When you set up an interview with Chris Noth, it’s not like you’re expecting Mr. Big. That would be ridiculous. But then you get to the meeting place, a private club called Norwood, discreetly housed in a Manhattan brownstone. It sits directly across the street from the Plumm, a ritzy nightclub Noth and some fellow celebs have put money into — and you can’t help but wonder what it would be like to see Noth appear out of a plume of cigar smoke, dressed in a slim-fitting suit and flashing that mischievous smile. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find out what it’s like to be Carrie Bradshaw (minus the shoes). In the main lounge, though, Noth’s 6-foot-2ish frame rises from a sofa sporting a running shirt, brown sweatpants, and a pair of New Balance sneakers. (Noth explains he’s in between shooting an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and hitting the gym.) There will be no cigars, no lowballs with swirling whiskey. Instead, there’s a refreshingly honest actor whose soft-spoken nature and infectious laugh can be as robust as the cup of fancy coffee he’s sipping.
The 53-year-old star has been dealing with Big expectations for years. Ever since he first appeared as Carrie’s mysterious and moneyed flame, Sex and the City fans have confused the man (Noth) with the myth (Big). Case in point: the time Noth and his girlfriend, Tara Wilson, came out of a Los Angeles restaurant and a gaggle of girls waited around to see what kind of car he drove. ”We got in, and you could hear them go, ‘Oh my God, he’s riding in a Toyota,”’ he says. ”’Mr. Big would never ride in a Toyota.’ But I don’t give a s— about cars.” Noth does find the fans and their passion for SATC endearing — within reason. ”When they [want] advice about their Carrie-Big relationship, I have to laugh.”
Now that he’s reprising the iconic role for the Sex and the City movie, Noth may have to grin and bear it a little longer. For him, the movie is a blessing (it’s his highest-profile feature-film gig to date) and a bit of a curse — he’d like the Hollywood gods, a finicky bunch, to see he has more to offer than charm and a great head of hair. But even offers to star in romantic comedies, beyond the 2005 box office bomb The Perfect Man (costarring Heather Locklear), never happened. ”I don’t know the politics of Hollywood,” he says. ”Am I hungry for great material? Every actor is. How I can get to it, that’s another story.” You’d think his on-and-off role for nearly 20 years as Det. Mike Logan on Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent would have stunted Big’s shadow, but, says Noth, ”[Sex and the City] somehow elicits a response that’s of proportions that are really startling.”
That said, Noth knew better than to say no when it came to bringing Mr. Big to the big screen. ”I would be an idiot not to do it,” he says. ”There had been some stops and starts. Once I knew Michael Patrick King and Sarah Jessica and all of the girls were back on board, I knew we could do no wrong.” Aside from noting with a wink that ”nothing happens to [Big], and everything happens to him,” Noth doesn’t see the point in talking about what happens in the film. ”Well, f—, watch the movie,” he says, slamming his hand on the table in mock impatience. He’d rather chat about why he loves Big as a character (”his judicious amount of restraint” and ”very dry humor”), how revisiting the role after a four-year break ”felt like slipping back into something you’ve known quite well and enjoyed,” and the bipolar nature of shooting SATC and episodes of Criminal Intent simultaneously. ”I’d be in beautiful clothes and a great set on the movie, and then I’d be in freakin’ Red Hook,” he says with a big laugh. ”The crew at Law & Order didn’t have much sympathy for me. ‘Oh, welcome back, Mr. Big. There’s a dead body, Mr. Big. Go figure out who shot that guy between the ears, would you? Do you need a cosmo while you do that?”’
Before he became acquainted with corpses and peep-toe heels, Noth fell in love with acting as a student at Vermont’s Marlboro College and Yale School of Drama. But as a kid growing up in Stamford, Conn., he did not envision a career in much of anything. His father died young, and while mom Jeanne Parr was off working as a CBS News reporter in New York during the ’60s, Noth kept busy getting into trouble. He ”managed to drive at a very young age,” was ”partaking” in marijuana, and snuck into Chinatown every Halloween to buy explosives so he could blow up pumpkins. ”I probably wasn’t getting the best education, and I was driving my mother half wild with anxiety and madness,” he recalls. ”I was probably headed toward a lifestyle of possible juvenile crime — but only because it was fun,” he adds with a laugh. Parr’s antidote was to send her son to an all-boys high school, but Noth persuaded his mother to let him attend a coed school in upstate New York instead. ”I’ll never forget, as we were driving up, I looked to my left [and] there were three girls skinny-dipping,” says Noth with a sly grin. ”My mother didn’t see it, and I just went, ‘You know, Mom, I think I could really learn a lot at this school.”’
After college, Noth relocated to New York, where he’s lived for the past 23 years. The fact that both his TV characters are rooted in New York makes it ”exciting for me to feel like a small part of the cultural history of the city,” he says. Still, the increasing popularity of SATC has been bittersweet because it means he can no longer stroll through the city he loves in anonymity. And with the movie on the way, the infatuation is only going to grow. (Tour buses already stop at the Cutting Room, the live music venue Noth cofounded in 1999. Former SATC costar John Corbett sometimes plays there with his band.) ”I have been walking these streets and taking subways all of my adult life, and [before] I was just another face in the crowd,” he says. ”It’s pretty annoying to be suddenly looked at as some exotic bird in the zoo.” That could be why Noth and Wilson are still discussing whether to raise their newborn son, Orion, in New York City or L.A. While he’s not keen to open up about fatherhood, Noth does eventually pull up a photo of the 4-month-old on his cell phone. ”You start understanding what unconditional love is,” he says.
With the SATC movie wrapped, Noth splits his time between his family, L&O, and his new project with Rome cocreator John Milius. The two are working on a pilot for AMC, based on the photo book Requiem, in which Noth would star as the best friend of a real-life photojournalist who lived and died in Saigon while covering the Vietnam War. The show is Noth’s way of creating juicy work for himself because, he says, ”I can’t wait for Hollywood to give it to me…. I’ve been offered some Hollywood movies that are, let’s say, less than desirable — The Perfect Man being one of them. I can’t do that kind of s—.” When he can, Noth takes to the stage ”to clean out the carburetor” (his last outing was American Buffalo at Massachusetts’ Berkshire Theatre in 2005), but he wants to do more. ”I’m excited about [SATC]. I’ve never been in anything this highly anticipated in my life,” he says. ”But I’ve got all kinds of other canvases I want to paint.”