Interview with Noah Wyle

Noah Wyle is known best for his role of Dr. John Truman Carter III in “ER”. Noah is taking the lead about in TNT’s new show “Falling Skies”. Movie Mikes had a chance to attend a conference call with Noah to discuss the his new show “Falling Skies” and what we can expect from it.

Mike Gencarelli: I have been hearing a lot of talk saying that “Falling Skies” feels like so epic in the pilot, that it almost feels like a feature film. Can you reflect on that?
Noah Wyle: Yes, sure. Well, it wasn’t intended to be sandwiched together. The pilot was a standalone hour and it’s being married to the first episode which we shot as a first episode for the season to build it into a two-hour block. So it was never scripted to feel like a movie but I think anytime Mr. Spielberg’s name is above the marquee you can’t help but to make a cinema comparison. It’s got a lot of rich production value. The budget on the pilot was pretty extensive. So we had a lot of bang for our buck and that wasn’t necessarily the case in every episode. I think getting a sense of what the series is going to be like comes probably more accurately from the second half, second hour, than the first. But, yes, it’s got a very cinematic feel to it.

MG: The show it’s clocking in at ten episodes for the first season. Do you think that the show has like enough room to spread its wings in season one?
NW: Well, I had lunch with Michael Wright who’s Head of TNT and we discussed if this came to a second season whether he would be interested in picking it up for more episodes.  His philosophy, which I tend to agree with is, that if you’re writing for ten episodes you can really write to a focused point and make sure that all of your T’s have been crossed and your eyes have been dotted. If you’re trying to slug it out through 15, 17 or on a network 22 to 24 you run the risk of dissipating the potency of your story telling and falling back on sort of clichés. He really didn’t want to do that. He really is very proud and pleased with the show and should a second season come to pass it for it to have the same kind of punch that the first season did. I think you really only get from shooting a truncated season of 10, 12 maximum.

Q: Talk about that aspect of the show where we go right to the meat of the story instead of having a season or two of build-up?
A: Yes, it’s sort of a typical story telling in the sense that we don’t start with everyday life going on business as usual and then suddenly everybody’s eyes turn to the heavens and say, what’s that coming in towards our planet. We do pick up six months into what has been a devastating alien invasion and meet our characters already in a pretty high state of disarray. It is kind of exciting storytelling because it allows you the opportunity to fill in the back story through episodic storytelling. It also opens up the possibility of being able to track back in time down the road if it seems dramatically appropriate.

Q: How involved is Steven Spielberg in the production of this show?
A: He’s pretty damn involved. His fingerprints are all over it. He was instrumental in helping craft the original pilot script and certainly in casting the pilot. He came out and was on set when we were shooting the pilot. He even drew some storyboards for the re-shoots on the pilot and then helped craft the overreaching story arks for the season.  He watched all the daily’s and made lots of editorial suggestions all along the way in bringing those shows to their final cut. So I would say he’s instrumentally involved.

Q: If you were in the position of your character, what do you think you’d miss the most in the new world and also what do you think would be the most exciting opportunity about a civilization to sort of start over?
A: I’m guessing a variety of diet would be the thing I’d miss the most…and hot food. We sort of tried to pepper each episode with exactly that. What are the cons and disadvantages to the state we have been thrown into, but what are the sort of more subtle pros.  Whether it’s seeing a group of kids having to exercise their imaginations at play and actually relishing in the opportunity to do so or the quality of relationships between families being that much enriched without all the other distractions.  There’s a sequence that comes midway through the season where a women who’s among our ranks is pregnant and is throwing a baby shower. Having been to quite a few baby showers, this was unlike any event I had experienced in the sense that it wasn’t so much about the gifts, the swag and the stuff for the impending birth as it was really more about the spiritual aspects of bringing a new life into the world.  It makes you think about your responsibilities are as a parent and what are our collective responsibilities for this new life?  I find those very rewarding aspects to the storytelling because it allows us an opportunity to kind of pick and choose between separate the weak and chafed from what’s important and what’s not.

Q: I really enjoy the family dynamic from the show, tell us about how you approached keeping your family together in this broken world?
A: Well, dramatically I think that was probably the theme that was most interesting to me. I haven’t had a lot of experience working in the science fiction genre, so that had a certain appeal. I went into this with the confidence of knowing that the spaceships and the aliens were going to be just fine with Mr. Spielberg designing them. So my responsibilities really fell to making sure the human aspects of the show were as compelling as they could be. I found that dual conflict that we set up in the pilot to be really provocative of a guy just trying to keep his family intact and alive being given the larger responsibility of having to care for 300 veritable strangers.  The conflict between the two is very interesting. What is at the core of the show is once the reset button on humanities been pushed and these characters, should they survive, are going to become the next founding fathers for the next civilization. What are the best aspects of the previous civilization that you would want to retain and what are the more superfluous or ascerteric ones that you wouldn’t mind dropping? ? Certainly the notion of family and the quality of human relationships comes to the floor and that’s what I think we pretty successfully explored through the first half of the season.

Q: What do you think distinguishes Tom as a leader as opposed to films like “Battle: Los Angeles” which have automatically show the militaristic personalities step to the foreground to take charge?
A: That’s an interesting question. I would say that when you traditionally have a character whose has a military career like Captain Weaver, their strong suit is leading men who have been trained and focused for the battle and mission enhanced. Whereas in this particular scenario most of our military has been eradicated already and it’s a civilian militia that is being trained. It’s exactly Tom Mason’s back-story as having been a teacher that puts him in a little bit better situation to teach mostly kids how to arm themselves and defend themselves than it is for Weaver to fall back on the military paradigm. It is looking at the realm of academia and saying that’s a little dry for what we need right now and looking at the role of military and saying that’s a little dogmatic for what we need right now.  Then we try to find a synthesis between the two that I think makes my character a leader of a different strength.

Q: Having to be the leader of the group, are we going to see in the first season Tom’s breaking point?
A: He comes damn close to it. He comes very, very close to it. Yes, I would say in the fourth or fifth episode that’s where he starts to wear a little thin. Although, you know, there was a saying that we used to say a lot on my other show where you really didn’t have time to feel sorry for yourself during the course of the day because you had another patient to treat or two or three. So you really had to earn whatever private moments you allowed yourself to reveal, whatever inner life was going on. The same holds true for this show is that there’s such a constant and eminent threat underneath each and every scene that these characters who probably if they had a week off would develop all sorts of the hallmarks of PTSD and go through all sorts of debilitating briefs don’t have the luxury of doing so because there’s just too many other things that need to be done.  So I would say that the big breakdown is still coming but we definitely show glimpses of it.

Q: Besides “The Librarian” series you haven’t done much action, what did you have to do to prepare for the action involved in the show compared to the previous work that you’ve done?
A: Oh, I probably should have done a lot more [laughs]. I showed up and we all had a couple of days of running around the sound stage and learning gun safety. But in terms of physical preparation I found myself at a disadvantage trying to keep up with Drew Roy whose part spring-box. He plays my oldest son and very early on in the pilot we had to sort of run and jump and dive and whirl and roll and do all these crazy things. All of which, eventually, I got more comfortable at. But it’s certainly not wearing the white coat everyday.

Q: Did you find that you were able to do a lot of your own stunts or was a lot of it done by a stunt team?
A: Kind of both. I mean, there’s stunts but they’re not real stunts. I mean, running and jumping and sliding and diving all that stuff looks so much better when the actors doing it. So I did a lot of that kind of thing. Then whenever there was one sequence where I’m fighting one of the aliens in a steam tunnel and I did all of that fight with the exception of one throw where the alien sort of chucks me.  That required some wire work to get thrown high up against a wall.

Q: Are you consciously aware of being able to spend time with these characters before you go in to just doing action sequences?
A: Well, you have to be careful about it even just from a production standpoint because obviously action sequences require the most money of an episode budget. If you’re going to give a little action sequence in every show you’ll get a little action sequence in every show.  But if you can buy yourself a couple of episodes by saving on your post-production budget and focusing the drama on interpersonal and character conflict then suddenly on the fourth episode you’ve got quite a large bank to work with and you can stage something pretty epic. So there’s a financial necessity that goes into it. But also it’s much more compelling to have the threat come, not as a constant, but in waves. To have it start off as a huge wave and then be able to get a low and reflect a little bit and synthesize some information and then to have another wave come and also the anticipation of that wave coming is great dramatic tension. What are the lessons learned after an encounter before the next wave comes? I think that for this particular show it works much better than having it be a constant threat.

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