Ryan Pfluger/The New York Times/Redux
Actress Sarah Jessica Parker is apologizing for calling early and then, before she even gets into the reason for her call — the Season 2 premiere of her HBO series Divorce — begins a hilarious off-topic commiseration about the decided lack of style in the modern Brownie uniform needed by her 8-year-old twins, Tabitha and Loretta. “It’s awful,” she moans, as she recalls dreamily the Brownie beanies and sashes of her youth. “They were beautiful!” Parker further details how she searched Etsy for vintage uniforms for the girls and when she found them? “They politely declined,” she says, sighing.
On to the topic at hand. As the new season of Divorce gets underway Sunday, Parker talks about it as both complex and promising. The painful, heartbreaking and oftentimes funny uncoupling of longtime marrieds Frances (Parker) and Robert Dufresne (Thomas Haden Church) — and the impact it has on friends and family — was characterized by bitterness and legal one-upmanship in the first season. Now there's a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.
“The battle, for the most part, is over and [there's] an attempt at some light and air, metaphorically and literally, and a new beginning," Parker says. "New beginnings always feel they are loaded with promise. But the truth is always more complex.”
Parker says she finds it gratifying that fans of the show have chosen camps, alternatively rooting for Frances and then Robert as they trudge through their separation. “I, too, flip back and forth. I am often on Robert’s side as I read the scripts and even as I am in the middle of the scene,” she says. “It is not important to me that an audience only relates to Frances because then we are not painting an accurate portrait of real human beings.”
And unlike some fans, Parker says she doesn’t find Frances unlikable. Rather, “I like that she can be chilly and exacting and withholding,” she says. “And I like that she is wanting very much to make changes that are meaningful to her. The line that she says in the pilot (episode) says it all. She says to him, ‘I want to save my life while I still can.’ And that is at the root of every decision that she makes. It doesn’t mean she goes about it in a way that is always admirable, but she certainly wants to do right by the people she loves — and even by Robert.”
More painful and realistic this season is the estrangement with their teenage daughter, Lila, who lays the dissolution of her parents' marriage at her mother’s feet. “Sometimes I think that mothers are offered up more of that [anger] because it is safer,” Parker says. “There is a presumption of love.”
Parker speaks from experience of that push-pull relationship with her own children with fellow actor Matthew Broderick. “When I tell him how much nicer the children are to him than they are to me, he says: ‘But that is a badge of honor. They do that because they feel safe, and you are really the most important person in their life.’ Which is incredibly nice of him to say.”
The family similarities stop there. Parker doesn’t bring the on-screen marital angst home to her 20-year marriage and three kids — including their 15-year-old son, James Wilkie. “We talk about work, but I haven’t related this story to our own life in any way. [Frances and Robert’s] marriage is so different than ours; we have our own challenges. The thing that I relate to most, that feels the most familiar, is the depiction of parenthood,” she says.
The actress says signing on to star in and executive-produce another series, especially following a cult classic such as Sex and the City, was ultimately a family decision. “Matthew was really excited about it, and my son was, and my daughters — for the most part are and were — but there are times that they are, like, ‘What time are you getting home?’ So that stuff. That is always a little harder.”
Now at age 52 — with a TV show; shoe, fragrance, dress and accessory lines; and the upcoming launch of a yet another enterprise, SJP for Hogarth, a collection of literary nonfiction books within Penguin Random House in which she serves as editorial director — Parker acknowledges that time is precious. “Without children I feel like I was wonderfully reckless about decision-making. It didn’t really affect anyone else,” she muses. But with a family and 40 years of acting on the books, “you just get more thoughtful about decisions. You can’t get that time back. So for me, I really like to think about how it is I am spending my time and in service to what and to whom.” That includes quietly giving back to her community.
“Most people, I think, want more of the same,” Parker offers. “But when you are a curious person, you just want to keep learning and having new experiences.”
And that she does.