Now Parker does have those contracts on her desk. “It’s an eye-opener,” she says. “I do understand that it’s a necessity.” And then there’s her own brand, of which she says she tries to be “unconsciously conscious.” Ten years ago, she says, actors who created products were a rare breed, like Liz Taylor. Today it’s common, either as a covert layer of income—doing commercials in Asia, like George Clooney—or an open one. Parker’s solution is to be almost religiously involved in product development, creating her own perfumes and insisting on a democratic ethic for her clothing line, which runs up to size 22, “so I don’t feel it’s vulgar. So I don’t feel it’s just arbitrary or mercenary.”
Still, she lies in bed and worries. “There are those actors who don’t do it. And some that wish they could. And some who never will. It’s like nudity.” She recalls a conversation back when she was considering doing the Garnier ads she eventually signed up for, “and I thought, I can’t do that, it’s not part of being an actor, and this one actor I really, really respected, we were talking about endorsements, and he said, ‘At least you’re not doing hair care.’ I thought, Oh, thank God. I would have been so ashamed.” She was reassured when a playwright she respects told her there was “no taint” to taking the deal.
There’s a case to be made that if she has marketed her own personality—funny, effusive, motherly, girlish—as a brand, as what her friend John Benjamin Hickey jokingly calls “SJP Inc.,” this is a smart move. She has taken other roles, some of them playing against her own likability, but there’s no guarantee she can break through again. Like a single woman in an earlier age or a blocked artist in Victorian London, an actress growing older can easily find that her world is shrinking. That will never happen to Parker, who has made certain to seize control of her own larger-than-life image.
Kim Cattrall seems to be the last person waving the flag of sexual rebellion that the series championed: “Loose woman, hussy, slut, nympho—now it’s a cougar,” she says with a sigh.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if a little more shamelessness might not be a good thing for her—a bit more direct ownership of the culture of appetite her show so famously celebrated. One night I watch Parker on Conan, her hair scraped into a tight ponytail, talking seriously (or anxiously; the two combine) about how she hates the subject of sex or even thinking about it, how she avoids anything “ribald, salty, cheeky.” Conan teases her for sounding like an eighteenth-century preacher. It’s a little depressing, since I’ve been watching Jill Clayburgh pirouette in her panties (“so sexy and raw,” marveled Parker) and enjoying clips of the younger Parker on YouTube, flirting with David Letterman. In those clips, she seems spontaneous, urbane, smart-assed—a sassy perfect girlfriend. She reminds me, in fact, of Carrie Bradshaw.
"Who will we meet next?” asks Parker playfully. “This is Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” And when we turn the corner to walk toward Hudson, a handsome man with close-cropped hair appears.
“Oh, it’s Officer Smith!” she says. (Not his real name.)
“Listen, I have a message to you from my sister,” says Smith. “To tell these Maxim people to go to hell, okay?”
“You tell your sister thank you,” she replies, with deadpan emphasis.
“You should mail them pictures of when you were in—what was your first thing you were ever in on television?” Officer Smith asks. (“Square Pegs?” I suggest nonsensically.) “My favorite, the first thing I ever saw you in”—and he turns to me and adds, “and then you’re going to be able to tell that I’m a homo”—“when you wore the short dress to the Oscars? Mail them a picture of that.”
She didn’t know Officer Smith was gay, it turns out. “Because you have a strong not-gay vibe, too.”
“Yeah, it’s the whole cop thing.”
We take off down the street, and Parker begins to tell me how she and the cop had met, a story that’s off the record—until suddenly he appears again, to suggest another hot outfit she should send to Maxim: the silver one she wore on Sex and the City when she saw Big in front of the Plaza, that great scene where she compares their romance to The Way We Were. “That could have turned me straight,” he says.
“Would you mind telling Emily that story?” she asks.
So he tells me. He had signed up for the qualifying exam to be a cop in Suffolk County. He’d be a fool to turn it down, he knew: On Long Island, he could make twice the salary—a living wage at last. Then the night before the test, he watched the episode of Sex and the City titled “Splat,” the one where Kristen Johnston, playing a party girl who has aged out of her own social world, falls out the window at a fancy New York cocktail party. It’s a fairly devastating episode, the moment in the final season where Carrie seems to take an anxious look at her options and decide it’s simply too chilly to be alone in this world, at her age, as a woman; it’s the one where she decides that it’s better to believe in the fairy tale and head off with the wealthy artist who will support her in Paris, lending her one kind of freedom. The trade-off will be worth it.