The enduring appeal of SJP
As the actress formerly known as Carrie Bradshaw premieres her new show tonight, our reporter asks why we just can't get enough of Sarah Jessica Parkinson
While premieres of new television programmes tend to get people talking — last week’s first episode of ‘Westworld’, for example — it’s rare that a female-centric dramedy grabs headlines right off the bat. Yet Sky Atlantic’s latest series, ‘Divorce’, has done just that before it’s even landed on the box. Steering away from the recent trend towards millennials and girl gangs, this new series is a no-holds-barred look at the disintegration of a marriage spearheaded by a wife that wants more.
Another offering from broadcasting behemoth HBO and co-written by our own Sharon Horgan — whose other shows ‘Pulling’ and ‘Catastrophe’ have been hits here and abroad — mean this show would always pique interest. Yet despite the writer’s pedigree and the channel’s reputation, there’s something more at play here, and that’s the return of Sarah Jessica Parker to the small screen.
It’s rare to find an actress as beloved and endlessly popular as the woman often known as SJP. Working steadily in television, film and theatre since the 1970s, it was her groundbreaking role as Carrie Bradshaw in ‘Sex and the City’ at the turn of the millennium that catapulted her to global superstardom, and despite two quite dreadful spin-off films, the public still has a lot of goodwill towards the woman who brought the Manolo-loving sex columnist to life.
Thus it makes sense that we would be interested in a show that has all the hallmarks of being what the ‘Sex and the City’ movies weren’t — a grown-up take on love and loss, set in New York with a very stylish and sympathetic leading lady.
But Carrie aside, I couldn’t help but wonder — what is it about Sarah Jessica Parker that we love so much? Surely it’s not just a character she played still playing on our affections — after all, there’s much more about the woman to admire, from her talent to her style and business acumen, and how she deals with public interest in her personal life.
Parker is undeniably talented as an actress, but her film career never reached the heights of what she achieved on television. ‘Failure to Launch’, ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ and ‘Did You Hear About The Morgans?’ were panned by critics and audiences alike. Before her Carrie days, she was largely a character actress with scene-stealing roles in ‘Hocus Pocus’, ‘LA Story’ and ‘The First Wives Club’. It’s in television she found her niche, so her return to it is unsurprising.
A 51-year-old mother of three, Parker has spawned something of a global empire out of a combination of sheer likeability and shrewd business savvy. She was one of the first celebrities to release a signature fragrance back in 2005, when A-list perfumes had largely gone out of style. The success of Lovely was quickly followed by SJP NYC, a fragrance with a distinctly ‘Sex and the City’-style marketing campaign. Now she’s just released Stash, a gender-neutral scent she says she’s been working on for a decade.
And it’s not just perfume that’s seen her make bank — following on from her famous character’s love of luxury footwear, Parker has released several lines of eponymous shoes with different retailers, from Manolo Blahnik himself to department store Bloomingdales and famous New York bridal boutique Kleinfeld’s. She’s also just announced that she will be enterting the world of book publishing; an avid reader, she wants to find and nurture young literary talent.
Her forays in to clothing have been less successful; in 2010 she took over the reins of the classic brand Halston but left her post after 18 months citing creative differences, and before that, her own line Bitten sold in the chain Steve & Barry’s before it closed in 2009. Yet despite these bumps in the road, Parker is still a fashion darling and her own personal style is as beloved as Carrie’s.
Yet Parker isn’t simply a clothes horse; when she’s photographed out and about in New York with her children, she’s dressed casually and certainly not courting the attention of the paps. It’s when the occasion calls for it, a premiere or a gala, that she brings out the big fashion guns —– she’s one of the most watched on the red carpet at the annual Met Gala in New York, as SJP is a woman who knows how to make a style statement with hats, trains and dramatic dresses.
For some reason, despite her wealth and success, ordinary women relate to Parker. Perhaps it’s because she comes across as quite low maintenance in real life, yet still has her Cinderella red carpet moments. Maybe it’s because her beauty is unconventional and her style unpredictable. Or rather it’s because she’s incredibly articulate and intelligent on topics from family and style to politics and business. It could be because at 51, she seems as on top of her game as ever — ageing how we’d all like to with grace and aplomb. And alongside that, perhaps it’s because she played a character that was complex in her appeal — Parker herself told the ‘Telegraph’ that Carrie was “the least identifiable character I’ve ever played”.
Her marriage of nearly two decades to fellow actor Matthew Broderick is largely scandal-free; there was a blip in 2008 with accusations of infidelity on his part making tabloid headlines, but overall their marriage seems to be a rarity in showbiz, with Parker telling United Airlines inflight magazine this week “I really like my husband!”
And when in 2014, Sarah J Symonds, the author of ‘Having an Affair? A Handbook for the Other Woman’ made a (now deleted) comment about how the actress’ children don’t look like her, perhaps in relation to the fact that daughers Marion and Tabitha were carried by a gestational surrogate, Parker let her have it on Twitter with a series of articulate tweets.
“Your anonymity doesn’t diminish your outrageous and vulgar tweet. And your deletion only reveals your cowardice,” she typed. “I’m certain there isn’t a woman on this planet who would support your specific kind of cruelty… You should be ashamed… I hope more people join me in voicing their objection to and holding accountable uninformed and unkind women like yourself who find pleasure and delight in attacking other women.” Ouch.
It remains to be seen whether Parker’s return to television will eclipse Bradshaw, but initial reports out of the US suggest that the new series is a different, darker beast and that Parker’s character Frances shares nothing but a physical resemblance and a location with Carrie. Mr Big or no Mr Big, I’ll certainly be tuning in tonight.
‘Divorce’ is on Sky Atlantic tonight at 10.10pm