If actress Sarah Jessica Parker was attracted to the story of “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” it may be because the story’s concept is not too far off from her own life: how a woman tries to balance a successful career, marriage and being a parent to young children. In the comedy (which is based on Allison Pearson’s novel of the same name), Parker plays Kate Reddy, an executive at a Boston financial-management company. Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear plays Kate’s husband, Richard Reddy, a recently downsized architect.
Kate and Richard, who are the parents of two children, face a dilemma when they each get job opportunities that could greatly change their lives. Taking the job opportunities would mean more income but the couple would spend less time together. Meanwhile, Kate has an attractive new associate at work named Jack Albelhammer (played by Pierce Brosnan), who become an unexpected source of temptation. At the New York City press junket for “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” Parker and Kinnear had this to say about making the movie.
Interview with Sarah Jessica Parker
How familiar were you with the book “I Don’t Know How She Does It” before you decided to do the movie?
Parker: I actually hadn’t read the book. I’m one of the few who hadn’t. I was familiar with the book. I knew of its great success in the U.K. and this country as well. I hadn’t read he book, and then I read the screenplay. I thought the screenplay was really beautiful. And then I learned [screenwriter] Aline Brosh McKenna had done a yeoman’s job of adapting the source material. So I have yet to read the book.
I was a little bit afraid to read the book, because books have this wonderful opportunity. There’s this kind of luxury of time in books. And cinema doesn’t allow for that. We have a limited time to tell a story. And I knew that there would be details that I couldn’t apply to my experience.
I didn’t want to fall in love with things that we couldn’t put into the screenplay. And maybe that’s a foolish decision. I don’t know. It has yet to be determined, but I felt like I was cleaner and more pure just having the experience of the screenplay. I just loved the script.
What resonated with you about the script for “I Don’t Know How She Does It”?
Parker: There was a lot that was resonant with me. I think specifically, there are a few themes in the movie. And I think the fact that they were very kind of grown up in a way. It’s about people who are in the thick of their lives.
They’re not superheroes. They’re not heroic in any way. They’re not terrifically wealthy. They’re not on the margin. So they’re telling an everyman story of what it is to be a working parent outside the home in this particular time.
And I think we are parents in a specific way to our generation. There are a lot of complications that come with the choices that we’re making. And I thought the story conveyed and illustrated those complexities really, really well — and did it in an amusing way and environmental ways that were really, really funny. It brought in all sorts of opinions.
And I understood it. I related to the chaos. I related to the desire t manage the chaos. I related to the feeling of being a great failure. I related to the secret triumphs. All of it is very familiar to me. And I think it’s going to be familiar to a lot of women.
Do you think it’s possible for women to “have it all”: a successful career and a successful family life?
Parker: I think that’s what our mothers told us. They wanted us to believe we could have it all. I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor. I just think you have to have reasonable expectations. That’s kind of what Kate discovers over the course of the movie: You just have to reconcile that it will still be a mess.
You can attempt. I think you should. I think we should all have high expectations of ourselves and others. I think we should want a lot for our children, but we should also be somewhat forgiving of our shortcomings.
What else can you say about Kate Reddy?
Parker: She’s a great and admirable person. I loved playing her. I felt deeply privileged to have been chosen, in all sincerity. I like her very much. I think she is a really good and decent person. And there’s a sort of innocence about her approach to life.
She’s a sophisticated working person in a competitive and intimidating field. But there is a sort of innocence about her that is very appealing — meaning that she is not very cynical about life. She’s desperately hungry for big, great experiences and challenges.
And then I liked the things that were very conventional about her life. I liked that she has an old-fashioned idea of family in a funny kind of surprising way. And I like that she’s not unkind to other women, even though she has a secret monologue that’s slightly cutting. I just think she would be an excellent friend to have.
What was it like working with Pierce Brosnan?
Parker: Just great. He’s an absolute surprise … One could project a lot onto him. I had worked with him before on “Mars Attacks!,” but we didn’t get to have this kind of work experience. It was much more brief [with “Mars Attacks!”].
He was James Bond, so there’s all this stuff you endow him with. And the truth is, of course, that he is very elegant and suave and debonair, but he is a very sweet, kind, wanting-to-be-good man. And that was surprising: that there’s a sort of vulnerability to him. He was a total delight.
Pierce Brosnan had a scene in the movie that showed him bowling. Is he a good bowler in real life?
Parker: Those were his shots. He’s a great bowler.
Interview with Greg Kinnear
What resonated with you about the script for “I Don’t Know How She Does It”?
Kinnear: I just liked the chaos, the ride that these characters were on in trying to maintain a civil marriage and relationship — and at the same time balance family and work. These are two people who are at a quintessential moment in their work life. And it’s a story that plays out all the time. Everybody’s aware of it. And Doug McGrath had found a way to tell it in an entertaining and unexpected way.
What can you say about Richard Reddy?
Kinnear: He’s an architect. I think he’s been struggling and trying to get by and suddenly has a big opportunity that’s come his way, exactly at the same time that his wife has a big opportunity that’s coming her way. Obviously, the balance of marriage and relationship and children is complicated. Something has to give. So you’re kind of watching these two people find out how they’re going to play the pinball game.
How was it working with small kids for “I Don’t Know How She Does It”?
Kinnear: [He says jokingly] Well, I had back injuries that Weinstein legal department will be hearing about very soon. Picking kids up and putting them down repeatedly is not necessarily good for any of the primary vertebrae. And I do all my own stunts in that regard.
[He says seriously] We were lucky because quite often in movies … it’s hard to find kids that feel real and honest. They found a couple [of kids] that were actually quite adorable.
Two of them are twins, where you don’t know which ones you’re getting at any time. One’s a little more out-of-control but good when you need hysteria. The other one is very mellow, but they were outstanding. Everything that W.C. Fields said about working with kids is absolutely true. You don’t stand a chance.
[Says jokingly] So handling the kids on “I Don’t Know How She Does It” was like a contact sport?
Kinnear: [He says jokingly] I’ve had more injuries on this than anything I’ve done.
You filmed “I Don’t Know How She Does It” during winter in Boston and New York. What was that like for you?
Kinnear: New York was particularly bad in the window of time that we were here primarily. This was way before the earthquakes and hurricanes and everything else [that hit New York in 2011]. This was just good old New York winter, back like they used to make them. I managed to survive it. I had the family out here as well a little bit. I acclimated my own children to what it feels like to not be able to feel your ears. It was fun.
Does the story of “I Don’t Know How She Does It” hit home for you since you’re a working parent?
Kinnear: I hope it’s broader than that. I hope you don’t have to have kids to understand what this is. I don’t think you do. I think with people in a relationship, the notion of children is always something that’s in the back of everybody’s mind and who might be heading that way and thinking about having kids. It’s something you contemplate pretty seriously.
And I hope what happens here isn’t a poster film to not procreate, but I do think it shows you in a funny kind of OK way the pain and difficulty that it all can bring and how much of a tricky balancing act it is. The movie is pretty broad. It’s got a big cast. And the truth is, everybody is doing some balancing here. It’s not just as a couple.
What is it about “I Don’t Know How She Does It” that has such universal appeal if it’s not just about marriage and parenting?
Kinnear: I don’t really know. I can’t really speak for [Allison Pearson]. It wasn’t in my book club. I can’t really say. I think the appeal of the movie would be that it would grant you some understanding of what this woman is up against, in terms of trying to sustain a marriage in a good way and sustain children and have an ambitious job and try and negotiate relationships with family — immediate and not immediate — and friends and everything else. And try to make that all work without crashing through the window.
How would you describe Sarah Jessica Parker?
Kinnear: I hadn’t worked with her work. She’s in “Ed Wood,” one of my all-time favorite movies. I just always think her work has been really great. And I thought her in this role seemed to fit perfectly. I think Doug McGrath [the director of “I Don’t Know How She Does It”] was the right person to tell the story in that sense. We had fun.
She was absolutely delightful — and by the way, not that far from the character she’s playing. There are kids on the set. She was taking calls as the [president/chief creative office] of Halston [Heritage]. It was quite impressive, the job she was doing. Sometimes the lines got a little blurry. [NOTE: In July 2011, it was announced that Parker had left Halston Heritage.]
What role do you think modern technology has in balancing work and family?
Kinnear: It’s probably worse. I think the need to keep up with everything that you’re bombarded by in technology just adds a whole other dimension to the race. I’m not sure we’re that much better for it.
No doubt about it: You’re not putting the genie back n the bottle. There’s plenty of great stuff that has come out of the new age that we find ourselves in. But no doubt about it: It just adds a whole other layer of stuff to get to.
Do you think it’s possible to “have it all”: a successful career and a successful family life?
Kinnear: I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a “one size fits all” in any of this. I think that some people are able to balance it all, and some have a difficult time with it, and some make it look easy. Damn them! Everybody’s kind of on their own little journey on that course. Far be it from me to comment one way or the other.
For more info: “I Don’t Know How She Does It” movie
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