Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Interview: John Noble of "Return of the King"

Australian actor John Noble has been a bit surprised by the mixed reaction to his latest film, "One Night with the King," a retelling of the story of Esther from the Bible.

"I suppose it's natural, so many people in America have so much investment in Christianity and so much investment in the Bible, they're not all going to agree with each other," he said. "That's been an interesting observation for an Australian sitting here in Los Angeles observing it for the first time."

In the film, Noble plays Prince Admatha, a powerful prince in the court of a weak king who plots to put himself on the throne, but is ultimately undone by Haman, an Amelekite who twists Admatha's trust and uses it for his own advancement.

It's a dark role, something Noble is familiar with. He's probably best known for his performance as Denethor, the mad steward of Gondor and father of Faramir and Boromir in "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."

"These sorts of powerful characters are always very interesting to play because they're complex," Noble said. "By our standards, they come out of the dark side more than the light. Like a lot of politicians, I'm afraid, they may have good intentions, but at the end of the day they manipulate what they will to get what they want."

Though some actors might shy away from taking on villainous roles, Noble thinks it offers a freedom to explore places that he would never dream of going in real life.

"The reality is that everyone's got a dark side and most of us live in denial of it," he said. "I know some people are quite scared of it and don't want to go there, but I've always felt it was in interesting challenge and a personal exploration as much as anything else."

In "One Night with the King," Noble also finds himself working beside bona fide film legends like Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole. He relishes the chance to work with some of the best in the business, but once on the set, admiration has to be put aside, he said.

"I had the same thing to a degree when I did some scenes with Sir Ian McKellen," he said. "I knew and admired his work for a long time, and to actually get on stage with him was terrific. But you can't say 'oh, my goodness me, I'm working with a legend here.' You take the opportunity of riding with the best of them."

Noble certainly knows about being among the best with his role in the phenomenon that was "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Even though he's aware that no matter what he does, he'll be remembered for the role of Denethor, he had no second thoughts about jumping at the chance.

"All of the people involved in 'The Lord of the Rings' were very fortunate people," he said. "In a lifetime, you may get one or two defining roles as a character actor. That was certainly a defining role in arguably the greatest film of all time. It's a bit surreal actually to have been involved in that in some ways."

Though he knew the potential of the films going in, he said there was no way to be prepared for what the movies turned into.

"I knew how good it was," Noble said. "I knew by the standard of everything that was happening how good it was. I knew that there were many, many people around the world that were Tolkien fans. I was conscious, because I wasn't involved in the first film at all, but I saw the reaction around the world and the incredible amount of chatter on the Internet. It became a worldwide phenomenon before it opened. In terms of what it finished up being, 11 Academy Awards and all those things, I don't think you can predict that to be honest. I think it's beyond dreaming."

Noble also has a lot of excitement about his next project, "Risen," which tells the story of boxer Howard Winstone.

"He was a young boy from the Welsh mining valleys who had four of his fingers cut off when he was 16, but went on to box and become world champion," he said. "It's a pretty inspiring story."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Review: "Greywalker" by Kat Richardson

Seattle private investigator Harper Blaine is having a rough time in Kat Richardson's debut "Greywalker" ($14, Roc).

She was finishing what she expected to be a routine case by confronting the perpetrator of a petty fraud. Things go awry when the suspect goes crazy and beats her to death. For two minutes, Harper is officially dead before being revived by paramedics, and then things get weird. Her experience has given her the strange abilities of a greywalker, someone who is able to see ghosts and even cross over into their world.

Shortly after being released from the hospital, she's back on the job working two cases. One, finding the son of a rich socialite who has disappeared from college. The other, finding a parlor organ for a mysterious client. Both prove to be much more than Harper could have ever planned for.

I've become quite the fan of these supernatural detective stories over the past few years. The best ones get the action started early and keep it fun. That's perhaps the only problem with Richardson's debut. A lot of time is spent trying to explain Harper's abilities and showing her learning to use them, and in the early going it gets bogged down a little in the technicalities. Most folks who are going to pick up this book will be willing to accept her abilities and learn as they go along instead of having them explained.

About halfway through the book, when Harper finds her missing person, business picks up and from there the book moves at a much faster clip and heads in a direction that fans will be much more familiar with.

Richardson's story is well done and enjoyable, though I have to admit that I had a bit more trouble identifying with Harper than similar characters in other authors' work. I do like the fact that Richardson's heroine doesn't have to jump in bed with every supernatural character that walks through the door, as often happens in these tales.

"Greywalker" is an intriguing debut, and I'll be very interested to see what Richardson does with the next installment now that the groundwork is done.