"For [the newspaper] to be so cavalier – I was so outraged by the character assassination," she exclaims. "I have served so many times, I was asked to speak at Jury Appreciation Day! I should be more calloused by now, but I am so sensitive about not ever living up to anybody’s worst idea about an actor who is well known."
Given her triple-threat résumé as a stage, film and television actress who long ago reached icon status as Sex And The City's Carrie Bradshaw, Parker, 46, could be forgiven for diva tendencies. Instead, she seems determined to hold herself to a Girl Scout's standard of behaviour.
"I never wanted to be a celebrity; I never wanted to be famous. And in my daily life, I work really hard to not trade on it in any way. I am so desperately worried about anybody saying, 'She cut in line', or 'She took our table', or 'She doesn't do her own grocery shopping.' It's not like it's hard to be decent and respectful and well behaved. I do wait in line, and I do take the subway, and I do my own grocery shopping, and I do take the kids to school. But it almost doesn’t matter to a certain segment of the populace."
She sighs: "I wouldn’t say I’m great at dealing with it. After all these years, you’d think I’d say, ‘It’s not true. It doesn’t matter.’ But when it has to do with things you pride yourself on being the opposite of, it’s really upsetting. When it’s about my conduct and character, it really chaps my ass."
One of eight children, Parker grew up poor in Ohio, New York and New Jersey. Now, she shares the title of Hollywood’s highest-paid actress with Angelina Jolie – Forbes magazine estimates their yearly earnings until May 2011 at $30 million each. After decades of success, Parker still revels in the perks – from couture clothes to holidays in Tuscany – even as she worries about raising her three children to have sensible values. “We didn't have a lot when I was growing up, and it's the best thing that happened to me because I appreciate everything," she remarks. "I developed a strong work ethic, and I don’t take anything for granted."
Nor does she flaunt her celebrity. Parker is unpretentiously dressed in a tank top, light sweater and casual pants in neutral colours. Sitting in the back of an Italian restaurant, she has made herself so inconspicuous it would be easy not to notice her. Her luminous face seems entirely make-up free and her hair is in a ponytail. No stylist laboured over Parker's appearance before sending her off to our appointment.
It’s a very low-key look for a high-powered woman whose workload is enough to make anyone's head spin. Out this month is Parker's latest movie, I Don’t Know How She Does It, which co-stars Greg Kinnear and Christina Hendricks. Based on Allison Pearson’s best-selling novel, the film follows the frantic life of Kate Reddy (Parker), a frazzled mum who’s juggling two kids, a demanding job as a financial analyst, and the needs of her long-suffering husband, while trying not to come unglued from the stress of it all.
"Kate's life is very different from mine, but the inner workings rang so familiar for me," says Parker. "The great struggle to have it all, to be leading a rich, full life – how does one do that? There are choices – and we all know how wonderfully complicated that is."
For her, the complications have sometimes been excruciating – particularly with Sex And The City 2. When filming started, Parker's son, James, was about to turn seven (he’s now nine), but her schedule forced Parker to miss his birthday; the family celebrated early, before her departure. Her then four-month-old twins were too young to have the vaccinations required to permit them to accompany her to Morocco, and Parker was gone for seven weeks – a painful separation that still brings a grim look when she discusses it.
"I don't want to say I regret doing it. My son came to see me during his Thanksgiving break, and he loves talking about his trip to Morocco. But emotionally it was hard. I dealt with it the way working mums deal with it all the time: you miss them...you annoy them with your sentimental phone calls and Skyping."
But she vehemently denies reports that her husband resented her leaving him with their newly expanded brood: "No, no, no! He was completely immersed in a play he was working on. Matthew is a working actor, and he knows sometimes things require some hardship. It’s the same when he goes away for two or three months. We’re really accustomed to this, and he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way for me."
Parker also refutes speculation about her daughters’ parentage. Unlike their brother, twins Marion and Tabitha were born to a surrogate mother, which generated questions about whether they are Broderick and Parker’s biological children. “Yes, they’re ours,” she replies firmly when asked.
Between her children and her ever-expanding work commitments, Parker’s responsibilities make the fictional life of Kate Reddy look like a day at the beach. She served as producer as well as star of both SATC movies, and she also has her own production company, Pretty Matches Productions, whose projects include a show about the art world called Work Of Art. She also has another new film coming out: New Year’s Eve, directed by Garry Marshall as a follow-up to his 2010 hit Valentine’s Day. Parker plays a single mother who is a wardrobe supervisor at Radio City Music Hall, Abigail Breslin plays her daughter, and Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Hilary Swank, Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel also co-star.
With so much going on, Parker doesn’t miss the SATC TV series, which ran for six years until 2004: “It was a hard decision to make, but we felt it was the right time to end, story-wise. We really like leaving something while it was still relevant and lush, and not waiting until it was withering. And I had had this baby, and I really wanted to spend time with my son.”
Long before she became a mother, however, she was living a very different life from that of her most famous character. "I never was Carrie Bradshaw,” says Parker, who was 26 when she and Broderick met. Unlike the SATC foursome, who spent their 30s in a constant whirlwind of frenetic dating, Parker spent hers as a wife. She grins. "But imagine how great it was to be told, ‘You are obligated to kiss all these men, to dress like that, and to carry on like that!’ They were great guys, too."
Both SATC movies did well at the box office. Parker doesn’t rule out a third, but says, “It wouldn’t be right now. I know what the story is, and there would come a time when it should be told – but we’ll see.” If it were to happen, she adds, "it would be small", in contrast to the behemoth of SATC 2.
Like Bradshaw, Parker is passionate about fashion, and early last year assumed the role of president and chief creative officer of Halston’s new sister label, Halston Heritage; she left the role last July. In 2005, she launched her first fragrance, Lovely, and her most recent, NYC Pure Crush, hits stores this month.
Although Hollywood is infamously inhospitable to ageing actresses, Parker denies that such forays outside the entertainment world represent an attempt to develop a contingency plan: “I’m not putting in place a second career. I love, love, love being an actor – it’s still the hardest and scariest thing I do, outside of parenting. But I’ve always been someone who likes a busy day. I love the opportunities, and if I can manage my time and the children are OK and we’re OK, it’s hard to say no to things that are challenging and enriching."
So how does Parker manage to do it all? “I figure it out,” she shrugs. “I’m proud that with lives that are somewhat complicated, [Matthew and I] keep figuring it out. It’s incumbent upon us to do so. We don’t talk about our marriage a lot, which is probably wise. There are so many other things in our lives that take precedence over the splitting of the atom of our marriage. We have this marvellous family, and my son and our daughters are in love with Matthew, and I think it’s so wonderful. There’s always a moment when you see him through their eyes, and it’s really seductive – I think that’s great for a marriage. But we don’t spend a lot of time discussing our relationship. We’ve figured it out and I certainly don’t want to be anywhere else.”
As for dealing with the stress of life in the spotlight, she’s still working on that one. “I envy the 12 year old I was, who marched out and sang [in] Annie,” muses Parker, who starred in the Broadway musical as a child. “I couldn’t be that girl now. I know too much.”
But after all these years of success, couldn’t she stop worrying so much? Parker suspects the problem is characteristic. “I think I just care because I care,” she reasons. “Part of me finds comfort in the fact that I still give a shit. I’ve been on movie sets where people were just going through the motions. I don’t ever want to be one of those people who doesn't want to be there."
Intense and driven as ever, she seems highly unlikely to be joining them anytime soon.
I Don't Know How She Does It is in cinemas on November 3.