I spoke with the incredible JOHN NOBLE, Dr. Walter Bishop and Walternate, in FRINGE on FOX. John Noble is such a remarkable man and it is always a pleasure to speak with him. I can’t even begin to tell you how sweet he is and his Australian accent is beautiful. I adore Walter and you have to agree that he has the best lines. I think he has covered all of the bases on pudding and LSD. How could you not love a character like that? Now, Walternate is another story. The other side can keep him but you have to give props to John for making you love and hate him in the same series. He is such a gifted actor. John has starred in various films and series and a few of them are; “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, “24”, “All Saints”, “Stargate SG-1”, and “Home and Away”. Do not miss John Noble in FRINGE, Friday nights at 9 EST only on FOX.
FRINGE FOX PRESS RELEASE: The critically acclaimed FRINGE continues to explore otherworldly cases with endless impossibilities. Set in Boston, the FBI’s Fringe Division was introduced when Special Agent OLIVIA DUNHAM (Anna Torv) enlisted institutionalized “fringe” scientist WALTER BISHOP (John Noble) and his globe-trotting, jack-of-all-trades son, PETER (Joshua Jackson), to help in the investigation of an airline disaster that defied human logic. After the defining case was solved and revealed to be one of a series of unusual incidents linked together, the unlikely trio supervised by Special Agent PHILLIP BROYLES (Lance Reddick) and assisted by Junior Agent ASTRID FARNSWORTH (Jasika Nicole) was formed. As unimaginable events continued to unfold over the first two seasons, the Fringe Division’s investigations often led them to the multifaceted biomedical science, energy and technology corporation Massive Dynamic and its enigmatic chief executive NINA SHARP (Blair Brown). When Olivia discovered that she was a test subject as a child of Walter Bishop and Massive Dynamic’s elusive founder and chairman WILLIAM BELL (guest star Leonard Nimoy), it triggered a search for details about her forgotten and perplexing past. Her findings uncovered the existence of a parallel universe and she recovered her childhood ability to detect objects from this parallel universe, which shockingly led her to learn that Peter is from the “other side.” As a result, Walter revealed that he kidnapped Peter as a child from the parallel universe 25 years ago. At the conclusion of last season, a distraught Peter returned to his otherworldly origins to reconnect with his roots and his birth mother (guest star Orla Brady). When the Fringe Team mobilized to retrieve Peter, it was seen as an attack on the alternate universe and led to an intense situation with Walter and Olivia pitted against their doppelgangers in a race against time. William Bell made the ultimate sacrifice that paved the way for Peter to return “over here” with Walter and a disguised alternate Olivia at his side. This extraordinary turn of events shockingly left an imprisoned Olivia “over there.” The quest to retrieve Peter from the parallel universe will raise questions about identity and choices this season. In the Season Three premiere, a disoriented Olivia fights to find her way home with the help of a taxi driver (guest star Andre Royo), and we are introduced to her mother (guest star Amy Madigan). Meanwhile, Peter and Walter try to move on with their lives unknowingly alongside alternate Olivia. Created by J.J. Abrams & Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, FRINGE is produced by Bad Robot Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television. Abrams, Bryan Burk, J.H. Wyman, Jeff Pinkner and Joe Chappelle serve as executive producers, while Kurtzman, Orci and Akiva Goldsman are consulting producers. Additionally, Pinkner and Wyman serve as the series’ showrunners.
Lena Lamoray: Hi, John. Walter is my favorite character.
John Noble: Hey, Lena. Thank you.
Lena Lamoray: You’re welcome. Walter has grown so much over the seasons, so what are your thoughts on your character’s development and being able to explore several versions of him, including an animated one?
John Noble: They keep presenting me with new challenges, don’t they, Lena? There’s another. Somewhere in the next few weeks you’ll see another challenge coming up, too, for Walter—or for me, playing Walter. Yes, I don’t know. The writers are endlessly inventors, and the man is endlessly complex. So I guess there are all sorts of issues that he could deal with. He’s already been through a lot. He’s already been through mental illness and physical illness. He’s been through loss, he’s been through madness. So there are other issues he can deal with. But the one thing that Walter, that I’ve been able to develop with him, is he’s a man of very deep love. The love that he feels for people is very, very deep. And I now would include with that Peter, but also with Olivia, and Astrid, and also Nina. And that sort of depths of commitment opens all sorts of dramatic possibilities. Do you know what I mean by that?
Lena Lamoray: Yes.
John Noble: If you care that much about somebody, what would you do to look after them, to protect them? And I hope that comes across when you see the performance. For example, Walter adores Olivia. Not in the same gushy way he can hug Peter or that he can joke with Astrid. But he adores her. So there’s all sorts of possibilities to play within that really deep emotional pond there of close personal relationships.
Lena Lamoray: And what was it like being animated?
John Noble: It was great fun. It’s bizarre, isn’t it?
Lena Lamoray: Yes.
John Noble: It’s a bizarre thing to look at. And what we did was we shot the scenes against the white background to give the artist some guidelines, and we did the dialogue. And then they went away and they created that extraordinary act of television. It’s very cool.
More Conference Call Interview Highlights:
Q: What excites you about the final episodes of the season?
John Noble: All year we’ve been heading towards the fact that there seems to be inevitable conflict between the two universes, and we’ve gotten to know the people on both sides now. So we now bring it to a conclusion starting with “602”. We start to deal with the issue because our Earth starts to deteriorate. Events start to happen here which indicate that our world is degrading. And so everyone has to move into another year and say, “Well, this problem is not going to go away. It’s now affecting our side. We do have a machine which we believe can assist in the resolution of this problem.” And so the episode basically deals with the lead up in the first part of that trilogy leading up to the use of the machine.
Q: I think it’s really awesome that we’re talking about the season finale and not the series finale. And as you said, you’ve got a lot of fans out there. You’ve got a lot of dedicated Fringe fans. A lot of them are TV writers. Talk a little bit more, if you would, please, about what it feels like to know you have another season to look forward to.
John Noble: I was thinking about that this morning. I thought about how hard it would be not to have another season, actually. I thought it the other way around. Because we’ve really just finished Season 3, which was just a whirlwind. I mean, I can hardly remember the last three or four weeks, it was that busy. But I was thinking this morning, imagine if there was no more? Because we have so many stories to tell, you know, that it would be a strange, empty feeling—that’s for me, personally, and certainly judging from when I talk to fans and to journalists. And I just—in fact, went across to Paris for the weekend to talk to some fans, and the response across the world, not only in North America, is the same. So there’s a great sense of jubilation. And Jeff Pinkner tells me—he was talking to me on the phone last night—that he has so many stories to tell, he could go forever. So there’s a real sense of excitement.
Q: The synopsis for “602,” says, “Walternet’s thirst for revenge drives him to cause trouble in the other universe.” I’m curious; what sort of tools does Walternet have at his disposal to make anything happen over here?
John Noble: You could make an assumption based on what’s happened so far with both these men gathering pieces of the machine that they both have the same tool. And so what happens, in fact—which will be no surprise to anyone—is that he finds a way to activate his machine. And as a result of which, our world starts to break down. I mean seriously break down as we’ve witnessed in the alternate universe, which of course then prompts panic on our side, “What do we do?” We start to resort to … ourselves. We have to find a solution—Walter has to really come to his very best—has to get his best faculties back together again, do exactly what Bill told him he could do and that is resolve these problems with everything he needs to do it. He has to allow Peter the freedom to be a hero instead of being a protective parent. It’s very dramatic in that sense, and we finish the episode—I will say it’s a trilogy, these three, but we finish in a very dramatic place as we begin to activate our machine. I don’t really want to say anymore than that, because it will just take the sting out of it. But it’s a very powerful episode, and the beginning of three extraordinary episodes.
Q: The title “602” is that a deadline that Walternet is aiming for, or is it just the time that something happens to happen?
John Noble: Yes, it’s the time that something happens to happen, which is critical. And that timeframe plays through the three episodes. It’s very important to remember as we get to the finale; that timeframe.
Q: Sometimes people will be filming something and they won’t know if it’s the series finale or the season finale. But you were filming right to the end, so how long—did you still have several episodes to go when you got word that you’d be back for next season?
John Noble: In the world of television, a good writer will prepare a series and a season finale. We were given good reason to believe that we’d be going on by FOX and Warner Brothers. We were given very good reason to keep optimistic. But we certainly knew we were writing a season finale for the last few episodes, and indeed, the writers have come up with actually blockbuster.
Q: There were some episodes where you were only Walter and some episodes where you were only Walternet during that hour. They are such different people and there’s such a lovability to Walter and increasing vengeance in Walternet. As you play them, do you feel different that day? Do you feel different afterwards? Is it a different kind of day for you when you’re playing one than other?
John Noble: Sometimes it’s in the same day. And sometimes it’s twice in the same day with two makeover changes. So normally, probably, end of most days I just feel exhausted, one way or the other. There’s a variation that you’ll see in the finale—and I’m not going to say anymore. But there’s a variation that did affect my concentration, my mood. But we’ll save that one for later talk. But playing Walter and Walternet as they are present, no. I mean, I take that under my wing and just fly with it.
Q: What kind of a journey, this year, would you say has Walternet been on? And what kind of a journey has Walter been on?
John Noble: Well, the writers said to me at the beginning of the year that Walter’s journey is a journey towards redemption. And I understood that. In fact, I had thought from the beginning of Season 1 that that was a sort of great arc. Walter had a really tough season in the sense that he was most of the season alienated from his beloved son. And he found that very difficult because he had become so attached to Peter. And obviously Astrid stepped in and helped him out a lot, but he had to battle a lot of it out by himself. So that was a tough 40 days in the desert for Walter, and towards the end of it you’ll see that there’ll be some resolution between Peter and Walter; a much more grown up relationship will establish. That same beautiful trust that they had until the end of Season 2, I think it was, when Peter finally realized that he wasn’t the son; that isn’t back. There’s a different type of respect and love in there now, so it’s been a huge sort of arc for Walter in terms of spending a lot of the time really very, very lost and having to come to grips with the fact that—and it’s been told by Bell and by Nina, you are everything you need to be to do what you have to do. So he’s had to accept himself and his limitations and know that that’s perfectly adequate. It’s a wonderful journey, actually.
Q: As an actor, what kind of a journey have you been on this season?
John Noble: When I’m shooting 22 episodes, my life really revolves around the 14 or 18 hours a day that I do on set. And so apart from maintaining good health, which I do—I do a lot of that. Any time off that I get I make sure that I’m doing a Bikram yoga class, or something, because really we’ve found that we have to remain incredibly fit. In fact, Anna Torv said to me the other night—it was about five o’clock on a Saturday morning and we still had two hours to go, and she said, “Isn’t it remarkable how fit we are, and that we haven’t had one day off in three years?” And I think that struck me as, Wow, that is pretty remarkable, really. So a lot of it is just staying focused on the task at hand. I do find time to play music and do some painting. But most of it is to do with the work.
Q: Where do you hope this series heads in the long run?
John Noble: That’s a really difficult question, and I don’t have even a hint of an answer. What our writers have done is opened up all potential. By saying the different choices—by making different choices in life you can change the direction of your life, or events around your life. Using that plot device, that’s opened up something that could run forever, really, by different choices. By opening up the fact that we have one identical universe in pure science indicates there could be thousands of them should we wish to go down that way. Where they’ll go, I don’t know. What I do know is that they’ll remain constant to the central characters that they’ve created from Season 1. So somewhere within that wonderful journey, you will still have Olivia, and Peter, and Astrid, and Walter, and Broyles, and Nina. Those characters will still somehow meander through whatever wonderful journeys we take, but … out at night. And the writers, themselves, actually, which way we’ll go next.
Q: Is William Bell really gone? Is there anything you can tell us about that?
John Noble: William Bell will never go. Oh, you’re talking about the … voice. Oh, that was a kind of very sad ending, wasn’t it? I got the sense while I was playing that that felt to me like the end of Belly. The remorse that Walter felt at the end of that scene felt like that was the end of it. But I don’t know that for sure, and I know that Leonard loves doing the show. So, goodness sakes, he could come back. But it did feel like a departing to me.
Q: One of the themes that we’ve seen kind of play out, which I imagine will come to a head in the next three episodes, has been kind of this balance or symbiosis between fate and destiny. What is your take on where Walter and Walternet fall? Are they both on the destiny side or the fate side? Is there a balance there, I guess is my question.
John Noble: Well, the very fundamental nature of science, and in fact Walternet points this out during the season, is that the universe will seek balance, and that’s, in fact, true. So what we’ll find through some awfully precarious events, we’ll find that everything will attempt to find balance. And this man, Walter/Walternet, because they are the same man, will hopefully find a balance as back as one human being again, as it were to find a fully fledged. Because at this stage neither of them are complete human being by any means. So, I mean, I think it would be delightful. We won’t see it happen this season, but I think it would be delightful to see a human life completed sometime along the line where one reconciles oneself with everything about oneself. I don’t know; that might be just my dream, but I think it’s a possibility. But, there are other universes, and there are other Walters, and there are other issues. I just have a sense that all will come back to balance somewhere, somehow, because that’s what the universe does.
Q: Were you interested in science at all before taking this role? And having watched you now for three seasons, you’re incredibly proficient at delivering these almost abstract scientific concepts at the level that can explain it to the general audience.
John Noble: Well, yes. Science was not my major at school, at all. In fact, I studied law. But I think my deep fascination—my deepest fascination from a young man was with science. And I guess what I’ve done over the last 20 years is been constantly drawn to books of the scientific bent. And there’s so many fine ones around now that are available to the layman. I mean they’re still quite complicated, but if you take the time to read them, and I have, it’s just to me it’s an amazing journey of the imagination. And I do read science books, yes I do. I’m not saying that I understand all of the intricate math and chemistry that goes on. But I do find it endlessly fascinating.
Q: I was wondering about why the writers decided to bring William Bell back. And the conclusion I came to was that he wasn’t trying to cheat death, but that he realized that Olivia needed to change her way and to eliminate the fears that she had inside her mind. Is that how you view it? Do you think William Bell was a man of good?
John Noble: Yes, I think we do dip into the role of metaphysics here, and you had asked the question that we often do; what happens to the human soul after death? Does it—being an energy, does it—it has to be somewhere, it can’t just disappear. So that’s all a metaphysical discussion. And we kind of covered it by saying, “Well, Bell is there somewhere, and felt the impulse to come back to correct an ill.” That’s kind of a cool thought, isn’t it? Like having a guardian angel, or something, looking over you. I do go down the path of thinking those things sometimes. I also think sometimes, I think, well, who are the observers? Are they also like some sort of guardian angel? But all of that metaphysical stuff is—I find it quite easy to accept a lot of that stuff. I don’t understand it, but just on the basis of the physics of what the displacement of energy, it’s got to go somewhere. So, yes, I thought it was very cool that Bell came back and did that thing for Olivia.
Q: In previous interviews you stated that “Peter” was your favorite episode, the one that you were most proud of. And I was wondering now that “Subject 13” is banding and it’s a similar tone, is “Peter” still your favorite episode? And why does that one still hold true the most?
John Noble: Probably “Peter.” Probably “Peter” because it was the first time we did it. It was such a risky thing to do to take a character back that far. “Subject 13” was more complex in that I had to create two versions of the character, but in a sense I’ve been there before. And I think “Subject 13” was incredibly important in the sense that we got to understand the history between Walter and young Olivia in the Cortexiphan trial. That was critically important for the ongoing journey of the story. I think “Peter” is—of personally involved ones, I think “Peter” was probably my favorite. I have other favorites. I thought “The Firefly,” which I did with Christopher Lloyd was a wonderful episode. I thoroughly enjoyed doing that. I thought “White Shore” last year, too, was a terrific episode, too. And what else do I love? Golly, I just thought of one—one called, “Snakehead” which I had a wonderful time with Astrid down in Chinatown. There are probably about a half a dozen episodes that I think of with incredible fondness, but certainly the two flashback episodes would be high on the list.
Q: This role must really be a gift to an actor, as rich as it is. Can you talk about how Fringe has really sort of changed your life since you got involved with the show?
John Noble: Well, you got it right the first time when you said that it’s a gift. I’ve been sort of acting forever, and I did 20-odd years in theatre, where you do a lot of different things, and you get the opportunity to play many different characters and different forms; and mime, and dance, and comedy, and drama, and everything else. What Walter Bishop gave me was the opportunity to basically use just about every trick I’ve got in my book, and have such a lot of fun doing it. So it was a gift. And then, like the gift that keeps on giving, they also gave me Walternet to show the other side of him. So as a reward for I guess an actor towards the end of his career, it seriously couldn’t have been better.
Q: This might be an opportunity with shows that have this kind of very, very committed fan base. But you could revisit Walter for years to come. Is that something that’s kind of juicy for you to think about; that there may always be a story to tell with Walter and you can come back and see him at different phases?
John Noble: Well, I think within context. I suppose what will happen somewhere down the track is they’ll make a movie. That seems to happen. I don’t know that having created a character that you necessarily want to keep coming back to him. I remember when I created Denethor for Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. I was completely happy with that, but I didn’t want to go back and try it again. It was like that was a complete piece of work for me. Walter is still a work in progress. A most rare thing to be able to develop a character over four years. But when it finishes, I suspect it’s finished and there’ll be other fish to fry, as they say.
Q: Walter is something of a sex symbol. Have you experienced that?
John Noble: Oh, “Thank you very much.” Oh, Lord. Is he a sex symbol, is he? Oh, golly, I don’t know. No, I haven’t experienced that. But tell me, tell me. How would you experience that? What would happen if you were a sex symbol? Would people sort of—what do they do?
Q: I’m wondering if they ask you to sign anything—
John Noble: Oh, yes, to sign things. But that doesn’t make you a sex symbol unless you’re giving them—there was a girl in New York that wanted me to sign her midriff. She pulled her shirt up. But she was doing that to all the actors.
Q: You said you studied law. And then for some reason I didn’t know that. Do you mean you went to Law School, or pre-law, or what did you do?
John Noble: I studied three years of Law School at … University, yes. I didn’t finish ….
Q: What was the turning point that made you realize that you wanted to be an actor instead?
John Noble: Without being disparaging, I respect the law, but I didn’t want to be a lawyer. And I have never regretted that decision. It was something that I didn’t know—it was a different time. I went through school, and you know if you were a bright enough kid, you could get into law or medicine you did it. There was no real question about that.
I didn’t know you could be an actor—we didn’t know you could be an actor or an actress. It just didn’t enter our heads. I didn’t know. And so when the opportunity was offered to me, I was so surprised and so thrilled and really never looked sideways again from that point on. It was just what you did. I didn’t want to go to Law School. I just went there because my mates were going there, really.
Q: How did the opportunity arise to be an actor, then?
John Noble: I was doing an elective subject, and this fellow heard my voice and he said, “Oh, you’ve got the voice of such and such and such and such. Would you be interested in doing something?” And it was a little play, and I thought, how exciting. It would be a great chance to meet girls. And look, it just really just rapid fire. And within a very short time I was working professionally. A really, really short time. And then, of course, having got that far I didn’t have to learn my crap, so I had to study like crazy after that. But I was very lucky, and I did get a very good voice coach right away and had a wonderful ride and then finished up learning enough about it that I then spent quite a lot—and still do when I can, teaching in the field.