FRINGE ben­e­fits

Aussie John Noble stars in the new sci-fi drama Fringe, writes Colin Vick­ery

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide - -

EMMY Award-winning pro­ducer J.J. Abrams has an im­pres­sive TV track record — Fe­lic­ity, Alias, Lost — so it’s no won­der his new show, Fringe, has been cre­at­ing huge buzz around Hol­ly­wood.

A cross be­tween The X-Files and The Twi­light Zone, the pi­lot (which re­port­edly cost more than $10 mil­lion to pro­duce) rev­els in post-9/11 para­noia.

The se­ries be­gins when Flight 627 lands at Bos­ton’s Lo­gan Air­port. All the pas­sen­gers and crew are dead, so a spe­cial task force led by FBI Spe­cial Agent Olivia Dun­ham (Aus­tralia’s Anna Torv) is sent to in­ves­ti­gate. What looks like an act of bio-ter­ror­ism leads her to seek out sci­en­tist Wal­ter Bishop (Aussie John Noble), who has lan­guished in a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion for the past 17 years.

Bishop is the for­mer chair in bio­chem­istry at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity and a pi­o­neer in fringe sci­ence — wild­cat re­search into ev­ery­thing from hal­lu­ci­na­tory drugs to out-of-body ex­pe­ri­ences and ESPstyle mind com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Play­ing Bishop is a huge break­through for Noble, 60, who has been a reg­u­lar on lo­cal se­ries in­clud­ing Home and Away (as Dr Help­man) and All Saints (neu­ro­sur­geon Dr John Mars­den).

He joins a grow­ing list of Aussie ac­tors who are mak­ing it big on US TV, in­clud­ing Si­mon Baker (whose The Men­tal­ist goes head-to-head with Fringe in the US), An­thony LaPaglia (Without A Trace), Rachel Grif­fiths (Broth­ers and Sis­ters) and Alan Dale (Ugly Betty).

‘‘The build-up is as­ton­ish­ing,’’ Noble says from New York. ‘‘You can’t go any­where around here without see­ing Fringe bill­boards.’’

Noble ap­peared on the in­ter­na­tional cast­ing radar af­ter play­ing Denethor in The Lord of the Rings: The Re­turn of the King. Fea­ture parts in 24, The Unit and Jour­ney­man fol­lowed, but a ma­jor reg­u­lar role in the year’s most an­tic­i­pated new se­ries takes things to an­other level.

‘‘J.J. Abrams is one of the sharpest men I’ve known,’’ he says. ‘‘He has this in­cred­i­ble drive and imagination that in­spires peo­ple — qual­i­ties that (Lord of the Rings di­rec­tor) Peter Jack­son also has. Both men are able to get peo­ple around them to be­lieve in the im­pos­si­ble.’’

Abrams is renowned for the se­crecy sur­round­ing his projects. The Lost cast is rarely privy to plot­lines and it’s the same with Fringe.

‘‘The scripts come in quite close — some­times too close — to film­ing,’’ Noble says. ‘‘For­tu­nately, with my char­ac­ter, there was more (back­ground in­for­ma­tion) than ac­tors would nor­mally get be­cause Bishop’s his­tory is dis­cussed in the pi­lot.

‘‘Wal­ter Bishop has been in­car­cer­ated for 17 years and had elec­tric shock ther­apy. He’s not a to­tally to­gether hu­man be­ing when we meet him. The dif­fer­ence is that de­spite his be­hav­iour, he hasn’t lost hope. He still wakes ev­ery morn­ing ex­cited that he has his free­dom again. He’s child­like in that re­spect.’’

As with Lost, Fringe plays with shift­ing time frames and mul­ti­ple points of view, and Fringe, M Chan­nel 9, Wed­nes­day, 8.30pm Sci-fi drama Du­ra­tion: 1 hour Abrams is shame­less in lift­ing ideas from other movies and TV se­ries.

Torv’s Olivia Dun­ham is a mir­ror im­age of Agent Dana Scully on The X-Files, Noble’s mad sci­en­tist is a sci-fi peren­nial from as far back as Franken­stein, the sen­sory-de­pri­va­tion tank scenes a di­rect nick from 1980’s Al­tered States.

De­spite those echoes of past hits, Noble be­lieves Fringe will res­onate be­cause much of the fringe sci­ence it shows bor­ders on the real.

‘‘What’s unique is that even though it’s out there on the fringe, it ac­tu­ally could hap­pen,’’ he says. ‘‘If we are suc­cess­ful, that will be one of the el­e­ments that will draw peo­ple in.

‘‘It’s not fear-mon­ger­ing, but there’s al­ways con­spir­acy the­o­ries and big-brother as­pects of life. This builds from some of those things that could be hap­pen­ing in the world to­day.

‘‘I don’t know that it’s far re­moved from the im­pos­si­ble.’’

Head­ing the Fringe cast along­side Torv and Noble is for­mer Daw­son’s Creek star Joshua Jack­son, who plays Bishop’s son, Peter.

‘‘I’ve es­tab­lished a won­der­ful re­la­tion­ship with Josh, who is a de­light and an amaz­ing ac­tor,’’ Noble says.

‘‘You’ll be proud of Anna, too. She’s a mar­vel­lous young woman do­ing a great job.’’

IN THE ’70s and ’80s, Noble played a ma­jor role in bring­ing Aus­tralian sto­ries to audiences, pro­duc­ing more than 70 new Aus­tralian plays and serv­ing as artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Stage Com­pany of South Aus­tralia for 10 years.

‘‘I was part of that move­ment of peo­ple around Aus­tralia who said, ‘We’re sick of looking at Bri­tish and Amer­i­can cul­ture so let’s do our own’,’’ he says.

‘‘Now I’ve been swept along with the in­ter­na­tional thing. My goal th­ese days is to per­fect my act­ing craft and this (Fringe) has given me the op­por­tu­nity to do that. I guess I’m at a dif­fer­ent stage of my ca­reer.’’

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