Sarah Jessica Parker: 'Sisterhood is more important than ever'
Sitting demurely in her hotel in a sexy-schoolmarmish wool dress, Sarah Jessica Parker is pulling faces at me.
Her petite frame and perfect posture are hilariously at odds with the catalogue of cartoon emotions that she's expressing.
She shoots up an eyebrow that screams outrage, then pivots her whole lower jaw into an embarrassed "oops" that scoops itself up into an eye-glittering moment of camp contrition.
The glossies may devote pages to her penchant for Manolo Blahnik shoes and Louis Vuitton bags, but this is a woman who has been far more inspired by the physical comedy of Woody Allen and Steve Martin.
Although she had her first starring role on Broadway as Annie in 1979 and has been appearing in memorable movies since Footloose in 1984, Parker is best known for the series of confused and quizzical expressions she pulled as New York columnist Carrie Bradshaw in HBO's series Sex and the City.
Each week Carrie's face would scrunch and twist over her keyboard as she tapped out eternal questions with a zeitgeisty twist: "Are relationships the religions of the 90s?" and "Have we become romance-intolerant?"
The show -- which ran from 1998 to 2004 and spawned two hugely successful movies -- was a mainstream outing of female sexuality. It took issues that had only previously been addressed between the covers of women's magazines directly into homes at prime time.
The scripts were sassy, the cast of Cosmopolitan-swigging characters were unprecedentedly frank and the language they used was initially shocking.
Over its six seasons Sex and the City was nominated for 50 Emmy Awards (winning seven) and 24 Golden Globes (winning eight). Feminists, however, were divided on the merits of the show.
Some relished its gleeful, taboo-busting portrayal of thirty-something single women actually enjoying themselves, and its celebration of their friendship.
Others argued it encouraged women to behave like spoilt and materialistic children.
In her latest movie, I Don't Know How She Does It, she plays Kate Reddy, a working mother frantically juggling the demands of a high-flying career in finance with a hectic home life.
Parker is instantly empathetic in the film, which opens with a scene perfectly suited to her ability to combine larger-than-life physical comedy with girl-next-door honesty.
Having jetted in late from a business trip, Reddy visits an all-night grocery store because she has promised to make a cake for her daughter's bake sale. Finding them out of baking supplies, she snaps up a ready-made fruit pie.
Reflecting on how things have progressed for women since her mother's day, Reddy observes: "We used to fake the orgasms and bake the cakes. Now we get the orgasms but we have to fake the cakes."
Although the film moves the action from London to Boston, it stays true to the frazzled-but-feisty spirit of the best-selling novel by newspaper columnist Allison Pearson on which it was based.
Parker gave birth to her first child (James Wilkie Broderick) and became a working mother herself in 2002 -- the year Pearson's book was published -- but she admits: "I hadn't read it, and I don't know how I hadn't because I was the audience.
"It's such a keenly observed portrait of what it is to be a mother in these times, this economic climate.
"That's why it was important to leave my own children and travel out here to talk about it, because there are mothers all over the globe, working. Some because they want to, but many more because they have to."
When two of the characters in Sex and the City became mothers, they hired an army of help and continued meeting in trendy bars looking fabulous.
In the second film stay-at-home mom Charlotte confesses to lawyer Miranda that she's finding motherhood hard, before wondering: "How do the women without help do it?"
The pair shake their glossy locks and raise their glasses to those poor unfortunates in a scene so smug it may well have caused the subjects of their toast to bypass the glasses and head straight for the bottle.
But although she has a well-paid job in finance, a lovely home and a full-time nanny, Kate Reddy is a far less slickly styled character.
Parker is "proud to say that her entire wardrobe was inexpensive. So much so that I hurt my foot quite badly running over the cobbles of Boston in plastic-soled shoes."
Does Parker's association with fashion (which goes beyond her Sex and the City role to lucrative ranges of clothes and perfumes) mean she is taken less seriously as an actress?
"I love the art of the fashion business. But it's not my life's passion. I know I'm well informed about the world, I know I'm a voracious reader.
"But you stop coming to interviews armed with attempts to steer the conversation elsewhere because it suggests resentment."
She does, however, resent the tone of some questions she has been asked -- "by women journalists!" -- about her own choices as a working mother.
She and actor husband Matthew Broderick now have three children: eight-year-old James Wilkie and two-year-old twins Loretta and Tabitha whose birth, via a surrogate, sparked another media debate.
Forbes magazine this year named her and Angelina Jolie as Hollywood's joint highest-paid actresses, with an estimated income of $30m in the year to May 2011.
Although some of her earlier roles saw her cast as the airheaded 'other woman', women identify with her, enjoying her kooky wit and the fact she has become a fashion figurehead despite (and because of) her distinctive, animated features and her resistance to Botox and fake breasts. The readers of Maxim, on the other hand, voted her the "unsexiest woman alive" in 2008.
Rolling her eyes, she says that Forbes' figures "are not remotely near reality" but acknowledges that "I can choose to work when I want.
"I know that my children have food on the table, with shelter and education I feel good about. So I'm genuinely more interested in how other women make it work.
"I think I'm setting a good example for my daughters, I'm doing something that I love and feel good about. They get to travel with me and meet interesting people because of the particular, strange choices I've made.
"I'm not bitter, but I'm still surprised at the objections that women are bold enough to articulate about other women they don't know. In this scary time, isn't this the most perfect occasion for us to say that sisterhood is more important than ever?"
Would she describe herself as a feminist?
"I never really thought about it. Maybe that makes me lazy, but I'm the beneficiary of all the work my mother's generation did. They did all the grunt work and handed us this world view.
"We were raised to think we could have it all, but there's some reality that rears its head. So what you decide is 'I'll die trying', but try to be realistic about what can happen, day to day."
She pauses and takes an elegant sip of her "builder's tea".
"I took a page from [the playwright] Wendy Wasserstein's book. She said 'I'm not a feminist, I'm a humanist'."
I Don't Know How She Does It begins with the assertion that, in each working woman's life, comes a moment when she almost doesn't pull it off. Was there a moment like that for Parker?
"Oh, yeah. During the filming, there was a terrible winter cold that went through our house like a steam train. And then an email from my son's school informing me that there was an outbreak of headlice."
So you looked as shattered as your character? I guess you could call that method acting.
"Ha! Yeah, right," grins Parker, with one final roll of those cartoon eyes.
I Don't Know How She Does It opens on Friday