‘Fringe’ star John Noble talks Brainiac, ‘Superman: Unbound’

May 07, 2013 | 8:44 a.m.

“Fringe” star John Noble left his eccentric character Walter Bishop behind at the show’s finale, but he’s returning to the mad-scientist realm for DC’s latest animated feature film, “Superman: Unbound.”

Noble lends his voice to Brainiac, a brilliant alien-machine hybrid with sinister intentions and one of the Man of Steel’s most powerful arch-villains. The film, which is being released for home video Tuesday, is based on the “Superman: Brainiac” story in the 2008 comic by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. In addition to Noble, the film features the voice talents of “White Collar” star Matt Bomer as Superman and “Castle” actresses Stana Katic and Molly Quinn as Lois Lane and Supergirl, respectively. Watch an exclusive clip from the movie in the video below.

Though he’s most recently known for his role on J.J. Abrams’ long-running sci-fi series “Fringe,” the Australian-born Noble has enjoyed a prolific career on stage and screen, including his performance in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” films as Denethor, the steward of Gondor and pyromanic father of Boromir and Faramir. Hero Complex chatted with Noble about Superman, Brainiac and his post-“Fringe” career.

HC: So we get to see you play a mad genius again!

JN: Of course, haha. It was great fun. It’s hard working in a very intense, short time frame, but I love being in the sound studio, and I loved working with Andrea Romano, who is a legendary voice director, so the whole experience was just a lot of fun.

HC: How is working in voiceover different from working in live-action?

JN: To start with,  it’s incredibly intense in voice. You walk into the studio, and you put the headphones on, and there’s no stopping. There’s no breaks. Usually if you last four hours, you’re wrung out at the end of it. It’s really intense work, and all you have really is your own focus and whatever your voice is doing for you on that given day. So the intensity of it appeals to me, and it’s very exacting. You can’t kind of make mistakes or slough over stuff. If it doesn’t come out vocally, you have to do it again, and again and again and again and again. And always directors will want to have options. So if you do a reading of it that was fantastic, do you have an alternative? You might do two or three other versions of it. And I love it.

John Noble in the recording studio for DC's animated feature film "Superman: Unbound." (Gary Miereanu)

John Noble in the recording studio for DC’s animated feature film “Superman: Unbound.” (Gary Miereanu)

HC: Were you familiar with Brainiac prior to this role?

JN: No, I wasn’t, no. As a little boy I used to love Superman comics, but I had to be brought up to date about Brainiac, which I was by Warner Bros. and by Andrea. So that was something I had to pick up to do the job. But I had certainly known Superman since I was a little boy. He’s been around 75 years. He’s the best and the greatest of the superheroes. We didn’t have television, and we lived in a country town so you know, the only access to it really was through the comic books. And the two that I used to adore were Superman and the Phantom. I loved them. I guess Batman was in there too, but Superman was the one I remember best. He’s the greatest of the superheroes, in my opinion. And we all want to fly, and we all want to have X-ray vision and all those things that have now become part of the way the we all think. Prior to Superman, no one had ever thought of those things, I imagine. It’s affected several generations of people.

HC: You’ve worked in several franchises, like “Fringe” and “The Lord of the Rings” and now DC Entertainment, that inspire extremely devoted fans. Which project has the best fans?

JN: You can’t get me to say that, haha. You know what, there’s an incredible crossover between the fans, “The Lord of the Rings” and “Fringe” and Superman. There’s an amazing crossover of people who follow all of those genres, all of those types of things, even though they’re distinct. And that is evidenced by when we go to something like Comic-Con or other festivals, people are very knowledgeable about those genres, sometimes more knowledgeable than we are. And we sort of go, “Oh my goodness!” I can remember when I was doing “Lord of the Rings,” and the people there knew the stories better than I did, and I had to study really hard to catch up with them when they’d ask questions, haha.

HC: Do you feel more pressure when you take on a character that already exists, that’s already iconic? If there’s a preconceived idea of a character and the way it should be done?

JN: No I don’t. I think that could be very limiting to think that way, and my job as a creative artist is to be creative, bring whatever I can bring to it, and so that’s in fact what we do. That’s what keeps it fresh, too. If you get locked into cliches or preconceptions, it’s very limiting, and probably you won’t do it very well.

Superman and Brainiac in a scene from "Superman: Unbound." (DC Entertainment / Warner Bros.)

Superman and Brainiac in a scene from “Superman: Unbound.” (DC Entertainment / Warner Bros.)

HC: How do you go about choosing roles? And what drew you to this one?

JN: Well the main thing about that was I wanted to work with Andrea Romano. We had agreed that we’d work together, and it was a perfect choice. I’d be coming in with Superman and playing an arch-villain in a Superman show. … It depends if I think that I can do justice to it, if there’s anything interesting. And sometimes I say no to stuff if I don’t think that. It depends on whether it clicks with me or not, you know. It’s the same as roles in films and television. You might be offered something, but you say, “I don’t think I get this. This is a two-dimensional character. I don’t think I can do anything with this.” And so you say no. And other times you see a glimpse of something magical in there and decide to do it.

HC: So what’s still on your bucket list? What kind of work would you love to do and haven’t done yet?

JN: I don’t know. One of the things I did want to do was to have a presence back in the Australian industry, so I came back and I’m doing a feature film at present, and I’m also going to do a miniseries in a couple of weeks time. So that was a goal I had, and I’m really thrilled to how quickly that’s starting to take shape. As I sometimes say to my manager, there’s a role out there waiting for me. I just haven’t read it yet. I don’t know what it is, but it will become very evident. And you know, I do have discussions with J.J. Abrams and other people about finding something, but nothing’s jumped up yet that suits me, really, or that inspires me. Particularly with television. If you’re going to commit to television, you really need to have something that interests you, particularly if it gets picked up, and you’re going to spend four or five years doing this character you didn’t enjoy, that would be horrible, I think.

HC: So what do you have going on now?

JN: We’re very excited. My daughter [Jess Noble] wrote a short film called “Friend,” and we just put it out on the “Fringe” website. It’s a beautiful little film in which I acted. So we’re all excited about that at present. It was fantastic to work with her, and also my wife has a cameo in it, so it was really a family affair. And it was also filmed by my “Fringe” crew, even though we were filming the finale, all of these people volunteered to come and film this over a couple of days with us. It was just such a joy, such close friends and great people. They really know what they’re doing, too. (Watch “Friend” below.)

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark

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