I met Sarah Jessica Parker in the refined surrounds of the Library in The Soho Hotel, London. From the minute she walked in she was gracious and played the hostess, offering brownies and making sure everyone was comfortable. Wearing a stunning dress by up-and-coming designer Prabal Gurung and platform stilettos by Brit shoe designer Charlotte Olympia, the down-to-earth actress looked relaxed and happy. Her skin was radiant and fresh and belied her 46 years, and I looked at her arms and legs to see if they were sinewy – as often reported – but found they just looked toned and taut.
In town to promote her new film, I Don’t Know How She Does It, in which she plays busy working mum Kate, SJP is still looked upon by many women as the fashion-forward Carrie from Sex And The City after playing her for over ten years on TV and the big screen. However, while the mother of three has a love of fashion, she is equally happy running after her kids, James Wilkie, eight, and twins Tabitha and Marion, two, on the streets of New York in comfortable clothing as she is donning designer outfits for red-carpet events.
Here, she talks about life as a busy working mum, keeping her marriage to fellow actor Matthew Broderick on track and how she doesn’t see herself as a style icon.
How do you manage as a busy mum?
I have liberties that most working women and most working mothers don’t have, like I can flip in and out of work and I can have a support system and the financial means to make different choices. That is why I was so taken by Kate’s [her character] story. There are so many women that do it far better than I do and with much less support and are really seamless about it. I am really in no position except to learn from other mothers.
How do you deal with the guilt of being a working mother?
I prefer to call it conflict rather than guilt. I think there are a lot of women who would object to the choices that my character Kate makes and that is part of the conversation, but I think she is trying to arrive at choices in the best way that she knows how and she believes the choices are the best she can do for her family. Kate loves being a mother and a wife, as do I, but I also love my career that I have being doing longer than anything else and it is hard to walk away from that. It is an internal conflict that I think a lot of women feel.
When your husband Matthew was recovering from back surgery, was it harder for you as a single mum?
He’s up and about now but he he can’t lift anything or anybody, allegedly [she laughs]. No, I heard it from the surgeon’s mouth! He is not to lift anything over three pounds and all our children weigh well over that and it was just a bit harder because he couldn’t hold one of our daughters. They are just at that clingy age right now, which is seductive, and I know it has nothing to do with me but is a developmental stage, so there are times when his two hands came in handy and they haven’t lately, but it is all right. It is very sweet because every day they ask him: ‘Pappa, how’s your back, how’s your back?’
Do you have a mantra you try and live by?
I do but it is really corny and it is very Pollyanna. It is the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Do you feel more pressure in Hollywood to look perfect as you walk out the door?
How I look when I walk out the door is down to practical things as a parent. Without question there is a fight every day about putting boots on or socks or whether to bring a hat or somebody drives by and splashes us. These are all the elements of living a life like everybody else in a city. How I look is really dictated by children in many ways. I don’t want to embarrass my son when I drop him off – I want to wear clothes that are appropriate for the weather and often you have to run to a meeting or the market afterwards, so it is boring, but it is the practicalities that dictate what I wear and no one else really.
How do you like being described as a style icon?
It is not really the way I think of myself but I recognise that I played a character [Carrie in Sex And The City] for a long time that had a great devotion and passion about clothing and fashion in the way she appeared to the world and I certainly have this enormous regard for people who do it well like designers. I love a well made dress and beautifully designed shoe and it is a treat and privilege to borrow them, but it is not paramount in my mind. It is not the first thing I think about in the morning. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of as a business person and I have wonderful relationships with people that do beautiful things, but it is not a bigger part of how I see myself. It’s very flattering that people have an association and I am not trying to diminish it all, it is just I would never want to define myself that way.
Who do you think are the power players on the fashion industry? Is it still quite male dominated?
Well the great doyen is a woman, of course Anna [Wintour], and she really is the shepherd of a large flock. There are a lot of male fashion designers in women’s wear and I am not entirely sure why that is.
Is there something as a mum you thought you’d never let your kids do?
You are constantly breaking rules. There is that great line in the movie where Christina [Hendricks’] character says: ‘Any mother that says she doesn’t use bribery can add liar to her description.’ I potty-train by using half a jelly bean. One of my daughters now goes and sits on the potty and makes the sound ‘shhhh’ just to get a jelly bean. Oh she is a clever one!
Have you ever been tempted to take a step back from your career for your family?
I have made lots of choices not to work because it wasn’t right for my family, but I have never thought later on that I wish I had been able to make it work – I have always felt that this was what was needed from me and one of the things that separates me from other working women is that it is so rare for them to be able to pick and choose.
Do you and Matthew ever have date nights?
Sure. We go to the theatre and to dinner and see friends occasionally, but not during the school year so much. I love putting the kids to bed but you do find time and we talk a lot about when the kids are grown and gone and all the things we’ll do.
Would you consider having any more children?
It’s not that I wouldn’t consider it, it hasn’t been part of a conversation in my house lately. I don’t know, we haven’t really discussed it. I come from a big family so I am accustomed to a lot of children around me and it is wonderful to have the three we have. I feel very lucky – it would seem greedy to ask for more.
Are we going to see Sex And The City back as a TV show?
No. Not that I am in. I don’t see a television series happening as that is too much time away from the kids. And not as a film, either, in the near future. It is not something that we are talking about at the moment.
I Don’t Know How She Does It opens at cinemas nationwide on Friday.