After quirky film comedies like LA Story (1991) and Honeymoon In Vegas (1992), Sarah Jessica Parker shot to international stardom in TV's Sex And The City (1998). She scored an Emmy for the role of sex expert Carrie Bradshaw before ending the run in 2004. Since then, she's been lining up more movie projects, including Thomas Bezucha's ensemble comedy drama The Family Stone in which she plays an uptight Manhattanite rejected by her fiancé's bohemian family.
After the huge success of Sex And The City, did you agonise over what to do next?
Well, I felt that the decision was very important, not just for my career but for myself. You know I was really encouraged by those who I listen to for some sort of counsel to really take my time and not worry about working, but just to take that time and make a smart decision. The thing is, it was a very hard decision to end the show and the reason I ended it was because I felt that I was extremely happy there and I would have stayed there forever. I was very comfortable, very satisfied creatively and I was obviously well paid and I thought those were the very reasons, among other reasons, that I should not stay. I felt it was really incumbent upon me at this time in my life to do something new and challenging and put myself in unfamiliar environment with people I didn't know and actors who would set a different standard for me.
When I was making the decision about what to do next and I read this particular script, I just loved the way he [Thomas Bezucha] wrote Meredith and not only that, but how she was part of the bigger story that dealt with sophisticated adult themes and things I felt were important and would want to see. It was also such a challenging role. She was so different to anyone that I knew, had met, or played, so all the criteria that I was looking for were immediately filled.
It seems like a rare challenge because Meredith is not an immediately likeable character...
Definitely everybody had their challenges. Tom did such a nice job of not writing archetypes but people who were complicated and had very strong feelings whatever their point of views were. But yes, it was a very hard part because she's complicated and she's not immediately likeable and I didn't want to make her likeable before it was appropriate to see all her complexities and dimensions and how human she really was. Tom was really good at reminding me of her physical carriage which suggested so much about her and just reminding me not to move a lot when I talk, like for instance Carrie Bradshaw does. Meredith just doesn't move. She's so uptight and that's exhausting to do all day long, every day. Tom made it harder, in a good way, and I frankly really like things being hard. I think I operate best when I feel very challenged and terrified. It was hard but that's what I wanted - I didn't want something familiar.
Do you feel that Meredith's assertive behaviour is something that perhaps wouldn't have mattered so much if she were a man?
Yeah, it would have been perceived as the behaviour of someone who's just successful and ambitious. I think it remains this ever-surprising moment when a woman is called a bitch because she has ambition - and some say blind ambition - or because they tend to be less cuddly and warm or because they're driven in a way that really has masculine connotations. I think every time it happens and we see it and we discuss it, we're this much further along. It doesn't seem to hamper women's desires as far as I can tell.
I think women of a certain generation, mine in particular, feel like we can have it all because that's what we were fed. It's like, we reap the benefits of the feminist movement - they did all the legwork and now we're going to try to be parents and successful business people and great wives and good friends and take a cooking class and blah, blah, blah... I think all of that remains real to us and that's the nature of the sexual politics that we were talking about. But changes happen slowly and I think we often get ahead of ourselves and expect more.
Meredith gets such a hard time from the Stone family, but do you think honesty is still the best policy when giving the verdict on your sibling's latest love interest?
No! I don't because that kind of thing has to be solicited first of all and then second of all it depends on the nature of your relationship. I'm one of eight children so I know what it feels like to think you're looking after a sibling's best interests but I also know adults have to make adult decisions. I also know it's a treacherous situation, because I'm sure you've had friends come to you looking for advice on someone who's broken their heart and you have to tread so carefully because the odds are they'll stay together and suddenly you've become this person that's really spoken out of turn. What you really need to do is support your friends and family and hope that people have the ability to make good judgements. It's just very tricky.
Have you ever had an experience of meeting the parents that was as fraught as this?
I've not. Not to my face anyway. I mean there may have been awful things said behind my back and that's certainly their right to do and I may have even earned that! You know, I didn't date a lot so I kept my odds very good by just not meeting many parents.
The Family Stone is released in UK cinemas on Friday 16th December 2005.