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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Sarah Jessica Parker is back on screen this spring. In May, she'll reprise her role as Carrie Bradshaw, when "Sex and the City: The Movie" struts into theaters.

But first, she's in a smaller film playing a very different single gal. In "Smart People," Parker trades in her designer duds and stiletto heels for sensible pumps and a lab coat. She plays a 40-something E.R. doctor who finds herself falling for her former English professor who just happens to be her current patient. As a student, she had nursed a crush on the tweedy, temperamental and utterly pompous professor played by Dennis Quaid.

(Soundbite of movie "Smart People")

Ms. SARAH JESSICA PARKER (Actor): (As Dr. Janet Hartigan) Forty-five minutes.

Mr. DENNIS QUAID (Actor): (As Lawrence Wetherhold) Excuse me?

Ms. PARKER: (As Dr. Janet Hartigan) Forty-five minutes. That's how long it's been since I've uttered a single word. I mean, do you even know where I'm from? Where I grew up? Where I live, you know, anything about my family? What kind of day did I have? Well, if you actually did want to know, I was having a great day until about 30 minutes ago when I realized you're going to shut up.

NORRIS: Sarah Jessica Parker stopped by our New York studio to explain why she's attracted to prickly characters.

Ms. PARKER: I really like to find roles that people that I don't relate to, sometimes that I don't even like particularly, that are not immediately likable or are complex and flawed in ways that I'm not. And generally, that comes from good writers. So, really, I really look at the script as a whole first.

NORRIS: Now, compared to your other work, you're very unadorned in this film. You're often wearing a white doctor's coat. There are no designer clothing; no designer duds. You look much more like the average 40-something woman that you might run into at the grocery store.

Ms. PARKER: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: Was that by choice?

Ms. PARKER: Most assuredly. You know, I really don't really have any great interest in playing another woman who is, you know, living in a large, exciting city who has access to fashion and is flawed and curious and, you know, likes to spend her money in certain ways. I think I got to do it with beautiful writing in that one particular way. And I really just don't want to spend the rest of my career doing that. I don't think it's good for me. I don't think it's very challenging.

So, I really love the idea of playing real women that you and I might meet walking down the streets of, you know, D.C. or New York City or Nebraska, even Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis. I love women stories.

NORRIS: You have another film on horizon, "Sex in the City: The Movie."

Ms. PARKER: Yes.

NORRIS: But at this point, everyone involved in this project is very mum. But could you, at least, tell us a little bit about what we might expect when Carrie Bradshaw and her posse hit the big screen?

Ms. PARKER: Well, you're right. I'm trying to be stealth about it. The thing that I think I'm most excited about the movie is Michael Patrick King. My partner and the writer and director of this movie wrote a really, really beautiful screenplay. And I think the thing I can tell you is that it's not what people expect. It's grand, and it's deep and there's incredible disappointment, and great laughs and still the cheeky, you know, behavior and the ribald talking conversation and language. But it's really about being a grown up, and what does that mean and how complicit are we in our disappointments and our failures, and when actually friendship can no longer fix things or even distract you the way they could when you were in your 20s.

NORRIS: So many people, men and women, have such strong feelings about Carrie Bradshaw and her friends, but really mostly about Carrie. Do you find that people approach you differently now? And do you find, in any way, that you're almost imprisoned by the success of that character?

Ms. PARKER: I definitely think that, you know, people feel very comfortable approaching me, and for some reason I have never felt imprisoned or trapped or that it's affected the kind of choices I've had or even my personal life to some degree. And I think it's because Carrie was kind of the one character that wasn't an archetype. You know, the other women played these very specific roles and it was necessary that they do so.

And Carrie was always a lot of people. She was always the one asking the questions and she's more modest. She was outrageous in her thinking. But in her, you know, physical life, she didn't really show as much, she didn't say as much, she wasn't as revealing. I mean, I've recognized that it's probably the same people clearly know me best for or, more often than not, they know me for that. But for the most part, it's been just this extraordinarily wonderful thing.

NORRIS: And people, you know, if they're watching this character for so many seasons on HBO and now preparing to watch her on the big screen in "Sex and the City: The Movie," perhaps they know something about you based on that character because there are obvious similarities — you live in New York, you're of similar age. What don't people know about Sarah Jessica Parker?

Ms. PARKER: Probably 90 percent of, you know, who I am. Honestly, not to - I'm really not trying to deflect but I think for someone like yourself or for me as a listener, I kind of have all these ideas about who you and your colleagues are, you know, at NPR. I've grown up listening to all of you, literally, my whole life, and I have all these ideas about what you must do in your time off and what your interests are and what your curiosities are, and how you like to be with your friends and what you like to cook. And I, you know, I think, this is all based on what I've decided because you're familiar to me.

And the truth is, I probably don't have very much right at all about you, you know? And I think that's just the nature of being public. And probably what people don't know is that my life is really a bunch of perfunctory business of being a mother and a wife, and it's really rather dull, a lot of my day. But I really like it, you know. I like running to the market and I like e-mailing the other parents at my son's school and signing up for special snack and feeling like my house is my responsibility in a lot of old-fashioned ways. And I don't know.

NORRIS: How old is your son now?

Ms. PARKER: He's five years and 3, 4 months.

NORRIS: And…

Ms. PARKER: Five and a quarter, he would say.

NORRIS: Uh-huh. And has that changed - you make different choices now as a mother.

Ms. PARKER: I make different choices just about time. It doesn't affect really the kinds of scripts I choose or what I choose to do professionally. It's really about, you know, how is this going to affect my time with my son, because my husband is a working actor and so we just, sort of, are conditioned to take jobs when they come along.

And now, I have this great reason to really think about where is it going to take me and for how long is it going to take me away. And what I found is that a lot of things just aren't worth it.

NORRIS: It's been wonderful talking to you. Thanks so much.

Ms. PARKER: Oh, geez, it's been my great, great delight. And please tell all your colleagues how much and how fond I am of the show.

NORRIS: Well, that just means you have to come back.

Ms. PARKER: Oh, with pleasure.

NORRIS: Sarah Jessica Parker's latest film is "Smart People." It opens Friday. If you're among those still suffering from the "Sex and the City" withdrawal, release is on the way. The movie hits theaters on May 30th.

(Soundbite of "Sex and the City" theme)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR NEWS.

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