Chris Noth, aka SATC’s Mr Big, on his new missing persons thriller Gone.
Mr Big is officially dead and buried both on screen and off – because Chris Noth wants no mention of the cheating husband who brought him fame, fortune and a multitude of fans. He’s banned questions about the subject and as we meet in a chintzy Paris hotel, his imposing demeanour brooks no argument.
The 63-year-old actor has starred in huge TV shows including The Good Wife and Law And Order. But for many of a certain generation, he will forever be ‘Mr Big’, the alpha male, playboy anti-hero of Sex And The City. Understandably, Noth (it rhymes with ‘both’) is fed up with talking about his ‘Big’ past. Instead, we’re here in Paris to talk about Gone, his new thriller series about a crack FBI team who hunt for missing people.
Noth plays Frank, an agent who recruits a partner called Kick (The Hunger Games’ Leven Rambin), the adult survivor of a child abduction case who handily just happens to be a female martial arts wizard. When we meet, Noth initially seems slightly brusque but his refreshingly irreverent sense of humour and no-bulls*** manner soon become rather appealing.
‘I gotta find new ways to answer the inevitable questions that I know you’re going to ask,’ he says, ‘but I’m not sure I’ll be able to.’ Oh dear. I’m going to have to kick off with one of those questions. What drew him to the show? ‘Oh God,’ he groans dramatically. ‘The money!’ He’s joking – well, at least in part. He won’t be drawn on how much money we’re talking.
Noth was initially engaged by the psychological insight of the show’s script, adapted from a novel (which he has decided not to read) by Chelsea Cain. ‘The characters in the show, I thought, transcended that idea of police procedural drama,’ he explains. ‘I mean, I’ve done those. This includes characters I think you want to know about and that have backstories that are interesting.’ In real life, nearly a million people a year go missing in America, and the Gone team aim to sensitively draw attention to the issue where they can. Noth was unsurprised to hear the statistic. ‘No, I think that’s probably been true for a long time,’ he says. ‘It’s just that we have more media attention on it now.’
As part of the process of fully inhabiting their roles, the Gone cast, which includes Cold Case and Law And Order SVU’s Danny Pino, spent time with real FBI agents and victims of abduction. ‘I was lucky too because right before I was shooting this I was doing Manhunt: Unabomber,’ Noth says. ‘I played the head of the San Francisco division that went and got him, and I was surrounded by FBI all the time. It’s a massive organisation. It’s interesting to see what’s going on today, with our so-called president railing against the FBI.’
Noth also tasted the gritty reality of life with the police, for whom he has enormous respect. ‘With Law And Order in the 1990s I did hang out with real detectives for a long time,’ he says, ‘and it helped me understand the character of the New York cop. I think being a New York homicide detective is different from anything else, as being in the FBI is distinctly different. Each job you get has a different set of demands.’ He’s had so much experience solving cases on screen you’d imagine he’d be more than capable of taking a crack at the real thing.
‘No!’ he protests. ‘Although when I was doing Law And Order, the NYPD let me go out on cases with them and I used to just start acting like I was one of them. Pull over!’ When it came to Gone, Noth pulled no punches. It’s a pacy, intriguing drama with slowly unfurling characters and a strong, complex female lead. It’s dark too. ‘I’ve always said we could go darker – they’ve sort of put the reins on us to not go too dark,’ he says. ‘But the nature of what we’re doing is dark, there’s no sugar-coating it.’