don't know that I'll play that kind of part again. I should play an engineer; I should play someone who buys her clothes at the Gap.
Oprah: I've always wanted to ask you something: Do you get all your Manolos for free?
SJP: I get a 30 percent discount. While I still have money, I'm happy to pay for them. I don't spend on things like drugs or alcohol—I buy shoes! And I buy a lot of purses, too. Are you a purse woman?
Oprah: I'm not.
SJP: Well, I like a purse.
Oprah: And I bet Carrie has hundreds in the wardrobe closet. Will you stay in touch with the other three women once the show is done?
SJP: Sure. We'll always know one another, but I doubt we'll work together again. Well, Cynthia and I might, because we worked together before, in theater. But we're forever in one another's lives. I want the same thing for them that I want for myself: new experiences. I'm not worried about them getting roles. They'll go on and do exciting things that scare and challenge them, too.
Oprah: Have there ever been things in the script that just shock you?
SJP: Me? Constantly. There's some language I just won't use.
Oprah: In the beginning, didn't you refuse to use the B word?
SJP: In the first episode.
Oprah: The P word is still hard for me.
SJP: I can't say that one! And I don't use the C word, either.
Oprah: Never. When you hear someone else say that word, doesn't it immediately put them in a separate universe in your mind?
SJP: He or she is a completely different person from then on. I don't like the F word very much, either. But it's important to me that my moral compass not be somebody else's. There's nothing more unlikable than somebody imposing their morality.
Oprah: Yes. So where do you see yourself ten years from now?
SJP: Living, breathing, and hopefully not broke.
Oprah: You'll make plenty of money in syndication.
SJP: We'll see.
Oprah: Well, you should.
SJP: I want to be clear about what I'm about to say. Relative to the rest of the world, I'm extremely well paid. But I know that almost everybody who works in network television works much less than I do and makes much more. I own the show, so when it's sold, there's something in there for me. But I'll never think I have money, because I spent so many years without. I've been financially responsible for so many people for such a long time—my family—that it's not enough to have money for myself. And it's not about luxury. It's about my mom's house payments. And my father is about to be laid off on Monday.
Oprah: Do you support him?
SJP: Absolutely. Dolly Parton once said something great. She said she told her family, "You'll get whatever you need, not whatever you want." I want to be able to give my family what they need—and every now and then, I'd like to give them what they want. I'm not profligate. But I also don't want to work superhard for another 20 years. I've been working as an actress for 30 years already. I want to be able to buy shoes and take my family on vacation.
Oprah: How many shoes do you have?
SJP: I just gave away a stack the other day. Now I have about 70 or 80 pairs.
Oprah: I consider that normal.
SJP: That's how warped the world is. We consider that normal.
Oprah: I know. When I had my closet redone, I realized that I had 190 pairs.
SJP: Is your new closet beautiful?
Oprah: I can go shopping in there.
SJP: When you try on clothes to go out, do you end up leaving a mess?
Oprah: I don't.
SJP: Well, I leave a mess and then I feel crappy about it. Before I left home today, I left a note saying, "I apologize for the state of the closet. Don't touch a thing in there! I'll clean it all up when I get back."
Oprah: As you approach the next chapter of your life, what are the things you're most certain about?
SJP: I'm most certain of my utter and undistractible devotion to my son. I'm not a religious or spiritual person, but I'm extraordinarily grateful for my good fortune. At least twice a day, I'm reminded of how lucky I am. Sometimes I walk by a newsstand and my picture will be on a magazine cover—and somebody else is actually curious enough to buy it. I can't believe this is my life.
Oprah: I've had that exact moment. Five or six years ago, I walked into Walgreens to get some Nivea cream, and I passed the magazine section. I saw someone black on the cover, so I said to myself, I wonder who that is? It was me.
SJP: And I think it would be disingenuous to pretend that doesn't matter, like we don't care. That's not to say there aren't times when it's invasive, and people say mean and untrue things about you. But if that didn't exist, then the good—the perks, the advantages, and the opportunities—wouldn't, either.
Oprah: You're ready for the show to end—but are the other three women?
SJP: I don't think so. But they will be. I really didn't discuss it with them because I didn't think it was my place. I just made the decision and Business Affairs dealt with telling them. Not that it was cold. But I think it's good to walk away from that coffee shop and not hate one another. That friggin' coffee shop scene every week!
Oprah: America loves it.
SJP: I love it, too, but I want to continue to love it. One of the parts I love most is the producing part.
Oprah: So was it your idea to bring Mikhail Baryshnikov on the show?
SJP: Yes. The courtship of Mikhail Baryshnikov was a Dear Diary experience. I mean, come on: "Dear Journal, today I had a meeting with Mikhail Baryshnikov." It's crazy. I was like, "Please, God, let this happen" and it did. It's nuts. He's the greatest living dancer of all time, and a curious and interesting man. He's also sexy and smart and cultured and otherworldly. I thought, He's the person who could make Mr. Big [her ex-flame on the show] look like my high school sweetheart.
Oprah: How did the idea come to you?
SJP: I was in the shower one day thinking, Who are we going to find? Then it just came to me: Baryshnikov! I've loved him forever, and what he doesn't know and I still haven't told him is that I danced with ABT [American Ballet Theatre] back in the days when he was there. I actually danced with him! I'm too embarrassed to tell him now.
Oprah: Do your best ideas come in the shower? Mine come in the tub.
SJP: It's the only time when you're really, really alone. For people who live in cities where you have to drive a lot, ideas come in the car. For me the shower is the one place where all the world's spinning stops.
Oprah: It might have something to do with the water.
SJP: It's the quietest place. Standing in the shower that day, I didn't dream that in a million years we'd ever get Mikhail on the show.
SJP: No. But it's a great lesson. Even when the odds are stacked against you, have a crazy-big dream—and then proceed.