Mention the name Michael Nouri to New York women between 30 and 60, and they light up. It’s been 21 years since he played Nick Hurley, the wealthy boss and boyfriend of Jennifer Beals in the welder/stripper movie Flashdance , but he hasn’t lost his juice.
“Oh, he’s incredibly talented,” said Broadway producer Marty Richards. “A long time ago, he should have been a superstar. It’s not only that: He’s extremely attractive, and I know five billion women that are crazy about him-and if he wanted to, he could have married about 63 millionairesses, because I know three of them personally.”
Mr. Nouri is known for getting up at Manhattan dinner parties and singing “Some Enchanted Evening” a cappella.
“It was like an angel was in the room,” said MSNBC’s Deborah Norville, at whose black-tie Christmas party Mr. Nouri once unleashed his baritone. “It was just gorgeous, and he’s so handsome. It was magic . Have you looked in his eyes? You see the kindness.”
Michael Nouri has a house overlooking the ocean in Los Angeles (“I have about 200 stairs that go from the beach up to the house”), but he’s in New York a lot and is currently staying at the Knickerbocker Club on the East Side. He’s playing opposite Patti LuPone in the “Encores!” production of Can Can . He’s also got a part in Steven Spielberg’s next movie, The Terminal , about an Eastern European stranded at Kennedy Airport. Mr. Nouri plays the boyfriend of flight attendant Catherine Zeta-Jones.
“There’s a lot worse things to be doing professionally than kissing Catherine Zeta-Jones,” he said.
He’s a regular at Nello’s restaurant on Madison Avenue, where he recently sat down for an interview. Upon arriving, he removed his French glasses, black leather jacket and goose-down vest and ordered tea. He dabbed his forehead dry with a napkin.
Is he really a womanizer? Women are crazy about him, right?
“Is that what a womanizer is?” he said. “It’s certainly not the way that I perceive myself.”
At 58, Mr. Nouri is big: 6-foot-3, with a hairy chest, long fingers, manicured nails. He has a touch of the early 1970’s sensitive guy about him: He plays guitar, meditates two hours a day. He’s living proof that your “big moment” can be two decades in the past-you can be known as “that Flashdance guy”-and still pull babes. Nello’s owner, Nello Balan, pointed to a photograph on the wall of Mr. Nouri from 1985.
“Women are after him, then and now,” said Mr. Balan.
Of course, he’s worked plenty since Flashdance : Finding Forrester with Sean Connery, opposite Julie Andrews onstage in Victor/Victoria , forgettable flicks like GoBots: War of the Rock Lords and To the Limit , which starred Anna Nicole Smith and Joey-yes, Joey -Travolta. Just the other night, Lifetime broadcast the 1990 movie Shattered Dreams , in which Mr. Nouri plays a Reagan administration official who beats his wife, played by Lindsay Wagner. Mr. Nouri transforms the line “I can’t eat macaroni and cheese ” into something truly terrifying.
After appearing in an episode of Touched by an Angel , he soon became engaged to the series’ star, Irish actress Roma Downey. She broke it off after three years, citing 9/11. Now he’s single. “That’s new to me,” he said. He’s been married-he didn’t want to get specific-and has two daughters, one of whom wants to be an actress.
Does he know he’s been seen around town with hot numbers?
“Well, that I don’t know,” he said. “It’s true, I’ve had some wonderful relationships with women who happened to be beautiful. I like to think that I’ve had some very meaningful friendships …. ” Blah, blah, blah.
(“It’s not that I’m a womanizer,” Mr. Nouri said later. “They are man- izers. I hang out with women who are manizers. Make no mistake about it: I love women.”)
How about some tips on how to be smooth with the ladies?
“There’s a song in Camelot that King Arthur sings,” he said. “It’s called ‘How to Handle a Woman.’ It’s a beautiful song. And it’s ‘How to handle a woman … is to love her … love her … love her.’ That’s the best advice I’ve ever heard.”
His cell phone rang.
“Hallo. How. Is. Palm. Beach? Well, you’re so lucky it’s freezing here. Darling, can I call you back?”
Mr. Nouri said he still hasn’t quite recovered from the death of his golden retriever Chauncey four years ago. “We were together almost every day of his life for almost 14 years,” he said. “I love all animals.”
The son of a WASP mother and Iraqi father, he grew up “comfortably” in Alpine, N.J., and Manhattan. He was a ham.
“I would bring in humor to break the ice, to lighten up the tension in the family,” Mr. Nouri said. The worst thing that ever happened to him was when his cat Pinkle Purr was run over. “That was devastating,” he said.
At 14, he was into girls and fighting at the public school he attended. He transferred to an all-boys boarding school in Connecticut, became student-body president, and decided to be an actor after starring in a Gilbert and Sullivan play.
“I started to develop pride,” he said. “It just felt very good.”
He went to two rich-kids colleges-Rollins in Winter Park, Fla., and Emerson in Boston. In 1967, he got work as a waiter in Manhattan and quickly landed a role on Broadway in 40 Carats , with Julie Harris, and in the movie Goodbye, Columbus , as Ali MacGraw’s jilted boyfriend.
Like many in the 1970’s, he met some trippy people, including a fellow named Guru Maharaj Ji; newspapers reported that Maharaj Ji and his followers rented out the Houston Astrodome and set aside space in the parking lot for flying saucers. (They never landed.) Mr. Nouri dismissed the cult talk and said, “It’s just for meditation. He showed me how to meditate. One of the most glorious days of my life was when I was shown how to meditate.”
Meanwhile, he kept auditioning. He did soap operas and played Count Dracula on an NBC series. “It was a pain in the ass,” he recalled. “We had to film at night. We’d go to work at 4 in the afternoon and stop shooting when the sun came up.”
In the early 1980’s, he dated actress Dyan Cannon. Then came Flashdance .
“It was big,” he said. “We can’t all have these blockbuster movies. I’ve had one Flashdance in my career. As I get older, and having been in the business for three decades, it’s more about gratitude, it’s about being grateful for what has come my way.”
“I thought he’d be a big movie star by now,” said his friend, the actor and man-about-town Chuck Pfeiffer. “He’s a gent. In this era of vulgarity, that just resonates. I think he’s one of the best-kept secrets in show business, and I think he’s gonna break out.”
Last fall, Dominick Dunne saw him play Rodin in Camille Claudel in Chester, Conn. “He was wonderful in that show,” Mr. Dunne said. “I like him enormously. One night I was at a party at the Herreras, and Michael was there, and he got up and sang a cappella and it was just fabulous .”
“I’m a big fan,” said diet personality Nikki Haskell. “He’s extraordinarily handsome, and every time I’ve ever been in his company, the women actually jump on top of him. I don’t understand why he’s not a superstar. You never know what the true story is, but I think maybe he wasn’t with the right management or right agent. He was really poised to be a superstar when he did Dirty Dancing -I mean Flashdance .”
“He’s one of the sexiest men around, a great swordsman,” said Victoria Vicuna, a former party girl who dated Mr. Nouri. “He’s a big guy, but he’s got a certain vulnerability to him, a teddy-bear quality. There is mystery: No one’s been able to get him. I mean, he’s dated everyone from [Johnson and Johnson heiress] Libbet Johnson to …. And he never wanted to be anybody’s toy boy. He’s an independent man. He preferred to starve and live very simply and really hold out for a good role than just sell out.”
“We are soulmates,” said decorator and Today show regular Helene Benhamou, who said she had “a flirt” with Mr. Nouri a long time ago. In her French accent, she described the effect he has on women: ” Oouuff . You know what it means? It’s so deep. I’ve been around movie stars a lot, and they don’t have that presence. He has it. He’s absolutely gorgeous . And he cares. When we’re on the street and he sees an old person, he helps.”
“I think he’s very, very talented,” said another former flame, Denise Rich, the songwriter and ex-wife of Pardongate’s Marc Rich. “A lot of charm. He plays the guitar beautifully. In a way, like in medieval times, he’s sort of like a bard …. He’s very, very in touch with his female side. He understands women very well.”
At Nello’s, the pasta arrived. Does he have a favorite part of a woman’s body?
“The nape of the neck,” he said.
Was it a burden to be a hunky actor whom lots of beautiful women want to have sex with?
“I’m reminded of something that Cary Grant supposedly said,” Michael Nouri said. “Someone said to him, ‘Wow, I wish I were Cary Grant.’ And his response was, ‘So do I.'”
Ballet as a Martial Art
“Ballet was invented for aesthetic purposes, but it can also be quite aggressive,” explained Robert Smither. “Certain jetés and leg lifts make for effective attacks.” Mr. Smither is the originator of Ballet Battle, a technique employing classical-dance techniques as a martial art. So far, he has trained two dozen “dance-fighters.” Mr. Smither, who studied at the Anderson Ballet School in Chicago and spent 20 years in ballet, had a sudden insight in 2001: “People always search to the East for self-defense techniques, when the West has remarkable resources.” He is presently expanding his Ballet Battle studios to New Jersey.
Have you ever fought Asian martial-arts practitioners? I asked.
“Recently, I sparred with a tae kwon do master. It was a draw,” Mr. Smither revealed.
Contact him at www.balletbattle.com.