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Q&A: John Noble of 'Fringe'

Posted 2:43pm on Monday, Jan. 31, 2011

John Noble, one of the stars of Fox's Fringe, prides himself in having a fertile imagination. But there are times, he says, when some of the show's "fringiest" scientific concepts are just too big for him to wrap his mind around. Take the notion, for example, that there might be a parallel universe, one quite similar to but not exactly the same as our own. Noble, who plays Walter Bishop, the slightly mad scientist, can handle that one. The problem is that it opens the doors to other ideas that are mind-blowing in complexity. What if, for example, Fringe's "real" universe isn't our real universe at all, that it's actually one in an infinite number of parallel realities? "I've thought about that quite a lot," Noble says. "It's interesting that when I'm playing in the other universe and playing the character of Walter in the other universe, obviously this universe is the alternate from his perspective. So I imagine from whichever hill you stand on, the opposition's on the other side. But what if there were more universes? And there could be. They would all be alternate to the one you're standing in." And in which of those worlds would an alternate Walter — or "Walternate" — be only slightly different? In which would he be radically different? In which might he be exactly the same? On second thought, he concludes, maybe it's better that he's just the actor. "Our creative people, it must be an amazing place to be in their minds," Noble says. "They come up with the most extraordinary ideas." And he's having the time of his life bring those ideas to the screen. Fringe airs at 8 p.m. CT on Fox.

Any chance that viewers will see Walternate again soon? Can you share any hints?

"Yes, I can give you a little. We can't resist the alternate universe. Having created it, we have to go back there because of this huge conflict. The character of Walternate will be developed. At this stage, he's seen as sort of a nasty, cold man. We'll give you a little bit more background on why he's like he is over the course of this season and we spend a few wonderful episodes back in the alternate universe. What you will learn is more of what made Walternate what he is. You'll see some humanization of the man behind that steel exterior. We've done some terrific scenes which don't soften him but help you to understand that he is in fact a man, not a machine."

Will our Walter, still a severely damaged individual, be able to measure up against Walternate?

"The major problems Walter faces are problems he thinks he is incapable of solving. Because he's been ill, because he's had part of his brain removed. So it's this incredible struggle. He keeps saying, 'I'm not smart enough to do this any more,' but Nina (Blair Brown) keeps encouraging him to do it. And through the course of this season, you'll see him finally accept his limitations. But also he accepts his strengths, which are more than enough to deal with situations here. It's a beautiful journey of acceptance for Walter and he goes through all the emotional stages to get there and then move forward. But I would hope that there ultimately will be a resolution between Walter and Walternate. I don't know if that'll happen, but that would be my ideal."

What do you think of the recent developments with the Observers?

"I think the Observers have been one of the most intriguing elements since the beginning of Fringe. Who are these strange, bold people that appear everywhere? I've had a wonderful time myself trying to find out what the role of these Observers are. I mean, do they stand outside of the universe? Do they stand outside both universes? Are they Observers or should they be 'hands on'? I think what we've discovered is that they do become hands on. When they wreck the natural order of things, then they try to correct it. One of the founding premises of Fringe is that, because of the interference of an Observer, we did rupture the two universes. We ruptured it because one of them interfered in an issue. So it's really interesting to have them back in again trying to repair the damage, trying to put things right."

One shudders at the idea of Walter running Massive Dynamic. Running the corporation into the ground might be more like it. Will we see more of this side of Walter's life in episodes to come?

"Could you imagine a world with Walter running things? I think it's very, very fortunate that we've got Nina there. He does go back there occasionally and, without giving too much away, we just shot a scene, which is wonderful, showing some of the CEO Walter. It's very, very funny. He's not the most responsible CEO in the world. So let's hope he doesn't get too much say in how things work there."

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