Sarah Jessica Parker, the actress, producer, and style icon, is seated across from me in Downtown Manhattan. Moments earlier, the #ActuallySheCan film series premiered to an enrapt audience at the Tribeca Film Festival. A collaboration between the titular campaign and Tribeca Digital Studios, the series of shorts tell the stories of three inspiring young women in various fields, including a photojournalist, a chef, and a cutting-edge fashion designer. Parker presented the series, and served as the surprise moderator of its post-screening Q&A.
“I don’t say yes to a lot of things because I feel you don’t have the time you need to devote to something, and they sent the movies and I was really impressed with them—by the filmmakers, but also by the subjects’ desire to pursue their dreams and force things to happen in their lives,” she tells The Daily Beast.
Earlier that day, the news broke that Prince, the legendary musician, fashion trailblazer, and sometime actor, had passed away at the age of 57. When I mention it to Parker, her ever-present smile vanishes, and her voice drops a few octaves.
“God man, what an unthinkable loss,” she says. “It’s really kind of awful. He was extremely young, and I always feel foolish and like I don’t have the right words, but among the other things he contributed—which are legion—I was thinking one of the gifts he gave was that you could never feel like as good a dancer as you felt when you were dancing to Prince. He just made you feel sexy. The other thing that crossed my mind is I really hope he knew, now that the floodgates have opened in tribute, how beloved he was, and that people did consider him singular.”
I ask if she attended one of Prince’s last great performances—at the SNL40 after-party at New York’s Plaza Hotel—and she emits a deep sigh.
“My husband [Matthew Broderick] was there!” Parker exclaims. “I took the kids away for the weekend. But I sat behind Prince at the Grammys one year and made special note of it. I was really aware. He was right in front of me, and his hair was short that evening and he was with two beautiful women. My brother was actually really close to Wendy [Melvoin] and Lisa [Coleman], too, so I always felt a special connection.”
Back in 2013, Parker told The Edit she was a “huge fan” of Hillary Clinton’s, and said she’d be “very, very sad” if she didn’t run for president in 2016. The following year, she explained to Racked how she’d happily volunteer on a Hillary campaign: “I would be happy to get her coffee, or carry her luggage, or offer soup when she’s tired, or make Xeroxes of speeches or documents.”
According to Parker, it’s high time that America has a female leader. “Other countries, including developing ones like Liberia, have had female leaders and are dealing with far more complicated affairs than a Constitution that basically works,” she says.
And despite some of the recent animosity between Hillary and her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, the Sex and the City star says she’s “grateful” for how the Sanders campaign has tested her preferred candidate.
“I’m very grateful for the conversation that has been promoted by Bernie Sanders,” says Parker. “It’s been really important and really valuable, and I tend to think you’re always a little bit better with good discourse, so I think Hillary is now well-equipped to ride out this election cycle. It’s been a long election cycle, just like last time.” “Hillary is—without question—beyond capable and it is the right time, but I’ve been proud of the tone of the conversation on the Democratic side,” she offers. “There’s been substantive, real conversation about policy, legislation, gender equality, pay, and climate. [The GOP] is a freakin’ sideshow. If it proves to be that Hillary is in fact our nominee, I think she’s had extraordinary experience in her life as an elected official, as an appointed official, and even before she served in public life there was an enormous amount of time spent working with children. She’s given her entire adult life being in service. It’s really incredible. And she and Bill, I can’t even begin to fathom how much money they’ve raised for the Democratic Party, and how much they’ve supported Democratic candidates. I think she’s so impressive and such a crazy, wonderful policy wonk, and tireless, and she has enormous, real interest in inequality, choice, gender issues, and looking at how the world has evolved.”
One of the core tenets of #ActuallySheCan is fighting gender inequality. When The Daily Beast revealed that Jennifer Lawrence was being compensated less than her male co-stars on American Hustle, the issue of the gender pay gap became a hot issue in Hollywood, culminating in Patricia Arquette’s Oscar acceptance speech preaching the need for fair pay—a speech that made the inimitable Meryl Streep do this.
Asked about her own experiences hitting the glass ceiling, Parker says, “I’m sure I was mired in it many times. But at the time when that was most assuredly happening, there was no conversation going on about it. I don’t feel in a position to complain. I think the past 15-plus years I’ve been compensated extremely well. My greater concern, and I think Patricia Arquette has spoken eloquently about this…”
I mention that Arquette recently said she lost jobs as a result of her Oscar speech, and Parker is, understandably, beside herself. “Well, that’s really unfortunate and unacceptable. I think that is ludicrous,” she says. “God. That’s very distressing to hear. I will say this: I tend to worry more and a lot about working mothers in this country. That’s what I really have enormous concern about—less about myself and parity in my own industry.”
Parker pauses. “And that does not mean that it shouldn’t be part of the conversation, but it needs to be a conversation about the women who are working two, three jobs who have no resources—whether it’s familial, communal, or the church. When you’re working two or three jobs, that means you’re leaving your child in a place that probably isn’t the safest or best, and you’re probably in a marginalized school district where even your shelter is questionable. Your electricity may not work, your water may not be clean, and you may not be able to provide food that is healthy. That, to me, is the craziest thing that’s happening in this country. I’ve never met a person who didn’t want to work hard and take care of their family. I want parity in my industry, but my bigger concern are the women I see on the subway who are exhausted and can barely hang on to their own child. They’re exhausted, and angry, and have every right to be.”