'Fringe' star delves deep into 'Dark Matters'
Posted August 25, 2012
John Noble wasn't always the poster boy for weird science.
The Fringe star and host of Science Channel's Dark Matters grew up in Australia in the 1950s and '60s, at a time when schools would push children into either a science or a humanities stream.
The young Noble was tossed into the latter — ironic in hindsight, since he has become a popular face of cult sci-fi as Fringe's resident mad scientist, Walter Bishop.
"It's as if there are two brains, and there are certain very highly skilled people and the rest of us will be artists absolutely. It was such BS," Noble, 64, says.
So he feels that his parallel roles on the Fox show (returning for a fifth and final season Sept. 28 at 9 ET/PT) and Dark Matters (wrapping up its second year Saturday night at 10 ET/PT) are "how I got my revenge," Noble says, laughing.
There is a certain campy, tongue-in-cheek and entertaining aspect to many of the "twisted but true" stories he narrates in Dark Matters episodes, which have featured the wonders of stomach juices, the drawbacks of voodoo witch doctors and an exploration of suicide-inducing music. Wait, there's more: other topics include bomb-carrying bats, Nazi anti-gravity technology and Thomas Edison's connection to the electric chair.
One aspect of the show that Noble finds increasingly interesting, though, is delving into how society views science ethically.
Saturday's episode explores the Tuskegee syphilis experiment from 1932 to 1972, in which 399 African-American men from Alabama who had the STD were observed but not treated, even when penicillin was proven as an effective cure.
"The ethics of that are appalling," Noble says. "I've caught a lot of stories like that where the ethical boundaries weren't in place and scientists do things that, well, I wouldn't have.
"I am very interested in those social retrospectives to see how far we've shifted, or not. Also, how much more is acceptable under time of crisis than it is in peacetime?"
And if his cult celebrity status helps bring adults and kids over to the science side with Dark Matters, all the better.
"It's a crying shame that science is still being seen as some dry, nerdish area whereas in fact it's really bloody exciting, it's really romantic and it's really creative," Noble says. "We live in a renaissance where everything is blending together now — science is affecting art — and it's no longer uncool to be really good at IT. It's quite the opposite."
He usually tapes his Dark Matters appearances during the summer hiatus of Fringe, although he's apt to have more time on his hands soon once he wraps production on the last season of the sci-fi show.
Noble isn't sad at all to bid farewell to a Fringe world that showcases two separate realities, a slew of shapeshifters and other assorted weirdness investigated by Walter, his son Peter (Joshua Jackson) and FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv).
The upcoming shortened season's 13 episodes will flash-forward to the year 2036, where the characters have to save the future from the Observers, an odd crew of pale, bald men in business suits.
"If we can actually do what we want to do, I'll be very proud of it," Noble says. "It'll complete this great big saga that had a beginning, middle and an end, which will put it in the annals of science fiction as one of the greats."
He'd also like to see Peter and Olivia derive some peace from their complex love affair, which would be "a nice conclusion for the audience," Noble says. As for Walter — "the reason we're in trouble is because of his own hubris" — he needs to "pay the piper sometime."
"There needs to be retribution, morally," Noble explains. "What we see a bit of at this stage is him feeling a bit sorry for himself: 'Oh poor me.' My opinion is, let's get past that now — we've done that —and move on to what happens at the end of that journey. How do you undo that damage to allow a world to take a natural evolution rather than an unnatural one, which needs to be done and in the world of Fringe, it can be."
Noble is already thinking about his next challenges, and wants to continue on Dark Matters and dabble in other scientific fare. "That's high on my wish list," he says, "to do that sort of material rather than going out and doing a CSI or something like that."
His next gig will probably involve just one version of a character rather than the several iterations of Walter Bishop he's played on Fringe, ranging from a grieving father in 1980s flashbacks to "Walternate," the duplicitous Secretary of Defense in the other universe. "At last count, I think it was 12," says Noble, adding that it'll be most difficult to say goodbye to "Manic Walter."
"When he's completely random and happy — and maybe he's had a little chemical assistance — then he's at his best, when his neurons are going a million miles an hour and there are no barriers or boundaries," Noble says.
"He'll be the one I'll miss playing, but he's exhausting."
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