Interview: John Noble On Finding The Diviner’s Truth And Hope For Redemption In ‘Star Trek: Prodigy’

Veteran Australian actor John Noble taking on the role of the main adversary was a big get for Star Trek: Prodigy. Known for his roles in Lord of the Rings and Fringe, Noble gave The Diviner an extra level of gravitas. Through 18 episodes, we have seen The Diviner evolve as his story, which has driven the main plot arc of the series, has been revealed. TrekMovie had a chance to speak with John Noble about taking on this role and how he sees the character, as well as some of the pivotal moments from the latest episodes.

Before you took on the role and started working, did the producers lay out The Diviner’s arc for you, or was it just script by script?

I don’t think it’s script by script with a character like The Diviner, he’s too central and memorable. They did outline what the journey would be. Dan [Hageman] and Kevin [Hageman] and the writers did lay it out as much as they could, but it was all coming at me new. But they did request me through the executive producer, and that’s sort of a pretty big compliment to have Alex Kurtzman asking for you. So I was pretty honored by that. And for each recording session—even though they may be some time apart—they’ll tell me what’s going on, particularly within that episode, which is what I have to deal with at the time, and any background that they feel is relevant, they will divulge to me in our recording sessions. And we have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, I have to tell you. It’s pretty serious work and I feel like they are my brothers and I’ve never met them before, and also Brooke the technician that works with them. Great people. They are all wonderful and so patient.

What is your take on the character, and has it changed? Are there any real or fictional inspirations you draw on?

I do. As people get older and more experienced, shall we say, they do firm up their attitudes a lot sometimes and appear to be quite intractable. I think he has reached that point where we meet him. But his intention is as pure as the driven snow, and that’s the thing that I put into it. He is so tough because he wants to regain what was lost. And he’s desperately, desperately trying to do it and he’s desperately trying to identify his daughter because she’ll be the one to do it. There’s a desperation there and a love for his daughter, which comes out powerfully. I can understand that. I’ve got two daughters. Of course, you would do anything for them. You would cross broken glass for them. So, he has a journey which is sort of set up with the younger version of him. And so, in a sense, I can understand what’s driving him, that true passion. Imagine someone came and took your country away, how would you feel? The passion to get it back if you were a bright young leader, like he was. That’s why he devoted his life from the simple life he enjoyed so much.

You mention a “love,” but he always uses the term “progeny.” And he did kind of choose the ship over Gwyn at one point, but you see that he does genuinely love her, or is it more complicated because she is also part of his mission?

Well, no, it’s a combination. Both of them. He certainly loves her with a father’s love. He was distracted and went off on the mission as fathers often have to do. But his love for her is absolutely genuine and his belief in her is absolutely genuine. And when he can finally let go of what’s been driving him and he sees his daughter then we hear the love from them. But there is no doubt in my mind that he loves her a lot and he also respects her a lot for the task that he’s given her to do is massive, she’s very smart. She’s a chip off the old block, and he knows that. [laughs]

In this latest episode, “Mindwalk,” we see him save Janeway, which kind of goes against his mission. Are we seeing a nuance that he isn’t so single-minded?

Perfectly put, sir. That’s the joy of the character because you start to see that nuance inside: ‘But hang on, I thought he was more…’ So you can see he’s more fleshed out than you thought. And he’s more human than you thought. I think it’s a beautiful development. I’m aware of it and thank you for noticing it. It’s something we’ve worked on and will continue to work on. I like story arcs that have a redemption element in them. I really do, but whether it be a story arc or a character if there’s some redemption in there for most of them, so that’s a goal towards pursuing. And I think The Diviner’s redemption is necessary, frankly.

The Diviner frees Janeway in “Mindwalk”

In the previous episode, “Ghost in the Machine,” you got to play a different version of the character as a bartender, with a bit of an old movie speaking style. Can you talk about getting into that version?

Yeah. It’s a vocal thing to change the tenor, the pitch of the voice to bring it up, and then to give it a certain enthusiasm that an old man wouldn’t have. And that’s what I did and I gave him the truth that he knew. And that was the enthusiasm and the disappointment and other things that he has as young man, as opposed to the old man who has been through it all. I have done that sort of duplication stuff before. I love doing it because you really have to unknit or unravel things like reverse engineering, unravel it and take it back and see what’s left. And we visit with this one too. And I like that it worked really bloody well. I love to play the barista.

You are known for very serious and even heavy roles. Given that this is a Nickelodeon show, do you find yourself trying to tone it down for a younger audience to maybe try not to be too scary, or just play it straight?

I play whatever the character demands from me. I play his truth. With kids, no I don’t tone it down. Kids are far brighter than we give them credit for sometimes. I mean, really. And their technical knowledge and their IT knowledge is well beyond my generation. I watch young kids playing games, the hand moves and the coordination, and it’s just extraordinary. These are young kids, seven or eight, and they can do it. And they’re like sponges, young people. They don’t need to be spoken down to. I never ever spoke down to my kids or to any of my students. You don’t speak down to people. It’s so humiliating. And they pick it up. They like you to talk like human beings, the best I can do. Like real human beings.

Before taking on this role, how much did you know of Star Trek and did you do any special research to prepare?

Star Trek is part of the vernacular. It’s part of how we speak and how we think. Because even when I was a little boy, before we had television, once it came on we could see this show, and the characters’ names became schoolyard debates. And so we kind of knew them and we tuned in to watch an episode. So it became part of our lives, and that’s going back to the ‘60s. And it’s done that for generation after generation after generation through the movies and through television shows. There’s something about it, isn’t there, that just sticks. People want what it offers. I think it offers hope. And I think this show has heroism and friendship and important things like loyalty. We identify with that. I do anyway. Love it.

Brett Gray as Dal, Ella Purnell as Gwyn, and John Noble as The Diviner in episode 12

New episodes of Prodigy debut on Thursdays exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., and on Fridays in Latin America and select countries in Europe. The series is also carried on SkyShowtime in the rest of Europe with the second half of season one expected to arrive in 2023.

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This man is a legend. Star Trek’s lucky to have him.

True. I wish we could get him in live action too tho

the dude DID work with Nimoy on Fringe.
folks sometmes forget.

I was really thinking Mr. Nimoy would get a name drop when he was asked if he had prior knowledge of Trek

I love John Noble.

Noble’s Denethor from LOTR is a master class.
* On acting – yes.
* On playing a person with PTSD amped up 100X by hopelessness and a growing shadow of Mordor he knows he is absolutely un-equipped to deal with – yes.
* On being the worst type of parent – yes.

The way he delivered this statement sent and still sends shivers through me:
“Do not trouble me with Faramir. I know his uses. And they are few.”

John delivers that statement like a sledgehammer of immutable and eternal judgement against the character of a son who loves his father in spite of his father’s faults. The irony in the weight and finality that John gives that line is that it turns out that he does not know Faramir at all… and that Faramir is like a CIA agent learning all sorts of stuff to aid Gondor.

John Noble is an under appreciated talent. And let me not forget – the man can do humor as well.

So good for Star Trek to have him. Put some pointed ears on him and he would rock your world as a Vulcan.

Thats Walter Bishop!

That was such a good show (with both Kurtzman and Goldsman involved).

Started out as X-Files but quickly became its own thing. I loved it too.

John Noble is a great actor. I loved him as Walter Bishop on Fringe. A wonderful sci-fi show.

One thing that wasn’t mentioned in this interview by either side is that now we are seeing The Diviner refer to Gwyn not as “my progeny” but “my daughter”.