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Noah Wyle interview: 'Steven Spielberg was very involved in Falling Skies'

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Noah Wyle

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To a certain generation of telly watchers, Noah Wyle is better known as ER's Dr. Carter. But now Noah's swapped his stethoscope for a rather big gun to take on some creatures from outer space! Yes, he's landed the lead role in Steven Spielberg's brand new alien invasion epic Falling Skies, which hits UK screens tomorrow.

To celebrate, we gave Noah a ring to chat about aliens, Steven Spielberg and exhausting action scenes...

For people who haven't heard about it, what's Falling Skies about?
"Briefly, it takes place on the East Coast of the United States. It starts six months into what has been a devastating alien invasion which has devastated most of the world's population and completely erased the power grid, and most of the major capitals have been destroyed. A few remaining survivors are trying to band together to survive and hopefully synthesise the loose strands of information they've been able to gather over the last six months and use it to create some sort of game plan to turn the tables and fight back."

What's your character Tom like?
"Tom is a hell of a guy! He's a former tenured history professor at Boston University, a father of three who was widowed in the initial invasion - his wife was killed. One of the themes that we've been delving into is to have him have to be front row centre and very present as a father. He tries to keep his boys alive, in the context of being given the larger responsibility of taking care of this group of 300 civilians that he's travelling with, which he's a little reluctant to do at first. The mantle of leadership is not one that he readily adopts."

And we'll see in the first episode that he has to make some difficult choices.
"Yes, that's a learning curve to power. That's what he absolutely has to find out - it's a lot easier to be, as we say in the States, a Monday morning quarterback or a backseat driver than it is to suddenly have to make those really difficult choices. Those Sophie's choices, if you will."

Are there any love interests for Tom, or is it too soon after his wife's death?
"Well, we sort of tee one up - the possibility of one - between my character and Moon Bloodgood's character. It was a little problematic to execute it though, because where most shows afford you lots of opportunities for people to look longingly at each other from across the set, this show had to start with a high level of threat that we couldn't let dissipate, or it really affected the storytelling. So it was really hard to find moments of calm where you could have two characters discuss anything other than their immediate means, so it was really something that we tried to keep alive and didn't really pay off until the end of the season."

Falling SKies S01E03: 'Prisoner of War'
Are there any overriding storylines in the show?
[Spoilerphobes may want to skip this question.] "Certainly. There's sort of two. One is getting my son back, and the other is once having him back, dealing with these harnesses that the aliens put on kids and trying to remove them successfully. I don't know if you're a huge science fiction fan or not - I'm coming a little late to the table - but I do know that when you're dealing with science fiction you have to make sure you've crossed all your Ts and dotted all your Is and you know exactly where you're going from the outset. It's an onion with many, many layers that do some unravelling as the show progresses. So that's what this does. Every time we find out a new piece of information and try to act upon it we find out it's really only half of the clue and it leads us in a completely different direction."



Would you say Falling Skies is an alien drama, or a character drama that happens to have aliens in it?
"I think it's the latter. Both because that makes more interesting storytelling, and also because it's cheaper! Aliens are expensive. So what we're trying to do is save what in essence is a decent post-production budget for digital effects, but try to save it up. Instead of doing a little bit every show, to try and every three shows really tell a story that relies heavily on the aliens, and the rest of the time explore and investigate elements of human conflict, which is just as compelling. I'd say it's a character drama - it's a human drama in the context of a science fiction alien invasion show."

But there are a lot of action scenes - did you enjoy filming those?
"Oh my God, it was exhausting! That may be physically the most difficult stuff I've ever done. I mean, aside from the occasional pratfall or silly thing I've done, this was consistently the hardest and longest days I've worked. And those machine guns are very heavy!"

Falling Skies S01E04 'Grace'
Did you get to work with Steven Spielberg much?
"We worked together in the past - Steven Spielberg was the executive producer of ER. And his involvement in this has been pretty much consistent from start to finish. He was very involved in the casting process, very involved in the shaping of the script. When we filmed the pilot he came out and spent some time on set. He was very hands on in the editing room and especially in the design of the spacecrafts and the aliens. And when we went to series last summer he was in London shooting, so he was watching all of our dailies and making editorial suggestions, and when we came back to cut the show again he dived in. He seems to really like this."

You mentioned ER - so many people know you as Dr. Carter. Do you think this will be the show that leaves that behind and shows something new?
"I don't want to leave it behind completely - I liked Dr. Carter too! But this is certainly thematically extremely different, and the character's very different. So perhaps, I don't know. It's the difference between 22 episodes a year for 12 years and ten episodes a year for one."

Going back to Falling Skies, why do you think people are so fascinated by the idea of aliens?
"That's a good question. I'm not exactly sure. It's the last big unknown out there. And I guess we'd be exhibiting a certain level of hubris if we assume we're the only intelligent life in the universe. And I don't know, this just popped into my head, but I think there seems to be so much of our own interpersonal conflict, interhuman conflict, that it would be nice for there to be an external threat to give us all an excuse to get on the same team!"

Falling Skies S01E04 'Grace'
What makes Falling Skies different from other alien or science fiction dramas?
"Well, like I said, I'm coming a little late to the table to the genre so I don't have the biggest frame of reference to compare it. So I'm in this one - that makes it very different! I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. It's more like a war story, it's more like a war film than a science fiction film. All I can say is that because I'm not a huge fan of science fiction to begin with but I am a huge fan of drama, that I sort of figured the aliens and spaceships would take care of themselves, and then it was my job to make sure that this was as plausible a scenario as we could make it. The beats that we were walking through, the emotional arc of what people would be feeling, what their immediate means would be, how they relate to each other, all would ring true. I'm very pleased with how we achieved that - I think it's very compelling."

So why should people watch Falling Skies?
"There's worse stuff on TV! I think it's got a little something for everybody. It's tough to pitch it as just a science fiction show or just a drama because there is humour and there is hope and there's all that kind of stuff. So I think it's certainly worth a chance."

Falling Skies begins on Tuesday at 9pm on FX.

Will you be tuning in for Falling Skies? Leave your comments below!

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