Halfway through filming the third season of HBO's saucy comedy series "Sex and the City," star Sarah Jessica Parker still harbors a nagging feeling that her character, newspaper columnist Carrie Bradshaw, may not be friends with fellow singletons Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte.
"To this day I am not entirely positive that the other women exist," Parker says by phone from New York during a break in the filming. "I don't know if they are not fictional characters that she makes up for her column."
Parker isn't even certain if Carrie's on-again, off-again love interest, Mr. Big, is just a figment of her imagination.
"I don't know if she has all of those shoes. I don't know if she has a Fendi bag. I never talked to the writers about this because I don't want to know. I don't want them to ponder it at all."
A winner in January of two Golden Globes--best television series musical or comedy and best performance by an actress in a TV comedy series comedy for Parker--"Sex and the City" kicks off its third season Sunday with Carrie, still smarting over her breakup with Mr. Big (Chris Noth), now dating a politician with a kinky sexual habit. Samantha (Kim Cattrall) has a fling with a muscular fireman. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) gets back together with her sweet but poor bartender beau Steve (David Eigenberg) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) decides she has to get engaged by the year's end. Noth will be returning as Big, and Kyle McLachlan also will be a semi-regular as Charlotte's new love interest.
Creator and executive producer Darren Star says the male audience for the series has grown from the first season. "A lot of men have come to watch it with their wives and girlfriends," says Star. "It has become, like any hit, a word-of-mouth phenomenon."
This season, wedding bells will be ringing for one of the women, says Star. "There is going to be a deepening of, certainly, all the characters and their lives. Sarah Jessica Parker's character is going on quite a roller coaster."
Nixon, who plays the successful attorney Miranda, originally auditioned for the role of Carrie. "They didn't think I was right for Carrie," she says. But she ended up being the perfect Miranda.
The actress says the writers have unveiled new layers of her character since the premiere two years ago. "I loved the pilot and I love myself in the pilot, but I thought, she's really come a long way. Miranda was so steely and icy in the pilot and so bitter," says Nixon. "There may have been other stuff going on underneath, but you didn't see so many glimmers of her that you do now. The writers are not just trying to do the same thing. They are trying to go deeper."
Meanwhile Parker, who has been married to actor Matthew Broderick for three years, has become quite attached to Carrie. "Her life is so different than my own and certainly her single life is different than my single career ever was, but I still have a lot of affection for her," she says. "I don't think I could live the way she lives, but I am very admiring of her in a lot of ways. I have grown to care for her."
"Sex and the City" is the only job Parker's ever had in which she thinks about it 24 hours a day: "[Carrie's] been so disappointed. She is so pretending to be glib, but I think she's an old-fashioned romantic. She can't help it. She is more complicated than anything I have played before on TV."
Parker is also a producer of the series, though she's not generally involved in story meetings. "Pretty early on, like, in October, Michael Patrick King, who is our head writer and executive producer, comes to me and tells me a general arc for the season. Beyond that, with the exception of the rare occasion, I don't deal with the writing that much because we don't need to; it's that good."
Her involvement as a producer is more general. "It's everything from talking about casting to talking about the directors and the aesthetic look of the show and the tone of the show. It can be everything that is superficial--which strangely matters--to things that are more about just management."
She also feels being a producer helps her protect New York City, which Parker says, is just as much a character as Carrie and her friends. "None of our writers have lived here for a while so I feel like I am the commissioner for film and television. When I tell people about the show, I say these are four very unique women in a very unique city. It would be an entirely different show in Boston or Chicago or Los Angeles. It's not like it would be a good or bad show, but I feel that the city has so much to offer visually, and there is so much about the city that makes the series work."
"Sex and the City" can be seen Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO, with repeats Tuesdays at 11 p.m.; Wednesdays at 9 p.m. and Saturdays after the 10 p.m. movie. The network has rated it TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17).