Sarah Jessica Parker on the humor, pathos and brutality of ‘Divorce’
(CNN) — Sarah Jessica Parker finds it ironic that couples who divorce have to come together in order to end their marriage.
That’s the premise of her HBO comedy, “Divorce.” Parker stars in the series as Frances, a woman who discovers that breakups aren’t always clean.
The show brought Parker back to HBO earlier this fall — nearly 12 years after “Sex and the City” wrapped.
“I didn’t think I would be back on television,” Parker told CNN. “Nobody presented themselves to me until Frances came along.”
In a recent interview with CNN, Parker discussed “Divorce” and revealed what’s next for Frances.
How would you describe Frances, at this stage of the series?
What we will see from Frances is that she wants very much for it [her divorce] to be a civilized, mature exchange. What we discover is that they both seem ill equipped. Most people aren’t equipped to divorce well. It isn’t something we have a lot of practice doing, hopefully. There’s so many emotions tied up in separation and the irony that in order to divorce, you need that other person, I think, is so bizarre. The very person you’re trying most to separate from is the person that you need most desperately to walk through with you.
Divorce, the word itself, sounds so scary to so many people. What do you think this show says about divorce?
What we’re saying — in this story — is that this is a family that isn’t in a financial position to throw money at the problem and walk away and be kind of buoyant about the process. We’re telling the story of a divorce that’s probably very familiar to a lot of Americans who really struggle through it, who are surprised by what confronts them, who have to deal with financial issues that are complex and often really hard to comprehend. Children complicate things, as they should, even more so. That’s the story we wanted to tell. I don’t think this is a morality tale. I don’t think we’re offering a lesson. What I’m hoping is that if it’s not familiar, that it’s understandable, relatable — that people’s emotions are things that we can all connect to, whether we’ve had the exact same experience.
This is a such a departure from your real life. You’re happily married with this wonderful family. How did you prepare for a role like this?
I started developing this show about four years ago. The reason I was interested in the landscape was that I was looking around at friends and family and people that were close to me, who had been in long-term, committed relationships — not just conventional relationships, but really substantive relationships — a lot of people were at a point of reckoning. We all know people who have contemplated divorce, survived divorce, felt like they didn’t survive divorce. It was incredibly hard on the family. The family came out better for it, triumphant in some way. We know people, all of us, who have contemplated affairs, had affairs. The marriage survived the affair. The marriage was undone by the affair. It wasn’t necessarily research that I had to do. I was interested in what it means to have loved and what it means to be in battle with that person — and how you can tell the story both with humor and real pathos and real brutality.
Your character, Frances, says at one point, “It’s not the affair that’s causing the divorce. I had an affair because there was something wrong with the relationship.” Being married yourself, what would you say are some keys to a successful marriage?
I think what you discover, when you’re in a healthy marriage, is that the things that annoy you don’t matter. What you see in Robert and Frances is that the things that annoy them do matter. They’re not able to find humor in it or let it go or think how ridiculous it is that it’s even taking up a moment of their time being annoyed. I just think she feels a sort of inertia that is inescapable, that she’s recommitted to this marriage countless times. They’ve gone back to counseling. They’ve tried to salvage it. She’s mined for every possible promise. I think for her, they’re too different. They’ve changed too much. I think maybe a healthy marriage, those changes are exciting to witness, to experience together.
Your co-star, Thomas Haden Church seems like so much fun and it turns out you specifically wanted him cast as your husband?
I brought it up and everybody was thrilled at the idea, assumed that he would pass and would say no because he hadn’t worked in television in so long. I said, “Gosh, maybe we should let him say no. Let’s not say no for him in advance. Let’s not project this.” In fact, he said yes really quickly, which was a thrill. He’s really everything, regardless of this part which he inhabits so beautifully. He’s such a fine skilled combatant. He, actually, like Talia Balsam and Molly Shannon and Tracy Letts, they’re just at such a wonderful place in their career. They’ve all been working for long. They conjured the set with so much experience, skill, and wisdom about the process, what’s important, and how to get to the word first, fast and efficiently. They ask all the right questions of all of us and themselves. It’s a total delight to be on set with him, to play opposite him. The greatest problem, really, is that they’re divorcing. I’m like, “No, don’t take him away from me!”
Where do you see the show going?
This is a show that has life in it. “Divorce” seems like this limiting title because it seems as if it has a period at the end of it and there’s this action, then it’s complete, and then you move on. The truth is, it becomes a part of your identity. What does it mean to have experienced divorce? To be divorced? I think that this show is going to tell that story in the second season. I call it, “a season of hope.” I think that’s the same for Robert. They both have to reconcile the mistakes they made.
The Season 1 finale of “Divorce” airs December 11 on HBO.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.