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And Just Like That …’s Sarita Choudhury on the Auntie Approval That Shaped Seema Patel

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

There are many mysteries baked into And Just Like That …, the ten-episode continuation of Sex and the City that wrapped (maybe not for good?) with Thursday’s finale on HBO Max. Questions like “How has only a year passed in this timeline?” and “Why does LTW need so many pockets in her painting outfit?” remain unanswered. But no part of this series is as no-nonsense and as ready to provide answers for unsolvable questions as new character Seema Patel, played by Sarita Choudhury. An accomplished real-estate agent whose professional relationship with Carrie Bradshaw morphs into a rewarding friendship, Seema’s signature move is the “step back and assess,” a pose she uses before delivering real talk to Carrie about her old-lady back and her water-stained apartment and before joining Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda for a meal the first woman to claim that fourth spot since Samantha Jones’s departure from the franchise. (Kim Cattrall chose not to return for And Just Like That …, and in the series, Samantha is written as having fallen out with Carrie and moved to London.)

In the finale, “Seeing the Light,” Seema is living, laughing, and loving with Brooklyn nightclub owner Zed (William Abadie), a Gavin Rossdale look-alike whose flirtatious delivery of “boss” catches Seema’s attention. Choudhury spoke with Vulture about the series’ Diwali and arranged-marriage story lines, her favorite Seema outfits, and her reaction to the Seema-and-Carrie ’shippers and demands for a spinoff.

Seema has a great introduction: She has her own luxury car, a driver, and vanity plates, and she uses this amazing pair of studded platform sandals to put out a cigarette. What was your first impression of Seema, and how did you prepare for that moment we meet her? 
I didn’t know the car had those license plates until I was on set and had already shot the scene of getting out of the car. Michael Patrick King, the showrunner, was like, “Sarita, did you notice?” and I walked around and I was like, “No!” I almost felt like I didn’t have to act because all these things are acting for me.

The moment of the shoe — I love that because, for me, cinema has iconic moments. It’s not like you go around thinking you want one, but I’ve never had one I can remember. Maybe Mississippi Masala was the only other one because I had to reveal from my hair — like I had to do that [pantomimes whipping hair around]. But it reminded me of Italian cinema, the cigarette, the stubbing. And then my first line, where I say, “My name means boundary, which is hilarious because I have none,” is such a great beginning. It was literally those things that made me realize, Wait a minute, I have to literally jump into this person because she’s not me.

But she does have this boundary with her parents in that she loves and respects them but there’s tension from this lingering arranged-marriage question. How did you feel the show handled that subplot?
I was appreciative that the show even had it in and that I had parents and that we were able to have a Diwali moment. If it was only me in the show, obviously there would be so many discussions as to how much more to include, but I’m one of many characters. My first thought was, Oh, good. The second thought was, Great that it’s a comedy thing about me lying about having a boyfriend, because with such short time, we can’t show India in two minutes. I love that it entered through a lie, which is so specific and personal.

My Iranian cultural heritage also has that arranged-marriage component. There was part of me watching that thought, Ugh, an arranged-marriage story line. Then I took a step back and thought, But that’s true. I recognize this because I lived this as well.
I know exactly what you mean. I feel like, as an actress, I’m always having that moment of, Wait, I’m wearing a sari? [Pauses.] Oh, thank God, I’m wearing a sari — I never get to wear them. Seema’s not 20. That’s what’s new about the scene: She’s 53, and they’re still trying to get her married. When we’re younger, we lie if we have a boyfriend, and then later, we have to lie that we have one. For me, it was the age thing that was interesting in this context.

The legendary actors Madhur Jaffrey and Ajay Mehta play Seema’s parents. How was working with them?
Madhur is almost more family than someone I’ve worked with. I know her daughter very well, Sakina. Once we were all attempting to do a kind of a workshop of Three Sisters but based in a culturally different area. But I’ve never really been on a set with her. The minute she arrived on set, I was so ridiculous. I ran; I was knocking on her trailer. She opened the door, and I realized there are some moments when you’re in your field of work where you get an image of why you joined it and the kind of weird journey it is. And I saw that in that second. I was thinking of her in her early films. It was a big moment. I didn’t know Ajay well; we’ve crossed paths. He was in Los Angeles, and I asked if we could rehearse the phone scene, and I remember when we did it on the phone. Immediately, I was like, Oh, he’s good. He’s good at this.

Seema has some dialogue that I think really benefits from your line deliveries: the “Cultural appreciation, not cultural appropriation” line and “It’s so hard to be white now.” What did you want Seema to communicate in those scenes? 
When I see these kinds of lines, especially in culture nowadays where there is so much backlash to anything you say or do, I have started to enjoy thinking, Well, the writers’ room went through these lines and made sure it was okay. I was talking with some aunties and saying, “What do you think of this?” And they were just laughing; they don’t even care. And I was like, Oh, this is what I want Seema to be. She’s not thought about it too much, she’s smart enough to put it in one line, and it doesn’t matter if it falls a bit wrong because she’s on to the next thing. I really enjoyed not worrying about what I was saying ever — (a) because I’m relying on the writers and (b) because when my aunties had that reaction, I was like, Why have we become so precious?

I love the punchy flirtation Seema has with Zed. In the finale, you see they spent three days together in a hotel suite. What do you imagine as their future? Were you playing it as “This is the guy”?
I don’t think Seema would play anything as “This is this.” With men, I sometimes wish I was more like her in that she’ll claim those three days and be like, This is fantastic. The fourth day, if it wasn’t, she’d be like, No, I’m not with him anymore. I think she claims the present.

So it will be foolish for us to think of him as her forever guy. 
It would be foolish, but I have a feeling Seema’s looking for real love, and so let’s hope.

I really liked when he called her “boss” — that was pretty sexy. 
I feel like the reason she liked him right off the bat is he could debate with her and spar, and that for her is part of a soul mate. She needs someone cheekier and bigger than her, who walks faster than her. It’s hard to find that when you’re a powerful woman in New York City.

Seema runs a thriving real-estate business. You live in New York. What is your wildest real-estate story from living in the city? 
I once rented an apartment because — literally, this was the reason — the woman who was renting it was Italian and she had two pairs of Italian shoes. And it’s so odd because I don’t even wear heels. But one was a beautiful green and the other was a soft, dusty pink, and they were outside the door. I’m that person; that’s the way I get real estate. Or I lived in the Lower East Side, on Pitt Street, and it was a sixth-floor walk-up. Everything was inconvenient about it, but I will never forget the feeling of, I’m a downtowner. I made it. But it was the kind of apartment I couldn’t even invite my parents to. I’ve always known I’ve never wanted a doorman. That’s all I know.

You watched the original Sex and the City after a breakup while living in Italy. What resonates with you about the original series? 
It’s funny because every time I did a scene when I was shooting the new one, I would get memories of things I’d seen in the old one, especially because I’m on the set with Sarah Jessica’s clothes, her closet. What’s interesting about the original series is that I always felt happy watching it. I didn’t need to watch it with anyone — it was my brain working, going Oh my God and Oh, that’s funny or Oh, that happened to me. It was like a whole dialogue with my brain. What I loved about it most was you never felt sad about a situation that was actually pretty sad if it happened to you. We all experience embarrassing things in our lives, and they’re heartbreaking when they happen. But there was something about the show that made you feel like, Oh, if that happened to her, then it was totally fine that it happened to me. It just took the edge off my life.

I don’t know if you’ve seen this online, but people want a Seema spinoff or more Seema in a second season. Have you thought about that?
Just the word spinoff — I literally want to run for the hills that don’t exist in New York.

People also want Seema and Carrie to get together because your chemistry is so good.
Oh my God, this is hilarious. It’s hard for a viewer to see this, but the reason Seema can be the one who looks like she’s heading forward is partly because I have all these scenes with Carrie, who went through so much, was stuck, and is slowly moving forward. And also because she’s such a great acting partner, Sarah Jessica. When you think of two women, there has to be chemistry, too. That’s not to do with love, but it’s an actor chemistry, and I remember the first day thinking, Oh my God, there is something here. Sometimes it’s — you look at them, they look at you, you look away, and you laugh. It’s an odd moment that cues you into that.

Seema wears such beautiful outfits curated by costume designers Molly Rogers and Danny Santiago. What were your favorites? 
It’s the first time as an actress that every outfit felt special. I’ve never worn that level of couture, and if you put it on, whether it’s Valentino or Tom Ford, it feels so good. And every time I would say to Molly, “How much does this cost?” She’d be like, “Sarita, don’t ask. You’ll be hurt.” The first outfit, I love that Molly and Danny picked browns and beige because, as an Indian actress, people always come at me with pinks and greens. I was kind of like, That’s so subtle and cool. If I go to a store, I would never pick those things. And it made me mad at myself because I was like, How did they know how to dress me this way, and I would never know how to do that? So I love that brown outfit even though I couldn’t sit in it because it would get creased. I really loved my blue sparkly one. That was put on back to front on purpose — that was kind of a genius moment on Molly and Danny’s part. The negligee in the last scene, I loved. Molly and Danny showed me a few, and that one had an edge to it. There was a quality to that material that wasn’t your typical silk or slinky.

That scene felt straight out of Italian cinema: these two very satisfied people in bed together, smoking a cigarette. 
Nowadays, who writes a scene that opens with two people sharing a cigarette, lying down horizontally? That just doesn’t exist. That’s pure Italian cinema.

Seema speaks fondly of attending the Barneys Warehouse Sale and cutting a bitch for cashmere. Have you ever done either of these things? 
[Yelps] No! You asked that question as seriously as if you were asking me what books I’m reading right now. I appreciate that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sarita Choudhury on the Auntie Approval That Shaped Seema