Playing the wealthy and sexy Mr. Big on Sex and the City through six TV seasons and two movies, actor Chris Noth’s favorite scene involved neither sex nor the city.
Though he spent a lot of time in bed with Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie, he’s happiest remembering the mud fight with her other suitor Aidan (played by John Corbett) in a cabin in the woods.
“The more wacky humor they could give me, the more I loved it,” he said. “I asked for more of that good humor because there was a danger of him being nothing but the rich guy you can’t quite pin down.”
Noth doesn’t expect that another Sex and the City movie is likely. “We’re all getting a little older and we’re settled with kids and on to different things. SJ has a new show coming up on HBO [the half-hour series Divorce] so I don’t see how it would even be viable.
“I think we all feel like we did it, it’s done. There’s a better chance of Law and Order having a renaissance, and it doesn’t need one, believe me,” he said, having starred for years on Law and Order and later, Law and Order: Criminal Intent.
Noth managed to give Mr. Big (finally named John Preston in the movies) an unexpected complexity, but he is still amazed at the hold the character has in pop culture.
Like the hero in 50 Shades of Grey, he’s a man every woman could make into her own dream suitor.
“I never really got the Mr. Big thing and I played him,” Noth said. “I guess it gets back to a guy who is very rich but not quite attainable and won’t commit. But those are fuzzy descriptions of a real character who I tried to make deeper than that.”
With Noth’s handsome features and mellifluous voice, his Mr. Big was so seductive that fans wanted him to get Carrie, despite any bad behavior.
“I figured it was a great show and a great character and we had a lot of nice chemistry, SJ [Sarah Jessica] and I. It’s interesting when the audience takes hold of your character and creates their own reality around him. I get a lot of women coming up to me on the street saying, ‘I had my own Mr Big,’ or ‘I was married to Mr. Big.’ And I think—what the hell does that mean?”
A serious actor who trained at the Yale School of Drama, Noth is now bringing that same richness to another iconic character, playing the title role in Doctor Faustus in an off-Broadway production at the always-impressive Classic Stage Company (CSC).
While the reviews were mixed, even the least favorable referred to Noth’s fine acting and natural magnetism.
The small theater regularly attracts big TV and movie stars who appear for love, not money.
“A lot of of us who are known as TV stars started in theater and want to feel like real actors again,” he said.
“I find it takes the most out of me but gives the most back. I learn more from doing this every night than any TV series. I like bringing a challenging play like this to a modern audience. It has its ups and downs, certainly, but that’s part of the landscape.”
Continuing his streak of appearing in TV series that become cultural touchstones, Noth is about to begin shooting his seventh season on The Good Wife as Peter Florrick, the husband who went to prison for philandering with prostitutes—and is now governor of Illinois.
“I think they’ve tried to rehabilitate him in a CBS way,” Noth said. “He’s a good guy now, and I wouldn’t mind him falling off his throne a little bit.”
Both the Governor and Mr. Big could be seen as modern variations on the character of Faustus, who gave his soul to the devil for eternity in exchange for immediate power and pleasure.
Peter Florrick was willing to manipulate elections and succumb to sexual temptations, and with Noth’s most popular characters, lust is often in the air.
So it’s fitting that in this adaptation, Faustus summons Helen of Troy to appear, and she glides onto the stage in a huge, starched dress of the period—then steps out of it and, completely naked, embraces him.
In real life, Noth’s mom was one of the first women to be a reporter for CBS News, and he traveled extensively with her and his two older brothers while growing up.
He remains as seductively appealing as Mr. Big—and until recently, as unwilling to settle down. He and his longtime girlfriend Tara Wilson had a son, Orion, in 2008, and finally married three years ago.
“In the play, I love the line Marlowe uses, ‘longing to view Orion’s drizzling look.’ Every night, I get to say my son’s name,” he said, sounding like the properly doting dad.
While fans cheered for Carrie and Mr. Big to get back together, Noth doesn’t think romance will return with his current TV wife Alicia Florrick, played by Julianna Marguiles.
“Showing us falling apart was interesting, but I don’t know there’s much value to our becoming a loving couple again. We’ve burned those bridges, and dramatically, what do you do with a happy marriage?
“We’re going into a much more political realm where they live two lives. One is the face they give to the public since he’s in public office, and the other is inside the bedroom—or the kitchen, since that’s where we have most of our fights.”
Noth expects this will be his last season on the show. While he’ll wait to see what the writers come up with this season, Noth feels like he’s getting to the end.
“You could change the title because she’s so much more than a good wife now. She’s doing incredible things and certainly doesn’t have to be haunted by her husband’s political past or misdeeds. She’s a very powerful character and actress, and I don’t think he’s a big part of her life anymore.”
The marriage of convenience has been popularized on The Good Wife and other shows like Netflix’s House of Cards and Noth agrees that “if a marriage isn’t working and you’re in politics, you have to create an image that’s fail-safe. But it’s not true of all political couples. The Obamas look like they have an intimate marriage and a good one, and it’s amazing that could happen given what he’s had to go through.”
Appearing in only about half the episodes of The Good Wife, Noth said he has a “cushy deal” that allowed him to do plays like Doctor Faustus and indie movies. “You never know what will happen with indies—some end up in a film festival in North Korea and some will pop.”
He used to try hard to plot his every career movie and then discovered careers are more random than most realize. “You start out thinking, ‘By the time I’m 25, I want to be here, by 30, here.’ Then, oh shit, life doesn’t work that way.
“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that Sex and the City would be what it became. It’s just luck of the draw, and being in the right place. You have to do what you like and take your chances. You can’t control as much as you think.”
One of the themes of Doctor Faustus is what any of us will trade to achieve greatness.
The adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century play keeps the final famous soliloquy, which Noth brings beautifully and brilliantly alive. Watching him, you realize how lucky TV has been to have great actors playing popular parts. And it has also given him new insights.
“Greatness is an illusion,” Noth said. “We’re still seduced by power and it’s very tempting and hard not to succumb. But this play teaches that whatever hell means for you, there will be consequences. Maybe today it would be climate change and the chaos of modern society. But at the end, our greed for more ends up dust in our hands.”
Dr. Faustus runs until July 12. Book tickets here.