Deja vu all over again

Noth's return offers him unique view of character

While it gets harder for viewers to remember a time when a gritty procedural such as “Law & Order” was something new, for actor Chris Noth — part of the skein’s original cast — that 1990 debut season is a vivid memory.

“It felt like a real New York show, and I think we were the only game in town at the time,” says Noth. “That was thrilling. I was also confused, because I’d never had to do dialogue that spare and condensed, so hidden in terms of who the character was.”

Eventually Noth fleshed out Det. Mike Logan as a cop’s cop and young hothead, but by the time his contract was up five years later he was at a communications impasse with creator Dick Wolf and ultimately left the show. Noth doesn’t like rehashing that time in his life and prefers to stress that afterward he often saw Wolf socially, and that the 1998 Logan-centric “L&O” TV movie “Exiled” was a rewarding, bridge-building experience.

“Our intention was to do more of those,” says Noth. “The problem was you’re never sure how much the networks want to do TV movies, because they’re not profitable for them. And then the ‘Criminal Intent’ situation popped up.”

When “CI” star Vincent D’Onofrio wanted to lighten his exhaustive load, Noth was invited to bring Logan’s brand of hard-bitten investigative work and passion to half of the season’s episodes. Was there deja vu when he started up again after all those years away?

“I’m the same in terms of wanting to do the job well, and not getting caught up in any of the bullshit,” he says.

“CI” exec producer Rene Balcer, who was a writer on “Law & Order” in the salad days, says the actor, also known as Big to fans of the “Sex and the City” series, is “built for television. You give him the most bland line — ‘Hey, look, the phone records came in’ — and he’ll spin it some way. That’s always a pleasure.”

Noth, however, is hoping that his return to the “L&O” universe — still a heavily plot-oriented one — doesn’t become merely another cog-in-the-machine gig, that Logan will get a chance to be more than just the Popeye Doyle alternating with D’Onofrio’s Sherlock Holmes.

“I’m in discussion with the writers about it,” he says. “The world of law enforcement is very interesting, and I’d like them to express that world more. I mean, ‘Criminal Intent’ was doing fine on its own before us, and it would do fine without us, but right now we’re there and we’ll see what happens.”

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