If you enjoy hearing actors talk about their craft, you’ll want to see John Noble every chance you get. John, with a long list of stage, screen, and television credits, has worked as a stage director and drama teacher. He’s appeared in commercials and corporate presentations, and even (once) in an opera.
At his Saturday appearance at ORC, fans had many questions about his portrayal of Denethor and about his current and future projects.
John’s been busy since completing The Lord of the Rings. He has three films due out this year. Running Scared, a noir film directed by Wayne Kramer, opened this month in the UK and opens February 24 in the US. In it, John plays a psychotic Russian mob boss who’s killed by his stepson in a particularly gory explosive death.
In May, the epic historical drama One Night with the King: The Call of Destiny (no, this is NOT about Aragorn– it’s based on the biblical story of Esther) directed by Michael Sabjel and also starring John Rhys-Davies, Omar Sharif, and Peter O’Toole is due for release. Based on the trailer, the film has gorgeous production design, sets, and costumes and so if you tend to like big epic pictures with, uh, gorgeous production design, sets, and costumes, you might want to give it a look.
The third film is Nick Cohen’s horror film Voodoo Lagoon, filmed in Australia, about college kids on a tropical isle.Once again, John has a great death scene, in which his son plucks out his beating heart.
His recent television work includes an appearance in Stargate SG-1 (“Camelot,” due to air March 10, according to IMDB) and a run on the Australia soap opera, Home and Away, in which, John says, “I play a really evil man for a change.”
In 2006 he’s headed for Serbia to appear in Conflict, a thriller directed by John Ireland, filmed in English and Serbo-Croatian, in which he once again plays the father of two sons. Also on tap is a film in England, in which he plays the Devil.
John is an actor who believes in thorough preparation, a slow infiltration into his role, taking on voice, gesture, and working with props, so that when he goes before the camera it’s not really acting – he IS the character. During the wardrobe and makeup process each day he became Denethor. In John’s view, “the craft is about getting inside a character and playing that truth,” regardless of medium.
John was always interested in playing Denethor because of the complexity of the character and its King Lear-ish quality, saying, “the greatest gift you can give an actor is a role like that.” In the end, he lived with the character for nearly five years, from the readings in early 1999 through the start of filming in October 2000 and the return to do the ADR three years later, saying it was a challenge to get back into the character and deliver the dialogue after all that time.
John enjoyed the many challenges of playing Denethor. It was tough to move around in the heavy costume. Also, Denethor’s language comes straight from Tolkien and requires difficult, technical articulation. Getting the right voice creates the character and enables the actor to generate deep emotions. John, and Peter Jackson, had to deal with the challenge of introducing a major character late in the piece. One challenge was to make people care about Denethor – to do this, John worked hard to communicate his complexity and his history.
John maintains passionately that Denethor was not evil – “a great man who made poor choices, but like many characters, they seemed like good choices at the time.” To just see him as evil reduces his complexity. Denethor, like most characters in The Lord of the Rings, has a huge backstory involving the death of his wife, his longstanding concern about Faramir’s closeness to Gandalf, his concerns over many years that Gandalf was preparing to bring back Isildur’s heir, and his resentment that he, Denethor, has been doing the hard job of keeping the country together while Aragorn remained undecided for many decades about his fate.
He sees Denethor as having different expectations for each of his sons. Boromir, his heir, is strong and powerful, just like him, while Faramir, his younger son, more sensitive, scholarly, and influenced by Gandalf, is just tolerated. Why does Denethor agree he would rather Faramir had died? Because in his current state, he has nothing left to live for, as he believes the kingdom is doomed. Also, says John, it was the simple answer: another answer would have open up a host of questions. He chose isolation as a way to convey Denethor’s mental state – the character speaks only to Gandalf, Pippin, and Faramir and seems to live in the throne room.
John says he’s glad he didn’t know when he signed on to play Denethor how big the fan base was, and how huge and involved the online fan base would become during the production and release of the films. ”I would have been terrified!” he says.
John didn’t get nearly as many personal questions as Elijah, Sean, or Billy. He admitted he enjoys playing the guitar and singing, and his taste often runs to broody songs by Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. (No doubt Denthor would approve!) John has two daughters and a son, and his elder daughter Samantha has already begun her acting career.
While John never received a prop or clapper from the production for his time on set, he considers his 2004 Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast for The Return of the King, which he shared with 18 other principal cast members, to be his special memento.
John’s website: johnnoble.net
You can access trailers for all three upcoming films here, or separately through IMDB.