NEW YORK — Dr. Walter Bishop follows in a long line of mad scientists. An unbalanced genius such as Bishop going at it in his lab is a pop-culture staple. Or even, some would say, a clich .
But in the able hands of John Noble, who stars on Fox’s sci-fi thriller “Fringe,” Bishop comes to life. He is both comical and tragic, nutty as a fruitcake yet totally relatable. This is a living, breathing portrayal.
Bishop is a scientist of Einsteinian proportions who for decades was deemed insane and, until “Fringe” started last fall, institutionalized.
Then his long-estranged son, Peter (played by Joshua Jackson), reluctantly agreed to provide the supervision Dad required to re-enter society.
Rounding out the show’s odd threesome is FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). She needed Bishop and his filial caretaker to help her track down perpetrators of “fringe science” (way-out stuff such as mind control, teleportation, astral projection and genetic engineering) who threaten national security and, possibly, the human race.
This calls for Bishop to display his scientific know-how — while wrestling with his demons — in a self-styled jumble of a lab complete with his pet cow, all lodged in a basement at Harvard University.
For Bishop’s character to work, you have to buy into everything he says, no matter how unhinged; feel for the guy, no matter how inappropriate his behavior; care about him, even when he acts ridiculous.
Noble makes it work.
“I understand Walter,” Noble explains. “I can understand his childish enthusiasm quite well. I understand his loneliness, and his attempts to re-establish contact with his son. There’s not any phase where I don’t kind of understand where Walter is coming from.”
The Australian-born, 61-year-old Noble is a theater veteran who for a decade was artistic director of the Stage Company of South Australia, which, during his tenure, produced 70 new plays by fellow Aussies. His extensive film work includes two of the “Lord of the Rings” fantasies, playing Denethor.
Now, he calls his “Fringe” role “a huge gift. It enables me to use a range of skills developed over so many years, and grow a character over a long period of time.”
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