2012 may just be the year of Noel Fisher. The versatile young actor was last seen as on-the-D.L. Mickey Mirkovich on Showtime’s Shameless (and will be returning for a third season soon), and he has the rest of the Twilight saga hitting theaters this summer. But in between, he has taken the role of Cotton Top in the History Channel mini-series, Hatfields & McCoys, a character that has Fisher virtually unrecognizable and, according to him, completely outside himself as a person.
“Something that I really enjoy doing is creating and being a part of very different characters and very different projects. It’s an opportunity to stretch one’s self, and I hope I always get to do [it]. I do really like how this is so different from Mickey in Shameless, and I really enjoyed getting into the headspace of someone who sees the world so vastly different from myself. That has happened very rarely for me in my career,” Fisher acknowledged to LA TV Insider Examiner over the phone earlier this month.
The Canadian-born actor admitted he didn’t know a whole lot about the history of the real life Hatfield and McCoy families. He imagined that those of us growing up in America had them more ingrained as a part of our education and colloquialisms. However, for Fisher, that was part of the fun of the role: researching and really slipping into someone else’s skin. Once he began reading up on the tragedy of the families, and the tragedy that befell young Cotton Top, a kid who was taken under the Hatfield family’s wing only to be their sacrificial lamb, he knew he had found gold in such an “epic” tale.
“The whole goal for me with my career is just follow good projects and good parts and challenge myself as much as I can,” Fisher continued, noting that is exactly what he got to do with Cotton Top.
“The moment where they find the body at the logging site– you know, one of the workers has been murdered– everyone else is surrounding this body on the wagon, and they’re all worried about it. Cotton Top comes up with one of the Wanted posters, and he’s just so happy about it,” Fisher pointed out the moment when he first realize just how much he wanted to play this role.
“I was reading the script, and the dialogue he has, he’s so close to the whole situation, but he’s blissfully unaware of the ramifications of what this means for the greater scheme of things. He’s just happy that he thinks he did something helpful; he did good. I think that sums up his entire character. He’s sort of on this train to hell, but he doesn’t have any sense of grasping that, but he wants to be around these people that he thinks care about him and be a good person. That was the moment that I really realized this was going to be really intense.”
Part of the intensity certainly came from the length of the shoot. A six-hour mini-series, set in the 1800s, is no easy feat, regardless of the caliber of talent by whom an actor is surrounded. Though Fisher was “only” on set for about four months, he admitted that there was an added challenge in just keeping Cotton Top’s arc straight in his mind. The mini-series spans a wide enough expanse of time, that emotionally, there was a lot for Fisher to go through and experience.
“I would be at work on a Tuesday shooting something from the last episode, and then right after lunch on the very same day, I could be shooting something from the first episode. So I needed to make sure I was very much on top of where in the arc my character was because…[Cotton Top] has a very harsh arc!” He admitted.
“Unfortunately and fortunately I think the character of Cotton Top, what makes him so endearing and tragic is just what makes him so light naturally. I think he is very much one of those people who comes from the world of a lot of love…My approach to Cotton Top was kind of something along the lines of a child. He’s quite child-like, and I can imagine he, like most children do, you go outside and watch a bug move around the sidewalk– or back then, the grass– for a long time. He’s curious. There’s not a mean bone in his body. He just gets caught up in this really horrific situation.”
Since Fisher was so inspired by the Hatfields & McCoys story, he hopes that the audience will be, too– in part to go out and dive even deeper into great historical tales, but also to dive deeper into themselves. The themes within Hatfields & McCoys are still ones dealt with today, though on a different scale, and Fisher feels there is a great lesson to be learned about life in general.
He explained: “Hatfields & McCoys is a very profound statement in what happens when you’re unable to let go of hatred and hurt and unable to have any kind of goodness in your life. That’s a pretty universal lesson and experience; I mean, who hasn’t been hurt or upset or something along those lines? This is just a very clear example of how dangerous that can get if you don’t try to let that go.”
Hatfields & McCoys begins airing on Memorial Day 2012 at 9pm, only on the History Channel.
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