Noah Wyle Fights Alien Invaders in Steven Spielberg's "Falling Skies"


When Steven Spielberg's aliens launch their latest attack on Earth Sunday in TNT's "Falling Skies," Noah Wyle will be there to meet them.

Not as John Carter, the fresh-faced young medical student we first saw 17 years ago in "ER," but as Tom Mason, a widowed history professor who finds himself second in command of the 2nd Massachusetts, fighting the invaders and struggling to recover his captured middle son.

Time flies when you're on TV, but for Wyle, it might feel like warp speed.

It wasn't, he insisted, about turning 40 - "I'm ready"- but about playing a guy whose oldest son (Drew Roy) is old enough to be fighting beside his father.

"He's playing 17, but he's 24," Wyle said of Roy.

"There are times when I say, 'Doesn't anyone think it's ridiculous that I'm playing this kid's father?' " joked Wyle, whose own son and daughter are 8 and 5.

When "ER" began, "I was the boychik," just 22 and playing a character maybe a year or two older.

On "Falling Skies," whose initially familiar post-invasion scenario gradually deepens into something more intriguing over a 10-hour first season, Wyle's undeniably one of the cast's grownups.

Joking aside, that was probably part of the appeal to the actor, who, after 11 seasons on "ER," didn't need the money and wasn't necessarily looking for another series.

"Eighty hours a week on a soundstage isn't the best way to parent," so after leaving "ER," "I took a few years and did a few small parts in movies and dedicated my energies to my little theater company in Hollywood and was very much an active dad," he said.

Mason, who draws on Revolutionary War history to plot strategy in a conflict against a very different enemy, is "a very dynamic character... a very physical character," he said.

Filmed in Toronto, the show also uses only "practical locations," not a studio.

"It's a chance to front an ensemble as opposed to inherit one, from the jump. It's a chance to be part of an enormous gamble TNT is making by stepping out of the traditional programming fare into a new genre, trying to attract a new audience."

For Wyle, artistic producer of Hollywood's Blank Theatre Company since the age of 20 - "I was in the inaugural production for the company, which was 'Sexual Perversity in Chicago,' when I was 19" - it's also about having a little more control over his TV work.

"The older I get, the more interested I am in having a stake of ownership in what I'm doing," he said. "They were very generous about giving me access and allowing me to feel very much like a collaborator all through the process. I was there when we worked on the script and I was there when we cast the other roles."

He's been in the editing room, but "my contributions, I've got to say, are most valuable on the set. I'm a good problem-solver. When something's not working, and the scene's not working, the rhythm's off or the blocking seems stilted, that's where suddenly all sorts of fires go off in my brain."

He's also given a little thought to Hollywood's fascination with alien invasion.

"Whenever you introduce an exterior threat to the planet, it's really the only chance you have to unify all the humans on the planet, let them transcend prejudices and petty differences."

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