Indeed, friends delight in pointing out the many differences. For one thing, Parker (who has a no-nudity stipulation) is "not roaming the town collecting men and having sexual escapades," says David Frankel, who directed her in 1995's Miami Rhapsody. "She's more likely to stay at home"—in the cozy Greenwich Village brownstone she shares with her husband of two years, actor Matthew Broderick, 37—"and read the Times and make a stew."
That's right: Though her 5'4" frame carries barely 100 pounds, the former child star delights in decadent recipes. "I cook big, fattening, old-fashioned meals with butter and olive oil all the time," Parker told Redbook in 1996. Quips Andrew Bergman, who directed her in Honeymoon in Vegas: "She eats like a longshoreman, and [yet] she has the greatest body."
That despite the fact that after a 16-hour day on the Sex set, Parker likes nothing better than to veg out in front of the TV. "She'll sit there at night with the junkiest candy possible [and] the remote control," says her friend Jill Greenbaum. "The worse the TV, the more of a kick she gets out of it."
Which is not to say that Parker has never partaken of Carrie's swinging lifestyle. Long before linking up with Broderick in 1992, she had a series of high-profile romances, including an on-the-set fling with Sean Penn's brother Chris (a castmate in 1984's Footloose). There followed a seven-year relationship with the famously troubled Robert Downey Jr. "He adored her, and she him," says Greenbaum, who was a personal assistant to both. But, as Parker later told Redbook, "I just found his [drug use] incredibly difficult to deal with." She spent time with her Vegas costar Nicolas Cage and a few months in 1991 dating JFK Jr., whose death last summer left her "devastated," says Greenbaum.
Still, it's Broderick (previously linked with actress Jennifer Grey) with whom Parker settled down. They met in 1991, when he was directing Parker's brother Toby in an Off-Broadway play. "He's probably the funniest fellow I've met in my entire life," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1996, four years after they started dating. "I'm mad for him, totally." When not nesting in their home, which is filled with antiques and baseball memorabilia, "they go running or blading in [nearby] Union Square Park," says Frankel, or walk their mixed-breed Border collie Sally.
Parker's life was once considerably more chaotic. Her mother, Barbara, a schoolteacher, and her father, Stephen Parker, an aspiring writer, divorced when Sarah, the youngest of four children, was a toddler. A few years later, Barbara wed Paul Forste, a college student, and moved her brood from the coal-mining town of Nelsonville, Ohio, to Cincinnati, where Barbara had four more children. "When you have eight kids, the kids take over. It's mayhem," Parker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1998. Their parents exposed all of the kids to theater, but only Sarah and brother Toby (Rent), now 37, remain actors. Around 1976, Paul started up a moving company for theatrical road shows and relocated his clan to New York City.
At 12, after enrolling in Manhattan's Professional Children's School, Sarah won the title role in Broadway's Annie. A few years later, she and Sex costar Cynthia Nixon were cast as sisters in My Body, My Child, a TV movie starring Vanessa Redgrave. "Sarah is very real, which is a fairly rare thing in child actors," says Nixon, "and one of the reasons she was able to smoothly make the transition from kid to adult actor."
Along the way she landed the part of bookish beanpole Patty Greene on CBS's Square Pegs (1982-83), made her film debut in 1984's Footloose and did more TV series work as Richard Kiley's daughter-in-law in A Year in the Life and as a rookie D.A. in Equal Justice. Her breakthrough role—as Steve Martin's ditzy sweetheart—came on the big screen in 1991 's L.A. Story. "I had never played that [type] before, and it changed [producers'] perceptions about me," Parker told the Chicago Tribune in 1995. She was next cast as Nicolas Cage's voluptuous bride in Honeymoon in Vegas. "They were a cute couple even before they were a couple," says director Andrew Bergman. But by the time the film came out in 1992, Parker was smitten with Broderick. "She was very eager to be married," recalls her Miami Rhapsody director, David Frankel, but less eager to costar with her beau in Broadway's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1996. She did anyway but told The New York Times, "It feels too intimate for us to be onstage."
Their next big coproduction was their nuptials a year later. "It was one of those supersecret-to-avoid-the-paparazzi weddings," recalls Frankel. "I literally did not know [the location] until hours before." It turned out to be an out-of-use synagogue in lower Manhattan. The couple, who are both half-Jewish, were wed in a civil ceremony by Broderick's sister Janet Kraft, an Episcopal minister. And, says Frankel, "the bride wore black. I think it says she's a true New Yorker." The next day Broderick went back to work on 1998's Godzilla and Parker on Broadway's Once upon a Mattress.
By all accounts, Parker leaves her ego at the stage door. Sex and the City creator Darren Star, who in 1996 sought her out to play Carrie because of what he calls Parker's "sustained, biting wit," says, "We work really long hours on the show, and I think her first and foremost concern is making sure the crew is in good spirits. She treats them like family. She really has a mothering instinct."
Some not-too-distant day, perhaps, Parker (who told Redbook in 1997 that "I see myself as a mother") and Broderick will start their own brood. "I like kids. We'd like to have them," Broderick told PEOPLE last May.
For now, Parker is reveling in others' offspring. Four months ago her friend Jennifer Nicholson Salke, an L.A.-based senior vice president of drama development for Aaron Spelling, had a baby. Parker, she recalls, "was so excited that she called me [on her cell phone] from a cab in New York while I was in labor, and [nobody] told me that she was on the phone." Then, in what sounds like a scene out of Sex and the City, "they set [the receiver] down, and so for 30 minutes she listened to me screaming before she hung up. [Sarah] felt like she was eavesdropping," says Salke, "because she's much more shy and modest than Carrie is." Geeze Louise, is that a fact?
Michael A. Lipton
Sue Miller and Natasha Stoynoff in New York City and Tom Cunneff in Los Angeles