By Eloise Minchom
photographer: Alison Dyer
Imagine coming back from your first vacation in years, heading to your hometown to visit family, and getting a call from a stranger who’s going to ask you annoying questions for an hour. That was the situation as I spoke to Noel Fisher, who was in Vancouver after a week in tropical paradise. Luckily for me, Noel is a lovely guy with an easy laugh, who doesn’t mind working in the US after starting out in his native Canada.
“it’s been a while since I’ve worked in Canada,” he says, “but how to go about making good stuff in the States and how to go about making good stuff in Canada doesn’t really tend to differ as far as my experience. … The size makes the difference, I guess, because Canada has, you know, the entire population of Canada I think is about the same population as just California. … In Vancouver you might go up against, you know, maybe 10 or 15 other people and in Los Angeles you’re going up against 100. And probably going up against a bunch of people in New York as well!”
But luck is with us, for Noel went up against the hundred and made the cut. He’s managed to work with Eddie Izzard AND Kevin Costner within four years — and your acting education can’t get much better teachers. When I put that theory to him, Noel agreed with gusto. “That’s the really cool thing about working with people who’ve been doing it for– as well and for as long as those guys have. Costner has been on both sides of the camera so he has this really kind of amazing amount of knowledge of how it all works. And specifically the technical side of it, which is something I don’t know much about. [Costner]’ll know based on what lens and how far away it is, he’ll already know in his head what that frame is gonna look like. … And then Izzard is just a really amazing guy. He’s one of those guys that just kind of creates such a positive atmosphere on set. … Getting to kind of be around someone who just knows how to steer a ship that well and make everybody– help everybody be the best they can be, that was something that was very inspiring to get to be around.”
If you’ve been watching television at all lately, you’ve probably noticed the sheer amount of great TV shows that have made their way to a gleeful consumer audience. You wouldn’t be the only one. “I really feel like this is kind of the Golden Age of TV right now,” says Noel Fisher, whom you’ve likely seen playing Mickey Milkovich, a confused, all-around bully who struggles with his own homosexuality on the series Shameless.
“They told me off the top that the character was closeted and that there was going to be some sexuality involved in the part and all that,” Noel says, “so I knew going in that that was what it was going to be. And it’s based on the British Shameless so I looked into that. … I didn’t know that [the writers] were going to give as much to that relationship as they have.”
Closeted gay relationship or not, Noel didn’t have a moment’s hesitation in grabbing the role: “I’ve been really lucky in terms of the kinds of parts that I’ve played and I’ve never really been type-cast as anything so it didn’t really pop into my head as a genuine concern, because especially the way the character is written… his sexuality; it’s central but it’s also not. He’s not A Gay Person, he’s a person who happens to be gay. There’s kind of, I think, a big difference there and the writers don’t approach any of the characters on the show as something that you can put in a box and just say ‘this is what this is’. They’re all very contradicting and unique and totally like real people.”
“The sexuality, as much as it is central to his character,” he continues, “it never really concerned me because it’s about that struggling, a person’s struggle and what they’re going through as a person more-so than anything else… is the thing that’s interesting to me. And I think it’s interesting to other people.”
In this Golden Age of TV, there is a hopeful trend of increasing diversity among main roles — particularly among characters who are gay without being The Gay Character. It’s certainly no where near an ideal representation, and it does mean that many of the homosexual roles are being played by straight actors. Following Dallas Buyers Club, there was some absolutely justified critique from the transexual community about the lack of understanding of what it is to be transexual.
Noel concedes the point. “I don’t know what the specific experience of being closeted is,” he says. “One of the things I think is really important to being an actor is looking at the similarities of everyone. Because I might not know what it is to be closeted but everyone experiences that feeling of feeling you need to keep something about yourself secret. … I feel at least I approach Mickey as someone who thinks he struggles with living a lie and not being able to be his honest self. And that’s something at a very basic root level that most people– that everyone– can identify with. So if I approach it from that position; that’s what I’ve tried to do in order to give justice to something that, you know, being closeted which I imagine is just an absurdly difficult, horrible position to be in.”
He faced a very similar decision when he took the part of Cotton Top, the mentally challenged, illegitimate nephew of Kevin Costner’s character in Hatfields & McCoys: Take the part, or leave the audition altogether.
“I think it’s hard to say that only people who have this exact, specific experience can or should play those specific parts. I think that’s kind of a difficult position to take for a number of reasons. … I think that it’s really important for people who actually have that experience [of being mental challenged] to be able to audition for it and things like that. I think that’s a responsibility that the industry needs to uphold, at least in terms of giving people those opportunities.”
Mental illnesses and ableism are a sore topic on a good day, but tiptoeing around the potential audience could lead to a poor performance. “I don’t really approach things in terms of not wanting to offend anyone,” Noel says after a moment of thought, “I think that– for me at least– it’s important to choose material that is already coming from a place of respect and understanding and wanting to honestly portray someone who’s experiencing [that illness]. … I just really wanna make sure that I’m bringing the most that I can, and bringing the largest amount of honesty that I can.”
Despite his obvious affection for the characters he’s played and the shows they’re a part of, Noel isn’t the sort of actor to get so wrapped up that he can’t leave the role on set. “I don’t think the characters that I’ve played have stuck around that much ‘cause most of the characters I’ve played are really, really different from me. … I’d probably get myself in a lot of trouble if I wasn’t able to leave, say, Mickey Milkovitch on the Shameless set. I would just my–” he laughs, “I’d just get beat up a lot, probably, that’s all.”
He’ll have much less offense to worry about when it comes to his next big role — who could blame a 90s kid for jumping at the chance to take on the ultimate role of awesome: Michelangelo of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “I was just over the moon when I got it.” he laughs again, “’I’m gonna get to go to New York and learn how to like whip nun chucks around, are you kidding me?!’”
Whereas in Hatfields & McCoys the crew shipped the filming to Romania to get that deserted Wild West look, and built a proper Wild West town, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be mostly CGI and motion capture. “That’s the really interesting thing about working on a movie like that, y’know– there’s a lot of it that’s not there. Fortunately the sewer stuff for a large part of it– the lair and things like that– they actually recreated this very cool, massive home for these Turtles and that was really cool to get to see.”
In some cases CGI can fall into over use and detract from the final product, but with a movie like TMNT, it can only “be a really positive thing in terms of using motion capture to do this movie,” Noel gushes, “The film crew that they had is called 87-11 and I mean these guys are unreal, the stuff that they can do. … It’s not gonna look like a strictly animated thing, it’s gonna look like people, it’s gonna have the same quality of movement– it’s gonna be– it’s gonna be people moving. ‘Cause that’s what it is. They actually are gonna be doing all these crazy fight sequences and all this really cool stuff. … I can’t wait for people to get to see some of that stuff, I think it’s gonna be a really, really cool move forward from rubber suits.”
But even once TMNT breaks out, Noel won’t be abandoning the small screen as was the trend in the past. With the Golden Age of TV, and maybe a change of stage acting in the future, there’s enough to do. “I try and make decisions based exclusively off of the material,” Noel laughs, “and there’s a lot of really good television out there! What I would really like to do… is kinda just hopping around between both. Really cool feature work and running off to do some more really cool TV stuff.”