The new TNT drama (premieres Sun., June 19, 9PM ET) gives Wyle a hero's badge you can't earn in a hospital: He's helping save the world from an alien invasion. Add to that the fact that his wife was killed after the invastion and one of his three sons has been taken hostage by the visitors' spine-sucking mind-control devices that are basically a death sentence.
To say that Wyle's Tom Mason is having a rough time is an understatement.
I caught up with Wyle to talk about his career's new action star direction and why this alien invasion drama shouldn't get pegged with the sci-fi label too quickly. "I think it's TNT's attempt to try to have their cake and eat it, too -- to try and branch out and grab an audience that doesn't currently exist on their network, while still honoring the one that does by giving them what they tune in for, which is well written character pieces. I think there is something for everybody in here."
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This is Noah Wyle Action Star at his best.
Yeah, you think so? Maybe more like Noah Wyle Action Star as the first. [Laughs] Glad you think so.
Was that part of the appeal that brought you back to TV?
That was part of the appeal for me --to do something radically different than anything I've done before. After I finished 'ER,' I think it was smart to stay away from episodic television for a while, and it wasn't until this script came around that getting back to work was tempting. I got really excited about doing this, and it was fun.
And it was great company to be in. People hear the name Steven Spielberg and jump at the chance ... but this also feels bigger than TV, like a movie every episode.
It's very cinematic, and I think a lot of that has to do with Mr. Spielberg's pedigree and involvement with the show. It's a huge thematic and stylistic departure for TNT, which is kind of exciting to be on board with as they try and branch out from their regular programming. It was something totally different for me, and a chance to work, once again, with DreamWorks -- they were one of the producing entities behind 'ER,' so I go back quite a ways with Mr. Spielberg. But I'm amazed, continually over the last 20 years, at how his level of involvement in any capacity only enriches the project.
How do you describe where we find your character, Tom?
Well, at the outset, I think he feels -- probably rightly so -- that his background of being an academic hasn't suited him too well for the matters of the day. His primary focus is just to keep his own family together and alive, in the context of being given this larger responsibility of having to care for 300 civilians. I think he takes on that responsibility with a bit of hesitation. Over the course of the show, he realizes that both his teaching skills and his knowledge of military strategy and tactic actually make him better suited to lead a civilian army. Better than, say, Will Patton's character, Captain Weaver, who's a career military man used to leading trained men into battle -- but not kids.
And your kids on the show are all at different stages of involvement here ...one's a fighter, one's very young and the other is a hostage.
Yeah, there are some great ethical dilemmas there. What's the kinder choice: to try to protect your kids, shield them from the reality and try to give them some semblance of a childhood? Or whether that's the cruelest stroke and you'd be better off arming them, training them, in the hopes that their kids' kids can have the kind of childhood that they were robbed of.
It feels like there's a huge cliffhanger a week on this show. Is that the nature of the sci-fi beast?
Pretty much. Like any good science fiction yarn, every question that gets answered sort of poses two new questions. The more these characters find out about the situation, the more they realize how radically wrong they were in their original assessment. It's got a lot of good twists and turns in it. The characters go from being in a highly reactive state to eventually being a lot more proactive, turning the tables and trying to ascertain what the vulnerabilities of the enemies are.
There are critters and skitters, and we even see you beat one of them to death ... maybe. But then there are robotic aliens. Are we going to continue to see new iterations of this enemy?
Yes. There's a hierarchy that we didn't quite understand.
Ooh. OK, hypothetical: If this kind of attack was actually happening in our world, what kind of ragtag group of celebrities would you, Noah Wyle, want on your team to fight against aliens?
I think that sounds like a hilarious spoof. [Laughs] I'd take Bear Grylls ... I'd take those kinds of celebrities. [Laughs]
Having already shot the entire first season, can you already see where it's headed next?
There's a rough outline. We kind of wrote ourselves into a very specific corner at the end of the season with a cliffhanger that needs to be addressed right off the bat. But in terms of possibilities for storytelling, they're almost limitless from where we end up at the end of the season.
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