AL­WAYS FOR­EVER

Few ac­tresses carve a per­ma­nent place in our hearts, but SARAH JES­SICA PARKER is one of them. From Sex And The City to Di­vorce, she can do no wrong, says Annabel Megge­son

Good Housekeeping (South Africa) - - B E A U T Y M U S T- H AV E S -

Sarah Jes­sica Parker is try­ing to re­sist send­ing an e-mail. It’s a re­minder to her hus­band, Matthew Brod­er­ick, to make sure a school form has been signed and re­turned, and that their son, James Wilkie, 14, needs to clear out his back­pack to­mor­row, as he does ev­ery Wed­nes­day. ‘There’s a file un­der his desk and all his pa­pers from the week – whether it’s Latin or his­tory – have to go in.’ De­spite be­ing 5 600km away from her Man­hat­tan home (Sarah is in Lon­don to pro­mote her uni­sex per­fume Stash SJP. ‘Now I can say I’ve made a fra­grance for hu­mans!’ she says of the black-pep­per-and-patchouli-laced per­fume, which I hap­pen to think is her best to date), she’s strug­gling to loosen her grip on the de­tails of daily life chez Parker-Brod­er­ick.

‘I do a lot, be­cause I’m con­trol­ling,’ she says, when I ask if she and Matthew share do­mes­tic du­ties. ‘I’m a per­son who’s fas­tid­i­ous and ex­act­ing, and so I do a huge amount. What is sur­pris­ing is how much [my hus­band] can do and does in my ab­sence. Ev­ery­body gets where they need to be. But still, he’s not go­ing to put ev­ery­thing away at night. When I come home, I can see the path.’

‘I’m a per­son who’s fas­tid­i­ous and e a ting’ arah essi a Parker on her home life

Ah, yes, the no­to­ri­ous man trail. In our house we have ‘Annabel clean’ and ‘Ja­son clean’, I tell her. ‘Oh, that’s so great! I’m go­ing to use that from now on. Is it SJ clean or Matthew clean?!’

In the end, she doesn’t send the e-mail. ‘They re­ally must do it their way,’ she con­cedes. But which work­ing mother doesn’t un­der­stand the con­flict be­tween want­ing a man to share in the du­ties, then im­me­di­ately jump­ing in to make sure it’s done a cer­tain way?

Hav­ing been with Matthew for 25 years, and with three chil­dren – James Wilkie, and the twins, Tabitha Hodge and Mar­ion (known as Loretta), who turned 8 in June – Sarah is no stranger to the com­plex­i­ties of long-term re­la­tion­ships. It was her idea to do a show ad­dress­ing them. HBO’s won­der­ful Di­vorce, cre­ated by Sharon Hor­gan, aired on DStv last year (if you missed it, that’s this month’s box set sorted), and sea­son two is due to be re­leased soon.

‘The study of the land­scape of re­la­tion­ships is end­lessly in­ter­est­ing,’ she says. ‘ A marriage is not baked, es­pe­cially when you in­clude chil­dren. There is no full stop at the end of the sen­tence; it’s just a run-on sen­tence. And there is so much good that comes from it and there’s so much com­plex­ity, and peo­ple sur­vive it and they don’t; and they con­tem­plate af­fairs and they don’t have them; they have af­fairs and it doesn’t hurt the marriage; they con­tem­plate di­vorce and they sur­vive, or a di­vorce blows up a fam­ily to the de­gree it feels al­most ir­repara­ble.’

In the case of Di­vorce, the cou­ple do sep­a­rate, but it’s still ‘mil­lions of peo­ple’s story. Even if it’s not ex­actly yours, you know some­one who’s go­ing through it.’ Sarah cites Amer­i­can writer John Cheever as an in­flu­ence. Known as the Chekhov of sub­ur­bia, he wrote short sto­ries that per­fectly cap­ture the dull­ness and dis­ap­point­ments of places like Westch­ester in New York, where Di­vorce is set.

The show is like the flip side to Sex And The City, the se­ries that de­fined a gen­er­a­tion and made thou­sands of women fall in love with Sarah’s iconic Car­rie. Di­vorce is world-weary rather than op­ti­mistic, though it con­tains hu­mour and fe­male friend­ship and fab­u­lous clothes, all of which I sus­pect Sarah has iden­ti­fied as nec­es­sary agents of joy for any­one surf­ing the highs and lows of love and life post 40.

If Sarah had the idea for a show about ‘a bro­ken re­la­tion­ship’ be­cause she wanted to ex­plore the prob­lems of adult part­ner­ship, the process has come full cir­cle. ‘I learnt some­thing re­ally im­por­tant, which is: be smart enough to recog­nise that the things that an­noy you about a long-term part­ner don’t ac­tu­ally mat­ter. Like any­thing that an­noys me about Matthew – and trust me, there is a laun­dry list twice as long about things I do that an­noy him, I’m sure of it – fun­da­men­tally it doesn’t mat­ter. So if you’re still talk­ing about the minu­tiae that an­noy you, then the stuff that re­ally mat­ters must still be in place.’

We agree that how­ever much your part­ner drives you mad, there are mo­ments when you re­alise how well suited you are, af­ter all. ‘Gen­er­ally speak­ing, you have to push men to have [mean­ing­ful] con­ver­sa­tions, but then there are those men who want to talk too much and I’m like, “Ooh, that’s weird!” Or much as you want your part­ner to be more lov­ing, I’ll be at the school gates and some guy is al­ways rub­bing his wife’s back and I’m like, “Eurgh.” I don’t know why that both­ers me!’

Still, I don’t think it’s any co­in­ci­dence that in Di­vorce, Sarah’s char­ac­ter, Frances, is in the driv­ing seat. (She’s the main bread­win­ner, she has the af­fair and asks for a di­vorce.) I have a hunch that some of this dy­namic plays out in the Parker-Brod­er­ick house­hold too, where Sarah doesn’t just man­age the do­mes­tic af­fairs, but is a bread­win­ner and work­ing par­ent par ex­cel­lence.

At 52, her ca­reer is on an en­vi­able roll. Be­sides the fra­grance, Sarah has projects as var­ied as a stand-alone SJP store in Wash-

in­g­ton, DC (which stocks her range of shoes and lit­tle black dresses), to work­ing on a mu­si­cal about a woman wait­ing to hear if a re­cent di­ag­no­sis could spell some­thing very se­ri­ous. She’s on the board of the New York City Bal­let, help­ing to raise US$10mil­lion (about R130-mil­lion) over the past five years, and is a con­sum­mate phi­lan­thropist. There’s also the busi­ness side of her movie/TV ca­reer – the pro­ducer cred­its on many of the projects she has worked on since (and in­clud­ing) SATC. Is it im­por­tant to have that ex­tra con­trol? ‘I love pro­duc­ing be­cause I love the col­lab­o­ra­tion with in­cred­i­bly gifted peo­ple and see­ing the process through from be­gin­ning to end. It’s about the part of me that’s trans­par­ent, that part of me that loves work­ing cre­atively and fight­ing till the end for the piece as a whole.’

De­spite her sub­se­quent achieve­ments, Sarah is the first to ac­knowl­edge the im­por­tance of Car­rie as the en­dur­ing char­ac­ter who won so many hearts and a pri­mary rea­son we’re all so in­vested in SJP. (She even named a shoe af­ter her.) ‘I don’t mind talk­ing about it at all,’ she says, when I can’t help but bring up my beloved SATC. And while in the past she has said she didn’t iden­tify with Car­rie be­cause they were at such dif­fer­ent places in their lives (Sarah was mar­ried and hav­ing a baby at the time her char­ac­ter was run­ning round Man­hat­tan from one ro­man­tic li­ai­son to an­other), there are strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties. Car­rie is smart, en­gag­ing, stylish, self-dep­re­cat­ing and kind. Ditto Sarah. As a jour­nal­ist, Car­rie was in­her­ently cu­ri­ous; like­wise I can tell Sarah is hugely in­ter­ested in other peo­ple and what’s go­ing on around her. She asks me as many ques­tions as I do her and when I ex­press con­cern about the clock tick­ing on our chat, she re­quests an ex­tra 12 min­utes. Her ears re­ally prick up when she finds out I have four kids, in­clud­ing triplets. ‘You have triplets?’ ‘Yes, but you have twins….’ ‘I know, but….’ It doesn’t seem to mat­ter how many kids, how hard we work, how stylishly we’re nav­i­gat­ing our lives (Sarah, by the way, gets up at 5am to get on top of e-mails: ‘In the morn­ings, I seem to fin­ish things more.’), women still seem to be­lieve that some­one else is do­ing it bet­ter, and Sarah is not ex­empt from this par­tic­u­lar vul­ner­a­bil­ity. The dif­fer­ence is she to­tally owns her im­per­fec­tions. The word ‘au­then­tic’ is overused in pro­files, as if the reader needs to feel vin­di­cated by dis­cov­er­ing the per­son is a lit­tle more like them than they seemed, but in Sarah’s case, it’s ax­iomatic.

Con­sider how open she was about her twins be­ing born via sur­ro­gate; many peo­ple in the pub­lic eye go to great lengths to con­ceal sec­ondary in­fer­til­ity for fear of un­der­min­ing their per­fect im­age. Sarah’s self-im­age is healthy and grounded, she doesn’t re­quire the pro­tec­tion of a one-di­men­sional façade. In­stead, she’s in­vested in un­der­stand­ing how she and the world work and how she can do her best by what she learns. (I sup­pose the point I’m re­ally try­ing to make is if some­one as amaz­ing as Sarah suf­fers self-doubt, then there’s hope for us all.)

Then there’s Sarah’s quin­tes­sen­tial New York­ness. ‘I love all the pos­si­bil­i­ties,’ she says of the city that seems to run through her veins and firmly dif­fer­en­ti­ates her from her Hol­ly­wood counter- parts. Though she al­ways has pa­parazzi out­side her West Village home. ‘There are so many peo­ple who are cogs in the great wheel of this city that a less bright light is shone on our lives. If I can get a few yards from my front door, I can get lost in a crowd.’ And while she’s less keen on this ex­po­sure for her kids, ‘I tell them, there are chil­dren with far worse prob­lems than theirs.’

Talk turns to kids and the In­ter­net – SJP is well versed in this, with her son James Wilkie’s re­cent emer­gence on so­cial me­dia. And it turns out she’s as con­flicted as I am about the whole thing. ‘ I don’t know what to do…. [James Wilkie] has a phone for trav­el­ling to school, even though I trav­elled to school for­ever [with­out a phone], but we held off longer than most par­ents.’

I re­mark it seems ob­vi­ous that smart­phones don’t ben­e­fit chil­dren. No mother ever said, ‘Lit­tle Ge­orge is do­ing so well since I got him that iPhone. He’s grade-A all the way now.’

‘I know, but also Lit­tle Ge­orge might get hurt,’ replies Sarah. ‘He might end up say­ing some­thing that might not be kind and would hurt some­one else. Maybe Lit­tle Ge­orge will say some­thing that he isn’t in­clined to say, but he learns the lan­guage quickly and, like with other things, wants to be like his peers.’

As for her own re­la­tion­ship with tech­nol­ogy: ‘ I’m not easy with it and I’m un­clear of my own bound­aries. I’m un­clear of how much I want to en­gage and how to have it not be a per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence and how to have con­ver­sa­tions that I think are pro­duc­tive with peo­ple when they’re feel­ing anx­ious or an­gry, or they’re want­ing to say re­ally un­friendly things.’

Her plat­form of choice is In­sta­gram and she de­ploys it with rel­ish, us­ing it re­ally for busi­ness, but in­ad­ver­tently show­cas­ing her per­son­al­ity and view of the world at large. Like her, the ac­count is cel­e­bra­tory, quirky and open-hearted. Sure, she wants to show you the pretty bits, but it’s not in the least bit self-con­scious – take a look at her grid and you’ll see it’s won­der­fully spon­ta­neous and un­pol­ished; zoom in and there’s hu­mour, cu­rios­ity, style and a quiet ap­pre­ci­a­tion of her­self and what she has achieved. It’s a les­son in mas­ter­ing so­cial me­dia – and life. We loved Car­rie and it’s with very good rea­son we love Sarah Jes­sica Parker too.

‘Be smart enough to recog­nise that the things that an­noy you about a long-term part­ner don’t ac­tu­ally mat­ter’

Sarah with Thomas Haden Church in a scene from With hus­band Matthew and their chil­dren (from left) James Wilkie, Tabitha Hodge and Mar­ion Loretta at the open­ing night of the new mu­si­cal on Broad­way in New York City ear­lier this year Di­vorce Char­lie And The Choco­late

Fac­tory

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