Actor Noah Wyle

Nominated for five Emmys for his turn on the long-running series, ER, Wyle reflects on his success in TNT’s Falling Skies.

Noah Wyle is no doubt best known for his performance on the long-running drama series, ER, for which he received five Emmy and three Golden Globe nominations. He's since done a variety of projects, including working with TNT on The Librarian series of movies and the sci-fi series, Falling Skies. His feature film credits include Donnie Darko, Swing Kids and A Few Good Men. Wyle is devoted to the theater, serving as creative producer of the award-winning Blank Theatre Company, which stages young playwrights' festivals, and involved in numerous issue-oriented initiatives, including working with Doctors of the World, Human Rights Watch and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: For many of us, Noah Wyle will perhaps always be, at least in part, Dr. John Carter, the role he played in the long-running NBC series, “ER,” over 11 seasons where he earned five Emmy nominations for that role.

He’s now in another successful series, “Falling Skies,” on TNT about a band of Americans battling an alien invasion. “Falling Skies” is about to start its fourth season. Let’s take a look at a clip from the premier episode.

[Clip]

Tavis: So you had a birthday recently. The years keep rolling along. I mean…

Noah Wyle: They do indeed.

Tavis: You’re still a young guy, but this is pretty physical stuff you do in this series.

Wyle: It’s all a pathetic attempt to look heroic to my 11-year-old son [laugh], which is getting harder and harder to do. Yeah, I just turned 43.

Tavis: Do you feel it when you’re on the set doing all of that running and jumping and…

Wyle: You know ’cause you’re a workaholic too. That is my workout. That’s my exercise. I exercise at work, so that’s one of the things I like best about the job. But you get tired at the end of the day, very tired at the end of the season.

Tavis: Speaking of seasons, four years now of this, all those other seasons I mentioned on “ER,” you are one – I don’t want to say lucky. My grandmother who passed away years ago, we called her Big Mama, she started to slap me whenever I’d say good luck.

Her thing was, being a spiritual person that she was, in her broken English, she’d say, “It ain’t no good luck. It’s a good God.” It ain’t no good luck, Tavis. It’s a good God. So she’d never let me say good luck. But you have been rather fortunate…

Wyle: I’ve had a good God.

Tavis: Yeah, you’ve had a good God. Okay, you accept that. But, man, people in this town die – would do anything to get one series and you’re like on two successful series now.

Wyle: Yeah, I have been incredibly fortunate, no doubt about it. And it’s ironic ’cause the one thing I really never wanted to do was television [laugh]. When I met my first agent, I remember she asked me, “What do you want to do in this business?”

I said, well, theater and film exclusively. I can’t imagine ever signing a five-year contract or anything. I need the variety. I need…you know. So the irony that that’s pretty much how I’ve made my bread and butter for the last 25 years is pretty thick.

But it’s been a great life, you know. The one thing about television is the intimacy that you have with an audience, you know. You’re in their living room. It’s a very different type of fame or celebrity than movies.

And as a result, you get a fan base that’s incredibly loyal. So when you go on to another project, they follow you and I’ve been really fortunate to have them follow me through several different incarnations of myself and my career.

Tavis: I think that one of the ways that one makes peace with doing television when that’s not what he wanted to do initially is, as you said, you got a loyal fan base that’s built up over years. Obviously, the paycheck doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to make peace with that decision.

But from an artistic standpoint, how does one make peace with being relegated into a space where you’re doing great work, but it’s not what you had hoped or thought your career would be?

Wyle: Great question. Two ways. One is I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with really wonderful, creative people up till now. So I haven’t really felt that I’ve had to make too many creative concessions in the choices I’ve made.

“ER” was an all-star team of the best writers in television. And I remember being asked in season eight or season nine, you know, why do you stick with the show as long as you do?

I remember thinking, well, if I’m looking for better writing, I’m not going to find it. If I’m looking for a richer, more complex character, it isn’t out there. If I want to work with better actors, better – you know, this is it. This is a ball. This is, you know, as good as it gets.

And the other thing is, television has built into it challenges that you don’t find in film. Film, in a lot of ways, is much easier because you’re telling one story over a finite period of time where you know all the variables going into it. There’s no mystery and you can almost preplan your performance and preplan everything you want to do.

Television is this sort of ongoing narrative that you never really know what’s coming around the corner, and you have to keep your own continuity. You have to keep it fresh for yourself.

You have to keep the character evolving and maturing in a way that may not be even reflective in the writing. So I’ve always felt that creatively I’ve been more challenged having a career in television than I may have had elsewhere.

Tavis: I take that. The two series, “ER” and “Falling Skies,” obviously are dramatically different. What is it about this one creatively that you enjoy and what do you think it’s resonating with the audience that’s pushing you four seasons and beyond?

Wyle: I remember the last time I was here, I think the show was pretty new or I just talked about it. I remember talking about the things, about the characters that were attractive to me. This show was really an opportunity to try to challenge myself by doing the things I didn’t feel like I had done yet.

I had, coming of “ER,” a reputation of being sort of, you know, not a character actor, but a guy who plays intellectual parts very well, a guy you’d go to to play a young lawyer, a young doctor. And I was really interested to see if I could carry a machine gun and run around and look like I knew what I was doing.

Tavis: Macho, huh [laugh]?

Wyle: A little bit [laugh]. It had a built-in sort of ease to it and I was playing a history professor who was learning how to be an action hero, as I was learning how to be an action hero. But I liked that challenge. I also liked the challenge of being the big head on the poster and to front the ensemble and see if I could be a leader onset.

And I became a producer too this time around, which meant that I had more of a stake of ownership in what I was working on and a little bit more creative say at the table, which also felt really good.

Tavis: I suspect when you have been that successful as you have been every day you show up to work, ostensibly you’re there to give all that you have. You’re not trying to mail it in. But when you do in fact become a producer, does that in any way impact or affect your contribution to the project?

Wyle: In a way…

Tavis: You’re invested in a different way when you’re a producer.

Wyle: Well, it legitimizes me being a hall monitor [laugh]. I was always the guy, you know, ten minutes early, prepared, looking at my watch wondering where the hell everybody else was and why everybody was wasting my time learning their lines.

As a producer, I have the right to say, hey, man, you’re late [laugh] and you don’t know your lines. That’s unacceptable.

Tavis: I like that.

Wyle: Yeah. It also flushes out your education about the business as a whole. You start to see the product as something other than just the way you fit into it and through your own lens.

You know, actors – everybody has a tendency to look at their work through the lens with which they operate in the body of it. But film and television production, it’s got so many moving parts to it.

And the older that I get, the more interested I am in the process and, as a result, this gives me an opportunity to have an education in preproduction and post-production which are usually outside the purview of an actor. And that’s been really gratifying.

Tavis: Let me put you on the spot here…

Wyle: Go for it.

Tavis: And ask if there are one or two abiding lessons that you know you are going to take away from your exposure, from your friendship, your partnership with this artistic genius, Steven Spielberg.

Wyle: Hmm…

Tavis: I mean, how do you work with a guy like that and not learn something, I suspect? What do you think your takeaway is going to be from this relationship?

Wyle: You know, it’s funny. I was thinking about him this morning. To be perfectly candid, I was thinking about him this morning. I was thinking this show may run another year, another two years. And I was envisioning in my head the letter I would write to him thanking him for this experience and what I would say.

It was an interesting kind of gut check for myself because I found that a lot of it was geared towards wanting some sort of approval or pat on the back from him, you know, for a job well done. And I’ve always needed that. I’ve always needed a boss whose compliment meant something to me.

So he’s been a wonderful figure for me through – I mean, I don’t really know him. We don’t really have any kind of personal relationship, but he’s been very significant because I have such respect for him as someone to work for because it’s always kept me on my game trying to make him happy, you know. Does that answer your question?

Tavis: It does, but you…

Wyle: The takeaway is how insecure I am [laugh]…

Tavis: No, no, no, no…

Wyle: How badly I need a father figure to tell me I’m good [laugh].

Tavis: I’m glad you said that because everybody, whether they acknowledge it or not, wants to be – we want to be loved, we want to be appreciated, we want to be respected, we want to be affirmed. Every now and then, we want to be acknowledged. I don’t care what people say. We all want that. It’s part of what it means to be human…

Wyle: Yeah, true.

Tavis: To be acknowledged and to be loved and affirmed and respected, paid attention to every now and again. We all want that. I suspect that’s no different for actors. It may be heightened for actors because that’s what the business is…

Wyle: We make ourselves pretty vulnerable vocationally.

Tavis: I was about to say that. See, that’s why I love you. You’re going right where I want to go. I didn’t take that as an insecure thing at all. I think that actors – I’m not trying to kiss up to you.

I just think that actors make themselves more vulnerable in part because you guys get told no – I mean, at this point in your career, you get told yes more often than no. But the whole business is a business of rejection.

So what’s wrong with wanting to do a job and work for somebody who tells you you did a good job? I didn’t read that as insecurity.

Wyle: Good.

Tavis: I mean, I don’t know. I’m just saying.

Wyle: I didn’t either.

Tavis: Yeah, okay [laugh]. There you have it then. We’ve just established that Noah Wyle is a great actor and he is not insecure. He’s not unlike anybody else in this business.

Wyle: I will say this about Steven Spielberg. I’ve never worked with or for anybody who was as – just a masterful storyteller where a good script became great because he made notes on it. A good cut became a great episode because he made editorial notes. Just every facet of filmmaking, when he involves himself, it gets better. So he’s been a wonderful teacher.

Tavis: Are you at the point in your career now where you feel comfortable, confident, saying that about yourself? That when you touch whatever it is you touch on the set, that you make the project – you make “Falling Skies” even better?

Wyle: Yeah, yeah, I’m there, I’m there. I can definitely see that my level of contribution makes a difference, yeah.

Tavis: That’s an understatement. You’re leading this project now [laugh].

Wyle: Oh, thank you.

Tavis: This ain’t like the “ER” days, man. That ensemble cast work there. You are the…

Wyle: It really is a team effort, though. These things fall apart so easily and the fact that this has gone four seasons, it’s a testament to everybody involved.

Tavis: Yeah, it is indeed and you are quite humble in saying that. But he is the star and we love Noah Wyle on “Fallen Skies” on TNT. We will see, as he said a moment ago, how long this thing will run. But for the time being, you are living the life of Riley, dude.

Wyle: Yes, I am.

Tavis: Not one, but two wonderful long-running series now on television where he did not even want to be [laugh], but it’s all worked. Noah, good to have you back, man.

Wyle: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: Come back any time, my friend.

Wyle: I’d love to.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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  • laurie dailey

    I have followed noah for many years. He should never worry about his talent as an actor. He is awesome. He has his “game on”

Last modified: June 19, 2014 at 2:20 pm