Noah Wyle interview

With the Steven Spielberg-produced Falling Skies hitting FX next month, Noah " ER " Wyle tells SFX about fighting the alien invasion

In this exclusive online extra from our Falling Skies : interview with Noah Wyle, the star talks in more depth about the new alien invasion series from executive producer Steven Spielberg.

SFX : You had a wonderful long run on ER , but that’s a long time in one medium. Do you love working in TV or was it Falling Skies in particular that wooed you back?

"Well my relationship with Michael Wright [head of TNT programming] goes back to the first Librarian movie, and has been a really good one; and every year he shows me the pilot scripts he’s got. I hadn’t been tempted but there was a particularly good crop that year with two or three I was intrigued by. In all honesty I put the choice to my eight-year old son. I said, “Hey Owen, do you want see your dad be a policeman, or a lawyer or an alien fighter…’ He said, “Stop right there. [Laughs]”

SFX : What was your collaborative relationship with Spielberg on this series?

"He is the consummate, master storyteller, certainly of my generation. I was profoundly impressed by the level of sophistication of his knowledge. You’d read a scene or a draft and think it was pretty darn good and then his notes would come in and then we’d be painting with that just finer of a brush and it was better. He didn’t give me any particular advice but the discussions we did have together weren’t so much as an alien show but as a war story. The references he would make with me were WWII references and Revolutionary War references. Maybe that’s just how he knew to talk to me. [Laughs]”

SFX : Is your character Tom Mason modeled off of anyone you found in your own research?

"I lived in the Revolutionary War for a good three or four months, on a steady diet of Washington, Jefferson and a few others. I drew upon the reluctant aspect of both of those men to wear the mantle of power. Tom would very much be fine just keeping his kids alive. He’s not looking for additional responsibility or to be a hero. Because he is an intelligent guy and one who practices common sense - as well as having a weird, esoteric knowledge about military history and tactics - he’s given a command. Yet it’s more of a burden for the first season before he realizes he’s good at it, embraces he’s good at it and flourishes.”

SFX : Despite the world being turned completely on its head, Tom is a pretty even-tempered guy. Was he always like that?

"Yeah. Circumstances don’t allow for a lot of time for self pity. It’s a color that you can only indulge in on the rarest occasions when there is a moment alone. There are moments where we show his vulnerability. There are three big themes that I find interesting in my own life to tackle at this moment through this character and they are fatherhood, leadership and loss. It’s a juggling act among those three. On any given moment he has to be a father, or more of a leader than he’s comfortable with being. And all the while he is in abject grief that the world and his wife are no more. Hopefully, I layered that onion so you see that’s he’s hanging by a thread most of the time.”

SFX : Who impacts Tom the most this first season?

"If you were to plot it out on chart, you would put Moon Bloodgood’s character, Dr Anne Glass, the humanist, healer on one end of the spectrum; and then you’d put Will Patton’s Captain Weaver, a militaristic, hard-headed guy, on the other end of the spectrum. And then you’d put me right in the middle between the two for the first season! In the beginning it’s easy to point fingers and call into judgment some of the decisions that the Captain makes because you don’t have the responsibility of leadership. Tom learns that leading is often times making the less horrible choice of two horrible choices. It’s a bit of a learning curve as Tom embraces more responsibility and sees the cost of power is often times having to kill one child to save another.”

SFX : Do we see Tom get his son Ben back as the show progresses?

"The objective for the first four or five shows is to get Ben [Tom’s alien-abducted son] back, and there’s always a stumbling block impeding his ability to do that. They don’t quite know where he is, or [squad leader] Weaver won’t let him go unless he does another mission first, so he does the mission but then something else happens and delays him again. Eventually getting Ben means figuring out how to take the harness off without killing him.”

SFX : Do you have the long-range goals planned out for the series, like taking the planet back from the aliens?

"We know the destination but we don’t know all the roads we need to take to get there. Rather than writing ourselves into a corner with a mythology that’s real specific, we’re teasing it out so we don’t commit to anything we don’t really mean at the moment. It’s taking shape as we are going and that’s the most daunting thing about doing science fiction; it’s an audience that plays closer attention to detail than just about any other. You have to make sure you don’t dishonor that level of engagement by giving short shrift to the details because that’s what they are interested in.”

SFX : Now with months between you and the end of shooting, how does Falling Skies feel as a whole?

"It feels good. I was so immersed in it: shooting in Toronto away from home and shooting with relatively, young and new group of actors who I don’t have a sense of history with. And shooting a new genre was so foreign to me and a total immersion experience. We came out of it just before Thanksgiving 2010 and landed back in our own lives but I still can’t get objectivity on the whole thing since I’m too close to it.”

Tara Bennett

Falling Skies : comes to the UK on FX on 5 July at 9pm. Stick it in your diary!