With time ticking towards the end of the beloved sci-fi series Fringe, actor John Noble took some time out to talk with the press, on a conference call from Australia, about his favorite moments and best memories of working on the show. Viewers have gotten to see his character in the past, present and future, and in alternate universes, over the course of five seasons, which is a dream for any actor to get to play. And, Noble promises that the finale will make fans happy and, he hopes, also go down as one of the best show finales in history. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JOHN NOBLE: I’ve played a bunch of different versions of him. Gee, I don’t know. I loved it when he was being random, which was probably the original version of him, more than anyone else. I loved doing Walter then, and all of the different mental states that we’ve played. But, I enjoyed it when he was being completely random and had very poor social skills. I loved the scenes that he played with Peter – the connecting stuff that I played with Josh Jackson over the five years. Both of us really loved doing that work. There were so many different aspects of Walter – the comedy, drama, emotion and so forth. He was a fully-fledged character, so it’s hard for me to say what my favorite one was. Fringe is essentially a love story, so the scenes where Walter had close connection with Peter, but also with Anna’s character or Jasika’s character, were very special to me.
Was it hard keeping the different Walters separate, in your mind?
NOBLE: Not really, no. I think the writing was there for me to play. At times, it was tricky. I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t drop into the mannerisms of another version of the character, but I guess I was pretty alert to that. I used to have people on set where I could say, “Can you keep an eye open for me to make sure I don’t do another version of Walter?” Sometimes my camera operators would say, “John, that’s the wrong one.”
What will you take away from the Fringe experience, this past five seasons?
NOBLE: Doing something of this nature was new to me. I’d never done anything that required a five-year commitment. To build a show that seems to have kept the imagination of the world so much was a bit otherworldly, to be honest with you. I could go anywhere in the world and people would stop me in the street and talk about Fringe and how much they adored it and asked questions about it. The international reach of Fringe still catches me by surprise a bit, at times. Also, I was given the gift of a character that is every actor’s dream. So, you combine those two factors and it’s been an incredibly memorable five years.
NOBLE: I guess because I was the older fellow there, I think of them all as my kids, in a way. I have a very special love for all of those actors and I’ll miss them. Over the five years, we were given the chance to develop some pretty close bonds, both with our characters and personally, and we did. I don’t really know how to explain it, any other way than that. It’s something that we earned, over five years. It probably wouldn’t have been there with two years, but with five years, it was and is definitely there. It’s probably a life-long bond, I imagine.
How is Walter handling the potential threat to his life and what might that mean for Peter, in his absence?
NOBLE: We know that something radical has to happen, in order to beat the Observers. I think, by now, we’ve built up to the fact that possibly maybe Walter has to do something pretty outstanding to make this happen. More importantly, what you’ll find is the way that his relationship with Peter plays out over the next two episodes and, in particular, the finale is really quite remarkable. That’s something we had to do because we spent so much time, and I know that the fans love the relationship between Peter and Walter so much, that we certainly paid homage to that and brought it home, I believe, really strongly. I would love to have had an episode with each of the characters. I do have some beautiful moments with Jasika and Anna, as well. It’s good story writing, in the sense that they’ve built this great big arc, and it’s going to pan out. I’m not going to tell you exactly what happens, obviously, but we do get the pay-out. It’s also wonderful to have Mike Cerveris back into the equation again. Aside from the fact that he’s an amazing actor and a friend of mine, he really does add another element to our storytelling.
NOBLE: I think we were all apprehensive to see what would happen in the finale. We didn’t know until really quite late in the piece how Joel [Wyman] would finish it off. I can honestly say that it was everything that I had hoped it could possibly be. When I read it, I thought that he had done a masterly job in writing it. He tied up our character storylines and he tied up the great story arc. I couldn’t imagine a better job, to be honest with you. So, I was extremely elated when I read the final episodes.
What was that last day that you spent on set in this character like?
NOBLE: The last day on set was really quite fun. We were all buoyed up. It was one of those nights that went forever. I think we finished at 9:00 in the morning, or something, but we had a lot of fun. I can remember we all got a fit of the giggles, halfway through the night, which is probably really inappropriate. All of us were doing a scene together, and it was just hilarious. I couldn’t get my lines out, which is very unusual for me. I just kept getting it wrong, and we were all laughing a lot. But, it was good fun. We had a wonderful time. The last scene I did was a beautiful scene with Michael Cerveris, but we were all on set, as we did in most scenes. I didn’t feel depressed. I thought that we’d really had a great finale. The last day was so much fun.
NOBLE: Yes, absolutely! My last two characters have been Denethor and Walter Bishop. Both will be hard acts to follow. That sits in the hands of my managers, at present. I just have no idea what’s going to be offered to me. I’m looking forward to it, though. I’ve had a month off now, so I’m ready to start work again.
Were there any storylines that you wished you could’ve lingered on or gone a little deeper with, because you just enjoyed or were intrigued by the story and where it was going?
NOBLE: No. I think main storylines are what always intrigued me, with those that were the relationships between the characters against whatever backdrop, whether it was in an ordinary universe or a universe in the future. I think the glue that held Fringe together was the relationships. I know the other actors feel the same. They were the things that we really looked forward to doing. Despite what was happening around us, we would have these tenuous, incredibly real and deep relationships with the other characters. Whatever situation we were in, those relationships still carried the day. They were the things that made Fringe work. And I think we have played those storylines out. I could look back and think, “Gee, I wonder what every happened to . . .,” or something of that nature, from back in Season 2, but it doesn’t really concern me because what we, the body of actors and characters, did was continue them anyway.
NOBLE: Certainly, we were surprised. I suppose an example that would encapsulate that surprise is the time, in Season 2, when we were told to go into a sound studio and record our voices for singing. We didn’t know why. We said, “Why are we doing this? I don’t understand.” And of course, it was for the musical episode, but we didn’t know what we were doing until we got the script. Suddenly, we found out we were in this bizarre musical, which was huge fun to play, but we didn’t know ahead of time. So often, it was the case that we wouldn’t know which way it was going to go, but that’s okay. As actors, you don’t actually need to know the future of the character. You just need to know the backgrounds. Those major shifts into the alternate universe and so forth, which were really challenging, I always found really interesting. When I had to do a few episodes of flashbacks, with the full prosthetic make-up and so forth, and flash forwards and flash sideways, the good thing about those is that they would keep you very alert. There’s no room for boredom or getting empathetic in there. I always loved the challenge. When something new happened, I always used to get quite excited.
Will the finale end with a bang or a whimper?
NOBLE: Well, it’s certainly going out with a bang. I couldn’t have imagined a better finale, to be honest with you. I read it and was like, “Oh, my goodness me, he’s done it. He’s answered all these questions and he’s tied off all these things that I had to ask.” I hope history will judge it as one of the great finales, of all time. I really believe they will.
NOBLE: Going backwards, the pure fun was the original Walter, who was just released from a mental institution and probably shouldn’t have been. He was just fun because he could basically say and do anything, and get away with it. The most difficult Walter was the one that I had to play when there was no Peter in the world. That was really tricky. I think it was the beginning of Season 4. It was really tricky to play that same character, but without the relationship with the son redeeming him. He wasn’t a well fellow. I played him with a lot of OCD attributes. He really wasn’t a very pleasant man. I found that one the most difficult to play. I loved playing Walternate because he was completely the same character, version 1985, and then it developed in such a different way, physically and mentally. So, to be able to play that, in the same television series, as playing the other ones was a fantastic gift for me.
You’re also hosting the Science Channel’s Dark Matter series. Have you always had an interest in science, or what that somewhat inspired by working on Fringe?
NOBLE: Over the last 25 years, since a lot of science writing became accessible to layman, I’ve become quite a consumer of science. As a child, I wasn’t streamed into science, and I regret that now. I find science really sexy and, at the time that I was a school kid, it certainly wasn’t. So, with science becoming far more accessible to all of us, I’ve become a pretty avid reader and devourer of it. One of the objectives that I had working with Fringe was to get more people talking about it because it’s such fun. That’s something that I discuss with Fringe people quite often.
NOBLE: I don’t know. Probably. I don’t know where the line is. I don’t know how much of myself is in Walter. There’s got to be a bit of him there. But no, I don’t have any food fetishes, or anything of that nature. I love having played Walter because I suppose any actor brings a certain aspect of their own personality to their work, and I had a fairly broad canvas to paint on with the different versions. I guess there’s a lot of me in there somewhere.
Is there anything you could share about your time working on Fringe that may surprise fans
NOBLE: That’s a hard one because we’ve had such a close relationship with the fans. Through social networking and the internet, we have much more contact, and we did go to things like Comic-Con. So, I think people know most of our secrets. Working in television is very hard. I think people know that. Just the pure demand of it can really take it out of you, physically and mentally, but I think our fans are pretty aware of that, anyway. These characters are complex. Walter is incredibly complex. I do a lot of thinking about the work I do, and try to get the rhythms of scenes. You’re always working with the relationships. It’s pretty demanding, but then again I love that. It was just about doing the job, or trying to do the job, properly. It was never a job that you could rest on your laurels. It was a very challenging 43 minutes of television that we were shooting, every week. We really had to be on the ball, and we were working with an amazing crew. A week would go by and I would say, “How on earth did we shoot another episode?” But, we did. Particularly in the final season, when we were shooting seven-day episodes with a reduced budget and big special effects, the team was so polished, by then, that we were able to do it and, I think, with incredible results.
What do you think was the most rewarding thing about playing Walter?
NOBLE: I suppose, when you start up in acting, you hope to be given challenges, and you always have dreams about the things you could do and couldn’t do, but normally we get pigeon-holed a little bit, as we go on in our careers. We often get pigeon-holed as a tough guy, or whatever else. I’ve been pigeon-holed as a heavy and serious, and almost a baddy, but not quite a baddy, over the years of my work in television, particularly. It was wonderful to be able to play a character who had so many colors and who was able to play comedy, to play incredibly vulnerable, which he did a lot of the time, to play the love story, and to play the relationship with the son, which is quite unusual. That’s a gift to me, as an actor. It was like everything you could possibly hope for, over five years. So, I was a very lucky actor.
NOBLE: I think what’s done with Walter is absolutely perfect. If you had asked me in Season 1 where I thought Walter should finish up, it would’ve been exactly where he does. That’s the remarkable thing. When I say that I think it’s a great finale, that’s the reason why. I think it’s the perfect out for Walter. I’m truly grateful to the writers for giving me that because, over the years, when I’ve spoken about the character with them, I’ve always felt that this would be the perfect way to end and complete his journey, and to complete the journey of this series, and they gave it to me. So, I’m incredibly grateful. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
How do you choose your roles?
NOBLE: A lot of the times, roles are chosen for us, to be honest with you. Something will be offered. It might be different for people that are A-list actors, but a lot of us really look at what’s offered to us and look for something that has some traction with other people. But, it’s not like I read 100 scripts a week, and then pick and choose. Maybe some actors do. I certainly don’t do that. I’m a character actor, so as a character actor, I’m always looking for something interesting. I remember when I read Walter, for example, six years ago now, I said, “This is the role for me.” I said that to my family. There was something there that I knew was absolutely right, and that was just based on the character. That’s when gut instinct comes into play. I know there are certain things I won’t do.
One of the projects you’ve got now is the Superman: Unbound animated movie, where you’re going to play the villain, Brainiac. Did you find it was easier to transition into that role, considering your experience playing the mad scientist version of Walter?
NOBLE: Doing animation is great fun. It’s like a different world. You basically go in there and it’s all in the imagination. There aren’t even pictures to look at. You usually go in there and work with whoever the director is to create this voice and this character. Later on, maybe you’ll have a look at the picture associated. For me, it’s a totally different process than doing a film or a stage play, but I love it. It’s incredibly intense work, but I love doing the voice work. At the end of the day, it’s like a prize to see some huge monster with your voice attached to it.
Fringe airs on Friday nights on Fox.