I recently got the chance to speak with one of my favorite actors ever, Noah Wyle, about his new show, Falling Skies. Falling Skies takes place six months after aliens have invaded Earth and killed most of the population. Noah’s character fights back, along with his family and a small group of other survivors.
Noah played one of my favorite characters of all time, Dr. John Carter, on ER. He also played the lead on TNT’s TV movie series, The Librarian, which my whole family loves. Check out the great questions & answers Noah gave to me and other members of the press below!
On what made him want to do the show
Well it was a combination of things, really. It was, you know, the right script at the right time right when I was getting the itch to get back to work. It was a chance to work again with TNT who I’ve built up a really wonderful relationship over the last couple years doing these Librarian movies. It was a chance to work again for Mr. Spielberg, who was one of the Executive Producers on ER. So I knew that they would be wonderful collaborators. And the chance to work again for DreamWorks and Mr. Spielberg also was, sort of, a good hedge against that knowing that, certainly the spaceships and the aliens [Note from Jenny: Spielberg designed them himself, according to Noah] were going to look fantastic and that anytime Mr. Spielberg puts himself or involves himself in any capacity, the project only gets enriched by it.
And it was a new genre and totally different character. And it seemed like it presented a pretty good challenge. And I very much was looking forward to shooting 10 episodes a year instead of 22 or 24.
All you really ever have to go on is the quality of the pilot script and the creative elements involved. And Robert Rodat who – I don’t believe he actually has any other television experience but wrote Saving Private Ryan and The Patriot, I thought wrote a really beautiful script.
Jump with us to see what else Noah had to say.
On the hardest part of filming the show
It was all fairly difficult. We were shooting all in ((inaudible)) locations. It was no studio work at all. Most of it took place at night. So it was very long days and nights, mostly in inclement weather.
And it was probably the most physically taxing job I’ve ever done. There’s a lot of running and jumping and rolling and diving and things of that nature. So, yes, I came out the other end of it pretty well bruised and banged up but happy.
[Note from Jenny: My first question!]
On feeling pressure and living up to the expectations on alien invasion/sci-fi shows
Well, at this point all we can do is, kind of, let it fly. The season has been shot. It’s in the can. It’s ready for viewing. And it will only be determined by audience response whether or not we go back to work for a second season.
So, no, I don’t particularly feel pressure. I’m – you know, TNT is taking a huge gamble on this show. It’s stylistically and thematically a huge departure for them. And they’ve invested quite a bit of money in its production and the marketing of it. So I really want to make good for them because they’ve been fantastic partners in this venture.
But the actor’s life is a bit like a shark’s life. You, kind of, have to just swim forward and not look back and go on to the next one and hope for the best.
[Note from Jenny: My second question!]
On how his character—who is just a very “good” guy—will develop
I think he’s got a pretty strong will and ethical center. But I think in the beginning part of the season, it’s very easy to second guess decisions that are being made at the top level by Will Patton’s character, Captain Weaver, and play Monday morning quarterback. And it eventually – once he, sort of, accepts the mantel of responsibility and leadership, he sees that that really entails making a lot of proverbial Sophie’s Choices.
And that ethical center does get rocked a bit. It really isn’t so much a question of him redefining himself as a bad man so much as it is letting the mask slip and showing the extent of his grief and loss and what the toll has been – has taken on him. And there’s – we get glimpses and windows of that periodically through the course of the season as he tries to keep it all together.
On how much he had to learn going into the show
[Note from Jenny: Wyle’s character was a History professor, so what did Noah have to learn about that and about the action/shooting guns part of the role]
Well, I’m kind of a history buff to begin with. So it was no hardship to read American History books. That’s, sort of, my nightstand reading anyway. And I kind of enjoyed the detective aspect of my work more than just about any other. I like doing research whether it’s applicable or necessary.
It’s, sort of, fun for me to have an ongoing license to continue my education in just about any (sphere) that the job demands. And in terms of the guns, I’ve shot guns before in my life but nothing quite like this. So, yes there was a few – about a week of gun handling and gun safety instructions and, sort, of running around sound stations in loose formations (and so) that kind of thing.
On working with CGI type stuff
I’ve done a little [CGI] stuff before. The Librarian movies have a bit of it. But this is leaps and bounds beyond anything I had been – I had done before. It presents all sorts of challenges, the biggest of which is really getting five or six people who are all in the same scene to be looking at the same thing that’s not there and reacting with a certain line of continuity.
You don’t want to be looking at something that’s terrifying and be playing – and play terror only to find out that the other five guys standing next to you are being very stoic about it. So, you kind of get on the same page about, you know, what it all means and what the stakes are and how to, sort of, present a united front. But it’s a skill. It’s a muscle that, you know, the more you exercise it the better off you get.
You feel really, really, really, really silly when you’re doing it, reacting to something that’s not there. But after it gets all cut together and they actually put in the spaceships and the aliens, it all works pretty well.
On tension between his character and his character’s older son
[That arc] is really about a kid trying to cut the paternal tie and establish himself in his own right as a man and as a fighter. And that’s a pretty rich storyline that goes throughout the course of the season, culminating in the end with the tie being cut officially and him breaking away from his father against his father’s wishes.
But it raises all sorts of interesting ethical questions about what the kinder choices as a father, whether it’s more valuable to try and shield and seclude your kids from the reality and let them have some semblance of a childhood or whether that’s (a) – putting them at a huge disadvantage and he’s better off arming them and training them in the hopes that they’ll survive and that their kid’s kids will have the childhood that they were robbed of. It makes for good storytelling.
On loyalty of science-fiction fans & whether or not he was a sci-fi fan before the show
Yes. Yes. My experience has all been as an audience member. This is the first time I’ve delved into the genre. But I’ve very quickly learned with it – it’s a skeptical audience at first.
It feels like it’s been wounded and disappointed by other shows that have either been cancelled prematurely or that have gone off the rails and not kept a line of continuity. But if you do win them over and pay them the respect that they deserve since they’re paying such close attention to detail, they become the most loyal following you could possibly hope for.
On what ways this character differs from Dr. Carter (ER) and from The Librarian?
Well, you know, he’s a cerebral guy like those guys were, leads with his brain and his communication skills above all else. I think he’s a little tougher than both of them and a little bit – he’s got a bit more of a blue collar mentality than either one of those two guys had. He’s not as funny. But he’s got a very strong moral and ethical center that is similar.
I think he potentially is more violent. And neither one of those characters ever got to enjoy or embrace fatherhood. John Carter came close but it was a, sort of, a tragic event.
On what makes this show different from other shows about alien invaders
Well I’m at a bit of a disadvantage because I haven’t really seen a lot of the shows that we’re being compared to. I haven’t seen The Walking Dead. And I haven’t seen The Event or V.
But from what I’m told, our show uses the alien invasion (in) those action set pieces as a backdrop for what plays out as a pretty good character family drama. It doesn’t really lead with it being an action show each week, despite what the promos may (make you) think.
On why people should tune in and watch Falling Skies
You know, this is, I think, a show that pretty successfully walks a very fine line between being science fiction, action adventure show and a pretty straight up human character drama. So, while the science fiction audience is a new audience for TNT, they certainly have a built in drama audience that I think will be very satisfied by seeing this. And then I think, you know, people that enjoy science fiction and alien invasion type fare will be also equally satisfied.
On the future The Librarian movies or talk of making it into a TV series
Oh, we’re talking about it, yes. You know, TNT stopped making movies, which is really what ended the run of The Librarian, to focus more on this series programming. But given the fact that Dean Devlin, who produces The Librarian movies has a show on TNT with Leverage that’s doing very well. And hopefully my show will also perform well.
We talked about [doing it as a series]. We talked about it. My feeling is that it dissipated the well too quickly to try and do it every week that there would be certain budget constraints that would, sort of, dilute the storytelling. I wouldn’t rule it out as something down the line. But if I had my druthers, we’d make two or three more movies. And then I’d be part of a pilot to a series where I’d basically pass the torch to the next Librarian.
Noah was so great to talk to. You could tell he loved filming the show and was happy to speak to us all, which is always great to hear on a call. So thank you, Noah! Be sure and check out the 2-hour series premiere of Falling Skies tonight on TNT at 9/8c.