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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Sarah Jessica Parker on her return to TV in new comedy drama Divorce

Twelve years after Sex and the City ended, Sarah Jessica Parker returns to the small screen with Divorce, a drama that explores what happens when the romance fades.
Thomas Haden Church as Robert and Sarah Jessica Parker as Frances in dark comedy series Divorce. Craig Blankenhorn / HBO via AP Photo
Thomas Haden Church as Robert and Sarah Jessica Parker as Frances in dark comedy series Divorce. Craig Blankenhorn / HBO via AP Photo

While the decision that it is time to end a marriage might be made in an instant, Sarah Jessica Parker’s new ­television series, Divorce, shows that making a clean break and a fresh start is a painful process that can drag out over years filled with high drama.

Curiously, when one considers the intensity of the subject matter and the pain it often involves, this new HBO series – which begins on Monday, October 10 on OSN First HD – bills itself as a comedy. Don’t let that fool you, however, as this is by far the darkest, most sombre material Parker has ever attempted.

Divorce is about people trying to navigate a really unhappy and difficult experience,” ­she says.

Don’t expect buoyant, ­bubbly romance, then, as Parker ­wrestles with the role of Frances, a woman who, after more than a decade of marriage and two children, begins to rethink her life and frayed relationship with husband Robert, played by Thomas Haden Church ­(Sideways).

“I want to save my life while I still care about it,” Frances says during her epiphany.

Returning to television after a 12-year break came easily for Parker. After all, she starred in the Emmy-winning Sex and the City – as Carrie Bradshaw who, along with her three friends Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, explored Manhattan’s dating scene – for six seasons before it ended its run in 2004.

Two reunion movies followed, in 2008 and 2010. Parker won four Golden Globes, three Screen Actor Guild Awards and two Emmys for her performance as Carrie.

“It’s like a muscle, slightly atrophied, and you sort of have to remind it of the routine,” says Parker of returning to TV.

“I love television. I love the process, the schedule, the speed, the urgency, how important every detail is, how little time you have to sort it out and try to get it right. It didn’t take long to feel natural again, and very much where I wanted to be, with these people in ­particular.”

The series was created by Irish actor and writer Sharon Horgan – also the creator and star of the Emmy-nominated TV series Catastrophe – who also acts as showrunner.

It opens with the 50th birthday party of high-strung Diane, played by Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live), a friend of Frances and Robert.

The festive occasion turns into a disaster when Diane and her husband, Nick (Tracy Letts, Homeland), get into an over-the-top fight – the sight of which convinces Frances that it is time to tell Robert that they should split.

She soon discovers that ending a marriage is easier said than done, while Robert, who is blindsided by her bombshell, struggles to cope.

“Robert’s a pretty happy-go-lucky guy,” says Church, “until circumstances present themselves” and he swiftly evolves into a nasty adversary.

As is to be expected, given the gravitas of the subject matter, Frances is totally unlike the Carrie Bradshaw who once roamed the streets of New York on hot dates wearing designer clothes and heels.

“Frances was so much her own person from the moment I read the pilot,” says Parker, whose own marriage to actor Matthew Broderick has survived more than 19 years of showbiz pressures and raising a son and twin daughters in New York City.

“[Frances] was so distinct from not only Carrie, but any other character I have ever played – somebody who was so weary in ways that I had not seen or had a chance to play, and used language in a way I hadn’t ever, and had a relationship with a man and children in a way I’d never had a chance to do.”

The 10-episode first season begins to tell “the story of a very, very long divorce”, says Horgan.

“Frances and Robert grapple with the fallout from their failing union, not just for themselves, but also for their children and friends,” she adds.

To explore the emotions of two people at one of the most difficult times in their lives – when they are feeling more intense emotions for each other than they have in years, the series deploys sharp, witty dialogue to observe the dark humour in tense situations such as awkward public encounters and bitter therapy sessions.

Unlike Sex and the City, however, where her glamorous wardrobe was almost a co-star, this time, Parker is dressing down.

“Early on was this desire on my part … I really wanted to think about 1970s cinema and the look of cinema of the 1970s,” says Parker. “Pretty much everything Frances wears is used … from vintage or thrift shops.

“This was a very specific idea about somebody who has an aesthetic that will be revealed over the season.”

Divorce starts at 10.30pm on Monday, October 10 on OSN First HD

artslife@thenational.ae