Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)
Don't be fooled by the mischievous gleam in his eye. Chris Noth, the man known for portraying troublemakers, from Mr. Big, Carrie's ambivalent lover on Sex in the City, to, most recently, a philandering politician on The Good Wife, is a good guy. Noth recently teamed up with Beaulieu Vineyards for their “Give & Give Back" campaign, making it his personal mission to bring visibility to the issue of hunger in the United States. His eyes narrow into a passionate squint when he speaks about it.
But when he's not talking about heavier issues, Noth takes on a playful, slightly taunting tone. His roles, a supporting gig in the mini-series Titanic: Blood and Steel as steel tycoon J.P. Morgan, and a porn financier in Lovelace alongside Amanda Seyfried, are as varied and enigmatic as Noth himself. We sat down with the inscrutable actor to talk about the important things in life: namely, philanthropy, philosophy, and good Scotch.
Complex: How did you get involved with Beaulieu Vineyards "Give & Give Back” program?
Chris Noth: BV came to me and explained what they were doing, and I was kind of like, “Huh?” Because I didn’t realize the numbers, in terms of hunger, were that high. You know that hunger is a problem in the world, but you think that America has a handle on it. The reality is, 16 million children in this country go to bed hungry, wake up hungry. One in six people in this country is food insecure. That woke me up. Then they started to tell me about their program—the centerpiece of which is this idea of hometown hunger heroes—which is to acknowledge and bring to light those people around the country who are working with a church, or food bank, or soup kitchen, someone who is quietly, persistently, endeavoring to solve this problem.
How can people get involved?
What we want is for somebody, if they know someone, to get a picture, send an email, get on Facebook at BV, and tell us about them so that BV can acknowledge them. We’re nominating eight hometown hunger heroes and BV is going to give $1,000 to their food bank, their soup kitchen, or their community center. And then out of those eight, in April, we’re going to nominate one, and give $10,000.
So you're acknowledging the people who are already involved?
The key is to pass the word along—get this up on Facebook, get people to acknowledge that they’re heroes, because they are selflessly working to solve the hunger problem. And if we can get this to be real, every town, every city will have these people who are engaged in this. In this very city, there is a problem that's hidden by this layer of Wall Street money and fancy restaurants. We have more food in this city than we know what to do with, but there is a real hunger problem right here. The food kitchen I went to serves 800-1000 people every day, and that’s just one soup kitchen in Manhattan.
Do you think that New Yorkers are immune to the bleakness of that reality?
Absolutely. I think the media focuses on diet, and over-sized soft drinks, and obesity, and, realizing it or not, aren't giving attention to the fact that there are people going hungry in New York. Everyone’s into food, everyone’s a foodie. Well, guess what? Some people aren’t, because they’re not getting any.
What made you align yourself with this cause?
Celebrity is good for nothing; I’m just an actor. But if you want to say that I’m a celebrity, if that can mean something to bring a light onto problem that shouldn’t even be in this country... There are so many problems going on in this world that have to be solved, but hunger in America in this city shouldn’t be one of them. We have the wherewithal, we’ve got the food, and we should have the political will.
You seem like a good guy.
Let’s not exaggerate. [Laughs.] I am an actor, after all.
One with a history of playing less-than-good guys on television.
They’re the most interesting kinds of characters. And anyway, I wouldn’t phrase it that way, either “good or bad.” They’re complicated, like most people.
Why do you find yourself drawn to morally ambiguous characters?
I’m not, I just get sucked into these shows.
Is that what it is?
I think my first character on Law & Order, Mike Logan, wasn’t morally ambiguous. Troubled, but not morally ambiguous. I'm morally ambiguous. I don’t know—I’m not sure if you look at all of the things that we’re supposed to hold tried-and-true are so “tried-and-true.”
What type of things do you mean?
Oh, I can’t go into that. I might get into trouble. No, I mean, I don’t really control the kinds of characters, I just look for good writing. And there are other elements. I think The Good Wife has been a great gig. We’re in a great space right now; it’s a great ensemble headed by a wonderful actress [Julianna Margulies]. The writers are good, and it enables me to do some other things at the same time, which is important to me. I’ve got this thing,Titanic: Blood and Steel, coming out on Encore, October 8. A big, 12-part miniseries, and I play J.P. Morgan. Last year, I did a Broadway play, Championship Season, and a little subversive comedy that’s coming out in the next week, Frankie Goes Boom, and then a movie, Lovelace, coming out in January.
So, you’re most challenged by playing diverse types of roles?
I came out of the repertory theatre, so doing different things is part of my nature. I never feel that one actor is made to do one role for five or six years, really, especially in a TV series, where they just spit out the episodes. Although, I feel like our current season on The Good Wife feels like our first season. It’s just innovative, smart, sexy, interesting. It’s hard to do that for a network show; most of them just turn procedural. And, the guest actors are fantastic; it’s really fun that way.
Your role on The Good Wife is very similar to your well-known stint as Mr. Big on Sex and The City. Both are controversial, bad boys. Do you ever encounter animosity from strangers?
If I did, I would laugh my ass of at them. You’re not supposed to get that invested. By the way, what are you doing with the rest of your life besides sitting your fat ass on a couch, eating popcorn and getting mad at me.
So people do come at you?
They do it with immense good humor: “I love the show, you naughty boy!”
See, you are a naughty boy.
I’m impish. I learned that word today.
How do you manage to make viewers sympathetic toward your characters, especially Peter on The Good Wife, who has cheated on his wife, among other things?
It’s in the writing. I never believe a person is all-good or all-bad. People make mistakes; people are complicated. If you could shine a light on everyone’s private life, they wouldn’t be pointing their fingers so much at other people. There is media judgment out there, and a lot of time celebrities ask for that and relish it, but if you really examined humanity, there’s no way that anybody except Jesus and Buddha and Muhammad could judge anybody.
You’re saying that nobody is wholly good or wholly bad?
Nobody. As Yates, the great Irish poet said in a poem, “Nothing can be sole or whole, that has not been rent.” You figure that one out.
What does that mean to you?
That you can’t be a complete person, unless you’ve been rent—rent means to injure—and when people are injured, they act out in different ways. There’s no perfect kind of behavior, and I think that you pay a heavy price to always try to be a “nice person.” You probably end up poisoning yourself, so that everyone will say, “What a nice girl.” Or as Stella Adler said, “You can’t be a lady and an actress at the same time.” You can’t be fully human if you always try to be this perfect idea of what society says you should, or else you turn into a Mormon. I’m sorry.
Is it because you embrace that side of yourself that you inhabit the character so well?
No, I just don’t judge the character. “He’s a bad guy"—I don’t judge him that way. He comes out how he comes out. I don’t try to soften him up. No. It’s in the writing, first of all, and then I take it where I take it.
So, I guess fans would be upset if I didn’t ask. Do you think that—
What did you think that I was going to say? I was going to ask if you think Peter and Alicia will patch things up and get back together.
Oh, that’s not what I thought you were going to ask. I thought you were going to ask if there was going to be a Sex and the City 3.
I’m not going to ask that.
Oh! They’ve got a lot of things in their past that bind them together and break them apart. It’s an interesting dynamic. Their history brings them together, even though parts separate them.
You don’t think they're going to make it?
[Imitates snoring.] You know, I don’t think that deep. [Laughs.] They already have a certain respect for one another, that’s based on their past and what they’ve been through. It’s complicated—it’s complex.
I see. See, you don’t just play a suave guy on TV, you are a suave guy—
It depends who you’re asking.
How to keep a woman happy? That’s huge!
That’s why it’s important to ask. I was going to pass the advice along...
No, no, that’s a question for me to ask you.
What? How do you keep a woman happy?
That’s why I was asking you the answer, I needed to know. A man never knows that he’s keeping a woman happy, unless the woman stays.
Must mean that you’re doing something right, on some level.
But you don’t want to examine it too much and make it a rule. For you, what do you need from a man, besides sex, obviously?
I’m different from most women. I think all women are different.
I like to be kept on my toes. That’s my number one requirement.
So you like to have sex on a tabletop? [Laughs.]
I thought it wasn’t about sex—you brought it back around.
It always comes back to sex; I’m a Scorpio. So, you need someone who challenges you?
I need someone who challenges me. I get bored very easily.
Intellectually? Everybody gets bored easy, that’s just a misnomer. You just have to focus. You have too much instant shit going on. Instead of a letter, you’re writing an email, you’re on this, you’re on that. Ultimately, I think that creates unhappiness, because you have an unreal sense of time—not you, I’m talking about people in general—you have time at your fingertips. It’s like, music has to be loud and meaningless, and lights have to be bright, so it’s about stimulus, when actually, it should never be about stimulus.
What should it be about?
It should be going deeper of that, getting to the essence of things.
What’s at the essence of things?
It could be the difference between sitting down and writing a letter and writing an email.
Obviously letters hold more emotional weight.
It takes more time. It takes more moments, it takes silence, it takes reflection. We’re not so good at reflecting anymore. We’re good at judging, though.
It’s hard in a city like this sometimes.
What are you going to do? Go to Central Park... I can tell you a few places.
It’s not just about slowing down. It’s about seeing and experiencing, and not being five moments ahead of the moment.
Now we’re talking about life, not sex.
Well, it could be about sex, too. Believe me. Sorry, baby. I hear a lot from girls about dating, but it’s worse in L.A., I hear.
I hear women are very superficial in L.A.
There’s plenty of that here, too. It’s like what happened to music. We want it to be like the music we grew up with, which informed our lives, like, you remember your first love, and what songs were playing. You remember your first breakup, and what songs were. Your life had more meaning; there wasn’t a lot of filler. Now, people have filler in their lives, that fills up their time, but it’s like fast food, you know what I mean? It’s like nourishment, but there’s no emotional or spiritual nourishment. You can lose yourself in bullshit so much more easily now. I see it in movies, I hear it in music. There is great stuff out there, there is just so much out there. How do you find the real stuff? It takes a real search, I think. The difference between authenticity and something that is fake, and just filler.
How do you separate yourself from the lifestyle you live, as an actor?
I’m old enough to know the difference. I know that I’m not going out to clubs with loud music expecting to find anything but a headache. And I know, unless I want to make myself nauseous, I’m not going to read gossip magazines to find out what’s going on. There is a lot going on that has nothing to do with any of this, but it takes a step away to find it.
It seems like you focus on distancing yourself from those kinds of things.
I think I have. I went out with a supermodel once, so I had a little taste of being in the center of all of that.
Was it fun?
It was disastrous.
Pretty women are a lot of work.
Sometimes. Are you all a lot of work?
I willingly admit I’m a lot of work. I think I’m emotionally high maintenance, because, like I said, it's a boredom thing.
What are you bored of? I believe this. A lot—obviously there are some major exceptions because there are some brilliant artists in your age group, and there are a lot of brilliant things being done on many different levels—but there’s been a real emphasis in the last 15-20 years on making a lot of money. So I’ll be talking to someone in college and I’ll ask them, “What are you studying?” And they’ll say, “Business.” Or, “I’m studying to be a publicist.” Studying it in college? Being an actor, I’m not judging it at all. I’m just saying, when I was in college, I wasn’t thinking, “What can I do to make the most money.” What the fuck would you be studying business in college for? Study Sappho’s poetry, or read Latin. Examine the world, because the world needs something more than another actor, or another celebrity, or Snooki. If America was going to export something, it would be publicity—we do that better than any country in the world. It’s really odd. We’re very good at making stuff look better or look worse; that’s what we consider entertainment now.
Speaking of entertainment, I read about your bar, The Cutting Room, on 32nd and 3rd.
It's right around the corner! Come around sometime; we’re opening up this month. It’s a live music venue with a great jukebox. We'll be featuring upcoming artists. Indie artists, they’re all over the place, but there’s no place for them to play. At the old Cutting Room, we had Norah Jones before she was famous, Lady Gaga; we would have Stephen Stills come play, Graham Nash. We had everybody there—big, small, and medium have jammed there. Sting even came once.
Where do you go out in NYC when you're not there?
The Knickerbocker, a restaurant on 9th Street; writers and actors, and a couple of people from The Good Wife go there. It’s got good food, but the guy creates an atmosphere where you can hang out. In Midtown, my friend owns a restaurant called Da Marino, which can be a lot of fun. Elio’s is a restaurant that’s good
What do you drink when you go out? You look like a whiskey guy to me. Or a Scotch guy.
Depends. I like Irish whiskey, but that was from doing Championship Season—the characters all drank whiskey in the play, and after the play was done, we just continued on. Jameson’s Gold is fantastic. I like a lot of brews. I don’t drink gin, or do Courvoisier or any of that crap. There was this King George V Scotch I had that was really good. It was, like, really fucking good.