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Young Sarah Jessica Parker: Take a Look Back at the Stylish Star’s Career Before ‘Sex and The City’

See her journey from little orphan Annie to the iconic Carrie Bradshaw!

As Carrie Bradshaw, the protagonist of the game-changing show Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker had the role of a lifetime. With its frank and funny depictions of sexuality and female friendship, SATC won over a dedicated fanbase and Carrie’s outfits and relationships are still subjects of fascination over 20 years after the show debuted (and have been revisited in recent years thanks to the controversial revival series And Just Like That…).

While Parker, now 58, will forever be known as Carrie, she was already a veteran actress when she was cast on the show. Here’s a look back at her amazing evolution from child star to ultra-glam TV icon.

Sarah Jessica Parker’s child-star origins

Parker started out as a precocious stage actress. She came from humble beginnings, growing up in Ohio with seven siblings. As she recalled to The New York Times, “I remember being poor. There was no great way to hide it. We didn’t have electricity sometimes. We didn’t have Christmases sometimes, or we didn’t have birthdays sometimes.” Acting provided an escape, and Parker trained in singing and ballet.

Sarah Jessica Parker performs a scene in the musical Annie, 1979
Sarah Jessica Parker in Annie (1979)Getty

Parker had her very first part in a St. Louis production of The Sound of Music and at just 11 years old, she made her Broadway debut in the 1976 revival of The Innocents. She’d have her big break in 1979, when she starred in the title role of the free-spirited orphan in the beloved Broadway musical Annie. Parker had to work hard for the part, starting out in a minor role and ultimately working her way up to the lead and succeeding two other actresses.

Related: Leapin’ Lizards! See the 1982 Cast of Annie Then And Now

Sarah Jessica Parker, 1980
Sarah Jessica Parker in the ’80s Getty

Soon enough, the charismatic young actress would make the leap from the stage to the small screen. In 1982, Parker had her first major onscreen role as an awkward teen in the sitcom Square Pegs. While the show only ran 20 episodes, Parker soon began appearing in movies, and made a splash with her supporting role in Footloose.

Sarah Jessica Parker in the '80s
Sarah Jessica Parker in a very ’80s outfitGetty

Sarah Jessica Parker becomes a movie star

After Square Pegs, Parker starred in the 1985 film Girls Just Want to Have Fun, a teen movie made when the genre was at its peak. The movie received mixed reviews and wasn’t quite as popular as the other teen movies of the day, so she didn’t reach Molly Ringwald levels of teen stardom.

Related: Kirsten Dunst Movies, Ranked: 10 of the Luminous Star’s Greatest Roles

Young Sarah Jessica Parker publicity portrait for Girls Just Want To Have Fun, 1985
Sarah Jessica Parker in Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985)Getty

Parker continued to act in TV shows and TV movies. In 1991, she played Steve Martin’s charmingly ditsy love interest in the comedy L.A. Story, and received much attention for her spirited performance.

Sarah Jessica Parker is lifted by Steve Martin in a scene from L.A. Story, 1991
Sarah Jessica Parker and Steve Martin in L.A. Story (1991)Getty

Parker finally took her rightful place as a leading lady in films like the 1992 rom-com Honeymoon in Vegas, in which she starred opposite Nicolas Cage. The next year, she starred alongside Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy in Hocus Pocus. Over the years, the movie, in which Parker and her co-stars play witchy sisters, has become a Halloween classic.

Hocus Pocus promo shoot, 1993
Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy in Hocus Pocus (1993)Walt Disney Pictures/David Kirschner Productions/Weimaraner Republic Pictures/MoviestillsDB

In the following years, Parker acted in two films from cult-favorite director Tim Burton, Ed Wood and Mars Attacks! (in Mars Attacks! she memorably had her head put on a Chihuahua’s body). In 1996, she acted alongside Midler once again in The First Wives club, stealing scenes as a the young fiancee of Midler’s ex-husband. Parker also returned to her theatrical roots during this time, appearing in Broadway plays, and in 1997 she married fellow actor Matthew Broderick.

Sarah Jessica Parker on stage in Once Upon A Mattress, 1996
Sarah Jessica Parker onstage in Once Upon a Mattress (1996)Getty

SJP the TV icon

In 1998, Sarah Jessica Parker was cast in her defining role as Carrie Bradshaw, the sassy sex columnist at the center of Sex and the City. The show was so iconic and influential that it’s easy to forget she had already been acting for 20 years by the time it came around.

Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker in 'Sex and the City,' 1999
Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City (1999)Getty

The show’s creator, Darren Star, wrote the part with her in mind, and was already a fan of her work on the stage and screen. When she first heard about it, she was skeptical. As she recalled in a 2023 New Yorker interview, “I wanted to be able to do a play, and then a reading, and then a TV movie of the week in Yugoslavia,” and didn’t want to be tied down to a TV show, but the sharp writing and fashionable depiction of New York City life ultimately won her over.

Related: Sarah Jessica Parker Has Gotten Into the Canned Cocktail Game With Her New Cosmopolitan

Sarah Jessica Parker in 'Sex and the City,' 1999
Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City (1999)Getty

Reflecting on her signature role, Parker told Variety, “It always felt interesting and challenging and surprising and familiar and unfamiliar. And I loved playing that part. I loved everything about it.” She can’t quit Carrie, and has returned to the role in two movies and …And Just Like That.

Sarah Jessica Parker in 'Sex and the City,' 1998
Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City (1998)Getty

SJP post-SATC

After Sex and the City, Parker appeared in rom-coms like The Family Stone, Failure to Launch and I Don’t Know How She Does It. From 2016 to 2019, she starred in another show, Divorce. Parker has also branched out into producing and fashion design (fittingly, given her shoe-obsessed character, she has a high-end shoe line).

Sarah Jessica Parker, 2023
Sarah Jessica Parker in 2023Getty

Not all of Parker’s post-SATC projects have reached the same level of success, but as she told The New Yorker, “I keep working, and some of it is successful and some of it isn’t. And that’s the career I imagined.” This attitude has given her some serious staying power, and the sensational star has come a long way from her humble origins. While …And Just Like That won’t be returning until 2025, we hope to see her sometime before then.


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