From Sex and the City to Divorce the television remaking of Sarah Jessica Parker

The actress who played Carrie in HBOs classic series is back after a 12-year gap

During the publicity for her new TV series, Divorce, which follows a middle-aged couple caught at the furious fag-end of their once bright-burning marriage, Sarah Jessica Parker took the time to make something very clear to the fans of her previous HBO show, the era-defining Sex and the City. This is not Carrie in the suburbs, Carrie the commuter, she told the New York Times. And I kind of want to get ahead of that, so that there is not this giant heave of disappointment when people find the show is not that same buoyant kind of thing.

She was right in that Frances, the dissatisfied and often dislikable heroine of Divorce, is nothing like the perennially optimistic Carrie Bradshaw who tripped blithely through Manhattans gilded playground for six seasons and two movies, eternally convinced that every day would bring some fresh romantic surprise. And yet its hard not to see Divorce, which was created by Sharon Horgan and starts on Sky Atlantic on 11 October, as the earlier shows bitter flip side, a world in which Carrie and Big (or, more realistically, Carrie and Aidan) buy a McMansion in Westchester, have two kids, rack up debt and slowly see their love wither into contempt.

While television audiences have fused Parker and Carrie so successfully that no profile of the 51-year-old actress is complete without an inventory of her outfits and shoes, she herself has always been clear on the difference. Bradshaws life is nothing nothing like mine, she told Vogue in 2011. I loved playing her and it changed my life in wonderful ways, but Im not a crazy shoe lady. I dont think about fashion all day long.

Maybe not, but there were still times when her association with her most famous role threatened to overwhelm her career. When Sex and the City ended in 2004, she returned to movies, winning a Golden Globe for her performance in The Family Stone and giving well-reviewed turns in a mixture of comedies and indie fare. To viewers, however, she remained indelibly Carrie, a fact she subsequently acknowledged by agreeing to star in two Sex and the City movies (and she has never rejected the idea of a third).

SJP, third from left, as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City.

Perhaps aware of the dearth of well-written comedic film roles for women, the famously polite Parker has always been gracious about the part that won her four Golden Globes, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and two Emmys. It was something I did for 10 years. And I chose to keep doing it, she told Red magazine in 2011. To have a weary response to somebodys association with me in that role would be insane.

Its a pragmatic answer and one that cuts to the core of her personality. For Parker is nothing if not a model professional, an old-fashioned grafter who began acting as a child, 25 years before she landed Sex and the City in her early 30s. She was savvy enough to diversify when that came to an end using the worlds vision of her and Carrie as one person to establish a perfume (Lovely), a range of shoes and handbags (SJP) and, most recently, a line of little black dresses (SJP LBD).

In 2004, she told Oprah Winfrey that she always wanted to run a grocery store, a place where you can have a running tab hold mail for people rent bicycles in the summer. Petit Trianon imagery aside, it has the ring of authenticity: Parker has always been both highly practical and intensely romantic. She told the Sunday Times that she fell in love with acting after starring as a child alongside Claire Bloom and seeing her in the dressing room beautiful, otherworldly in her bathrobe, with that heavy bosom, spraying water on her skin Id think: Thats all I want to be just like her.

That combination of rose-tinted optimism and a strong work ethic probably has its roots in her childhood. Born in the mining town of Nelsonville, Ohio, she was raised in a large, arts-obsessed family with precarious finances. Her parents, Barbara and Stephen, split soon after Parker, the youngest of their four children, was born. Her mother remarried and had a further four children. It was a childhood lived hand to mouth Parker has mentioned not always having the money to pay household bills or buy Christmas presents and once tellingly said: A big part of not having money as a kid isnt that you havent the stuff you want but Im grateful for all that now. It gave me a really good work ethic.

If her childhood was low in material comforts, it was culturally rich. The family moved to New Yorks suburbs and there were frequent trips into the city to visit museums, hear concerts and watch ballet, theatre and opera. We went … when it was either free to children, or very affordable, she told the Guardians Jess Cartner-Morley in 2006. She remains a passionate supporter of the arts and is a Unicef representative for the performing arts, in addition to working on President Obamas Turnaround Arts Initiative and serving as the vice-chairman of the New York City Ballet.

SJP at New York City Ballets fashion gala in September; she is vice-chair of the organisation. Photograph: Startraks Photo/REX/Shutterstock

The latter is particularly dear to her heart: she trained at the New York School of American Ballet but abandoned a dance career once Broadway beckoned. She made the cast of the original version of Annie and by 1978, aged 13, was playing the lead. She has worked solidly ever since, starring in everything from teen movie Footloose to comedies such as Honeymoon in Vegas, before landing Sex and the City in the late 90s. In an interesting twist, she got married to actor Matthew Broderick just before she began playing Americas most famous singleton.

The marriage came after a period of high-profile romances, including brief walkouts with Nicholas Cage and John F Kennedy Jnr and a disastrous seven-year relationship with a drug-addicted Robert Downey Jnr. I thought, well, Ill help him, she told the Sunday Times in 2006. [But] I got to this point where I couldnt make deals with him any more. I think it took enormous courage to walk away because I just had to take a leap of faith hed be OK without me.

She found security with Broderick the couple have been married for almost two decades and have three children James Wilkie, 13, and seven-year-old twins Tabitha Hodge and Marion Loretta. Hes from a world my mom held up as really desirable that Philip Roth, super-literary world. His parents were very much a part of the intellectual art crowd, she told Winfrey but their union continues to attract attention from the US press. We have good days, decent days and bad days. Thats a marriage, she said back in 2011. She recently told the New York Times: that the constant speculation bewildered her. I guess its because we just keep staying married maybe that annoys them.

Despite her success in 2011, she was described as Hollywoods highest-paid actress theres the sense that her career has not quite won her the critical acclaim it might have in an earlier age. She once nostalgically remarked: I wish it were 1940 and, for all the bang-on-trend outfits and show-stopping turns at the annual Met Gala, theres more than a hint of old Hollywood about Parker. Zooey Deschanel, who starred with her in 2006s Failure to Launch, compared her to Katharine Hepburn and Claudette Colbert and its easy to imagine her as the heroine of a screwball classic what, after all, was Sex and the City but a screwball with added raunch?

Perhaps because of this she is sanguine about her return to a leading television role after 12 years, admitting that the chance of lightning striking twice is unlikely. She told the New York Times that she signed on for Divorce because the storyline spoke to her personally. Its a really specific point in a persons life, right now, for my generation. Its when you start to think about relationships, the time spent, what came of it and what do you do with where you find yourself now? Not so terribly different from the musings of Ms Bradshaw in the end.

Divorce starts on Sky Atlantic on 11 October at 10.10pm

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/01/sarah-jessica-parker-hbo-divorce-sex-and-the-city

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