John Noble at the ROTK Premiere in Los Angeles
Ringer Spy Nazz attended the MANY press confrences during the ROTK media blitz last month.
Special thanks to Rip It Up Magazine in South Australia for this transcript
Here is the transcript from a John Noble roundtable interview!
John Noble plays Denethor, Steward Of Gondor.
The only new cast member in ROTK is Denethor, the grief-stricken and seemingly cruel father of Faramir (David Wenham) and the deceased Boromir (Sean Bean) – and he’s played by Adelaide-born John Noble; who was artistic director of the acclaimed Stage Company of South Australia for 10-years, and has worked with most theatre companies in Australia as both a director and an actor. Overseas, he directed Sons Of Cain on London¹s West End, among others.. He has been delighting audiences worldwide with his talents as both an actor and a director for more than 25-years.
Another one of Noble¹s theatrical highlights was touring Australia and giving 240 performances of the one man play The Christian Brothers, and acting in an award winning production of the Australian play Errol Flynn¹s Great Big Adventure Book For Boys. Noble’s film credits include The Monkey’s Mask, Airtight, The Product, The Nostradamus Kid, A Sting In The Tail, and Call Me Mr Brown. For television Noble has a semi-regular role in All Saints, and has played guest leads in Tales Of The South Pacific, Time Trax, Water Rats, Police Rescue, and Big Sky. Noble currently makes his home in Australia.
John Noble on set as Denethor
An energetic, undeniably talented South Australian-born actor whose theatre work has been acclaimed all around the world. Probably one of the best interviews of the junket and certainly had most of us in tears of laughter at several instances throughout the interview, while lacing every moment with gravity and deep emotion. He’s a keenly intelligent gentleman and all of the assembled journalists seemed very impressed with him (especially since he was mostly unknown to them before we started). We heard some reports of rudeness later on, much to our surprise, and together surmised that it had to have been the line of questioning, not the man himself (we caught up several times over a cigarette through the whole NZ premiere experience and I found my impression of him deepened rather than changed, to that of a profoundly emotional man, brimming over with keen feeling and fierce honesty).
For those outside the press, the courtesy of a round table interview is to allow the fellow journalists to gather the info they need (often using the shortest possible questions to allow more room for the answer), whether it be glossy fluff for commercial radio, deep discussion, more intense movie and character questioning or mining for personal material for the women’s mags; and to respect why they need to ask these specific questions. Well that’s the theory anyway! It more often than not turns into a s**t fight for information (or for you non-Australasians, a shark feeding frenzy) but not on this junket. It was one of the, if not the, most well behaved I’ve attended, so thanks to all.
He was our first interview of the day (explaining my slowness to get going) and kicked it all of with a wonderfully entertaining bang.
I opened by asking if John had been impressed with the Howard Shore concert the night before (as I’d seen him at the show)?
JN: “I couldn’t believe it; it was marvellous. I wanted to bend down and kiss his ring [the room erupts with laughter]! So I turned up there and Howard arrived and started saying things like, ‘oh yes but your performance inspired this.’ And I was like, ‘oh my God!’
John Noble at the ROTK Premiere in Berlin
“Then, understandably – in a sense – he got ill and overwhelmed. You know that sense when you go into a crowded place and start to lose the colour in your face and start thinking, ‘I’ve got to get out of here’? And I had this moment, with me and Howard Shore sitting on the steps over the road from the concert hall. Oh my God just me and him. And I was holding is hand, y’know? Saying, ‘you’ll be right, mate [laughs]. [to himself] I can’t believe this.’
“So it was a really amazing night and I was moved beyond belief.”
[A female NZ reporter] Had you met him before?
JN: “Never. Then I looked at the program and there was in the sixth movement, a piece called The Steward Of Gondor which I play, and I like, ‘awww [feigns great shock]! He wrote a piece of music about my character!’ It was fantastic.”
[A male NZ reporter] One thing John, with the concert last night did you see the crowd of people surrounding the small red carpet last night?
JN: “I didn’t really. I think there are a few people that are really popular with crowds, like Viggo and Orlando and all that. The rest of us can slip in and get in through the backdoor which I didn’t mind, and slip out for a smoke! And no one worries me so to speak.”
[Same male NZ reporter] Do you think this will change with the release of The Return Of The King?”
JN: [Matter of factly] Probably not.”
So you think you’ll still be reasonably invisible?
JN: “I think so.”
[Different male NZ reporter] The long hair makes a difference.
JN: “No I think it’s also a big difference if you’re young and spunky. Because a lot of that fanbase comes from that – so I don’t have those problems.”
[The first female NZ reporter] Did you take your family along to the first and have to say wait for the second movie, then saw the second and have to say, just wait for the third movie?
JN: “No I didn’t. I was fairly hesitant about the whole thing. I’ve thought of all these smart answers to that question like, ‘I was the fourth orc on the left and all that.’ But no. It wasn’t that. I knew – and knew that those who knew the story – would know that Denethor comes in The Return Of The King. Although if you’ve seen the Extended DVD of The Two Towers he makes an appearance. We didn’t shoot that scene until two years later. Imagine my luck: working with Sean Bean. I was like, ‘oh yes I’m coming!’ Coz I though he was amazing in the first movie. I looked at this guy and thought, ‘he’s to die for. What an actor.’ And then I got to do those scenes with him.”
[A second female NZ reporter] What was he like to work with?
JN: “Beautiful and talented. And just another actor, who cares and stuffs up lines, just like the rest of us do.”
[Same NZ reporter] And how long did it take to form that opinion?
JN: “Just about from the first moment.”
[First female NZ reporter] It’s such a fabulous villain that you play – was it almost orgasmic when you saw what you had to (we all laugh light-heartedly at this together)?
JN: John raises his eyebrows at the terminology and responds with, “Great question! No, he’s not a bad character. As an actor, I could never play a bad character; only a human character. Certainly what comes out on the screen – coz you’ve all seen it now haven’t you? – is what appears to be a fairly vile man. But I understand him totally.”
[The second female NZ reporter] Even the way he treats his youngest son?”
JN: [almost a whisper] Sure. When I came back to do the ADR this year, I saw it again and it brought tears to my eyes the cruelty, the things we do to one another out of grief as human beings, or the things we do to our loved ones and kids”
[Unidentified female reporter] I must say I found myself wondering if you had sons or not?
JN: “My son lives with me. You might see him wandering around the place.”
[A different female reporter, possibly from Woman’s Day] What was a stand out moment for you in the whole filming process and what was it like to work with Peter Jackson?
JN: “There really isn’t a stand out moment for me because all of my scenes were really hard.
“I think the thing that impressed me about Jackson the most, and I came in rather late into the process, was that he still had prepared a storyboard sketch book and, even though – this was so like the process – he still had the sketches of what he wanted in that scene, it was very flexible and he would be totally respectful of what we brought to it.
“The death scene was pretty hard. I guess I remember that. None of them stand out beyond that. Although working with Ian McKellen is not a bad thing [laughs]!”
[First female NZ reporter] I wanted to ask about that. A lot of Americans don’t know who he is.
JN: “They certainly don’t know who John Noble is [laughs]!”
[Same NZ reporter] As an antipodean, when you heard you were going to work with Sir Ian McKellen”
JM: “That didn’t intimidate me coz I’m a stage actor and, whilst I know who this great man is, I thought it’d be okay. I knew how to cope with that. It was very exciting but that didn’t intimidate me at all.”
At this point John explodes from regular spoken tones to enormous enthusiasm.
“And it was great! And we met and we went [whomph!] across the floor at each other and said, ‘yes! This is gonna be great.’ [Resumes regular spoken tones] So that actually was really good, working with Sir Ian. I loved it. And he’s a sweetheart. A brilliant actor but there’s thing that stage actors have sometimes, this mutual respect: if you’re good enough to be there, you’re good enough to be there so let’s do it. So we went ‘crash!’ and it that was great.
“There weren’t many others I worked with; other than Billy Boyd, who you may meet later and who may be the sweetest man that ever walked the Earth. And we’re quite close friends.
“Dave Wenham played my son, Faramir, and that was really strange because we established, almost from the beginning like method actors do, this distance – even though I could see Dave and have a cup of coffee with him in Sydney.
“Then Sean Bean, when we did that pick up. I mean I knew they were going to appear together but I didn’t know how much fun it would be.”
[Me] Was there more shot to show the great complexities of Denethor’s character? In the theatrical cut we did see more of his antagonistic side but there’s so much more to him, as written – and I gather from the subtext you left onscreen.
JN: “Look – thank you for the question – I worked my arse off to make him a real person. There’s certainly – probably I should say – going to be additional things in there; and whether people see him as a villain or otherwise is going to be – as in any great literature you know and Tolkien wrote great literature – I felt every pain that man felt. Whether audience just assume he’s a prick is up to them. Sorry if that’s going to radio. But I as a man, a dad and person who’s lived for a long time, I felt every emotion he lived through. That’s what we do as actors. And even though he’s twisted and he’s gone the other way, he was an incredibly noble man who just lost it. He’s been affected by looking into the Palantir * [see footnote]; which is not really in the movie, but if you read the books, you know it’s there.
“He’s lost his wife, his son and now it looks like he’s going to lose his kingdom. So I understood him so well – I don’t know what that says about me [we laugh].”
[First female NZ reporter] Without giving too much away, when he rises from the pyre and runs off, has he had a moment of clarity?
JN: “Yeah, my redeeming two lines: ‘Faramir, my son.’ [Laughs] S**t, I thought, I’ve got to try to get it all back in those two lines! Try that for fun. It’s true. I’m burning, I say, ‘my son,’ and that’s it. Hardly a speech, but that’s the way it goes.”
[same reporter] It worked.
[Me] He’s heartbroken isn’t he?”
JN: [Whispered] Shattered. It could one of those characters where people like me who teach drama and stuff, go back to film and study. And when we teach, we’ll say, ‘watch and watch carefully.’ Because he’s actually a great character but, on first appearances, I think a lot of folks are just going to see him as just the villain and that’s fine,” he sighs with a tinge of regret.
[First male NZ reporter] You didn’t wear much make up.
JN: “No. The choice was made not to use make up. I wore a wig and I preferred to use just what I have here,” he says pressing his face with both hands.
[First female NZ reporter] If Peter Jackson had come to you and said, ‘we’re going to recast the film and do it all again’ – and you had the pick of the characters except Denethor, who would you choose?
JN: “Okay at my age, I think I’d choose Denethor again because he’s just the hardest.”
[Same reporter] But if Peter said, ‘no sorry you can’t have Denethor’
JN: “I’d say, ‘well go to h**l. See you later mate! Get someone else.'”
[Second male NZ reporter] Were there a lot of takes for your eating scene?
JN: “Not particularly. Part of what we know, as actors, is how to get our continuity right. I’m really good at that, so it was all worked out in my head ahead of time. There were takes but not excessive; though I did have a vomit bucket next to me in case I needed it! And it was such good food! It was beautiful, so I didn’t really have too much occasion to, ‘ptuiii [spits]’ on the side.
“No it wasn’t an excessively long scene to shoot. It was technical in the sense of, I know my technique and so we used that. And it brought tears to my eyes when Billy sang. I felt really sad, and wasn’t it a tragic line when Faramir said, ‘would you rather I had died,’ and I say, ‘yeah I wish you had died.’ I felt, ‘waugh f**k!’ Imagine saying that to anyone. But I also understood why Denethor said that.”
[Same reporter] That was probably one of the best lines.
JN: “And I had to work out how to do that; and it had to be played flat but inside it was bursting.
“It was an interesting, challenging role. I can only equate it to Lear [Shakespeare’s King Lear] because as a stage actor, I’ve never played Lear but I have played Gloucester and I kept thinking, where the hell did this come from? The demise of a really noble man into this state? And Lear’s the only one I could think of.”
[Female Woman’s Day reporter] If he’s a tragic character, what’s the flaw which put him in that position?
JN: “Good question awww, I don’t know. I think what happens, and I think we all know the cliches about what happens with power and how absolute power corrupts absolutely, with any of us in positions of power, we start to isolate don’t we? I think what’s happened with Denethor – and you might notice that he doesn’t have a friend in the world and so even Gandalf who, in the books, used to be his mate is no longer – is he’s been left to live in his own head. So paranoia very much becomes a part of it.
“And the loss of Boromir because I’ve always thought he saw Boromir as his image; this beautiful big strong warrior. Interestingly enough, Bean and I look alike a bit. He’s this wonderful, big gallant man – and he died. Awww! What a loss to Denethor. His wife had died, he’s got no kingdom and silly bloody Faramir wants to go off and write poetry or something [laughs].”
[Second female NZ reporter] In The Two Towers, King Theoden says, ‘a parent should never lose their child.’ Yet this is exactly what’s happened to Denethor. While Theoden keeps his grief inside, your character really expresses it doesn’t he?
JN: “On a personal level, I’ve got three children all with me here on this trip and I can’t imagine anything worse just can’t imagine it.”
[Me] I wanted to ask a question about Adelaide, since that’s where you and I are from. You’ve done a lot of great, passionate work in Adelaide. Why did you choose to stay and cultivate the arts as long as you did and why did you eventually move away?
JN: “I’m run a bit more by my heart than my head. At the time when I worked in Adelaide, it was the most exciting place to be [funnily enough, much like Wellington was during this visit]. I thought someone was going to tell me to get out before it was too late. At the time, it was a brilliant place to work. The legacy of Don Dunstan and Johnny Bannon and those sort of people – the rest of you might not understand – was amazing. What we were able and given the freedom to do was astonishing. And I’ll always love Adelaide for that.
There’s an old saying that comes from way beyond my time: ‘all great men are born in Adelaide and die in Melbourne.’ In other words, what happened out of Adelaide, as always has happened is there’s this incredible creative thing that comes out and then we have to leave.”
[First female NZ reporter] Will you work with Peter Jackson again?
JN: “Oh no,” he jokes tenderly, “I hate him. No Peter Jackson’s a genius. Thank you so much for your time. Bless you.”
Turning to me directly he says, “let’s do that one properly one day. That answer was too glib. Adelaide is pretty special and that’s a story needs to be told.”