Sarah Jessica Parker Can’t Quit Carrie Bradshaw

Spoiler alert: This piece contains spoilers for the Season 1 finale of “And Just Like That,” which premiered on Feb. 3 on HBO Max. 

Eighteen years after Carrie Bradshaw reunited with Mr. Big in Paris on “Sex and the City,” Sarah Jessica Parker is back to playing her on HBO Max’s “And Just Like That …” She spoke with Variety about her decision to return to the beloved character; working with showrunner Michael Patrick King; texting with Samantha (after Kim Cattrall decided she doesn’t want to play the character anymore); and saying goodbye to Willie Garson, who played Stanford, one of Carrie’s best friends.

How did you and Michael come up with the idea for “And Just Like That …”?

Actually, what happened was toward the latter part of March 2020, I was where we all were — at home, listening to podcasts. I heard a podcast with some actors talking about their work experience on a television series. And it occurred to me Michael and I had never talked about our experience producing the show all those years, not in a way that was intimate.

So I called him. And in the midst of that conversation, we had started talking about the show and did it feel right [to bring it back]? By then, we were into April, and we’re all feeling nostalgic for our past. We put together a plan, and we called HBO — and the next thing we knew, we were in production.

What’s it been like playing Carrie in this period of her life?

It always felt exciting to play Carrie. It always felt interesting and challenging and surprising and familiar and unfamiliar. And I loved playing that part. I loved everything about it. I loved all that came with it — meaning the people that I was surrounded by, the people I worked for and with, the city that we shoot in, the crew members that make it happen. All of the bits and pieces were enormously satisfying and fulfilling. To consider doing it again and to be on the set, it felt really good.

It felt exciting. It was really scary. There were a lot of new faces, which added a huge amount of energy. It was inspired and inspiring being around the new actors and meeting people that I had never met — and work with people again I hadn’t seen in a long time.

What conversations did you have with Michael about making the show more inclusive?

We just assumed that would be the way it was. We were going to open up the show and broaden the perspective. And it wasn’t a mandate — no one told us that was necessary, needed, must be addressed. It was just what we knew had to happen. And we knew where they had been shortfalls and where there had been deficits of perspective.

The hurdle in that was Michael wasn’t interested in dipping in. He always felt the camera had to stay on our new actors, our new characters, after the familiar characters leave. So how do you do it? He gathered an extraordinary writers’ room, which was also diverse and inclusive and brought in new perspectives. The theoretical was really easy because it was simply what we wanted to do. The exercise, the endeavor, is where it gets harder to do right.

Have you been reading about the show?

My media blackout started on Dec. 1. I said, “Michael, here we go again.” I wrote an email to the people that I’m surrounded by and said, “I just want to remind everybody I’m not interested in hearing good or bad.” The chatter and peripheral conversations are not helpful to me. They don’t make me a better actor.

Would you be interested in doing more episodes?

Definitely, yeah. The big thing early on was: How does our network feel? Around the first week in December, it became clear to me that was something that was being discussed. I think the real thing is, “How and when?” Michael and I spoke two weeks ago, and said: “OK, when are we going to talk about this?” Because there’s a calendar and you don’t want to let too much time pass. There feels like there’s momentum.

In the finale, how did it feel like to say, “This is ‘Sex and the City,’” at the end of Carrie’s new podcast?

Oh my god. When I read that script at the table read, I was like I can’t believe I’m saying, “I’m Carrie Bradshaw, and this is ‘Sex and the City.’”

What’s the word? Is it meta? It’s so strange to say those words because in her world, it didn’t exist except her book. Her book was the jumping off for that. But it wasn’t something that she talked about or said. It was a world outside herself as a point of reference.

It reminded me of “Absofuckinglutely” in the pilot. It just felt really soothing and thrilling.

Carrie arranges for a meeting with Samantha in the finale. Do you think that Samantha comes to Paris or Carrie goes to London?

I think Carrie goes to London.

Do you have an idea of what Carrie and Samantha talk about?

A little bit. A friendship with that amount of time underneath it is really valuable. Carrie experienced a life-altering and devastating incident, and it’s changed her perspective and how she loves and who she loves. And I think friendships are worth salvaging. And as she says in the beginning of the season, she’s made attempts and Samantha at that point didn’t feel willing, wanted to engage. But there are so many little steps along the way that are olive branches.

I think that the conversation was grown up. I think it was a detente. I think it allows for comfort on all sides.

I know that Kim Cattrall doesn’t want to do more “Sex and the City.” But if the show went on for more seasons, and she wanted to play Samantha again in the future, would you be OK with that?

We didn’t go to Kim for this. After we didn’t do the [third] movie and the studio couldn’t meet what she wanted to do, we have to hear her and listen to her and what was important to her. It didn’t fit into what was important or needed for us. I haven’t participated in or read articles, although people are inclined to let me know. I don’t think I would, because I think there’s just too much public history of feelings on her part that she’s shared.

And I think there’s a very distinct line between Samantha and Kim. Samantha’s not gone. Samantha’s present, and I think handled with such respect and elegance. She wasn’t villainized. She was a human being who had feelings about a relationship, so I think we found a way to address it which was necessary and important for people that loved that character. But I think we’ve also discovered there are lots of voices that can be meaningful to Carrie in new ways but also in familiar ways. So I think we would carry on as we have.

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Sarah Jessica Parker and Willie Garson in the “Sex and the City” movie. ©New Line Cinema/Courtesy Evere

Tell me about what it was like filming the few episodes with Willie Garson, who died of pancreatic cancer in September.

It was buoyant and very meaningful to me, because I knew he was sick. He didn’t want me to share it with anybody else. And so every day with him was a gift. And as you can see from his work, he was very vibrant, really freaking good and funny and present — and that’s exactly where he wanted to be.

It actually worked out really well because his son was headed back to college, so he wasn’t missing out time with his son, which was very important for him. But it was also deeply painful because in front of my eyes he was failing — his health was. There was no denying it. And I kind of wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening. I didn’t want to be in a reality about it.

I was very concerned about him on the set because of COVID and I couldn’t say anything about that to anybody. But it was scary, so I was spending a lot of time worrying about him. We were doing scenes with large crowds and had a lot of background players. And that was a huge concern to me, when we had to take off masks because he was so compromised.

But it was especially difficult toward the end of his time with us. Because we would talk on the phone at night. I knew he was starting to feel like he couldn’t do it, he couldn’t complete the season. And it was all he wanted, to finish the season. He had a huge story line and was in basically every single episode, which was unusual. Stanford wasn’t in every episode.

But because of Big’s death, Stanford was going to take on a bigger role in Carrie’s life. And he knew that. And it was becoming abundantly clear that wasn’t going to be possible. And before he got on a plane to go back to Los Angeles, he and I spoke for a long time. And I wanted to make sure he knew we would do anything to finish for him. Once he shared with everybody, Michael was ready to write an exit scene for him.

He was like, “I can’t do it. I literally can’t.” I knew that if he was saying that, he couldn’t, because if he could, he would be there. He would do whatever it took. At that point, I was heartbroken to lose him and his presence on the set, but more so what that really meant — the truth was I knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer and he wasn’t.

I was on the Carrie set when I looked down on my phone and got the text message that he passed. I always thought it was so interesting to me, because I always thought of Carrie’s set as Stanford’s set. I don’t remember anybody else being there, really — because Carrie and Stanford spent so much time in that apartment late at night, drinking and laughing and talking and joking and sharing. I was sitting right there in the seat that he sits in when I got word.

It was just unbearable. Even if I knew it, it was just so fast and furious. And sooner than you can accept. And I had to keep working. I finished Nov. 8 and got in a van and went to start “Hocus Pocus” the next day in Rhode Island. I’ve only been home since Wednesday and haven’t had time to re-sort my life. He’s not there. When I eat something amazing I can’t call him. Or when I see something ridiculous or someone says something so stupid — and I’m not hearing from him for the same reasons. Or talking about our sons who are very close in age. Or just having him call me and gripe, which he loved to do and I was the perfect audience.

It’s just a huge loss. And it’s so hard to communicate, because he didn’t live here I didn’t see him all the time. I don’t even know how long I’ve known him. Since I was 18, 19. It’s a massive loss that I’m not entirely certain I will accommodate. It will just be like a little space.

I’m so sorry. 

I’m sorry for his son, who had such a devoted father. They didn’t have a long time together. But Nathen is going to be OK.

This interview has been edited and condensed.