Noah Wyle was annoyed.
He was getting ready to kiss a man on camera for the first time, and he had to consult with an intimacy coordinator. Rachel Flesher was filling that role on CBS's The Red Line, in which a white cop shoots the African-American husband of Wyle's character.
The eight-episode event series premiered April 28. The intimacy consultation was also the first Wyle had encountered in a 30-year career that includes more than a decade as heartthrob doc John Carter on NBC's ER. And he resisted the idea that someone other than the director or showrunner might have a say over his creative decisions.
"I was offended," Wyle says. "I thought, 'This smells like human resources B.S. It's going to be mostly dictates from Standards and Practices.'"
But then he discovered that having an intimacy coordinator on the Chicago set was actually "fantastic," he says. "It's almost like having a stunt coordinator or a dance choreographer, in that they're movement specialists, and they take you through it beat by beat: 'You put your hands here, then you drive me back against this wall.'"
It made Wyle think about how fight scenes are choreographed, or the ways in which long, intricate scenes with multiple pages of dialogue are often rehearsed — yet love scenes are rarely subject to a planning process. "They go, 'Okay, guys, 'Action!' And you just sort of make out," he says.
So consider Wyle a convert. Now he believes hiring intimacy coordinators should be an industry standard to avoid any miscommunication between actors. "After 30 years of love scenes with women," he says, "this was the first time I found myself fully comfortable doing a love scene. It was a big education for me.
"We were trying to do a different show, both in front of and behind the camera," he says of the series, whose executive producers include Greg Berlanti and Ava DuVernay.
"Having a working environment that required everyone behind the camera to be "a little more thoughtful" turned out to be exactly what he needed for the challenges of the production, which also required him to spend a lot of time grieving.
One scene that was particularly difficult, he says, was the one in which his character, Daniel Calder, watches the video of his husband getting killed. Unlike the love scene, this didn't require a lot of logistics.
"It didn't matter where we shot it from," he says, "or how many times, or from what angle." He just tapped into his character's "grief and loss and confusion" and started weeping. He was apparently very convincing: when he looked up, he saw that many of the crewmembers were also in tears.
Wyle suspects that his casting is a bit of a "Trojan horse," he says. Viewers might have certain expectations about what it means to have Noah Wyle starring in a show, given that most of his work has been "uniformly non-confrontational," as he puts it.
But this is a different sort of series, one that asks the audience to consider multiple perspectives in a complex case that involves politics, race, class and sexual identity.
"I think part of casting me in this role," he says, "as opposed to maybe an actor who is gay, is to try to use me as an entry point to get people to broaden their sense of empathy."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue No. 3, 2019