Actors are at times defined by the relationships that they portray on screen. It sometimes does not matter who the other person in the relationship is, all that matters is the relationship itself & the actor portraying that relationship. That relationship tends to define the actor & bring about the best in him/her. One of the best examples of the above happens to be John Noble.
John Noble in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King as Denethor, Steward of Gondor was my first introduction to him & he was everything that one expected out of Denethor. Haughty, proud, stern (or to borrow liberally from GRRM, Unbent, Unbowed & Unbroken). John Noble’s weathered beaten craggy face conveys emotion perfectly. He plays a man grieving the loss of his first born, his heir & contemptuous of his second born for not measuring up to the standards expected of a heir, while at the same time, he absolutely resents the presence of Gandalf meddling in what he sees is Gondor’s concern. Denethor’s feelings for Faramir (his second born) comes pouring out when Faramir lies close to death. That is when Denethor gives up, starts acting irrationally & goes as far as to consign both himself & Faramir to flames.
Acting irrationally for his son is the theme that continues in John Noble’s roles & this was further reflected in Fringe, a science fiction tv series, where John Noble plays the proverbial mad scientist helping the FBI solve unexplained ala X-Files level cases. John Noble as Walter Bishop plays a nuanced character that is in equal parts brilliant, mad, guilty, eccentric, tormented, driven, focused, haunted and afraid. In order to save his son, Walter Bishop crosses a line (literally & figuratively) & in the process, puts the world in peril. His countenance is of a man weighed down by the guilt of his not just his actions but also of the belief that if he would have to do it all over again, he would do it the same way. The resulting guilt drives him to seek refuge in drugs (LSD in particular) & ultimately, seeks refuge in temporary madness. One look at Walter Bishop & we realize, here is a character that has experienced loss, & suffers from extraordinary guilt. He craves forgiveness & is willing to do anything to redeem himself for crossing the line but also knows that he is probably beyond redemption. Regret is another aspect that drives Walter Bishop. Regret for activities committed in the past. Activities that included experiments (of all weird kinds) on children. He understands now the mistakes he had committed & the lives that he has affected (in some cases, ruined)
The later seasons of Fringe requires John Noble to play an entirely different character. A wronged, vengeful, ambitious, powerful man who would do anything to get back at those he believes, are his enemies. His acting chops are never as evident here as we try to banish the character we had seen before & try to accept this new persona. Everything is perfect. If the previously weathered lined face represented a beaten man, the new weathered lines of his face represent a toughened man. The voice is deeper, the slouch, the hesitancy & the diffidence are gone & we have a tough sounding leader in place now. Again, this iteration of John Noble is again driven by the love for his son. It’s nothing short of a powerhouse performance from John Noble.
It is a norm that actors often get typecast. But based on his performances in LOTR & Fringe, it probably is not a bad thing for John Noble to be typecast again as a dad who would perform the most desperate of acts for his son (Not a bad idea to have John Noble do a movie like Taken. I said it first here. Patented & Copyrighted)
PS: Given his performance in Fringe, it is indeed criminal that John Noble does not have even an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor, let alone winning it. It kinds of ties into my theory that Academy awards judges & Prime time Emmy judges are snobs & cannot acknowledge science fiction, fantasy & super heroes as mainstream (Though it was indeed a relief that Peter Dinklage broke through last year)