Big Ideas

Joanna Bell talks titillation, tequila and #metoo with actor, tequila entrepreneur and cigar aficionado Chris Noth

By Joanna Bell

September 23 2019

It’s late 2018, the night after the lavish Boisdale Cigar Smoker of the Year Awards in Canary Wharf. I find myself at Boisdale of Belgravia, elbowing my way through throngs of concupiscent ladies desperately wrestling their way through the bar to get up close and personal with the object of their desire: the much-adored American actor, Chris Noth. He’s in town to launch his Ambhar tequila brand, and also to collect his award for the Boisdale Cigar Smoker of the Year, which he graciously accepted at the ceremony the evening before.

It’s twenty years since Noth hit our screens on the iconic TV show, Sex & the City, in the role of ‘Big’, the handsome, enigmatically charming paramour of Sarah Jessica Parker’s neurotic sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw. It seems ‘Big’s’ popularity is showing little sign of abating – in the melee around Noth, the phrase ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ seems apt. It must be such a terrible life for the poor soul.

Thankfully Noth’s publicist clocks me drowning in the moistened crush and drags me to the safety of a table in the back, away from the hysteria, and closely followed behind by the man himself. “Let’s do this!” says Noth, pulling out my chair – nice touch – and sitting down opposite. I’m sufficiently intimidated when he nestles his fists under his chin, elbows on the table, and locks eyes with me. Raising his thick black eyebrows, he gives me a mischievous look, like I’m one of the criminals he would have interrogated on his old crime show, Law & Order. I haven’t looked but I suspect below deck he’s doing some serious manspreading.

Noth with (from left) Ambhar Tequila founder Jaime Celorio, cigar impressario Daniel Marshall, and Boisdale’s Ranald Macdonald
Noth with (from left) Ambhar Tequila founder Jaime Celorio, cigar impressario Daniel Marshall, and Boisdale’s Ranald Macdonald

At over six feet, with chiselled cheekbones and a broad sculpted body, it’s only his greying hair that betrays his 64 years, but it hasn’t affected his star power; he’s every inch the silver fox leading man. I tell him he reminds me of Cary Grant. “That means a lot to me, but my all-time person to smoke a cigar with is Marlon Brando,” he says, at which point things take a surprising turn. He picks ups the dish of butter on the table, and in Brando’s dulcet tones says, “go get the butter…” – referring, of course, to 1972’s Last Tango in Paris and one of the most controversial moments in film history, involving Brando, actress Maria Schneider… and some butter. “It’s my favourite movie, I’ve watched it five times, it’s perverse in many ways,” says Noth. “I tell anyone who hasn’t seen it: ‘you may need to change your underwear.’”

I wasn’t expecting the conversation to veer in such a direction quite so soon, but I suppose you have to start somewhere. Would he do something risqué for the sake of art, I ask? “I would never do something that would hurt another actress, especially with a subject matter like that – it would have to be agreed upon before you act,” he says defensively. He’s still holding the butter.

You can’t blame Noth for clarifying; off-the-cuff comments carry a heavy risk these days. I ask him his thoughts on the #MeToo movement. “Today we live in such an odd society, on one hand we’re all a bunch of prudes, on the other we’re all a bunch of whores – we don’t know what we are!” he says. “In America it’s a really weird and difficult time right now.”

Originally from Wisconsin, Chris Noth was born to an insurance salesman father and CBS correspondent mother, Jeanne Parr – his father died in a car accident when Noth was 8. The aspiring actor later gained a place at Yale to study drama, before landing roles in Hill Street Blues and Law & Order, finally hitting the big time in Sex & The City. He now lives in New York with his wife Tara Wilson, and their ten year old son Orion.

I’ve been warned not to ask about Sex & the City – like that would happen, but inevitably the subject comes up and Noth talks willingly about the feud between the show’s female stars, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall, that had erupted months before. Cattrall, who played nymphomaniac Sam on the show, publicly lambasted Parker for offering her condolences after Cattrall’s brother died. Writing on Instagram, she told Parker to ‘stop exploiting our tragedy to maintain your nice girl persona’.

Noth at 2018 Boisdale Cigar Smoker of the Year awards
Noth at 2018 Boisdale Cigar Smoker of the Year awards

Noth is exasperated. “The gossip surrounding the Sex & the City girls is all bullshit. I know that. People get bored and they have to make up stuff,” he says. “What Kim did was unfair, but I think that came out of resentment that surfaced after the show wrapped. I was on the show for six years, I never saw a drop of that between them.” When Sex & the City ended, Noth appeared as Peter Florrick, the ‘bad husband’ to Juliana Margulies’ titular Good Wife in the CBS political drama.

At the time of our meeting he’s preparing to star opposite Isabelle Huppert in an Off-Broadway production of Florian Zeller’s play, The Mother (the play, earlier this year, received mixed reviews). But his chief focus he says, is his premium tequila brand Ambhar, for which he became the majority shareholder in September 2018. So why would he want to enter the tequila business? “A friend of the owner brought a bottle over and we drank it, and I was like ‘this is fucking good’, this is the type of tequila I can have a cigar to,” he says. “It’s smooth and delicious, and I don’t get hangovers after drinking it. So I figured, ‘why not?’”

He does seem impressively bright-eyed after the previous evening’s celebrations, while my head is pounding. But does he see any rivalry between himself and another tequila-producing silver fox, George Clooney – co-owner of the Casamigos brand? “He broke the glass ceiling, but I don’t drink his – I doubt it’s as good as mine,” he laughs. For Ambhar, he says, the emphasis is firmly on quality: made in small batches from 100 per cent blue agave, it’s a connoisseur tipple. “I want to change the perception of tequila and offer people an ultra-premium spirit. Ambhar is the first tequila I’m excited about drinking and trust me, I’ve drank a lot of it.”

Talk of Mexican spirit brings up the subject of Donald Trump’s plans for a border wall – though Noth says that, right now, he’s relieved to be away from all that. “The wall? F__k no! You guys have Brexit, we’ve got Trump. We all have our problems, but we all need tequila!” You said it, Chris.

The conversation moves on, somehow, to the last US president to face impeachment proceedings. “Bill Clinton got screwed by political correctness,” Noth says. “There are no perfect human beings. The worst is the mistrust between men and women.”

Noth, it turns out, once had his own run-in with the famed casting couch. “A female casting director once propositioned me, I just got the fuck out the hotel room. She was unattractive... I might have had she been hot, I am a Scorpio after all…” he says. At that moment his publicist tells us the interview is over and ushers him back into the bar. “See ya later, kid,” he says, shaking my hand before he disappears back into the room, those broad shoulders slowly enveloped by the baying mob of adoring women. I keep onto the butter dish as a memento