Sarah Jessica Parker on Narrating Mental Health PSA: "It's Wonderfully Poetic"

Sarah Jessica Parker - Getty - H 2020
Daniele Venturelli/Daniele Venturelli/WireImage

Sarah Jessica Parker has lent her voice to animated films and even to a museum, but her latest voiceover offering is something new and relatively urgent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parker narrates a short film titled Inside & Outward that focuses on the mental health challenges of living during a time of extended isolation with a hopeful spin about the resilience of the individual spirit. It's a mesmerizing piece produced by HunterPark Prods. in partnership with National Alliance of Mental Illness New York with a roster of pedigreed creatives including director Ezra Hurwitz, choreographer Justin Peck, performers including Sara Mearns, Emma Portner, Gabriel Kane Day Lewis, Dharon Jones and Robert Fairchild (among others), and a score by musicians Sufjan Stevens and Lowell Brams.

Posted Sept. 10 to coincide with National Suicide Awareness Day, the film is described as "a love letter to the individual — both in America's most populous city and around the globe." Ahead of its release, Parker spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about why she said yes, recording her part without the benefit of an iPhone and how best to revitalize the city she loves to call home.

How did this come to you?

I'm glad you asked that because I feel that I am a teeny tiny part of this. All of the other artists were in place, and I feel that they are the real headliners. There's just a laundry list of enormously talented people, and I came in at the very end when all the great work had already been done. Ezra [Hurwitz] reached out to me, and Sara [Mearns] reached out to me, and they just said, "Can you do this?" Of course, I said yes, and for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, because there were so many artists involved whose work I know really well and admire, including Sufjan Stevens, who my son worships, worships. I know Sufjan's work because of my son, who's followed him for years. Really, the most challenging part was that I don't have an iPhone, so I don't have all the equipment that people are accustomed to using, but I just sat in my closet and simply tried to do the best I could and be deserving of being part of it. It was pretty simple.

Was there a line of dialogue that resonated most with you?

When I first spoke with Ezra, he sent a script and we spoke about what existed and what felt expendable, and that the thing we most wanted to talk about was the real complexity of this solitary period. I can't say there's one specific thing, but I will say that Ezra was really smart about editing and making sure there was nothing that felt overly incipient or cute. We wanted it to be a timeless piece but also one that speaks about time. It's a documentation of a time in history.

When he sent back what he felt was a really strong and revised edition, I agreed. I took it pretty slowly and broke it up into sections just because it's a nice amount of words, and I wanted to make sure I was delivering it well and clearly and also telling the story. Ezra was very smart and very efficient about the words and what wasn't needed. In its whole, I was affected by it.

When you watch it, how does it make you feel?

I've only seen an early cut, and not only that, I saw early pieces. As they were putting it together and shooting, I saw some of the first images, and I thought it was beautiful. It was pretty early in the lockdown, so I was first of all just enormously impressed at what people were able to do and how careful and thoughtful they were being. It's very beautiful. It's wonderfully lonely. There is the solitude you feel, but it's also wonderfully poetic. They've done just a beautiful job, and their partnership with NAMI-NYC gives it more gravitas. I'm just really pleased with it. It’s lovely, and I feel very lucky to be involved in the tiniest way that I am.

Seeing the performers featured, it's Broadway stars, ballerinas, painters and singer-songwriters, and then your voice. As an artist and creator yourself, but also such a fan and proud supporter of New York arts, was that an important piece for you?

Yeah. The names involved are, as I said, impressive and important culturally, but also just in a community, any opportunity for artists to find ways to work in these not just challenging, but extraordinary times, has been a great benefit. There had been and continues to be a lot of loneliness. Most of us aren't prepared for that kind of solitude and time by ourselves, and it made me feel sad. I continue to be in real despair about the number of people who are not able to do the work that they love. Painters can paint. Actors are really in a tough spot because they need things produced in order to work. Seeing pieces like this, and there are more of them coming — work made during the lockdown during pandemic and quarantine — is inspiring. We're learning there are new ways to create work without the larger community that we're accustomed to.

I felt really proud but there is a great concern about whenever we'll have an opportunity to work again. This was such an unusual experience, because in the past when New York has been stopped, suspended, there was this finite period in which an incident has occurred and we could look toward a date to recover. This just feels like a sort of purgatory that is painful; it creates enormous anxiety and uncertainty but also it levels a sort of dynamic and dynamism that our city typically produces. It's very worrisome, and I'm glad that people are finding ways to connect and to be creative, but I remain very worried, you know?

The film is described as a love letter to the individual in America's most populous city, New York. Much has been made about New York and the impact the pandemic has had. As you say that you’re worried, what do you make of New York and its future?

Anything I have to say is just about my own hopes and based on nothing that's been shared in terms of any municipal, citywide or statewide plan. I go to work. I go to the stores. I walk the streets. We go to our local grocery stores. We try to order in from restaurants. We continue to support our local independent booksellers. For a lot of us, we're just trying to keep contributing to the city, and in doing so, we hope that it will stop the endless articles about the dead city because that's not been terrifically helpful. I'm doing all I can to encourage everybody to come home, but it's a vicious cycle if we play into it. You don't come home, shops don't open. Shops don't open if you don't come home.

So many of us have had good fortune here, and we owe it to the city to embed ourselves in its revitalization, whatever that means. We don't know what that means right now, but we can't exist if people don't come home. I know it feels uncertain and a lot of schools are remote and jobs are remote, so there are lots of reasons. And people of all types have left the city. There are the wealthy who have left, but people who are working have left. Working-class people have left and gone home to live in their hometowns with their parents, rented homes in more affordable cities.

We have to find a way to support our businesses so that there is a reason to come home, and that's the only way I can imagine this Phoenix rising from the ashes, is to keep reinvesting. Not just financially, but also emotionally. My store [SJP] on 54th street or in Seaport, I open the doors and I hope that I see somebody to my right or left, a business owner who says, "Oh, look, they're doing it. Some people are stopping in and it can be done safely."

We reach out to our customers. I have a responsibility. I employ a bunch of people. I want to be able to provide them with their health insurance and their salaries, so I'm hoping that I see other small businesses doing it. I'm encouraged by that. I'm inspired by that. It's the only way for us to not let a sort of inertia dictate the future. But it is very hard. This is such an unusual thing. It's not like something happened and it's over. It just continues.