Sarah Jessica Parker hopes comedy series will change divorce culture

Sarah Jessica Parker plays Frances, a newly divorced woman contemplating the next chapter of her life.
Sarah Jessica Parker plays Frances, a newly divorced woman contemplating the next chapter of her life.PHOTO: HBO ASIA

Sex And The City star Sarah Jessica Parker is now starring in comedy series Divorce, about a woman going through a messy break-up

As Carrie Bradshaw on Sex And The City (1998-2004), actress Sarah Jessica Parker helped revolutionise the depiction of single women on television.

Her comedy series Divorce, in which she plays a woman going through a messy break-up, hopes to do the same for divorced women as well as men.

But even though Divorce, launched in 2016, and Sex And The City deal with romantic relationships, the star humbly points out that this does not make her an authority on the subject.

The 52-year-old's reluctance to dispense advice on this surfaces at a press day in New York earlier this month, when she chatted with The Straits Times and a handful of other media.

As several reporters press her on what the "message" of the show is, how to have a happy marriage and her advice to women in general, Parker cringes.

She is happy enough to talk about the show she is there to promote, which returns for a second season on HBO this week (StarHub TV Channel 601, Mondays, 11am and 11pm).

I don't like to give advice. I get very upset when I hear advice from wealthy white people to women all over the globe.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER, when asked whether she has any message for other women who might want to emulate her

Her character, Frances, has finalised her divorce and is now contemplating the next chapter of her life, including dating again and launching her own business.

But it starts to dawn on her that being rid of a broken marriage will not solve everything.

"Because I think when you imagine liberation, the reality of it is very different," says Parker.

"Especially if you're a parent and there are money issues and all sorts of mundane details that don't just simply go away, but are sometimes even highlighted more because you're on your own."

The actress herself has been married for 21 years - to actor Matthew Broderick, 55.

The couple have a son, 15, and twin girls aged eight.

But asked how she has made her own marriage work when her character could not, she smiles and says, gently but firmly: "Um, we always say (by) 'not talking about it'."

Parker clearly knows a thing or two about the television business, though, and here she is more forthcoming.

A four-time Golden Globe and two-time Emmy winner for Sex And The City, she is now an executive producer on Divorce, which is made in part by her production company, Pretty Matches.

Quizzed on what she is doing to help champion women in the industry, she lights up.

"Well, our (production) company is run by women.

"That's not arbitrary and it's also not a mission statement - it's just how we have found ourselves to be most productive."

On top of HBO's own diversity requirements for its shows' hiring policies, Divorce has a gender-balanced crew, "and many of our department heads are female".

"So what we're doing is finding great women and we always have been - a lot of our scripts are written by women," she says, before launching into a passionate case for more mentoring across the industry and outreach in schools so young women know there are different jobs they can do on movie and television sets.

"And it's the same in all industries."

Parker also co-owns a high-end shoe line, SJP Collection, launched in 2014 with the help of Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus.

And whether it is there or on the set of Divorce, she rather likes being in charge.

"I'm one of eight children and we all grew up working pretty hard from the time we were young - I've been a working actor since I was eight.

"And I really like working hard, being responsible to and for people, and I take it very seriously.

"I'm also very proud of what you can do when you're in that position - you can promote from within, people can grow from season to season, and you can do right by people you're privileged enough to work with.

"And it just suits me. I like the burden of it. And I've had lots of support and learnt from really good people."

But a journalist asks what message she has for other women who might look to emulate her success and the actress winces again.

"I don't like to give advice. I get very upset when I hear advice from wealthy white people to women all over the globe.

"I don't know how I can give advice to somebody who's working two or three jobs alone, as a single parent, except to say that I'm paying attention and I want to be of service if I can be part of something that is helpful to them."

The star, an ardent Democrat and campaigner for liberal causes, says she wants to help working women in the United States get affordable healthcare, universal pre-kindergarten programmes and equal pay.

And rather than spotlighting stories such as her successful shoe line and production company, she would "like to shift the focus to the entrepreneurs that are on their own without a George Malkemus to help guide them, the seed money I had because of my good fortune, the kind of childcare and schools that I have and a husband who can take over".

"I think of women trying to do that without the resources I have and that, I think, is the story."

• Divorce Season 2 is on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on Mondays at 11am and 11pm and is also streaming on HBO on StarHub Go and HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline 'After Sex And The City comes Divorce'. Print Edition | Subscribe