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The city's still at her feet

The city's still at her feet

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NEW YORK -- Sarah Jessica Parker's idea of a hot night on the town with the adorable young man in her life has evolved.

The actress is as synonymous with Manhattan as her Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw was with her beloved Manolo Blahniks. But unlike club-hopping serial dater Carrie, Parker prefers to keep it close to home. Give her a clear, crisp night, and the actress happily takes her beloved -- 3-year-old son James Wilkie -- for a mellow jaunt around her Greenwich Village neighborhood.

"My son loves taking evening strolls. He always asks, 'Will you take an evening stroll with me?'" Parker says over breakfast at her local Italian trattoria.

"We looked out the window last night in my office, which is on the top floor of my house, and he said: 'Look at that beautiful city. It's my city.' and I said, 'You're very lucky. That's our city.' He loves the city. He's very happy here."

Parker, 40, can't imagine being anywhere else. Since her HBO series ended its six-season run in February 2004, Parker has left the style-savvy sex columnist behind. She has shot three films, launched the perfume Lovely and set up a production company, Pretty Matches, with HBO.

And in her first release after Sex, The Family Stone, opening Dec. 16, Parker plays Meredith, an executive every bit as tense and severe as Bradshaw was soft and funny. Meredith comes home with boyfriend Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) to spend the Christmas holidays with his big, boisterous family, whom Meredith is also meeting for the first time. Things don't go quite as planned when the Stone clan throws verbal sticks at the aloof intruder from the big city.

Offscreen, the cast and crew bonded like Krazy Glue.

"I found out I could be happy on another job, really love the crew and love the work. That was a wonderful bonus," Parker says. "I don't want my time back. I want (the movie) to be successful, critically more than anything, but definitely the experience counts a lot more than it used to, because it's time away from my family. I don't want to be away from the people I love so much to work on something that's miserable."

Miserable, in fact, sums up how Parker felt wearing her character's narrow black skirts and tight cigarette pants. "I couldn't sit. The crew built a leaning board (to stand against for rest breaks), which I was too embarrassed to use," Parker says.

Her modesty doesn't surprise Stone writer/director Thomas Bezucha, who says Parker is "always trying to move the attention away from herself onto somebody else."

He recalls one scene in which Meredith had to put a suitcase into her car. For the sake of believability, Parker asked the prop handler to make the luggage as heavy as possible.

"She must have loaded it in six times total," Bezucha says. But Parker relished playing a woman "so different from anyone I've been doing. I was trying to be very wise about the decision I made about what would be my first job after Sex and the City. She's so different from Carrie Bradshaw."

And from Parker herself, Bezucha says. "Meredith is the opposite side of the universe from Sarah. So rigid -- everything Sarah isn't," he says. "Sarah Jessica's love of people and her impulse to celebrate people is much closer to the surface than in Meredith."

Indeed, Parker, who is casual today in a tank top and baggy pants, her hair loose and her face free of makeup, is that rare celebrity who takes an interest in the people around her. She asks questions -- and remembers personal details from earlier encounters. She'll inquire about a past relationship and comment on a new hairstyle.

When she walks into the restaurant, where she's a regular, Parker gets no special treatment. A waiter doesn't scurry to get her a better table. She's greeted casually but offhandedly, like an old friend.

Nice but tough

Talk to people who know Parker, and they'll mention her affability, as well as her work ethic. Michael Patrick King, Sex's executive producer, considers Parker a true friend and says: "She's as nice as you would hope her to be. She's really, really loose. She knows the crew's names. She's in on the practical jokes."

But when she's on the clock, Parker is all business. Claire Danes, who plays Parker's sister in Stone, says she's still "humbled" by how Parker cheerfully promoted their movie at the exhausting media junket.

"I was demanding that I get yet another coffee to get me through, but she was focused and available and totally unruffled," Danes says. "Meanwhile, she has a child, she's a wife, she's launching her perfume. I can't complain, not when I see her."

King, meanwhile, recalls the Sex finale, which was shot in Paris on cobblestone streets. Parker, he says, was "in the Manolos all night long. Eight hours up and down stairs. I never heard until recently that she woke up that night with such severe pains in her shins that she was in agony."

Parker will be the first to tell you how lucky she is. And she openly acknowledges that the perks of fame make life easier. "Everyone says, 'Oh, you're thin.' Yeah, because it's my chemistry. And I have a nanny. I can take yoga. I can have someone come to my house," she says. "We applaud people who have help and nannies and money and can get in shape after having a baby."

She and Matthew Broderick, her husband of eight years, are open to increasing their family. "If we could somehow ensure that they would come out like (James) -- I'm kidding! -- I'd love more."

A typical night in the Parker-Broderick household? The two might cook up pork chops, or pasta, and watch TV before going to bed.

With Broderick, 43, co-starring in the sold-out Broadway hit The Odd Couple, Parker goes to the theater almost weekly to catch his performance. A normal day for the actress? Waking up early, taking her son to preschool, answering e-mail and reading scripts, doing yoga while James naps, or "going to the market and getting sponges and replacing the light bulbs. I have so much more appreciation for my mother because I can't believe what she did," says Parker, the fourth of eight children.

Now that James is old enough to be at school, Parker says that for her to sign on, a movie has to be in the New York area. That's one of the reasons she shot Spinning into Butter (due in 2006), a low-budget drama about racial division.

"I'm done disrupting my family's life," she says. "It's very hard for (James) to go away from everything he knows. Maybe it's old-fashioned, but I have responsibilities to make sure there's milk and bread in the house."

Parker's son may love Manhattan, but he'd rather visit Abbey Road.

"He'll only dress like The Beatles. He has Beatles dolls. The poster has to come up and hang next to his crib, and it comes down in the morning for breakfast and sits in front of him," she says. "I got him the DVD of Yellow Submarine, and that's how it all started. All day long we have to talk about The Beatles, make up stories about The Beatles, pretend we're The Beatles."

On 'sabbatical' till April

With Butter wrapped, Parker is off until April, when she starts filming the comedy Slammer. And her self-described "sabbatical" is welcome news for James Wilkie.

"He's had the same nanny since he was a baby so it's not like he's not attached to her," she says. "But I'm his mom. I don't think he really understands what our real work is. He knows it gets in the way of his time."

And despite reports to the contrary, Sex and the City is over. Emmy winner Parker has no plans to ever again don her alter ego's Manolos and go prancing around Manhattan in search of true love, either in a movie version of the show (which was scuttled) or in a reunion special for HBO.

But now that sanitized episodes of the series are on TBS, Parker says, she revisits Carrie "more than ever, with all the new posters everywhere. It's bizarre. It's really been the first time since the show finished that I've really felt the absence of that life here. I guess I'll always feel that way, but I'd rather feel that than being glad it's over."

Which of her co-stars is Parker still close with?

"Cynthia (Nixon) and I e-mail all the time. I haven't talked to Kristin (Davis) in a little bit because her dog is really sick," Parker says. "It's weird not seeing everybody. The Emmys came and went, and there was nothing at stake. No dresses. Weird. Weird!"

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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