|Nobody ever told Chris Noth to never say never. Matter of fact, nobody told him to never say a lot of things. Like that his working relationship with executive producer Dick Wolf was "painful." Or that he doesn't watch much TV - this from a guy promoting his new TV movie.|
Actually, it's "Exiled: A Law & Order Movie" (tonight at 9 on NBC) that has Noth talking. A lot. Even over the phone from his New York apartment, you can tell how jazzed he is about the project, which reunites him with Detective Mike Logan, the "Law & Order" character he played for five years, and with Wolf, the series' creator. The title is Noth's, and he gets co-credit for the story with his friend, Charles Kipps, who wrote the teleplay.
The "never" came as Noth's parting words. You'll never see: Mike Logan, The Series, he vowed. But Noth is hoping "Mr. Nielsen's ratings" will be the catalyst for a series of TV movies.
Besides, he says, he couldn't work with Wolf over the long haul of a series. It's not that they don't like each other, but they're separated by an artistic gap that could be likened to the difference between the suburban angst of Staten Island, where Logan has been "exiled" to, and the clamor and glamour of Manhattan, where he so desperately wants to be.
According to most accounts of Noth's departure from "Law & Order" in 1995, the separation was anything but amicable. But Noth declares that "old news" and says that, at the time, five years of Mike Logan seemed like plenty.
"All of this would have been impossible to do if Dick Wolf and I hated each other," he says. "We do have differences, we think differently and our tastes are different, so that makes for sometimes spirited discussions."
Shouting matches is more like it. Noth readily admits there was some of that going on during the making of "Exiled." Noth's concept of character development and Wolf's idea of moving the story along clash at nearly every turn - not unlike Logan and most people he comes in contact with.
When last seen, the hothead Logan was punching out a politician who had literally gotten away with murder. The movie picks up with the detective trying to solve the murder of a prostitute, a case he hopes will be his ticket back to Manhattan.
Some familiar trappings will have longtime "Law & Order" fans smiling; for instance, Logan still wears his trademark plaid ties and flag pin. But the leather coat is gone: "It's hot as hell out, it's summer, but he hasn't had a fashion change of heart. He still has pretty bad taste in clothes." Although much of Logan's MO remains the same, Noth hopes you'll notice some big differences between the series and "Exiled."
"You couldn't really say much before you heard that 'dun dun, dun dun' [mimicking the series' theme music], and any time you did any character work at all, it was cut out in the editing process. That's the problem I have with Dick Wolf. He doesn't trust character at all, everything is about the story and moving it along. Now, our movie does move very fast. ... But there is a very structured story; we made sure it was tight, that it was believable, that it was credible. I'm a stickler for specifics. We had a lot of cops working with us.
"Then there's the interior story of Mike Logan. It's not just that he was taken out of Manhattan and sent to Staten Island; he was taken off of homicide. I remember when I was a kid, I got kicked out of school for smoking, or maybe it was a fight, in seventh grade, and my mother sent me to Catholic school. And I was so devastated. You're taken out of your environment, away from all your friends, and you're put in a completely foreign element where you're the stranger, you're the exile, you're not wanted."
And let's face it, it's Staten Island. "Yeah, that too," he says, chuckling.
Noth had been seen most recently in another New York-based series, as business mogul Mr. Big on HBO's "Sex in the City." He's an actor who works when he needs to and travels (his passion) whenever he can.
On this day, Noth was a bit soggy from "photographing in the rain," but by evening he wasn't too tired to go on and on about the movie and the series. While it's a revelation to play Logan without the restraints of the Emmy-winning "Law & Order's" format, he understands that getting personal is not what fans of the show have come to expect, or want .
Except, perhaps, in the case of Noth, who developed a strong fan base not only during but after Logan's prime-time run, when reruns hit cable's A&E network.
It's a combination of Noth's tall, dark good looks and the idiosyncrasies he brings to the character that are the main attraction. Now, "Exiled" will bring more dimensions to Logan, along with a large cast of new and old foils. The new include a female partner, played by Dana Eskelson, and a love interest, Nicole Ari Parker of "Boogie Nights." Dabney Coleman, Ice-T, Costas Mandylor and Tony Musante are also in the cast, along with current and former "L&O" stars.
Noth, who turns 41 Friday, uses words like "wonderful" and "amazing" to describe the cast. "And it was nice meeting the guy who replaced me, Ben Bratt, who's a lovely guy," he says. For Dick Wolf, the movie was "sort of like a class reunion, and at the same time new people are here, so it makes for a really interesting dynamic."
And what of Noth playing Logan again? "Like he never left," Wolf says.
One thing you won't see in "Exiled" is any "Order." In fact, Sam Waterston, who plays DA Jack McCoy in the series, is in just one small scene. The movie is entirely from Logan's point of view - Noth is in virtually every frame - so there's no handing off of the case from cops to prosecutors, as there is Wednesday nights from 10 to 11.
"We're dealing with a two-hour movie, and you can see the humanity of it," Noth says. "Too often in 'Law & Order,' I find Dick Wolf is into these cute one-liners. I remember the episode when a guy is mugged in the park and actually has his kidney taken out, and my line is, 'Talk about getting your pocket picked.' You know what, there's no reality to that, no one talks like that. ... Dick wanted some of that in our show, and there were a lot of fights about that."
Still, it wouldn't be Logan without a few wisecracks, and it's obvious watching "Exiled" that Wolf won one or two of those fights. Not to give the impression everything was a struggle. Where Wolf excels, Noth says, is "twists and turns," and he promises plenty of those, too.
"Dick's a TV guy and looked at this as a TV series. Charlie [Kipps] and I never saw it that way. We always looked at it as a film; it was going to be cinematic. ... With all that, it really moves along, and that's what Dick brings to it. I don't think people will be bored."