Noah Wyle is back on TV tonight, but instead of treating patients or battling aliens, the former ER and Falling Skies star finds himself the custodian of a top secret section of the New York Metropolitan Library, home to all sorts of mythical and magical artefacts. As Flynn Carson in The Librarians, Wyle – and his group of trainees – must protect the objects from falling into the wrong hands.
The series is based on the trilogy of made-for-TV movies the 44-year-old actor starred in between 2004-2008 and begins airing its second full series tonight at 9pm on Syfy. We caught up with Wyle to talk history, brain power, ER and those comparisons with Doctor Who…
Your new show The Librarians sees you protect the likes of Excalibur and the Shroud of Turin – has the series got you interested in history and legend?
I’ve been a huge history buff all my life. This is like a dream job in a lot of ways because it’s a combination of a lot of my favourite things and it’s physical slapstick humour, a little bit of mythology, a little bit of history, adventure, and spookiness – but of the Scooby Doo variety. It has a spirit of play and fun behind it and a good positive message that promotes literacy and education – that your biggest muscle can be your brain.
And that not everybody wants to see the world saved by a muscly superhero in tights…
Absolutely. It’s not even a sub culture anymore because it’s become pop culture – all you have to do is go to Comic-Con to see that what was once esoteric is now mainstream. Geeks do rule the world and the idea that the strongest isn’t necessarily the most successful – the smartest usually is – is I think a positive message to put out there.
That message is reminiscent of Doctor Who, and certain other similarities have not gone unnoticed. Do you see a connection between the two shows?
The guy with the big brown curly hair and the great scarf [Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor] – that’s the first episodes I saw when I was a kid. My dad thought I’d like it. And I remember thinking, ‘I can see the fishline and the zipper and the guy pumping the smoke in from offstage, practically’. It had a low tech feel to it that I thought made it fun and actually that is the one thing I do pull from in Librarians – that as great as our visual effects post production house is, I tell them sometimes we don’t want to be too good. If it’s too good you’re comparing it to good films that have much bigger budgets. Our charm is it’s sort of like ‘let’s put on a show and the costumes and you paint the sets and you can sort of see behind the curtain and realise that Oz is just a little old man’. But Doctor Who’s kind of slick now – it’s got very good production values so I don’t know if it’s the same.
Your character Flynn does dress a little like the Doctor, though…
I haven’t worn the bow tie. I drew the line – I beg to differ that Doctor Who did not invent tweeds, nor did he invent the waistcoat. People have been dressing like dandies for centuries. But I chose not to wear a bow tie.
You’ve directed an episode of this series of Librarians – is that something you want to do more of?
Yes, about a year ago I just decided I wanted to diversify the way that I tell stories. It wasn’t that I was becoming bored with acting but acting takes almost the smallest percentage of your day on set – there’s a lot of other time spent just sitting around and I wanted to be more engaged, to be more involved in the process. So whether that means writing or producing or directing, having a vision and then getting a lot of people to buy into it and seeing it come to life was a high that I’d never really experienced before – it was very potent.
You got directing tips from your former ER co-star Eriq La Salle (who played Peter Benton) – do you keep in touch with the rest of the County General Hospital alumni?
Yes, we all keep in touch when we can. We’re spread out, we’re all busy, but those were very heady times that forged strong bonds. I look back on them fondly – I don’t look back on them very often, though. I’m not one to walk nostalgia’s road very often but this last year was the 20th anniversary of the pilot so that brought up a bunch of stuff. People were calling and talking about it.
A video did the rounds a couple of years ago of you reciting from memory your first ER monologue packed with medical jargon – is it a party trick or have you retained your TV hospital training?
It’s a party trick to a large extent although I do remember a lot of my dialogue and I have been blessed with an incredibly good memory when it comes to learning lines which has been a wonderful asset. My very first lines on stage – fourth grade, Viking play, I played Arundel the gate guard – I believe went something like this: “The trolls have been seen trying to enter Asgard, we’ll get them tomorrow, but for now sleep well and be rested for your first Valhalla adventure.”
Impressive stuff. ER broke new ground when it first aired on TV in 1994. Do you watch any of the medical dramas popular on TV today?
I haven’t watched a medical drama for a long time. At first most of the ones were derivative from ER and it felt like watching a facsimile. And I never really got interested in Grey’s Anatomy – that came just as we were going off the air and we all kind of thought ‘soap opera’, probably unnecessarily snobby about it. Hospital shows are just part of the TV landscape – always have been, always will be. It’s one of the few arenas that everybody is familiar with. Few people see the inside of the White House or police precinct but everyone sees the inside of a hospital and it’s the great themes of life and death and illness so it’s just a rich tapestry. I would love one to come in and reinvent the genre the way ER did so that we could see where it could go next.