After conquering the Big Apple in Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker returns to the big screen with her latest film, Here and Now, directed by French filmmaker Fabien Constant.
Sarah Jessica Parker as Vivienne in AMBI Distribution’s drama, Here and Now.
You play Vivienne, a jazz singer, who receives news that she has only months to live. It's quite a dramatic turn from the lighter comedies we've seen you in. Was that a conscious decision—to play someone you hadn't before?
SARAH JESSICA PARKER: I think there is nothing more dramatic than being on the receiving end of this particular kind of news. It is the most urgent of drama. But, yes, it is purposefully different, as I hope everything is that I do. I always try to play somebody who is unfamiliar, to work with people who I’m excited about and admire, but who I haven’t had the chance to be on set with. Certainly, this character’s internal life is—I’ve never had a chance, because I don’t know that it has been written—someone who spends a huge amount of time in this reckoning, that we only experience as an audience, internalizing so much of that and come to terms with her own role in the regret that exists in her.
How did your paths first cross?
FABIEN CONSTANT: Sarah is open to the world. She saw a few of my documentaries and was familiar with my work, and kindly came to the premiere of a documentary I had in New York. I’d had something in my head for a long time, and I wanted to share the idea with her and that’s how we got started.
SJP: My producing partner Allison had also been following Fabien’s work as a documentarian, but also as a storyteller. There was some work in particular that I was really stunned by, because it was similar in terms of its curiosity about the tiny parts of our lives that are the most interesting to watch.
Was it at all intimidating directing Sarah, Jacqueline [Bissett], or Renée [Zellweger]? Each are such strong actresses in their own right.
FC: That’s the reason I did this movie. I wanted these women in front of me, and in front of each other to be the complex and diverse, or busy and struggling women that they are. It was impressive for sure, but also pure pleasure. I kind of live on the set. I’m not hidden behind the screen. I’m really close to them and enjoy the most of it.
SJP: By the time that Fabien and I had started shooting, we had gotten to know each other really well. It was a much different experience than somebody calling action and giving direction. Everybody has a different need on set. You produce more fruit using different language with each person, but it’s very difficult to learn that in such a collapsed period of time. It was one of the most creatively satisfying experience I’ve had in years. I don’t know how I could have played the part if I didn’t actually feel that we were in an environment where everyone wanted you to succeed.
Sarah Jessica Parker as Vivienne and Jacqueline Bisset as Jeanne in AMBI Distribution’s drama, Here and Now.
The scenes with Jacqueline were quite fun to watch. Did you find her most complementary to your acting style?
SJP: I found Jacqueline, although she came in later in the process, asked questions that were smart and I found that she cared very much. She likes specificity. We could be whoever we wanted to be with her. I could try to put myself back in her body and she didn’t reject me. I found that everybody seemed to be listening, which, if you can put any other process needs aside, is basically what needs to happen the most. Listening and then reacting.
FC: There’s a kissing moment with Jacqueline, which wasn’t even meant to be, it was a total improvisation. I taped rehearsals and I used a lot of it, to be honest, in the editing because all of those fresh moments happened in front of the cameras on those first takes. I loved keeping the energy and the reality of that. We had 16 days. We didn’t have the luxury to go for a billion things, but the feeling of the movie made all of it work.
I don't think I've seen you sing in a movie since Hocus Pocus. But I thought your take on "Unfollow the Rules," the song Rufus Wainwright wrote for the film, was quite magical. Was there any anxiety about singing again?
SJP: We went to Rufus and he wrote this beautiful song. Part of it was made easier because I understood that the song lets us know what kind of career she has had. She’s not a Broadway singer, this is somebody who’s an interpreter. She’s played Birdland, the Algonquin, and the Carlyle, if they’re lucky. And she’s built a career doing standards. I was nervous, of course. I just wanted to perform it well in the way in which I imagined and thought I did it the way Fabien meant to say it or hear it as well. I got to do it at Scott Wittman’s apartment on 20th, and he let me record it in his studio. So a lot of the surroundings were very comfortable. It is a song that is interpretive and I have a decent ear, well, a good ear [laughs]. So I felt comfortable.
And lastly, you'll be chatting with Michelle Obama about her new memoir, Becoming, later this winter, what did you think of it?
SJP: It’s really quite something. I don’t think a memoir from a First Lady will ever or can ever be the same.
Because it is so honest and not in the ways you might hope or expect. And I don't mean that in a bad way. First of all, it’s such an important portrait of growing up in the south side of Chicago. I cannot overstate how important it is to understand, because this is one of millions of stories that we don’t often hear with this time allowed. It speaks to so many American families who are struggling and working towards a middle class existence. It’s a page-turner.
But also, her candor about leaving home and getting into the world, after leaving Princeton, all these personal and academic accomplishments. It’s extremely good. The book stands on its own as the story of an American woman.
Photography by: Photography courtesy of Paul Schiraldi.