Sarita Choudhury has spent the last three decades of her life acting in numerous films (including Mississippi Masala opposite Denzel Washington and The Green Knight with Dev Patel) and television shows like Homeland and Little Fires Everywhere, as well as countless theater productions. And yet, when she signed onto Zoom in 2020 to audition for the role of Seema Patel in the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, Choudhury was filled with nerves. “I’d read the script and I was thinking, I never really played a character like Seema, someone with no apology,” she tells me (on another Zoom call) from her home in New York City. “I had to bring it for the audition or not audition at all. You can’t really do Seema halfway.”
Choudhury nails the essence of the character, both in this neat statement and in her portrayal on AJLT. Seema, a high-powered New York City realtor who strikes up a friendship with Carrie after selling her apartment, is one of a slew of characters of color that have been inserted into the Sex and the City universe, which famously ruled early aughts pop culture with a nearly all-white cast. To occupy such a space, Choudhury, who is half-Indian and half-British, says she fully submits to the process to get things right. “Thank god I did theater,” she says. “It trains you to abandon your ego while you’re constantly rehearsing and trying things.” Below, Choudhury describes her involvement in the much talked-about “Diwali” episode on AJLT, being seen as a replacement for Samantha Jones, and her connections to Carrie and Seema in real life.
Seema’s fashion sense has become a fan favorite topic of discussion. What is your personal opinion about Seema’s style?
When I walked into the first costume fitting, I was blown away by the color tones they went with: the chocolates and the beiges. I really loved that, because when you’re a woman of color, you tend to get approached with bright colors. The subtlety exuded a certain richness. It was new for me, though, to wear that much jewelry and the heels, with everything matching. I’m personally not of that ilk. But I’ve never given in so much to whatever [the costume designers chose]. I thought, I’m going to wear all of this. With each thing I put on, I felt, This is Seema.
There has been tons of discussion about Carrie’s style in this reboot. What do you think of her looks?
I feel like, in my life, I’m more of a Carrie than a Seema. Every time I saw her costumes, I was a little jealous. It’s all got a lot of personality.
Are you more of a Carrie only when it comes to fashion, or speaking in terms of your personality as well?
In personality, I think I’m a mix of Seema and Carrie. My thoughts are Seema’s thoughts, but I would never say them. I can’t believe the stuff she says. I’m more of a Carrie because I’ll say one thing and then I might change my mind—and I’m generous in figuring out who I’m talking to. Whereas Seema doesn’t think of who she’s talking to. She just wants to be clear. She can be kind and generous, but she talks first.
Some viewers see Seema as a Samantha replacement. What are your thoughts on that?
I was never thinking [of Seema] in terms of Samantha, or not Samantha. But because I’m the single character—Lisa Todd Wexley [another new addition to the reboot] and all the other characters are married—that puts me in a position of already having a Samantha thing. Samantha and Seema are both ballsy, so I understand why people are having fun playing “who’s the new Samantha,” but it wouldn’t have helped me to even think in those kinds of terms when preparing for the role.
I wanted to ask you about the Diwali episode. Were you involved at all in coming up with the concept?
I received the script, but with a lot of questions: “Sarita, do you have any thoughts? How do you feel?” Because, obviously, I’m Indian, so they’re going to want that input. I’m not up in the writer’s room giving my opinions, but if I notice something or if I wanna add something, especially in an episode like that, I can, and they’re open to it.
We talked a lot about the house and the decoration and the people. Cynthia [Nixon] talked to me a lot about hanging out with everyone: my cousins, my friends, my tribe that are so different from my boss lady life. We talked a lot about the sari that I was wearing, where to get it, the colors, the textures, the fabric; Seema is so into fashion, she wouldn’t get just the normal type of sari. But I don’t represent the whole of India. I can’t be like, oh no, this is how an Indian woman would do it. Because every Indian woman is different—plus, Seema is in New York. So I was into not doing the perfect Indian way and yet fully embracing. I have to say, what’s good about working on any project nowadays, compared to even five years ago, you know that everyone is researching and checking. They’re so much more aware. That wouldn’t have happened before. I would’ve shown up and there would’ve been a sari for me in the sitting room. Now I wonder how we even put up with that.
Did you feel that Carrie’s outfit from that episode was cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation?
I actually say that line, “cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation,” so obviously I had to have acknowledged that was okay. I talked to a lot of aunties and friends about it. They were all saying something I always have felt: if you are Indian and someone’s coming to your home, the gesture they make is always appreciated. We’ve always been left out or ignored, especially in terms of style and fashion. It’s not considered anything that a white woman would be curious about.
When you do a show that is, say, all Indian, we’re allowed to make fun of our own culture. We’re allowed to not like things. But if you do that with someone not in your culture, suddenly it’s tricky.
Do you think Seema will get a love interest?
I can’t actually tell you anything. But as you can see with what’s happening so far, the subject of Seema and her dating life, her lying about Dennis, clearly she is an expert at apps—you’ll see what’ll happen.
Do you feel that And Just Like That is introducing you to a new or younger audience?
You might be right, because the local coffee shop I go to every morning, the younger staff are all now like, “Huh! You’re an actress.” And I’m like, Really? Wow. That’s what it took?
Little do they know, your breakout role was in the 1991 film Mississippi Masala—in which you starred alongside Denzel Washington. What was it like working with him?
Oh my God. First of all, I was 23. I remember he had just done Glory and won the Oscar for it. I’m heading into my first role and he’s gonna be the guy? It was too much for me! Everyone had a crush on Denzel. It was hard for me to even look at him. A few weeks into shooting, [director Mira Nair] said to me, “Denzel’s wondering why, when he’s talking to you, you often have your eyes downwards. Is he making you feel shy?” I didn’t even realize I was doing it. But then I got to know him. He’s so lovely and truly great to work with. Each scene with him is exciting because he’s a living moment. It’s a rare thing with an actor, where you’re watching and you don’t know what’s going to happen.