A few weeks ago, Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) guest starred on an episode of Fringe. He played Walter’s (John Noble) musical hero. He and Noble both spoke with the press, not only about that episode and character, but the show and their careers in general.
Set in Boston, the FBI’s Fringe Division was introduced when Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) enlisted institutionalized “fringe” scientist Walter Bishop (Noble) and his globe-trotting, jack-of-all-trades son, Peter (Joshua Jackson), to help in the investigation of an airline disaster that defied human logic.
After the defining case was solved and revealed to be one of a series of unusual incidents linked together, the unlikely trio, supervised by Special Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) and assisted by Junior Agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) was formed.
Check out the great questions and answers from the interview!
John, on whether or not he was excited about having Christopher on as his musical hero
John Noble: Absolutely. I mean he’s one of my heroes anyways, so when they said that Christopher Lloyd was coming on it was like a dream come true, and of course to have him play the musician from Violet Sedan Chair, which was this creation of ours, made it even more interesting.
We had an amazing time together these two old guys reminiscing and getting the music back up again. It was the best fun.
Jump with us to see the rest of the interview.
Christopher, on whether or not he’s actually a piano player
Christopher Lloyd: Oh, I am not a piano player. I had the obligatory piano lessons growing up but I have not really touched a piano since then. But they adapted a piano so that I could pound on the keys without making any noise and sort of go with what they had written at that point for me to play and pretend I was playing it.
I grew up in a household where everybody was playing the piano all the time, so I had fortunately kind of a feeling of the kind of body movement that went along with it. So hopefully that helped me through.
Christopher, on what he drew from as reference to get inside the mind of Roscoe
Christopher Lloyd: Well I feel he’s a man who is sort of retired from life. He’d had some big losses in his life and his life as a rock star has faded, and he’s lonely and wants to be in a place around other people at this home, and then surprising things develop that sort of force him to sort of come out of himself and depends with a new reality.
I just try to go with what— the script really gave so much information and clues that hopefully I was able to follow him and make it happen.
Christopher, on what it was like joining a cast that already has such a great chemistry already
Christopher Lloyd: I loved it. I love working with John Noble. I mean not to say that because he’s on the air here, but it was just such a pleasure. And the cast, the director, everybody was very supportive and I really felt I was being included in a very special ensemble and it was a thrill to experience that.
John Noble: And speaking from our point of view, we were all just pretty excited about having Christopher Lloyd join us, and he was just amazing and had some huge scenes and just hit it every time. We were so impressed and thrilled that he joined us.
On how hard it is to create a chemistry with a guest star with such a short time to prepare
John Noble: The answer is no. The pace at which we work is that it’s terribly difficult to get … Someone with Chris’s depth of experience and ability probably makes it look easy but I’m sure it’s not. But to walk into an established ensemble and there is no rehearsal and we rarely meet each other until we actually go onto the set of the show. So it’s pretty tough going. What do you think, Chris?
Christopher Lloyd: Well I just want to comment to something that made me think earlier that the two characters that we play are so vastly from different worlds, utterly from different worlds, and yet I really, really something I so much enjoyed while we were working together are these two kind of aging souls and their complicated worlds individually but there seems to be a common ground. There was something kind of a bond developing between these two characters in spite of their differences.
I don’t know, when I come into a show where I haven’t met any of the actors or whatever, I just try to really generally let’s get to what’s expected of the character I’m going to play, and hopefully keep my focus on that and friendships and developments things develop from that. If everybody’s happy, if everybody’s taking in the work that their expected to give, I just try to keep my focus on what is expected of this character and try to fulfill that.
Christopher, on whether or not he has thought about getting back on TV more regularly instead of being a guest star
Christopher Lloyd: If the right part came along with a great team of writers and a cast and director with a character that I loved doing … as we speak, I would jump on it, but it doesn’t come up often.
Taxi just like so many series that are really successful, they’re one out of a hundreds that get through all the trial and error, grind and find a niche, and so if one comes along I’m certainly not going to turn it down.
Christopher, on how this cast and crew was different, was better than some of the other ones he’s worked with
Christopher Lloyd: I don’t know it’s tough to evaluate. I mean every group is different in one way or another. Most of my work was with John Noble and I just felt so secure, confident, and comfortable working with him. It really helped me get into the role of this man’s … lost and given up on life in a way and the entire cast is very supportive, the director very much so, and of course a wonderful script to work with, so with those all in place, it’s sort of a little bit of heaven. It’s what we all wish for when we come to work the first day.
On the secret to bringing such outlandish characters or outlandish scenarios and making them seem real
Christopher Lloyd: I don’t know. I feel like I’ve witnessed a lot of people in my own life who were pretty much on the edge at one time or another and I just try really hard to find the reality of a character. How he perceives things. The way he feels about things and try to put that all together and create a person, a character and it’s something I do kind of whatever the role is. It’s just a matter of the way I work and I know a lot of other people that work the same way. So no matter how outlandish or far out the character is there is somewhere a line of reality, which I try to connect with and hope for the best.
John Noble: I think I’m just looking to the perfect answer and absolutely what Chris has said. You find the truth in the character and it doesn’t matter where and I love Chris’s comment of having contacted many people during his life who are on the fringe or very sustained and that’s the observation you make. That’s exactly the right answer.
On how dealing with alternate time and universes makes the acting experience more rich for an actor
John Noble: We’re not playing the ordinary universe; it’s the real universe, so I don’t think of it as the ordinary. I think the great opportunity that’s existed for me and the other actors in our show is that it’s allowed us to play … in slightly different versions of ourselves in that and that’s a huge opportunity. And it’s been amazing for our set design people to be able to create a world just like ours but slightly different, and socially slightly different, and we go back and we play within those roles. So from an actor’s point of view it’s been a really wonderful opportunity for us.
Christopher Lloyd: Yes, I mean my character, I feel, had been living kind of a very introverted sort of distant life from anything. He’s kind of pulled out, retreated from society, and the things that happen in this parallel universe he has a lot of trouble grasping exactly what’s going on because they are quiet extreme and affect him very personally. It’s just really a challenge and also a lot of fun to kind of play that bewilderment with the situations that came up for him, and try to make him believable, credible, and real for himself and hopefully for the audience.
John, on the Observers
John Noble: Well I think the Observers have been that one thing since the beginning of Fringe that have sort of kept us way up there. Who are these strange bold people that appear everywhere? And so to have Michael Cerveris as the principal Observer back in the 26th episode, I think, was fantastic and he got to do some really fine things. I had wonderful looking myself but trying to find out what the role of these Observers are. I mean do they stand outside of the universe? Do they stand outside both universes? Are they observers or should they be hands on?
And I think what we’ve discovered is that if they do become hands-on at any stage then they wreck the natural order of things, and then they try to correct it. And one of the founding premises of Fringe is that because of the interference of an Observer, we did rupture the two universes. We ruptured it because one of them interfered in an issue. So it’s really interesting to have them back in again trying to repair the damage, trying to put things right. And at the end of the episode, the Observer has the last scene and he says something incredible telling, which I’ll leave for you to observe, but it just shows the way … hidden how much the danger and drama there is ahead.
John, on whether or not the “real” universe on Fringe might be yet another alternate universe
John Noble: Absolutely, yes, my friend. Absolutely. You know, it’s interesting that when I’m playing in the other universe and playing the character of Walter in the other universe, obviously this universe is the alternate universe. We have the other universe. So I imagine from which ever hill you stand on the opposition’s on the other one, and yes I’ve thought about that quite a lot, and if there were more universes, and there could be, they would all be alternate to the one you’re standing in.
Our creative people are— must be an amazing place to be in their minds because they come up with the most extraordinary ideas. If we have, from our point of view as actors, if we have an idea, they’re always receptive to it and will listen and sometimes if it’s appropriate they will build it in. There’s a big creative team of writers working and continually coming up with ideas that we wouldn’t even dream of to be honest.
John, on whether or not we’ll see more alternate universe and Walternet, maybe see him fall apart
John Noble: You won’t see him falling apart. What you will learn is more of what made Walternet what he is, and you’ll see some humanization of the man that behind that steel exterior there are decisions that he makes that are very, very difficult, and we’ve done some terrific scenes which don’t soften him but help to understand that he is in fact a man not a machine.
I hope and I don’t know, but I would hope that there is a resolution between Walter and Walternet because obviously playing them both I don’t see either of them as bad men. Obviously men that are misguided but regardless some reconciliation. I don’t know if that’ll happen but that would be my ideal.
We can’t resist the alternate universe and having created it we have to go back there because of this huge conflict. We all go back. The character of Walternet will be developed, I think, at this stage he’s seen as sort of a nasty cold man. We’ll give you a little bit more background on why he’s like he is over the course of this season, and we spend a few episodes back in the universe and wonderful episodes back in the alternate universe. So I think you’ve got that to look forward to as the season goes through.
John, on how he thinks his character has grown & developed, and what continues to make him both exciting and challenging
John Noble: A bunch of things happen this season. Walter came from a very big fog when we first knew him and slowly he’s put the pieces back together and rebuilt his life, and that’s all history, and then he went through the terrible second season of realization that Peter had to know, had to find out, so we did that. So we start the third season with this rift between the two men, and we haven’t been able to get that back so that causes a great deal of sort of loneliness and frustration in both of the men but what’s also happened is that Walter’s become conscious.
The major problems he faces, he thinks he is incapable of solving because he’s been ill, because he’s had part of his brain removed, so it’s this incredible struggle. He keeps saying, “I’m not smart enough to do this anymore,” and Nina keeps encouraging him to do it. And through the course of this season you’ll see him finally accept his limitations but also he accepts his strengths, which are more than enough to deal with situations here. It’s a beautiful journey really of acceptance for Walter, and he goes through all the emotional stages to get there, but a gorgeous journey of accepting where he is and then moving forward.