Noah Wyle Battles ‘Falling Skies’

The star of TNT's new sci-fi series gives us his insight into his character and offers a few hints about the story to come.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

For eleven seasons, Noah Wyle starred as Dr. John Carter on the blockbuster medical drama, "ER," becoming one of the highest paid actors on TV in the process. But Wyle's success hasn't just been limited to television, as he has also appeared in films like "Donnie Darko," "White Oleander' and "A Few Good Men." On TNT alone, Wyle headlined the TV movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley" and "The Librarian" trilogy of films.

This summer marks the return of Wyle to series television with the premiere of "Falling Skies," a highly anticipated sci-fi drama created by Steven Spielberg and Robert Rodat. In the series, Wyle portrays Tom Mason, the reluctant leader of a resistance group struggling to survive a brutal alien invasion.

Recently, CraveOnline caught up with Wyle and listened to his thoughts on his character and got a few spoilers along the way about what's coming up during the first season of "Falling Skies."


CraveOnline: Did TNT approach you with this script or did you audition for the part?

Noah Wyle: No, this was the most innocuous process I think I've ever been through. They came to me, but it was really only after this long relationship that we had built up over… I can't really count "Pirates of Silicon Valley" because that was a previous regime. It really started with the first "Librarian" movie and Michael Wright's championing of that to hit the airwaves when he was in the job that he's currently not in now. He got bumped up. With the success of the franchise, he sort of rose with it.

We became friends and I think he's a tremendously sharp executive and he's been a huge fan of mine and very generous about showing me all of the different pilot scripts that he's had going in the last couple of years. This script had come right at the point where I was getting a severe itch to get back to work. So I read it, liked it and called him up. We had a meeting over at DreamWorks with Robert Rodat, who wrote it along with the DreamWorks guys. I was hooked. I was on board early on.

CraveOnline: Why didn't "The Librarian" ever go on to be a series?

Noah Wyle: Well, they wanted it to. They still want to. I think it was probably me that was standing in the way of that. I liked making the movies. To me, they are probably the most fun I've ever had working in my life. There was a great group of people involved behind the camera and we'd usually go shoot in some exotic location where none of us had been and we just made each other laugh all day and get together and play all night. They were just really fun experiences.

But my hesitation about bringing it to series was that I felt that we'd dilute the franchise very quickly. That as soon as you commit to moving away from $8 million dollar movies to $1.5 million dollar episodes, you're going to have to take the spectacle way, way down and focus on other aspects of storytelling; which I just thought was going to be problematic for the shelf life of that franchise. There was some talk of making it a feature [film] and I kind of felt the same way about that. These are monumental achievements on television because you're comparing it to other TV movies. But if you say we're going to do a $20 million dollar feature, then you're going to go out and compete against $200 million dollar features. It's an unlevel playing field.

What makes these things fun is the kind of tongue-in-cheek aspect. That you can almost see the seams on the costumes and the sets. They have a certain kind of not taking themselves too seriously attitude about them that I thought made them really fun. And they've been really profitable for the network. I'd love to do more of them.

CraveOnline: Getting back to "Falling Skies," what can you tell us about your character Tom Mason?

Noah Wyle: Tom Mason is a former tenured American History professor from Boston University and the father of three, recently widowed in the initial invasion. He is truly an academic. He was probably a good father, but not the most attentive father. Now as a single father, [he] is burdened not only by the responsibility of keeping his three kids alive; but early on he is given the responsibility of having to care for and lead this group of 300 civilians into an uncertain future… which he does so begrudgingly, coming to accept the mantle of leadership with hesitation.

CraveOnline: What can you tell us about Tom's character arc in the first season?

Noah Wyle: It's really about him feeling empowered to be in the position that he's in. Initially in the first few episodes, he's pretty much focused on recovering his one middle son, Ben who was kidnapped by aliens. And what the aliens do to the adolescents they capture is that they harness them with these really gruesome attachments that fuse to the kids' spines and turn them into a slave work force. That's what's happened to his son.

Even though he's been given this responsibility of leading this large group, for the first few episodes he still actively tries to go back and find his son. And then having done that, try and take his harness off of him. And once having done that, deal with the ramifications of what these harnesses actually do to these kids the longer its on their backs. And that comes about midway through the season. The revelation of that turns the tide for the whole rest of the season.

CraveOnline: Have you noticed that there are some parallels between "Falling Skies" and "The Patriot"? They even have the same screenwriter in Robert Rodat

Noah Wyle: Yeah! Although you know that Mel Gibson was a hell of a lot more efficient at being an anti-red coat fighter than Tom Mason is at being an alien fighter at the outset. There's a bigger learning curve for Tom.

CraveOnline: I think it goes a little further than that, In "Falling Skies," Tom is actually fighting alongside his oldest son, Hal and in "The Patriot," Mel Gibson's character did the same with his son, who was played by Heath Ledger.

Noah Wyle: Yeah, that gets paced out over the course of the season. But by the end of the season, [Hal's] pretty much cut the paternal ties between us and wants to establish himself as a fighter, a warrior and a man in his own right. That's the culmination of a sort of ongoing conflict that's existed throughout the body of the episodes where I know he's old enough and I know that he thinks he's capable enough, But if he's not next to me or in my immediate vicinity, I can't guarantee his safety. So it's this push/pull between knowing that you sort of have to allow your kid to grow up. But at the same time, fearing that if they're not near you, that they couldn't possibly be safe.


CraveOnline: The early trailers for this series make it look like one of the most intense TV shows to come across in a while. Does it maintain that momentum? 

Noah Wyle: Yeah it does. It's pretty unrelenting. I wouldn't say an unrelenting trailers. To look at the trailers, it's not like they're misleading… but they're cherry-picking action sequences from several different shows and putting them together. Which I hope doesn't set the expectations that this is truly a balls out action show.  

It works really well in that the threat comes in waves. It's not a constant threat. It's an overwhelming wave and we have to pick up the pieces and figure out where that leaves us and learn from the experience. We just kind of want to lull our characters into a false sense of security before another wave comes; which allows to play not just man on the run, panting and short of breath and giving short shrift to character development and personal relationships.

Which allows you to really satisfy both audiences. I think that the sci-fi audience will enjoy the epic battles between man versus alien. And I think that the people who tune in more for the human drama will appreciate the calms that come before and after those storms.

CraveOnline: Were you a sci-fi fan before joining this show?

Noah Wyle: You know, I said initially that I wasn't or that I was late coming to the table, but I think it's the other way around. I think I was and I just haven't followed up on it in recent years. Because I grew up very much a fan of the original "Star Trek" [in syndication] when I was a kid. And I was six or seven when "Star Wars" came out and I followed that trilogy very closely. I was also a fan of "The Black Hole," "The Last Starfighter" and all of those kinds of things. So, I guess I am sci-fi fan.

CraveOnline: Can you give us your final thoughts on "Falling Skies" and why people should check out the show?

Noah Wyle: First of all, it's a huge thematic departure from anything TNT has done so far. Nobody is going to sit there and go "Oh my God, that was a great episode of 'The Closer.' Now I can't wait to to watch 'Falling Skies.'" It's attracting a whole new set of eyeballs to the network and it;s a daring move on their part, which I think deserves to be commended. It's a really compelling show with some really wonderful characters.

It's dark, but there are moments of humanity and humor in it. It's violent, but there's also a great sensitivity and passion. It's got a lot of twists and turns to be revealed over the course of the episodes, much like "Lost" did where you're pealing back  the layers to understand the world that you're inhabiting. So I think it's got a lot to offer for just about any kind of viewer.