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Hey, You Know Who's F**king Great? Noah Taylor

By Petr Navovy | Film | August 1, 2017 |

By Petr Navovy | Film | August 1, 2017 |

And so it was, late in the holy year of 1969, that a low key blessing to the world of cinema came unto the Earth.

For just as that long, fabled decade was beginning to slip into the past, a mewling babe was born to a woman and a man.

But lo, the strangest sight greeted those who were gathered to witness the birth, for the babe, as opposed to all expectation and tradition, did not actually mewl.

Nay, for the babe instead scowled with sinister charisma and sent the attending doctor packing with a loaded look that seemed to say, ‘You fucking what, mate?’

Somehow it already had a menacing scar across its face too.

All of that would be weird if the baby’s first name wasn’t Noah and his last wasn’t Taylor.


Noah George Taylor was born in September 1969 in London to Australian journalist parents. Those parents soon returned with Noah back to Oz, to the suburbs of Melbourne, and they would divorce when Noah was fourteen. He would leave home—and school—two years later. Following a friend’s suggestion Taylor made a foray into theatre to try and make some productive use of his time, and before long his talent brought him to the attention of Aussie director John Duigan, who cast him in his autobiographical film, The Year My Voice Broke (1987, also starring an actor of quite similar, slim, angular features—one Mr. Ben Mendelsohn).

A marriage drifts apart; a boy strikes out on his own; and an empathetic friend has a wise idea. It’s funny how things come together in this world.

John Duigan originally intended to follow up The Year My Voice Broke with two more movies, but the planned trilogy only yielded one sequel—1991’s Flirting, also starring Taylor as a fictionalised version of the director. Though still young, flashes of what would give Taylor such deceptively magnetic screen presence were already visible in this early work.

Because it’s a funny thing, Noah Taylor’s screen magnetism. It doesn’t rely on an overbearing physicality, or cartoonishly good, Hollywood looks. It comes from somewhere deeper, somewhere between the edges of things. It’s here again that his contemporary Ben Mendelsohn proves a good name to invoke, for the two share many similar traits: A chameleonic ability to disappear into a role; a livewire, unpredictable energy that belies their relatively slender frames; and—often deployed to devastating, well-timed effect—vast reserves of surprising pathos and empathy buried just underneath the surface.

Noah Taylor can be a strange, disturbing, somewhat otherworldy presence. In the little-seen but excellent Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook sci-fi, Predestination (2014), he appears now and then, folded into the fabric of the plot. It’s a movie of unsettling moods and contrasts, and Noah Taylor—as he always does—bolsters it exactly as the story demands (including a pencil-thin mustache deployed to devastating effect). It’s similar in Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, and, way back in 1996, in Scott Hicks’ Shine—the role that first really brought Taylor significant attention. There can be something almost ethereal about the actor, and he knows exactly how to use it, though he is almost definitely not bound by it. One glance at his neurotic, explosive yet vulnerable, and very much of-this-Earth tour manager in Almost Famous is enough proof of that.

The full scale of Noah Taylor’s gift for the menacing and calculating was in full view on two seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Playing Locke, a fiercely effective hunter sworn to House Bolton and a character specifically created for the show (though sculpted from the initial form of another character, Vargo Hoat), Taylor was equal parts lethal, commanding, and ingratiating. He eventually died at the hands of a Bran-controlled Hodor, in a desperate move by the young Stark to try and escape the clutches of this fantastically dangerous and terrifying man. I don’t know if the role was written specifically with Noah Taylor in mind, but the end result certainly looks that way. It’s a gift that the actor has, similar to someone like Julianne Moore, to inhabit a role fully, from inside out, and to understand exactly the kind of performance needed; and to somehow make us forget we’re seeing the actor, even while being glad that we are seeing them.

And that’s not even mentioning his turns in Peaky Blinders, Preacher, Free Fire, The Proposition, or The Double.

Noah Taylor.

What a fucking dude.


Petr Knava lives in London and plays music