By Lisa Ingrassia
Updated May 24, 2010 12:00 PM

When John Corbett was offered the role of Aidan Shaw, Carrie Bradshaw’s dreamy Mr. What-If in HBO’s Sex and the City in 2000, he figured he had a good reason to turn it down. “I don’t think I have a body that everybody wants to see,” says Corbett, pulling up his T-shirt to reveal a solid set of abs. Sarah Jessica Parker and writer-director Michael Patrick King begged to differ-and refused to take no for an answer. “They said, ‘How naked will you be?’ ” recalls Corbett. “I said, ‘I’ll take my shirt off.’ Once I did it, it became no big deal. I’d be in a scene and say, ‘Don’t you think I should take my shirt off?’ ”

As Sex fans know, Corbett’s enviable abs-and his charms as the rugged furniture maker-weren’t enough to win Carrie’s heart away from Mr. Big. But six years after the series ended, the actor, 49, is bringing Aidan to the big screen in Sex and the City 2. With roles in this summer’s family film Ramona and Beezus and as Toni Collette’s husband on the Showtime series United States of Tara, Corbett is enjoying the busiest time of his career. “Over the past couple of years,” he says, “some good things have happened.”

In more ways than one. He’s made a career of playing sensitive heartthrobs but, Corbett acknowledges, he wasn’t always an ideal boyfriend. “I’m an only child. I’m not patient. I’m not a good listener,” says the West Virginia native, who got his start on the ’90s hit Northern Exposure after an injury prevented him from working his steel-factory job. (He also did a stint as a hairdresser.) He changed after a blind date with actress Bo Derek, 53, in ’02. “It took somebody with infinite patience and almost zero ego,” he says, “to stick around me longer than three weeks.” Still, he’s no hopeless romantic: “We’re too old for soulmates,” he quips. “She’s 53 and I’m 49. Soulmates is for Romeo and Juliet. This is, ‘Hey, I try not to fart too loud in your presence.'”

The same year they met, the pair settled down in a ranch house on 130 acres of land along the central California coast, where Corbett spends his days riding motorcycles through wine country, taking care of four horses and two German shepherds, and playing country music (he released an album in ’06). “I’m not a cowboy on any level,” he says, admitting that for exercise he swims laps at his local YMCA while wearing a snorkeling mask. “But it’s easy to play cowboy out here. I live a simple life.”

By Hollywood standards, that’s an understatement: Corbett drives a 1999 Ford truck he was given after filming a commercial (“It has 60,000 miles on it, so I’ll probably have it another 10 years,” he predicts), and instead of renting an apartment in L.A.-or commuting five hours a day-while filming United States of Tara, he spends weeknights crashing on a futon at the studio. The solitude makes his homecomings that much sweeter. “I’ve come home to an empty house for decades, flicking the lights and the TV on for company,” he says. “There’s an excitement when you’re coming home and you know somebody is waiting for you.”

Clearly smitten with his own domestic bliss, Corbett is dutifully coy about what Aidan Shaw’s return to Sex and the City 2 means for Carrie’s happily-ever-after with Mr. Big. But he can make one promise: “There’s lots of shirts coming off in that movie.”