So, I caught up with the incredibly engaging (and gorgeous) Chris Noth on the set of his hit show, Law & Order: Criminal Intent last week. After a full day of shooting, he chatted with me about his show, the character he plays, and the Rainforest Action Network, the cause he passionately supports. This Saturday, he’s hosting an exclusive event benefiting RAN. His Criminal Intent co-star Alicia Witt is even performing! Here’s what the TV detetective had to say…
Tell us why you love this show and this character.
Holy cow. That’s tough. Well, this is only my third season, and the setup for me is perfect. With Sex and the City, it was a beautiful setup because I’d come in for a few days—but not every day. And now I get every other episode off, which at this point in my life is essential.
This Law & Order: Criminal Intent—it’s a different format and also a much bigger responsibility than the original Law & Order: Criminal Intent. We used to be only responsible for half of the show. Now we are carrying the audience point by point to the resolution of the crime. That’s problematic for actors because being a procedural drama, you become what I call plot dogs. I like the real kind of police work and the real characters of New York detectives because I think they’re fascinating on their own. Regardless of who you are, by being a New York cop that means you have to go through a certain amount and you have to live in the city. So I wanted more, which is what the original Law & Order: Criminal Intent focused on as much as they could before they became completely procedural. But we have a whole new writing staff now. I have a new partner, Julianne Nicholson, who’s on maternity leave right now, and Warren Leight has infused the show with a new sense of believability and a new sense of who we are as we carry through the story. And being on USA Network is such a breath of fresh air for us.
I really enjoy both of my partners a lot. They bring a lot of energy and youthful enthusiasm that carries over in the character. So that said, it’s a really tough job: An hour-long procedural program can be deadening—and you have to fight it, you really have to fight it. It’s excruciating hours and it’s tough to do, but given what I just talked about, with all the factors and the people, I think we’re doing some worthwhile stuff and I think people are starting to pay attention to that.
So you mentioned two partners. Alicia Witt is your temporary partner while Julianne Nicholson is out on maternity leave. How’s that going? You being nice to the new girl?
She can take it. She’s great. She’s got this beautiful physical presence. Tough. Ballsy. Impetuous. I say, she’s a young Detective Mike Logan in a female body. So it’s fun for him to watch her climb the way he used to. He’s had some hard life lessons and hasn’t necessarily matured, but he’s able to see the bigger picture maybe more. But we’re getting along great, and she also happens to be a fantastic musician and singer. She’s going to be my introductory act at the Rainforest Action Network benefit, so we’re having a good time. I love her energy. She never complains—she’s a trouper.
How did you get involved with the Rainforest Action Network?
It’s been 15 years. I don’t think what I’m doing for this cause is that extraordinary. I think the people in RAN are extraordinary, and I want to support them. They’re people who devote their lives to trying to save this poor ol’ planet, which we now know has a very high fever. And it’s distressing that our government has absolutely no vision, and every single step we try to take forward, they try to push it back five. It’s a tragic short sightedness, which is the exact same thing that’s happening all over the world. So save it we can—and save it we must. That would be my slogan for Rainforest Action; that’s what they’re about. I’m an actor, and I’m not going to go off and be an activist for them because I’m doing my thing. But I just want to support people who have a commitment that is so strong—I want people to know, to join them.
You live and work in New York City. Will you be here forever?
I’ll always have a place in New York, but I have to say, it’s starting to look like Hong Kong frankly. Everything’s glass, all the great New York neighborhoods have been torn down. I hate to say it, but it’s really like New York has become like a shopping mall now. New York used to be so much more than just a place to shop. It was life on the street for the eccentrics; it was an eccentric city. It had many different tastes. Now it’s just one—a really rich one—with big tall glass buildings. But, that said, yes, I’ll always have my apartment here, but I tend to like to get out a lot more. I really just work here most of the time. And I’ve lost a bit of my anonymity here, and that’s painful. So getting lost in the city isn’t as easy. The city has kind of rolled over all the great, delicious neighborhoods. When I first came to the city, you could actually lose yourself in the city in a way. You’d go to places that were almost like foreign countries full of fascinating shops and cool restaurants. It’s just all glass and Wall Street and money now. I don’t know if that can change or not.
Do you have a favorite restaurant?
My favorite is Da Marino, because the owner is southern Italian and one of my best friends. It’s on 49th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, and it’s old-school New York. The walls are all murals of New York and Italy. He has different things he got from his grandmother, and a lot of my friends hang out there. I love Knickerbocker—that’s my neighborhood joint. It has one of the best steaks in town and a great old bar. And I love Gotham. It’s a great Greek place in my neighborhood, and it’s always good to go and just hang out with old New Yorkers.