But Parker, dressed in a prim brown cardigan and a thin patterned dress for her part as a dean of students, seemed unfazed by the temperature as she filmed a scene outside one of the stately brick buildings.
"Relative to what I wore for all those years, this is like a snowsuit," she joked, referring to the skimpy ensembles she used to don to prance through the streets of Manhattan as "Sex and the City's" Carrie Bradshaw.
Besides, even if she weren't accustomed to the frosty climate, Parker is ready to endure a little discomfort. After taking a year off in the wake of the HBO show's six-season run, the 40-year-old has returned to a full schedule of acting projects — and this time, she's seeking out parts that are decidedly different from the irrepressible romance-seeking columnist with whom she is most closely identified.
"It's kind of a running theme of mine, but I prefer terror to what is comfortable and often more lucrative," Parker said, seated in a small student lounge during a break between shots.
In the last 12 months, she undertook an eclectic trio of roles: Along with Sarah Daniels, the guilt-ridden dean wrestling with her own prejudices in the yet-to-be-released "Spinning Into Butter," she has played an uptight fiancée in the holiday season release "The Family Stone" and a pragmatic girlfriend-for-hire in "Failure to Launch," a romantic comedy costarring Matthew McConaughey that opens in theaters March 10.
Her friends joked that it was her "trilogy year," but for Parker it was more than a chance to sample different personas. After three decades of acting, she finds herself at a crucial juncture in her career. She's better known than ever (the TBS reruns of "Sex and the City" alone make her an ever-present figure on the small screen), but also ready to move beyond the show that helped secure her place in pop culture.
"I had been really happily cloistered for so long on the set of 'Sex and the City,' which was one of the reasons I felt it was necessary for me to leave — I could have stayed there forever," she said. "It became very clear to me that that was probably the right time to maybe not be so comfortable."
After leaving the series, Parker faced a problem shared by many successful television actors: that many in the public now view her as intricately bound up with the character she played for so long. Colleagues say she has dealt with that quandary in a particularly thoughtful manner.
"A lot of people coming off of television shows are either still cashing in on that character or desperately determined to prove they can violate that persona," said Michael London, who produced "The Family Stone" and is now working with Parker on a film adaptation of the novel "Love Walked In."
"She knows that Carrie Bradshaw is always going to be part of her, but she is very conscious of finding ways to move on and do different things without feeling like she's reacting against Carrie Bradshaw," London said. "That's a really wonderful gift."
Hardly the spoiled diva
IN person, Parker is warm, unfailingly polite — she greeted each startled student in the lounge with a handshake, asking, "Hi, how do you do?" — and remarkably willing to poke fun at her own idiosyncrasies.
She stills carts around her "Sex and the City" set coat, the hip-length, puffy white down parka she wore between takes during long days of shooting in New York. In the pocket, she keeps her lines from the last episode, along with cough drops she squirreled away when she was in Paris filming the final scenes.
Last year she took the parka with her to every new film — even to New Orleans, where she shot "Failure to Launch" during the hot and humid summer months.
"I have certain crazy rituals in my life that I just cling to because, foolishly, I think they're going to protect me from any sadness, disappointment," she said, grinning at her melodramatic tone. "It just makes me feel some sort of comfort and safety like if all else fails, this was a moment where someone cared and someone loved me and I felt all right about my work."
It was Parker herself — who not only starred in but co-executive-produced the HBO show — who made the decision with executive producer Michael Patrick King to end the series, feeling that the characters' stories were coming to a natural conclusion. But it took some time to move on.
The backyard of the West Village brownstone she shares with her husband, Matthew Broderick, and their 3-year-old, James Wilkie, actually abuts the backyard of the building that figured in the show as Carrie's Upper East Side apartment.