by Edwin L. Carpenter – Associate Editor, The Dove Foundation
John Noble, the well-known actor who portrayed Lord Denethor in two “Lord of the Rings” films, spoke recently with The Dove Foundation, just days before and again shortly after the premiere of his latest movie, “One Night with the King,” a film based on the story of Queen Esther in the Bible. Noble plays Prince Admantha in the film.
“It was a pleasure to be part of an inspiring and family film,” said Noble. “It’s an epic film. It’s sort of the old Cecile B. DeMille kind of thing—beautiful, big pictures and grand vistas.” As Noble has now seen the film more than once, he is hoping audiences will too. He said, “I caught things the second time around in the plot which I did not catch the first time. I think everyone needs to see it twice to fully catch everything going on.”
Born in Southern Australia, and having directed over 80 plays, Noble’s background runs the gamut from theater to film and television. “Return of the King,” winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2003, put him on the map as far as recognition is concerned. We asked Mr. Noble, whose annunciation in his native Australian tongue is flawless, to speak of his favorite scenes in the film. “I have a very soft spot for the scenes between Hagai, the eunuch played by ‘Tiny’ (Tommy) Lister, and Esther. I think there’s absolutely some gorgeous moments there. We have this giant man, you know, who displays such sensitivity and love and protection for this young girl. I was deeply moved. And he’s a close friend of mine, so I was really proud of him. I very much enjoyed John Rhys-Davies as Mordecai. I thought it was a terrific performance all the way through. It surprised a lot of people to see James Callis’ portrayal of Haman. James is known as an extremely skilled actor but is not seen as an actor with this depth and viciousness. He’d been in ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, and he played that slight, effeminate character to a tee. In this one he is very tough and very mean and very memorable.”
Like Denethor in the ‘Rings’ movies, Nobel’s role of Prince Admantha has him playing a villain once again. Yet Mr. Noble sees differences in the two characters. “The way I approached Denethor was that we have essentially an extremely noble and capable man whose family had been left with the huge responsibility of being the stewards of Gondor because the king wasn’t there. He was a man that had married the love of his life and had two beautiful sons and the wife had died very early which I always thought had a huge effect on him. He was a man that also, in crisis, lost hope. The dark side of him was able to flourish. He was so pessimistic that he felt it best to sacrifice his life and his son’s life rather than face the prospects ahead of them, when they would, in his opinion, be over-run by the forces of darkness.”
Noble became philosophical in discussing the subject of crisis and hope. “This depression, an abject depression, can happen to people—we know this. Basically he lost faith and hope, whereas with the character of Admantha we see a man who has great power. Power is a corrupter as you know. He’s an incredibly powerful man and he lived in the time where the most powerful survived. And we had on the throne what appeared to be a weak, vacillating king, the son of the great Darius, and it was an ideal opportunity for the strong to take over. He used his power and his intellect and his skills to manipulate a situation where the king would be undone. He would be the logical replacement. However, he was undone because he enlists the help of someone that was smarter, had more to gain…he was actually outsmarted by Haman. Given the belief systems of the day, he was acting as princes acted.”
Regarding Denethor, Mr. Noble revealed the one scene that most people mention to him, which is the one in which he eats ravenously while sending his son out to battle and almost certain death. “When I read the scene on the page I remember thinking to myself, ‘They better get this right,’ meaning everybody involved. ‘This will be amazing. I mean I just had this image in my mind—such a powerful juxtaposition of this son riding off to his doom really, and the innocent Pippin singing that song and this demented man gorging himself. Of course when they put it together and put Howard Shore’s music behind it, it was everything and more than I thought it would be. It was there to be created and Peter Jackson did create it and I’m very proud to be a part of it. It’s one of the finest moments I have ever seen on film, and not just because I’m in it, seriously enough.”
We asked Mr. Noble if he was concerned about being typecast as a villain. “It’s nice to be able to work,” he said. “Some people see me as a villain and offer me that type of role and I will play it. I am sure I will play more villains in the future.”
He spoke with enthusiasm again about “One Night with the King.” “It was filmed in northern India,” he said. The landscape in the film is quite beautiful. In addition to working with veteran actors such as John Rhys-Davies and Tiny Lister and Luke Goss, he had nothing but praise for young Tiffany Dupont, who plays “Queen Esther” in the film. “She brought innocence and charm to the role,” he said. “She does a wonderful job.” Noble predicts a bright future for the young star.
One gets the impression that Noble is a humble, sincere man, who is a team player and enjoys the work of others as well as his own in a film. Noble has a great voice and when we complimented him on this, he said, “It’s a gift. We all have gifts and it is a gift I have used and I am glad I have been blessed with it.”
Mr. Noble was not only impressed with the actors in the film, but with the Biblical story itself. “The stories that last, the stories that touch generation after generation, the classic stories and this is one of them, seem to me to have a common thread, the thread being that the individual can make a difference. I read history extensively, and no oppressive regime, whatever that may be, has ever lasted. No empire has ever lasted. No dictator has ever lasted.” He went on to say that humanity eventually triumphs over everything, “and that comes through in this film because you see, this young and innocent and sweet young woman—who would have picked her to prevent genocide? She ends up in circumstances in which she has to make a very hard decision and she made the right one. And similarly, in doing so was able to affect this ineffectual king to make him into a great king.”
We asked Mr. Noble about the challenges of making the film in India, as we had heard about some illnesses during the production. “Working in a remote location presents numerous problems. It’s all so very romantic going to this mystical land but if you take something as technologically based as a film to a place like that you can come up with huge problems–the technical problems of actually getting the film processed.” There was a long wait on actually seeing their work. “We worked for a solid month without rushes because our film stock was taken to the airport and sent to the wrong cities around the world and was lost and found again. One week the camera truck caught fire and burned nearly all of our camera equipment. We had amoebic dysentery running through the company, at epidemic levels. There were people working there that really shouldn’t have been there, they were so sick. Many of them remained sick for some time afterwards. And so the tension sort of rises out of that kind of circumstance and is very difficult to cope with. But at the end of the day, all of those difficulties did give way and the company came together amazingly to complete the film.”
Noble comes across as very personable. When this writer told him that my son Daniel is a big fan of his work and of “Lord of the Rings,” he told us that his son is named Daniel too and, “Send my blessings and love to him.”
John Noble is a game character as well, appearing in the EA game “The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age.” He said he enjoyed being a game character and, “We are going to be working on a new type of game soon and I will actually be filmed as the character,” so it will have his face along with his voice in the game when Sony releases it.
Future plans include appearing in “Vodoo Lagoon,” a completed horror film, in which, “I had great fun.” He appears in “Risen,” a movie he is filming now, playing a character named Eddie Thomas. “That also is of extraordinary inspiration” he noted. “A Welsh mining boy who was a boxer and loved to box, and he had a lot of skill but then he had four of his fingers cut off his right hand when he was about sixteen, which would be the end of a boxer but he was very determined and that particular guy went on against all odds to become world champion. So that’s a pretty inspiring story too about courage and commitment.” Noble hopes that families will go see “One Night with the King,” as “it is nice to be able to attend a film with the family and this one is inspiring and nicely done.”
Editor’s Note: “Lord of the Rings” did not receive the Dove Seal due to violence. Dove has not yet reviewed “Vodoo Lagoon” or “Risen” two of Mr. Nobel’s upcoming films referenced in this interview.