Chris Noth on feuds, family and Mr Big: ‘I never saw him as an alpha male’

“I’m not supposed to talk for this long. I told my publicist beforehand: ‘I need to keep this short so I don’t give quotes I’ll regret,’” chuckles Chris Noth.

Too late for that. Ahead of our interview, I had expected Noth – best known as Mr Big from Sex and the City – to be a reluctant interviewee, omdat that’s how he came across in past articles, especially when he was talking about the TV show that turned him from a jobbing actor into, wel, Mr Big. But those were from back in the day, when he bridled at his sudden celebrity. Noth had been in hit TV shows before, most famously when he played Detective Mike Logan for five years on Law & Orde. But nothing could have prepared him for Sex and the City.

“Initially, when the show became a cultural phenomenon, I was really annoyed by it, because I don’t like to be called a character’s name on the street and actors don’t like [characters] sticking to them. But eventually I thought: ‘Just stop resisting this because it’s not going away. Mense, vir een of ander rede, will always relate you to that part, so just let what you resist persist.’ And if I can be a small part of what people think of as New York City, that’s a really lovely thing,” he says with a relaxed smile.

Surely all of the actors on Sex and the City will be seen for ever through the prism of the show, ek sê. “Ja, Cynthia [Nixon] ran for mayor, but she’s still Miranda!” he hoots.

Maybe it’s because he has a more relaxed relationship with Sex and the City these days that Noth, 66, is in an enjoyably loosey-goosey mood today. We are speaking by video chat ahead of the release of the HBO Max series En Net So, the latest chapter to the seemingly never-ending Sex and the City juggernaut. Such is the hysterical security around it, I haven’t been able to see any of it, so all I can un-exclusively reveal is that it stars pretty much all of the original cast, met die notorious exception of Kim Cattrall, who we’ll discuss shortly. Noth is talking to me from the Berkshires in Massachusetts, in one of his three homes, the other two being an apartment in New York and his family home in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two sons (ja, there are definite benefits to being an actor with a character who sticks to you). From what I can see, it looks like a gorgeously luxe cabin, and Noth says he has been coming to this area since he went to school nearby as a teenager.

“I’ve always had a love for this area, even though it’s changed a lot. I still love New York City, but that’s changed tremendously. I didn’t come to New York because it was clean, I came because it was exciting," hy sê, and goes off on the classic New York rant about how the rents are too high now and the neighbourhoods are too swanky. I say it’s a bit rich for a star of Sex and the City to complain about the gentrification of New York, given a lot of people blame the show for that.

“Whoa! Hold on, I gotta sit down to answer that!" hy sê, laughing, scooping up his laptop and moving us to the sofa. “I feel a little guilty that our show became the look for what New York is. That glamour always existed, but it wasn’t the only look. It’s kind of like what the Kardashians have done to culture in America: millions of people following them because they have a thousand shoes in their closets. Geen, no – it’s not the same,” he interrupts himself hastily, presumably hearing the sound of a hundred HBO execs having coronaries. “Sex and the City has a lot to offer in terms of its vision of New York, because people do need a certain glamour. But many neighbourhoods have changed, so it’s a love-hate kinda thing.”

Surely Friends and Seinfeld provided a view of New York that was just as sanitised, ek sê. “I’m not sure if it was sanitised, maar [Sex and the City] took one part of the city and made it ubiquitous," hy sê. Though Sex and the City has always been a target in a way other shows weren’t, ek sê. It was criticised for its lack of diversity in a time when no one complained about it in Seinfeld or Frasier. “It was the time and we weren’t the only ones, reg," hy sê.

Now critics are focusing on how old Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon are. Noth rolls his eyes in despair. “People are like: ‘Oh the girls don’t look the same.’ Yeah, because it’s 25 jare later! We’re normal people, we get older, we adjust – why, don’t you?”

The truth is, only the lucky get to age. In September, Willie Garson, who played the much-beloved character Stanford Blatch, died from pancreatic cancer at the age of only 57. Did Noth know he was ill? "Geen, most of us didn’t know. The last time I saw him was on set and I kick myself because I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him. He was extraordinarily fun and funny and there’s nothing to say but that it’s heartbreaking. It’s sad for everyone, and for the show, because I think he was going to have a really huge storyline. But he’ll be in it to the extent that he filmed. Oh God …”

Then there’s Cattrall, who will be absent from the new series for a very different reason. Rumours of a feud between Cattrall and Parker date back to 2004, but things really stepped up a notch in 2018. Parker posted condolences on Cattrall’s Instagram when the latter’s brother died and Cattrall accused her of being “cruel” and a “hypocrite”.

So, I ask Noth, why do you think Cattrall isn’t in the new series? “I have to tell you, I have absolutely no idea what her thinking is, or her emotions. I do know that I’m very close with SJ and [Cattrall’s] descriptions of her don’t even come close. I liked her, I thought she was marvellous in the show and some people move on for their own reasons. I don’t know what hers were. I just wish that whole thing had never happened because it was sad and uncomfortable," hy sê.

Did it put the rest of the cast in an awkward position? “I just don’t like to see anyone talking down about SJ because she’s a target and people can be nasty. I feel very protective of her and I was not happy about that. That’s all I’ll say about that.”

Noth himself nearly didn’t return for And Just Like That, and I can’t say I blame him. I adored the original show, but there’s no question that it has offered diminishing returns ever since. The first movie was awful. The second was unwatchable, all the originality and courage of the show swapped for nonsensical storylines and garbage dialogue. Does Noth agree that the movies felt different from the show?

“Ja, it’s just the nature of being in a movie, Ek dink. They did pretty well, wel. On my side of it, I thought it was less – I was a little uncomfortable with the, um, in the second one, how the issues between Carrie and Big were resolved,” he says with what sounds very much like cautious understatement. (For those who have spared themselves the second film, Carrie and Big’s problems are resolved in a completely stupid and unrealistic way, the opposite of the careful emotional truth-telling of the show.) “I don’t remember [the films], to tell you the truth. I just remember the series being a lot of fun. I saw the movies once at the premieres and that was it.”

Noth was hesitant about returning because he felt, not unreasonably, that he had taken Big as far as he could. So what convinced him otherwise? “A conversation with [the show’s writer and director] Michael Patrick King. It was a long conversation, it continued through the pandemic and he took in a lot of my ideas and we came up with a way for me to work into it.”

Sex and the City 2 came out in 2010, meaning this is the first time we’ve seen Big post-Trump era, post-MeToo, and that alpha male Manhattan millionaire seems a little less aspirational these days, ek sê. “I never saw him as an alpha male, that’s so funny that you say that. But it’s true, I do get offers to play these power-broker types. I know how to put on a suit, but my wife put it perfectly when she said: ‘I don’t think people realise that you’re kind of schlubby,’” he cackles.

Noth grew up in Connecticut, the youngest of three boys; his father was a war hero, and his mother was one of the earliest female news correspondents. His parents separated when he was a child and his father died in a car accident shortly afterwards, when Noth was 11. How did that affect him in the long term? “I was always looking to teachers in a needier way, because I substituted feelings of them being a father. I was desperately searching for that male voice," hy sê.

There is an irony that, as an adult, he ended up playing such male, ultra-masculine figures in Law & Orde, Sex and the City and, later, as Peter Florrick, the shamed politician in The Good Wife. But Noth shrugs when I mention that show. “I don’t feel any connection to [Dit]. It’s odd, because I know it was well received. I have an emotional void about that part, Ek weet nie hoekom nie," hy sê.

How did his mother cope raising three boys on her own? “Not very well,” he chuckles. “She had a hard time of it. There was a lot of wildness in my family. I went to a lot of different schools, basically trying to get away from parental discontent … I’m lucky that my mom lived to a very old age so I could let her know she was appreciated, because I was rebelling against her for most of my life.”

Exasperated by her youngest son’s behaviour, Noth’s mother eventually sent him to a boarding school, which got him back on track. What drew him to acting? “I don’t know," hy sê, as though he has never considered the question before. “I did plays at college and it was kind of the situation where I thought: ‘I’m having so much fun, why don’t I take my fun seriously?''

Noth went on to train with classic teachers, including Stella Adler. “But there are so many great actors, especially coming out of London, and I don’t think they’ve ever been trained at all," hy sê.

Like who? “All the actors on The Crown – phenomenal!” You’d be good as Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton on that, ek sê. “Oh I’d audition for that!" hy sê, eyes bright like Mr Big spotting a good bourbon.

These days, Noth keeps busy looking after his sons, Orion, 13, and Keats, een; running his rock’n’roll bar, The Cutting Room, in New York; and starring in the US show The Equalizer, alongside Queen Latifah. 'Ek love Queen Latifah. I say this all the time to SJ: I’ve been riding on the coat-tails of female actors for a long time, and it’s carried me along," hy sê.

So what did he learn about women from working on Sex and the City? “Never go into the makeup room and try to rush them,” he says and laughs. "Geen, geen, let me think … It reiterated something I already knew from having a mother who was such a powerhouse: never underestimate a woman’s opinion.”

And Just Like That … is available from 9 December on Sky Comedy and streaming service Now

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