John Noble has every reason to believe that Fringe, the sci-fi cult favorite in which he has starred for three seasons, would have been able to end on a high note had Fox decided to pull the plug this year. But he is happy and relieved that it's not an issue. The Season 3 finale, airing at 8 p.m. CT Friday, May 6, isn't the end for the Fringe Division team. "I was thinking about how hard it would be not to have another season," says Noble, who plays Walter Bishop, a brilliant yet slightly mad scientist. "I was thinking, 'Imagine if there was no more?' It would be a strange, empty feeling, because we have so many stories still to tell." After all, this is a show that created an alternate universe with which our reality is at odds. Once one opens that door, Noble says, there are infinite possibilities. "The writers are endlessly inventors," he says, "and Walter is endlessly complex. There are all sorts of issues that he could deal with. He's already been through a lot. He's already been through mental illness and physical illness. He's been through loss. He's been through madness. So there are other issues he can deal with. There are all sorts of dramatic possibilities."
Where do you hope the series heads in future seasons?
"I don't have even a hint of an answer. What our writers have done is opened up all potential by saying there are different choices. The show demonstrates that, by making different choices in life, you can change the direction of your life or events around your life. Using that plot device, that's opened up something that could run forever. By opening up the fact that we have one identical universe, pure science indicates there could be thousands of them should we wish to go down that way. Where they'll go, I don't know. What I do know is that they'll remain constant to the central characters that they've created from Season 1. So somewhere within that wonderful journey, you will still have Olivia [played by Anna Torv] and Peter [Joshua Jackson] and Astrid [Jasika Nicole] and Walter and Broyles [Lance Reddick] and Nina [Blair Brown]. Those characters will still somehow meander through whatever wonderful journeys we take."
Are you happy with the story arc that Walter had this season?
"Walter had a really tough season in the sense that he was most of the season alienated from his beloved son. He found that very difficult, because he had become so attached to Peter. Obviously Astrid stepped in and helped him out a lot, but he had to battle a lot of it out by himself. So that was a tough 40-days-in-the-desert for Walter and towards the end of it you see that there is some resolution between Peter and Walter. That beautiful trust that they had until the end of Season 2, when Peter finally realized that he wasn't the son, isn't back. But there's a different type of respect and love in there now. It's a wonderful journey."
Can Walter and his "over there" nemesis, Walternate, ever come to an accord?
"Well, the very fundamental nature of science and in fact Walternate points this out during the season is that the universe will seek balance. So what we'll find through some awfully precarious events, we'll find that everything will attempt to find balance. And this man, Walter/Walternate, because they are the same man, will hopefully find a balance as one human being again. Because at this stage, neither of them is a complete human being by any means. I think it would be delightful. We won't see it happen this season, but I think it would be delightful to see a human life completed sometime along the line, where one reconciles oneself with everything about oneself. That might be just my dream, but I think it's a possibility."
How interested in science were you before taking this role?
"My deepest fascination as a young man was with science. Over the last 20 years, I've been constantly drawn to books of the scientific bent. There are so many fine ones around now that are available to the layman. They're still quite complicated, but if you take the time to read them, and I have, it's just an amazing journey of the imagination. I do read science books. Yes, I do. I'm not saying that I understand all of the intricate math and chemistry that goes on. But I do find it endlessly fascinating."
Do you see this role almost as being your reward for many years of hard work as an actor?
"I've been sort of acting forever. I did 20-odd years in theatre, where you do a lot of different things and you get the opportunity to play many different characters and different forms: mime, dance, comedy, drama and everything else. What Walter Bishop gave me was the opportunity to basically use just about every trick I've got in my book and have such a lot of fun doing it. So it is a gift, a gift that keeps on giving. They also gave me Walternate to show the other side of him. As a reward for an actor toward the end of his career, it seriously couldn't have been better."