|NEW YORK -- Sometimes it's smooth sailing when an actor returns to a character he originated on screen. But sometimes it's quite the reverse.|
Just ask Chris Noth.
In his reprise performance as Mr. Big, the guy who keeps Carrie Bradshaw's heart fluttering in the film version of Sex and The City, Noth is a vital part of the chemistry which has made the film one of 2008's big hits -- and he admits he had a ball doing it.
But when it comes to Law & Order: Criminal Intent -- in which he revisits the character of Detective Mike Logan, a role he originated in the original Law & Order series in 1990 -- he is far less high on the experience.
Sometimes, it seems, you can't go home again.
He clearly has a love-hate relationship with the Law & Order franchise which brought him stardom 18 years ago, but also led to creative friction with series creator Dick Wolf who fired him five seasons later.
Noth remembers how comfortable he was doing those first seasons of the original series because he felt it was saying something important about investigative techniques and the judicial process. But when he was asked more than a decade later to return to the fold and alternate with Vincent D'Onofrio in the role of lead cop in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, things were less easy.
He was working with an unfamiliar producer-writer team on a spinoff series based less on reality than on D'Onofrio's concept of a cop who behaved like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes.
"So I found myself uncomfortable doing it," Noth says bluntly. "I thought the stories were totally implausible. That, however, has been totally fixed by the new crew that's in . . . and I think we're doing some of the most powerful stories since my first year on Law & Order."
Completion of the current Criminal Intent season was delayed because of the Hollywood writers' strike, and Noth was hinting last month about giving up his "obligation" to the series when shooting ends in late July.
Even though he's happier with more recent scripts, he continues to find Criminal Intent a far more difficult challenge than the parent series.
"It's not based on character. It's based on pushing a story and plot, and you try to infuse a little character along the way. I'm lucky because people know my character from how I first did Logan."
It's also obvious that he and creator Dick Wolf still have philosophical differences.
Noth says Law & Order has survived a huge number of cast changes in its various manifestations -- and that's because Wolf came to the conclusion that the actors don't matter as much as the story.
"That's why there have been so many turnarounds. I alone have had four or five partners. Jerry Orbach, the heart of Law And Order, had a bunch of partners
. . . So you feel less relevant sometimes and that makes the work harder. In other words, if character doesn't count, and the story is the only thing going, and you're pushing the story up the hill, it's great when it all comes together but not creatively as fascinating."
On the other hand, his return to the world of Sex and The City offered no such disappointments.
"It was like slipping into silk pyjamas," Noth grins. "A nice sexy feel."
He says he never questioned where writer-director Michael Patrick King would be going with the film version "because I knew it would be a fun place."
Noth, 53, often works on gut instinct. "You read the script and say: 'Wow! I can't wait. I can't wait to play that scene.' "
So he didn't mind the fact that it took four years after the shutdown of the TV series for a movie to materialize, because he knew fans were willing to be patient.
"I think it showed the resilience of the show and that we need some adult entertainment these days. It's got the veneer of what everybody goes to these days, but underneath that, there's some real substance."
Everybody connected with the film was sworn to secrecy about the plot during shooting, which proved to be a difficult process because of intense fan and media interest.
"Every outdoor scene we did, the paparazzi were out -- journalists too. And lots of people with camera phones. People were just desperate to see what we were doing. It cracked me up."
The solution was to keep misleading the public.
"We had to do a lot of fake endings. And I'd do things like suddenly going by a journalist and saying, 'Yeah, it's too bad that Carrie died.' Or things like, 'It's all a dream, isn't it. It's so much fun when she wakes up from the nightmare.' "
When Noth finally read the script for the film, it met all his expectations.