Sarah Jessica Parker recounts 'terrifying' experience of returning to singing in Blue Night
Sarah Jessica Parker first staked her claim on television queendom traversing the streets of New York as the leader of a squad of fierce cosmopolitan women on HBO’s beloved comedy Sex and the City, and her latest film sees the actress returning to her old stomping grounds. This time, however, instead of palling around the Big Apple with a trio of girlfriends, her character in Fabien Constant’s Blue Night instead paints the town, well, blue, as she grapples with her own mortality, a crumbling personal life, and general existential anguish against the backdrop of urban bustle.
For her first movie role in three years, Blue Night sees Parker playing Vivienne, a successful jazz-pop singer who embarks on a highly personal journey of fear, regret, acceptance, and ultimately resilience after a dour medical diagnosis sends her into emotional chaos. Along the way, she encounters various figures, both new and old, who make a significant impact on her life. There’s her overbearing mother (Jacqueline Bisset), her band’s hunky drummer (Taylor Kinney), her loyal manager-slash-personal-wrangler (Common), and of course an old friend (Renée Zellweger) who crosses Vivienne’s path in an unexpected (yet altogether momentous) chance encounter when she needs it most. But the thread remains: while a colorful ensemble adds flavor and perspective to Vivienne’s journey, it’s hers and hers alone to make, and Parker gives one of her best performances to date tying the whole package together.
Ahead of Blue Night‘s world premiere Thursday at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Parker had a chat with EW about acting in, producing, and lending her singing chops (yes, she belts a show-stopping tune near the end of the film) to the French New Wave-inspired picture that’s a mesmerizing ode to New York, personal evolution, and a woman’s right to live on her own terms. Read on for the full interview, and head here for ticket information.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s funny because when people think of you running around the streets of New York, it’s usually on lighter note as one of the Sex and the City girls, but you’re on the streets of NYC on, um, a different note here, right?
SARAH JESSICA PARKER: Yeah! I think it looks different, especially environmentally. Even though it’s the same city, [Blue Night] is an illustration of how many stories exist in this city and how different everybody’s worldview is on this island. I loved doing it this way. Our [crew] did a great job of finding and getting access to all of these pockets of the city [we] were keen to shoot.
So you discovered a new side of New York while filming this movie?
Any time you shoot in a community, you’re spending time there. You know it in a way you didn’t when you’re [passing through] in a train or cab… Beekman and East End Avenue are underutilized, I think because it’s hard to shoot there… they’re places I know, I just don’t get to spend a lot of time in them. Once you’re camped there, you get to know a neighborhood better. We were way up on 156th and 157th and Riverside… It’s such an exciting neighborhood. There’s so much going on and it’s so diverse!
As a producer, you had a big hand in making this story happen, so were you attracted to the darkness of the project?
I didn’t think so much of dark and light; I was attracted to Vivienne’s story. The limited time spent with her and also the urgency of the 24 hours. What would it be like to receive that news and yet have so much unsolved in your life? For a character who’s not particularly good at dealing with others in a responsible way… how do you share this information? And how do you choose to spend what is in essence potentially your last day? There was so much that was interesting and everything I’ve never done before on screen or on stage.
How did the project come together?
Our company developed it with Fabien, then we hired [screenwriter] Laura Eason. Rufus Wainwright was with us from early on, too. Common said yes literally two hours after we sent him the script. We couldn’t believe it. Everybody [we asked] said yes. It was the easiest casting I’ve ever been witness to… It was so joyful and engaging. We were in this other world for 16 days and it was absolutely magical [and] we had the most international crew. Our DP is Spanish, Fabien is French, our costume designer was Indian, our AD was Vietnamese, one of our producers is Yugoslavian… It was the coolest crew!
That’s a very New York crew, too!
And a lot of women! All the producers were women, basically.
How did it feel spearheading a project driven by so many powerful women?
It was exciting. A lot of our experience as producers at Pretty Matches Productions is only [with] women. It’s now [comprised of] five women, and a lot of our projects are being directed by, headed by, and shaped by women. So it’s not something that’s an unusual mission of ours. I’m happy to report that we’re not jumping on the bandwagon, but we’re happy to continue our efforts. Especially [with] women of color. That’s something we’ve worked hard [on], to find those women — many of whom haven’t been given a chance in television and cinema. That’s just our nature and the way we choose to function and produce.
I’m glad that’s so important to you. The story, too, is an interesting take on womanhood. It’s an ode to many things — to French New Wave, to New York — but also to womanhood, as it highlights a woman’s right to privacy.
I wasn’t thinking of it politically, I wasn’t looking at its place [in that aspect]. I certainly saw that Vivienne was a person who’s singular in her approach and independent, but also having made what some might argue as bad choices. Still, I liked her unique approach, even through her day, her choice to be quiet, to reserve information, to retreat. I respected and understood how hard all of that must be, how much you need comfort and how hard it is to ask for it… to feel superior and inferior simultaneously. These are all emotions that lots of women feel across industries: mothers, girlfriends, friends. To have an opportunity to experience so much of that onscreen in two hours or less is unusual. Maybe that’s why the experience was so fulfilling.
One of the other things that stuck out to me was your singing in this film. Your background is in Broadway musicals, so those are actually your vocals in the final cut, right?
Oh yeah, for better or worse [laughs].
You haven’t sung in a film in this capacity, so what was it like diving back in to shoot the song for a film as opposed to on stage?
Absolutely terrifying. Horrifying! We didn’t have a lot of time to do it. We were doing it after shooting all day, really late at night. Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman have a studio space that they very kindly offered, so it was very nice. At least I was with people who were really friendly and encouraging and supportive of what we were trying to do just as friends. It made a difference, having a friendly face to stare at. It was also just so much fun to have this beautiful song that Rufus had written, but also to come up with the Tiffany cover [I performed] was really cool.
Sound – whether it’s natural sounds of the city or your character’s music – plays a huge role in this film. Do you think Fabien’s experience with documentaries took the film’s aesthetic to a new level, especially from a sensory perspective?
Definitely. That is all Fabien. I do think as a documentarian you’re constantly paying attention to ambient sound because you want that to play a role… That way of sharing stories and documenting lives, you can think of it almost as journalism. Fabien knew so much about what he wanted to do visually and audibly… It plays a wonderful role in the movie. And it also adds to what is scary, what feels jarring, what feels soothing, what is comforting, what’s forbidding, and Fabien is such an inspired filmmaker.
Having experienced that complete package from beginning to end, what do you hope people take away from this film?
I hope we told an interesting story about a particular woman at a unique moment in her life. There are countless others experiencing that same diagnosis. What does that mea? How does it feel? What do those next 24 hours look like? What choices do you make? Who do you find comfort with? That part is not going to be unfamiliar to people, many of whom have had those experiences themselves or with loved ones… what makes this story unique is: this is simply Vivienne’s story, and hopefully people think it’s worth the time they’ll spend in a darkened theater with her.