Sarah Jessica Parker’s idea of a hot night on the town with the adorable young man in her life has evolved.
The actress is as synonymous with Manhattan as her “Sex and the City” character Carrie Bradshaw was with her beloved Manolo Blahniks.
But unlike club-hopping serial dater Carrie, Parker prefers to keep it close to home. Give her a clear, crisp night, and she happily takes her beloved – 3-year-old son James Wilkie – for a mellow jaunt around her Greenwich Village neighborhood.
“My son loves taking evening strolls. He always asks, ‘Will you take an evening stroll with me?’ ” Parker, 40, says over breakfast at her local Italian trattoria.
Since her HBO series ended its six-season run in February 2004, Parker has left the style-savvy sex columnist behind. She has shot three films; launched a perfume, Lovely; and set up a production company, Pretty Matches, with HBO.
In her first post-“Sex” release – “The Family Stone,” opening in theaters today – Parker plays Meredith, an executive every bit as tense and severe as Bradshaw was soft and funny.
Meredith comes home with boyfriend Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) to spend the Christmas holidays with his big, boisterous family, whom she is meeting for the first time. Things don’t go quite as planned when the Stone clan throws verbal sticks at the aloof intruder from the big city.
Parker’s performance earned her a Golden Globe nomination Tuesday for best actress in a musical or comedy.
But just making the movie was a reward in itself, she says.
“I found out I could be happy on another job, really love the crew and love the work. That was a wonderful bonus,” Parker says. “I don’t want to be away from the people I love so much to work on something that’s miserable.”
Still, miserable sums up how Parker felt wearing her character’s narrow black skirts and tight cigarette pants.
“I couldn’t sit,” she says. “The crew built a leaning board (to stand against for rest breaks), which I was too embarrassed to use.”
Her modesty doesn’t surprise “Stone” writer/director Thomas Bezucha, who says Parker is “always trying to move the attention away from herself onto somebody else.”
He recalls one scene in which Meredith had to put a suitcase into her car. For the sake of believability, Parker asked the prop handler to make the luggage as heavy as possible. “She must have loaded it in six times total,” Bezucha says.
Parker says she relished playing a woman “so different from anyone I’ve been doing. I was trying to be very wise about the decision I made about what would be my first job after ‘Sex and the City.’ She’s so different from Carrie Bradshaw.”
And from Parker herself, Bezucha says.
“Meredith is the opposite side of the universe from Sarah. So rigid – everything Sarah isn’t,” he says. “Sarah Jessica’s love of people and her impulse to celebrate people is much closer to the surface than in Meredith.”
Talk to people who know Parker, and they’ll mention her affability as well as her work ethic.
“She’s as nice as you would hope her to be,” says “Sex in the City” executive producer Michael Patrick King. “She’s really, really loose. She knows the crew’s names. She’s in on the practical jokes.”
But when she’s on the clock, Parker is all business.
Claire Danes, who plays Parker’s sister in “The Family Stone,” says she’s still “humbled” by how Parker cheerfully promoted their movie at the exhausting media junket.
“I was demanding that I get yet another coffee to get me through, but she was focused and available and totally unruffled,” Danes says.
“Meanwhile, she has a child, she’s a wife, she’s launching her perfume. I can’t complain, not when I see her.”
Parker will be the first to tell you how lucky she is. And she openly acknowledges that the perks of fame make life easier.
“Everyone says, ‘Oh, you’re thin.’ Yeah, because it’s my chemistry,” she says.
“And I have a nanny. I can take yoga. I can have someone come to my house. We applaud people who have help and nannies and money and can get in shape after having a baby.”
She and Matthew Broderick, her husband of eight years, are open to increasing their family.
“If we could somehow ensure that they would come out like (James) – I’m kidding! – I’d love more,” she says.
With Broderick, 43, co-starring in the Broadway hit “The Odd Couple,” Parker goes to the theater almost weekly to catch his performance.
And now that James is old enough to be at school, Parker says that for her to sign on, a movie has to be in the New York area. That’s one of the reasons she shot “Spinning into Butter” (due in 2006), a low-budget drama about racial division.
“I’m done disrupting my family’s life,” she says. “It’s very hard for (James) to go away from everything he knows. Maybe it’s old-fashioned, but I have responsibilities to make sure there’s milk and bread in the house.”
With “Butter” wrapped, Parker is off until April, when she starts filming the comedy “Slammer.”
Despite reports to the contrary, “Sex and the City” is over. Emmy winner Parker has no plans to ever again don her Manolos and go prancing around Manhattan in search of true love, either in a movie version of the show (which was scuttled) or in a reunion special for HBO.
But now that sanitized episodes of the series are on TBS, Parker says, she revisits Carrie “more than ever, with all the new posters everywhere.
“It’s bizarre,” she says. “It’s really been the first time since the show finished that I’ve really felt the absence of that life here. I guess I’ll always feel that way, but I’d rather feel that than being glad it’s over.”
Which of her co-stars is Parker still close with?
“Cynthia (Nixon) and I e-mail all the time. I haven’t talked to Kristin (Davis) in a little bit because her dog is really sick,” Parker says.
“It’s weird not seeing everybody. The Emmys came and went, and there was nothing at stake. No dresses. Weird. Weird!”
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