Fox’s cult-favorite drama Fringe ends its five-season saga next week with a two-hour finale, and star John Noble is coy about Walter Bishop’s role in bringing the story to its conclusion.
“We know there’s something radical that has to happen in order to beat the Observers,” Noble said during a recent call with reporters. “I think by now we’ve built up to the fact that possibly, maybe Walter has to do something pretty outstanding to make this happen. More importantly, I think what you’ll find is the way his relationship with Peter plays out in the next two episodes, and particularly the finale, is really quite remarkable. That’s something we had to do because we spent so much time, and I know the fans loved the relationship between Peter and Walter so much. We certainly paid homage to that and brought it home, I believe, pretty strongly.
“I would have liked to have had an episode with each of the characters,” he continued. “I do have some beautiful moments with Jasika [Nicole] and Anna [Torv] as well. It’s good story-writing in the sense that they’ve built this big arc and they’re going to pay it out. I’m not going to tell you exactly what happens, obviously, but we do get the payout.”
Noble has played Walter since 2008, during which time he’s had the opportunity to portray many different versions of the character in flashbacks, flash-forwards and alternate realities.
“I don’t know how much of myself is in Walter,” Noble admitted, laughing. “Probably a bit. There’s got to be a bit, doesn’t there? I don’t think I have any food fetishes or anything of that nature, but I love having played Walter. I suppose any actor brings an aspect of their own personality to their work, so I had a fairly broad canvas to paint on. With all the different versions, I guess there’s a lot of me in there somewhere.”
While the actor said playing the original Walter was “pure fun” and he loved being Walternate, it was Walter at the beginning of Season 4 who was the toughest to portray.
“The most difficult Walter was the one I had to play when there was no Peter in the world,” he said. “That was really tricky to play that same character but without the relationship of his son redeeming him. He wasn’t a well fellow. I played him with a lot of OCD, and he really wasn’t a very pleasant man. I found that man the most difficult to play.”
He recalled that, after reading for Walter nearly six years ago, he told his family, “This is the role for me.” However, he confessed that the five-year commitment to Fringe was unlike anything he had experienced professionally in the past.
“Doing something of this nature was new to me,” he said. “To build a show that seems to have captured so much, captured the imagination of the world so much, was a bit otherworldly, to be honest. I would go anywhere in the world and people would stop me in the street and talk to me about Fringe and how much they adored it and ask questions about it. The international reach of Fringe, I think, still catches me by surprise a bit at times. Also, I was given the gift of a character that is every actor’s dream. Combine those two factors and it’s been an incredibly memorable five years.”
Noble said he feels that, where Walter is concerned, the series has reached its logical conclusion. Not only that, but the veteran actor said the last episode of Fringe is the best finale he’s ever read.
“To be able to pull [the finale] together the way Joel Wyman did is quite remarkable to me,” he said. “I honestly think the fans will be — well, they’ll be disappointed, no question, because the series is finishing, but I think they’ll be very thrilled and honored by the way Joel has made that happen. … I think what he’s done with Walter is absolutely perfect. If you had asked me in season one where I thought Walter should finish up, it would have been exactly what he does. That’s the remarkable thing. When I say it’s a great finale, that’s the reason why. I think it’s the perfect arc for Walter, and I’m truly grateful to the writers for giving me that.”
According to Noble, even the actors were unaware how Fringe would wrap, noting they didn’t know until “quite late in the piece” how Wyman would end the series.
“I think we were all apprehensive to see what would happen in the finale,” he said. “I can honestly say it was everything I hoped it could possibly be when I read it. He had done a masterly job of writing it — tied up our character lives, tied up the great story arcs — I couldn’t imagine a better job, to be honest with you. I was really elated when I read the final episodes.”
Although Noble’s long-running role as Walter is finished, he still has other projects on the burner. The actor hosts the Science Channel’s Dark Matters: Twisted But True, which focuses on fringe science and bizarre real-life experiments. He said his interest in science began before he was cast as Walter Bishop.
“Over the last 25 years, since a lot of science writing became accessible to laymen, I’ve become quite a consumer of science,” he said. “As a child, I wasn’t streamed into science as I went into the humanities. I regret that now. I regret that situation exists, because to be honest, I find it’s really sexy. At the time I was a school kid, it certainly wasn’t. Probably, the last 25 years with science becoming a lot more accessible, I’ve become a pretty avid reader and devourer of it. I think it’s one of the objectives I have working with the Science Channel is to get more people talking about it because it’s such fun. That’s something I discuss with Science Channel people quite often.”
Noble also voices Brainiac in the upcoming DC Universe Animated film Superman: Unbound.
“Doing animation is great fun,” he said. “It’s like a different world; it’s all in the imagination. There’s not even pictures up there to look at. You go and you just create this voice, this character, and later on maybe you have a look at the pictures associated with it. For me, it’s a totally different process than doing a film or stage play or something, but I love it. It’s incredibly intense work, but I love doing voice-over work. At the end of the day, it’s a surprise to see a huge monster with your voice attached to it, but the two feel to me technically in different ball parks.”
Looking back over his time as Walter, Noble praised the strength of the character and the show, which he felt stemmed from the exploration of relationships — especially between Walter and Peter.
“It was wonderful to be able to play a character who had so many colors, who was able to play comedy, play incredibly vulnerable — which he did a lot of the time — to play the love story, to play the relationship with his son, which is quite unusual,” he said. “I think it’s one of the strengths of Fringe, the relationship between a man and his son, that makes it unusually special. As a gift to me as an actor, it was everything you could possibly hope for. Not only that, but to play it out over five years. I was a very lucky actor.”
Much like the characters they play, the actors also have developed a special bond over the past five years, something Noble particularly highlighted.
“I guess because I’m the older fellow there, I kind of think of all of them as my kids in a way,” he said. “I have a very special love for all of those actors and I’ll miss them. Over the five years, we were given the chance to develop some pretty close bonds both with our characters and personally, and we did. I don’t really know how to explain it in any other way than that. It’s something that we earned with five years. It probably wouldn’t have been there with two years, but with five years it is there — probably a lifelong bond, I’d imagine.”
As for next week’s finale, Noble has high hopes that despite viewers’ disappointment over the end of Fringe, it will be a memorable television experience.
“I hope that history will judge it as one of the great finales of all time,” he said. “I really believe they will.”
The Fringe series finale airs Friday, Jan. 18 on Fox.