Blue Night, which had its world premiere last week at the Tribeca Film Festival, features a sparser-than-usual performance from Sarah Jessica Parker. We meet her Vivienne, a jazz singer, on the most hectic, emotional day of her life, packed with appointments and phone calls and errands — and a brain-tumor diagnosis. Blue Night is simple and spare, putting one woman’s personal reckoning into perspective: Should she change anything about her life in the time she has left, and is there still time to course correct?
“I think there’s so much that is and can be explored, even in 24 hours: There are ideals about a career that is both fruitful and challenging, attempts at passion, attempts at reconciliation. [Vivienne is] trying to be better, briefly, if that somehow makes a difference,” Parker told us when we caught up with her over the phone. Naturally, we also chatted with Parker about her own offscreen reckonings: her support of Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial run, if she sees a reconciliation with Kim Cattrall, and the state of Sex and the City 3.
What attracted you to this story?
It’s a story I certainly have never told. I think there’s something sort of singular about this woman’s experience. I think the diagnosis is perhaps familiar to many, unfortunately. What was interesting to me is who she is prior to this diagnosis — what choices do you make in this collapsed period of time when you’re thinking about your life and what’s meaningful, and what you want and how do you seek comfort, in whom, and with whom? And how are you assessing choices you’ve made?
When you’re someone like Vivienne who has spent a better part of her adult life thinking first of herself. I mean, that is a flaw that is readily apparent. Do you wish that you had had made different choices? And I think there’s so much that is and can be explored, even in 24 hours.
We developed Laura Eason’s script for a long time. We knew what we wanted to do, and she turned in her script and we didn’t have a note. There’s not a note. I had one grammatical query, but that was it.
Blue Night is about taking stock of your life and how one day puts all of it into perspective — so I’m curious what you’re taking stock of in your own life, either personally or professionally right now?
I’m a parent, so I’m constantly taking stock. It’s sort of routine for me because children change so quickly and they’re experiencing life all in different ways at different times, but they’re all coming home and bringing all of that with them, and they want perspective. Part of the great ward and burden of being a parent is that you worry. You’re constantly worried your children are out there, and things are going to hurt them, that they’re going to hurt people. You’re always taking stock of what is important, taking risks and career choices.
I take stock all the time of what’s important, what’s not, how do I want to respond to this, what hurts and what doesn’t, and what’s worth your time and what isn’t. I think that’s much more so because I’m a parent and because I have to. You have to do triage all day long, and I feel I do. I’m not certain that I’m always objective or even honest with myself, but maybe that’s just survival.
One of my favorite parts of the movie was thinking about the relationship between Vivienne and her Lyft driver, played by Waleed Zuaiter. After a really belligerent introduction — she jumps out of the car after he won’t turn down his music — she ends up riding with him again the same day.
I loved that from the beginning and I knew from the beginning that I wanted Waleed to play that part, I knew it. I had seen him in a play in New York, in a George Packer play. I’d seen him in this play that my brother had actually directed and I was like completely taken by his performance. I tried to work with him before — he was in the Sex and the City 2 movie, too — I’m always looking for places to be onscreen with Waleed, because I think he’s really gifted. And the minute that the script came in I spoke to Alison, I was like, “I really want Waleed to play this part.” He brings so much kindness with him as an actor, he’s a deeply kind and decent man, and he’s incapable of not sharing that with us onscreen, and I just thought he has a sort of dignity also about him applied in a sort of discipline that I thought was a really nice quality and interesting quality to bring to this character.
He and Vivienne have a very New York interaction — they’re both rushed and distracted, and a little rude, but he becomes a surprising support system for her.
That relationship is a surprise and I think very real from the minute they find one another, it’s real. It’s combative, it’s unkind, it’s dismissive, but I think because of this lifted period of time in her life, it allows this other thing to happen where she needs somebody and sometimes revealing all that to an intimate person in your life is too hard. And he becomes so necessary, I think it’s just so lovely. I love doing scenes with him. When I was watching it, I was like, I’m waiting for something to happen between them. And then I realize, Oh, this is the story, this is what’s supposed to happen, it’s supposed to be one of these quiet, really important relationships that you don’t have to put a lot of … that you just don’t expect.
You sang in your musical debut in Annie back in the ’70s. Was it a little nerve-racking playing a singer in this, having to sing camera?
I did a bunch of musicals after Annie. I did How to Succeed in Business and then I did Once Upon a Mattress, and I’ve done little things here and there. I don’t really don’t focus on singing and I’ve never really sang on film before. Except for one episode of Square Pegs I sang a song, I remember that.
Unless you’re a practiced recording artist or singer, it’s terrifying, it’s horrible! But it’s also a dream if you get to sing an original Rufus Wainwright song and be surrounded by people who are encouraging and enthusiastic. I got to record it in my friend Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman’s studio, which was really helpful. We recorded it really late at night after shooting all day, that was scary.
Renée Zellweger pops up in the movie for one really relatable scene: She’s playing an old friend that Vivienne has lost touch with, and spur of the moment she invites Vivienne to come celebrate her birthday. Can you tell me about working with her?
Everybody, and Renée included, was just excited, completely committed, energetic, enthusiastic, kind. Renée is a perfect example of that, she was so delightful and so good in that scene and so different and so weird. It’s such a funny, odd, sad part in a way. It’s a woman that’s depositing a lot of resentment, bitterness, disappointment in six minutes on camera, it’s sort of brave. I loved it. I loved it.
I think everyone has had those awkward run-ins, where you realize that there’s no why, but you’re just not close to someone anymore.
Yes, absolutely and I think that’s exactly what that is and how radically our lives have changed and how we don’t really have anything in common anymore, but you sort of cling to the memories of when it was essential in your life that you were friendly with this person. Everybody just sort of tries to toss into it again, but [those relationships] don’t always work or stick anymore. People can change so radically, not out of evil, just lives change.
Speaking of old friends, I know you’re supporting Cynthia Nixon for governor. Are you planning any campaign appearances?
I’ve been trying to follow the campaign closely, as much as I can read given my work schedule. What has been really interesting about this period is how good this has been for the conversation. It’s really good to have a challenger. Cynthia and I have been friends since we were 11 years old, she’s one of the smartest women I’ve ever met. She’s formidable and she will work incredibly hard and this will be a really, really interesting and exciting time for New York voters. She will look for opportunities where I can be supportive of her, I will, but my aim is to do no harm. You want to be informed, it’s important that I understand her policy, her positions on policy. We’ve already met once and had hours together, which was a thrill, in the last couple weeks. This is what primaries are about. It’s good for New Yorkers, don’t you think?
Do you see any resolution with the Kim Cattrall–Sex and the City 3 situation?
I’d just like to remind everybody that there is no catfight. I have never uttered an unkind, unsupportive, unfriendly word, so I would love to redefine it. I also want to remind everybody that there were four women on the set and I spent equal time with all of them, so this was not a set with two women who didn’t get along. I’ve always held Kim’s work in high regard and always appreciative of her contributions. If she chooses not to do the third movie, there’s not a lot I can do to change her mind and we must respect it. That’s the only thing I’ve ever said about it, you know?
The three of us have shared our disappointment that we’re not making that movie, not just on our behalf but our crew, but also just the people that have been vocal about wanting to see it. But we still live in a free country where people get to make choices and sometimes the answer is “no,” and the only way to respond for me is to respect that. So whether we choose to revisit it at another time and reimagine that story — that’s something Michael and I just haven’t talked about yet, that doesn’t mean we won’t, but we haven’t at this time.
But, no, there is no catfight, there never has been a catfight. I’ve never fought with someone publicly in my life, nor would I. And I spent time with all of the women on the set. People need to recall that it wasn’t just two women on the set fighting because that just never happened. We are enormously proud of what we got to do and I don’t want someone sharing thoughts publicly, which is Kim’s right to do and that is what it is, but we spent 10, 12 years of our life doing something that I really loved and I feel privileged to be part of and I don’t want this to eclipse it or change its experience for that audience that was so good to us for so long.
This interview has been edited and condensed.