SFX Issue 124

December 2004

Interview:

John Noble

Denethor, The Lord Of The Rings

He doesn’t like it when SFX interviewers – such as Jayne Nelson – kick him and enjoys squishing tomatoes in his teeth

“You’re going red!” taunts John Noble, giggling. He’s just discovered that I have a rather unprofessional crush on some of his fellow actors and, cheeky scamp that he is, he won’t let it lie. “David Wenham! Sean Bean! Karl Urban!” he chants, trying to put me off my questions. “Nah, it’s alright. Hormones exist in professional people, too. Carry on. Keep talking.”

But the minute I open my mouth, he’s off again: “Sean Bean! David Wenham! Karl Urban…!”

We’re sitting in the green room of the Fellowship Festival, a Lord Of The Rings convention being held at Alexandra Palace in London. The Festival attendees are a happy bunch, many of them decked out in furry feet and pointed ears, and Noble is enjoying himself. “People have said to me on occasions, ‘Don’t you think all of this fandom stuff is crazy?’” he observes, getting comfy on the sofa. “But it’s actually a really healthy way to spend your time! All you’re doing is using your imagination, which is the healthiest thing you could ever do. It’s also really nice for us actors to go somewhere and people care to talk to us – it’s flattering.”

The irrepressibly cheerful Australian actor is probably best known outside of his native country for playing the completely hatstand Denethor, Steward Of Gondor – the grumpy bastard who tried to barbecue his own son in the final movie. It must have been a stretch for Noble to play the mad old git, seeing as he’s obviously such a happy sort in real life…

“I always play the baddies,” he counters, with a wolfish smile. “It was a technical role to play, but if I’d had the choice of any role in The Return Of The King , it would’ve been that one. But it was weird for me because we made these things back in 2000, but my character didn’t really appear until 2003. So I was, like, this spectator for a few years, just watching it, and people would say, ‘I thought you were in that film? What were you, third Orc from the left?’”

Denethor did get an introduction in the Extended Edition of The Two Towers ; he was shown bullying Boromir and Faramir in a scene that wasn’t released in cinemas, despite the fact that it was bloody brilliant. “That was filmed 15 months after principal photography,” Noble explains. “They shot it in a day, which is pretty quick. I’d never met Sean Bean before, and when you work with a really good actor, it’s fantastic: ‘Woah! Let’s go for this thing!’ And so we went for it! In my opinion, it should have gone in the film, and many people were very upset that it didn’t. But it was necessary to leave it out. Ow!”

Oops. I just crossed my legs and accidentally kicked him in the shin. “There’s no need to kick me!” he wails. “Put that in the article: ‘Then I kicked him.’ You’re too busy thinking about Sean Bean, you terrible woman!”

Although he’s already famous in Oz (mostly for playing a doctor on a medical show who’s a “crusty bastard”, as he puts it), the actor has found that his horizons have been broadening since filming Rings . “I’ve always worked, but it’s opened up new doors. I’ve just done a film in Prague that wouldn’t have happened had I not done Lord Of The Rings . It’s a terrific calling card; to walk through the door, and they know who you are and what you can do. Makes it a lot easier.”

Not that his countrymen are particularly impressed by his fame; the down-to-earth Aussie temperament won’t tolerate anyone with airs and graces. “Australia doesn’t have any sort of star system at all,” Noble chuckles. “You never get treated any differently, whether you’re Mel Gibson or Joe Bloggs. I remember going through a supermarket checkout once and the girl said, ‘I saw you in that film.’” He gives a dramatic pause, pretending to chew gum disdainfully. “‘Yeah, you were good.’ That was it! It was so cute!”

Does he mind that people will associate him with Denethor for years to come? In common with most of the actors from the movies, he’s hugely flattered. “To be part of something that’s become so legendary is… I can’t describe it,” he muses. “I don’t think a lot of us will actually get a hold of this for another five or six years, when people are still revisiting it. And my suspicion is that’ll still be the case in 20 or 30 years. I think that, when I die, I want Howard Shore to be played at my funeral. Can you make a note of that, please? At my funeral, when I’m 80, they can get Annie Lennox to sing ‘Into The West’.”

I point out that it might be more appropriate to have Billy Boyd singing at his funeral, seeing as he sang to Denethor in The Return Of The King . “Billy will be old then, too,” mutters Noble, wistfully. Actually – as we’re discussing that scene – an important question has to be asked… does he always eat tomatoes like that?

“I love ’em. Squish ’em out between me teeth whenever I get a chance,” he says seriously, then roars with laughter. “‘Can you sing, Master Pippin?’ How did that song go again?”

Um… er… It’s been a while since I heard it, but I do know it…

“That’s a very poor excuse,” berates the actor. “Sean Bean. David Wenham. Karl Urban…”

Oh dear. Just how is a girl supposed to get any work done?