John Noble vs. Evil: Former Fringe Star Talks Sleepy Hollow’s Sin Eater!

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For millions of people, John Noble will always be serendipitous mad scientist Walter Bishop from Fox’s long-running scifi series, Fringe. Tonight, though, he joins one of the season’s top new hits, Sleepy Hollow (Mondays, 8pm), in the recurring role of Henry Parrish – a sin eater who plays a crucial role in the lives of Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills.

On Thursday of last week, Noble spoke with a group of journalists/bloggers about this intriguing new role – and explained what a sin eater is in the context of the show. He also talked about how he approached the role and teased his part in tonight’s episode.

Hey, John, how are you doing?

John Noble: Marisa, how are you?

I’m doing great

John: Good

Well obviously you have a long history with Alex and Bob.

John: Yeah.

So how did they approach you about coming onto Sleepy Hollow?

John: Alex ringed me and, no, that’s not true. I got a think a call through my management first and then Alex contacted me and we took it from there. He ringed me in Australia, I was in Australia.

Yes, so what can you tease about your character?

John: Oh, what can I tease? Marisa, you are teasing me.

It is interesting isn’t it that the episode is called The Sin Eater and it introduces this character of Henry Parrish, he’s a reluctance sort of a savior, but he has this ability, in a sense, to remove evil from a person; and hence the name, The Sin Eater.

I’ll tease you with that much, that even though he doesn’t want to, he’s called into action basically to save Ichabod’s life and he does. So that is our first introduction and we establish a relationship that you can see that there is some sort of chemistry between him and Ichabod and the other principals. So that is the tease. What else do you want to know, Marisa?

So, when we talked to Tom Mison yesterday, he had a lot of great things to say about working with you. Can you just kind of talk to that, about your experience with him?

John: Well, thank you, Tom, for saying that. With him, look, the whole experience with the company was good. Well, Tom in particular, he’s a beautiful man, he’s also a fantastic actor and so we had a lot in common. We also found that we had common ground and that we both have a theatre background and so we were able to talk across a whole series of issues of topics in that way. But really, it was the connection we had on set that was special and when it happens it’s terrific and that’s probably what he’s referring to, I suspect.

SLEEPY HOLLOW: John Noble (L) guest-stars in "The Sin Eater" episode of SLEEPY HOLLOW airing Monday, Nov. 4  (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2013 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Brownie Harris/FOX

Okay great. Is there something you can maybe tease about that was like your favorite part or moment or something without giving too much away?

John: You know it’s funny, the kind of favorite moments, believe it or not, are the first time that the character is exposed. No one has any idea who this character is, and in this situation it’s a knock on the door. And I haven’t seen the footage, but I imagine that it’s just going to be one eye looking out through the door. And that kind of really creepy good moment; who is this new person, and then, of course, we open the door and meet Henry.

I only had two scenes, I think, in the episode, but they were two very big scenes and both of them were beautifully written so I enjoyed it. But really, the first instruction was my favorite moment I think.

In your own words, tell me, what do you find that’s so unique about Henry Parrish.

John: What’s happened, and I thank Alex and Roberto for this, he’s another one of these really complex, multilayered characters. When I did Walter Bishop, the great joy of him was the layers that he had and it gave me so much room to play with the psychological levels of the character and Henry offers me the same. And from what I’ve been told by the writers that’s what we’ll see as time goes by. That makes going to work a joy for me to play with these complex characters, so that’s the main thing.

Oh, okay, and will Parrish be in quite a few of the upcoming episodes?

John: Yeah, well I’m going to do three more this season. So I’ve done one and I’m going to do three more, so that’s three out of four actually of those that are left; and then probably be back next year for quite a lot.

I’m wondering, you mentioned your new character has lots of layers, a bit like Walter Bishop. How different is Henry from Walter, because Walter is a very, very eccentric. Is Henry also quite an eccentric character do you think?

John: Yeah, absolutely, but not in the same way. He doesn’t have that, as I know so far, that extreme range that Walter had, the sort of mentally damaged character that he was. He doesn’t, from what I know I don’t see that type of range. What I do see is the depth and the secrets and the psychological twists that I find very appealing about this character. He’s a mystery man and we will reveal these mysteries. And I think as time goes by, those revelations will be quite a shock to the other characters and to the audience. That’s great fun to play that sort of thing, but he’s not a crazy like Walter was.

Do you enjoy guest spots on shows like Sleepy Hollow and The Good Wife after being on Fringe for five seasons?

John: The – yeah. I’m just actually in the process of shooting a guest on Good Wife this week. Yeah, well, yeah because I already know a lot of the people anyway. Do you know what I mean? So it’s great to come in and to work with good actors. This time I am working with Julianna Marguilies and Josh Charles. I know them; they are great actors, so that is a joy in itself.

It can be difficult doing guests. The one with Sleepy Hollow is more than a guest. It’s not like a one-off where you come and your job there is to serve as a plot device, which is what a lot of guest actors have to do; there is a growth in this one. But sometimes guest acting can be very difficult I think, and in the past I’ve found it’s tricky, but not at present. I’ve done a few in Australia this year and they have been great.

And then I understand that you guys, Sleepy Hollow shoots in North Carolina; is that right?

John: Yeah.

So what has that been like shooting down there for the show?

John: Well, I’ve only shot one episode so far. It’s a beautiful little town called Wilmington; gorgeous beaches and lovely old, pretty old historical part of the world so, so far my first impressions that it’s a terrific place. But as I’ve said I’ve only shot the one episode there.

I just had a question because you are going from a great fan base that was with Fringe and now going to probably this year’s most popular fan show Sleepy Hollow. What has that experience of going from one really big fan show to now joining as a recurring guest on another one?

John: It’s like getting lightning in the bottle twice, if you can understand the analogy. I know that there is a cross-over between these two shows. To start with, the creators, Roberto and Alex, are the common link. I know from just talking to fans over seven years, going back to Lord of the Rings through those years at Fringe, that there is a huge cross-over within these science-fiction fantasy areas. So I feel very comfortable in that area, very fortunate in a sense to have that stable base out there of people that I know enjoying and find it fascinating if it’s good.

And kind of a follow-up from that is how, coming from the themed special, what do you find special about Sleepy Hollow?

John: What’s so special about it did you say?

Yes.

John: Oh well, what’s amazing to me about it is that it feels like the perfect combination of all the favorite genres; it’s fantasy, it’s science-fiction, it’s horror, and it’s historical, and it’s also almost a procedural in the sense. So it’s like the writers have linked them all together incredibly cleverly and the look of the show is fantastic. So they’ve managed to do something with alchemy and make it all work, but it seems to be working really wonderfully at this stage.

Given that you mentioned you are going to be on for several more episodes this season and then you are hoping to be back next season as well, do you know how much your storyline will be interacting with characters aside from the few that you’ve been interacting with? Are you going to be with Orlando Jones, for instance, or anyone else we have yet to see?

John: This I don’t know, Marisa, yet. I only know the scripts I’ve read. Look, as time goes by it’s highly like that there will be some cross-over, but up to this point, the main work is with Nicole and Tom.

So you talked about getting the call to do this show, but was there something specific in the script or what were your first thoughts when you read about this character?

John: About the character or the show?

Both, how is that?

John: I knew the evolution of the show because I had remembered talking to Alex and Roberto last year. They came up with a 100th episode party for Fringe and we were talking about, and they said they have this new show, and actually said to me, would you come on and do a guest role in the pilot? We just talked. Anyway, nothing happened. So as a result, I had an interest in the show and the fact that they were doing it that was the main, sort of, the start of it.

The premise, probably one of my favorite reading topics is history, early American History would be at the top of that list, so when you start to deal with, this is about the Revolutionary War, you know. I mean I find the whole period absolutely fascinating and have read widely on it, and so that would be enough to make me watch it anyway or to be interested in it. But when you link it in with this extraordinary legend that was written in, what 1826 or something, when Irving wrote the book, I can’t remember exactly, this American legend that is so rich and potent, it’s almost like a perfect combination.

Great. I know you said you would watch it anyway. What kind of things do you watch when you have time?

John: I watch an awful lot of documentaries and science shows. I tend very strongly towards documentaries. The shows, and when you’ve got time, is absolutely the, I watch the Good Wife; I have to say, I’m not saying that because I’m on it at present. We’re watching, I’m just trying to think what we’re watching, Penny, what are we watching at present on tele? Yeah and what is the only one we watch, I’ve got to find out from my wife.

You caught me offhand; I catch a lot of these if I have to. I used to enjoy Fringe. No, there is another one, I just can’t think of it. Homeland, we watch.

My son describes your character as a savior. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?

John: Yeah, well very much in the episode that goes to air on Monday night, what’s happened in the episode is that Tom’s character has been kidnapped and his life, he’s about to lose his life, basically, and they realize there is only one way that they can possibly save him. And so Nicole’s character goes out to find this old dude, that’s me, and she somehow works out that he’s got special powers and he’s incredibly reluctant to speak to her and to help her find Tom. But he does and then ultimately, and we don’t know why he does this, but he actually turns up at the place and goes through a ceremony or procedure – and hence the term “sin eater” – to remove the evil from Tom’s character at great cost to himself. So he basically saves the life of Ichabod Crane in that episode, and hence, the term savior.

I know Headless is coming back in that episode, the Headless Horseman. Do you interact with him at all, and can you discuss your character’s relationship with both him and Ichabod?

John: Well, I’m not going to say too much about it, except that as time goes by we will see a relationship develop between Henry and Ichabod, which kind of feels like a father/son relationship. So let me just leave that, but there will certainly be a relationship between Henry and Ichabod. As for the Headless Horseman, I’m not sure yet, I’ve not really discussed that with the writers. But who knows, probably.

What about Henry and Abbie?

John: Well yes, because I think already there is a relationship with Abbie. She’s obviously asked for his help and she’s got it. And so I am looking forward to a kind of a growth there, perhaps not exactly the same way as he does with Ichabod; but a respect, a usefulness, a third member or fourth member of the team. And I love working with Nicole, so I expect something cheeky and wonderful and a bit fatherly will come out of that one as well.

I just want to know very quickly and ask if there has been any, you’ve been in a lot of genre shows. I’m just wondering if there’s a specific franchise that you would be coming involved with.

John: Okay. You’ve been reading the rumors about Stars Wars, have you?

I have not, I just thought I’d ask a different question, just to shake things up a bit.

John: No, the big franchise is going to open up is Star Wars, we know that. I mean that would be a dream if you got that. I don’t know, I’ll just say the one at this stage; it’s not that I would certainly consider other things but, Star Wars is the one that appeals to me most.

If you would know any of the other versions of the film going into it, because they did nominate it in the 70’s, I believe, and I have the Johnny Depp one, I’m just wondering if you’ve seen those?

John: I remember seeing the Johnny Depp one quite a few years ago. I didn’t see the animated one. I loved the way the whole thing, the Johnny Depp film was photographed. That’s my main memory of it – of how well it was photographed. I know that they sort of took a lot of liberties with the book and that was totally acceptable, but I remember enjoying it a lot. But seven years since I saw it. What was that, ‘99 or something, wasn’t it?

I think so yeah. It’s actually one of my favorite films. I kind of like it this week, this time of year, Halloween.

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You touched on it a little bit, but can you talk more about working with Nicole Beharie and how that experience was?

John: Absolutely, she’s such a pro, she’s so prepared. You know? You’ve heard that term used, I’m sure. when people are so prepared when they come to work. So it is very easy to engage very quickly and at a quite deep level with actors that prepare like that. She’s gifted, that goes without saying, I think. But I enjoyed very much, and I am really looking forward to doing more work her as well. I just got a sense that we’ll probably develop something quite special. I don’t know, that’s just a guess at this stage, but my sense was that we can develop some quite interesting chemistry and that was based on what I have already done with her. I have great respect.

Great, and can you tease us with anything else about your Good Wife appearance?

John: Well, it’s, I didn’t appear until earlier, it was kind of a flashback take about a really nutty Australian bloke. But in the episode, it was a flashback, but he was shot in the back of the head in that episode. When I was doing it, they were saying, oh we’ve got to have you come back. I said I can’t because you’ve just killed me. They brought him back more in for more interplay with Alicia, so it’s a lot of fun. I love working with these guys, they are such good people. And the crew of the Good Wife, so many of them were the crew in our first year of Fringe in New York, so it’s like being back with family.

Oh that’s awesome, because I really enjoyed your first appearance and was crushed that they did kill you off.

John: Thanks for that.

I wanted to ask you, when you guys were through filming, did you used to hang out together afterwards and talk shop?

John: Are you talking about Fringe? Which show?

No, on Sleepy Hollow, when you were there?

John: Oh. Well I’ve only done one episode so far, so no, I mean we, you sort of sit around and get a bit of talking done in between shots. But I didn’t think I was living anywhere near those people, I was just in some accommodations somewhere and ah, so I didn’t see them often. But I’m sure that as time goes by, because I’m now going back for a slab of them, I’m sure we’ll get to know each other much better and I’m looking forward to that too.

You hear stories about actors finding their characters and they will say something like, “Once I had the walk, I knew who he was” or “The moment I put the hat on, I knew who he was”. How did you find Henry?

Johnù; Kind of the best place to go for these characters is to the script very often. Seriously, I read it, I don’t know how I absorb things, to be honest with you, but I do and I just absorb them. I don’t over-read it and I don’t really ever spend much time learning them. But, apparently, they just sit around in my ahead, according to my wife. Then there is hope, you know, you go and see what the costume is and so forth and you discuss possible costume looks and hair and make-up looks. I don’t know, some things are obvious, some things you wouldn’t dream of doing. So I don’t have a, you know if I don’t get the walk right, I know what you are talking about, and I do hear some actors say that but that’s not the way it is for me. It’s not one single thing that does it, it’s more the internal chemistry and then that sort of comes out into whatever he looks like and however he walks and sounds and the voice he uses.

There are things like, I do always do some research on to how he speaks and so I certainly spoke to the writers at length as to what accent he may have. That tells you a great deal about things sometimes, you know, and so we decided on that. But no, it’s quite an organic process actually.

I’ve never had an actor give me that kind of a description and it really makes sense to me.

John: Thank you.

Is there one thing about Henry that you like a lot more than other aspects? And is there – you’ve done characters that are kind of broken in an odd way and you make them sympathetic. Is there something like that about Henry, I mean aside from the fact that he is a sin eater?

John: Yeah, there is. You know, it’s a funny thing, when you play any character, you know how we are sympathetic towards ourselves? No matter what we do or what we say, there is a certain amount about ourselves that we love or else we wouldn’t get up in the morning and keep breathing. So for me it’s when I take a character on board, I like them. John Noble doesn’t always agree with them, but the character understands what he’s doing and he believes that he’s doing the best thing by making the best choices.

I think if someone is honest like then it’s easier to sympathize with them or empathize with them, it’s very human. There are certain aspects of that, that I can see looming very large in this Henry character.

Great, thanks so much.

John: My pleasure.

Photos by Brownie Harris/Courtesy of Fox