For over 250 episodes, Noah Wyle was a comforting TV presence as Dr. John Carter on ER.
Viewers watched his character go from wide-eyed medical student to seasoned veteran doctor. He headlined the show as a series regular for 11 seasons and returned for several multi-episode arcs after departing the series.
Wyle’s relationship with TNT’s The Librarians has lasted almost as long. In 2004, Wyle starred as Flynn Carsen in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear. That was followed by two more movies before the series The Librarians launched in 2014. Now in its fourth season, Wyle still plays the debonair Flynn Carsen. But he also executive produces the series as well as writes and directs for the series.
TelevisionAcademy.com recently has the opportunity to talk to Wyle about his long career and his expansion into producing, directing and writing.
When you did the first Librarians movie in 2004, did you ever imagine 14 years later you would still be a part of the franchise?
No. How could you? You can have a hope and wish but nobody can see this far into the future and the road this franchise has taken to get from there to here has been anything but linear.
I know that this was a character that was always hard to say goodbye to. We made those movies every two years. That was so infrequent so when I got to play the character again I just sort of burst at the seams. And then there was a seven year period where the property sat fallow and then getting to dust off and try it on again in that first season was so much fun.
I love the positive message behind the series that your biggest muscle can be your brain and you can be a superhero of the cerebral caliber.
Your relationship to the franchise has changed and grown over the years.
I mutated into a much more hands on role behind the scenes and found myself still invested in the property from a different aspect. As a producer I’ve watched these shows get cooked from start to finish and that’s really informed my story telling abilities. You can be a lot more economical in all areas because you know how much stuff never makes it to the end.
At least with The Librarians I think that’s how we’re able to achieve a high production value on a seven day shoot with a fairly meager budget. We’ve become really really good at identifying our own waste.
How did you end up directing on the series?
We had a director fall out of the rotation and I got promoted from the cast. Once I started I felt engaged and challenged in a way I hadn’t felt going to work in a long time. Actors make great directors because we tend to be good communicators and that’s a big part of the job— getting a lot of people with different personalities to buy into the same vision and pull in the same direction.
What’s the biggest thing that’s surprised you about being a director?
I found that I became really interested in the other aspects of storytelling. Not that the acting isn’t important but when you come to work as an actor you come to work and tend to think, “I’m here let the day’s work begin.” You don’t realize that someone chose that location, brought a bunch of trucks there and turned the power on, brought food there and will take all that stuff away after your wrap.
What effect has being a director had on you as an actor?
I’ll give you an example. I had one day’s work in Toronto on The Romanoffs. It was a big ballroom scene and I had to wear a fancy tuxedo and my call time was 7:30 a.m. At 7:30 p.m. they said, “Go ahead and put on the suit.”
For most of my career I would have sat in my trailer for 12 hours going, “What the hell is going on?” But now I sat there knowing that something was going on and whatever was going on was so important that they didn’t need me to get into my tuxedo yet. They’re not intentionally making me sit there.
You just sort of realize nothing is designed to affect any one component singularly. These things are big organisms that have lots of moving components and it’s never personal.
In addition to directing, you also have written an episode this season entitled "and the Silver Screen" and wrote an episode last season.
When I said I was interested in directing there were a lot of people who were supportive and there were a few who eye rolled like, “Yes that’s the cliché.” And I understand that progression because the longer you’re an actor the more sense of ownership you want to have in the final product.
But writing is a different discipline and I was amazed when I said I wanted pursue it how strongly I felt the resistance to that in a way I hadn’t felt when I said I was interested directing. It was a much more closed club.
Last year when I wrote my first script for the show It was a lot of, “How did you do it? I’m surprised. Did anybody help you?” A lot of “Wow. Okay nice rookie effort.”
This year I as a lot more proactive in selecting the script that I wanted. I turned my outline in early. Turned it in way overwritten. I wanted to silence all detractors right off the bat.
The level of respect that I’ve found, the whole mood changes when you say you’ve written a couple of episodes. There is something very different. The other two are interpretive arts. Writing is truly creative. It starts from nothing and becomes something. It’s a germination of an original idea.
That is profound and people do take that very seriously. I’m very proud of my SAG card, I’m very proud of my DGA card. I’m extremely proud of my WGA card. And I’m really excited about exploring that aspect of my career because it’s the one creative thing I can do from my house. I can sleep in my own bed. And I don’t have to go to Canada and wear make-up and carry a machine gun in the snow.
How did you start writing?
My writing career began with me approaching Graham Yost about a trilogy of books that I purchased.
He’s now called me a couple times on writing assignments. His validation of me in those circles has really validated me a lot more that having two writing credits on a show I actually produce and star in.
You get such a great guest cast for the show.
We try to get the scripts up and read quickly so we have them in our pockets to go after our friends. I tell them, “We have nothing but top of the show to pay you and I know that is way beneath your rate but I can promise you a lot of fun and laughs and really hard work for seven days if you come out and play with us.”
And I have enough friends like Steven Weber, Richard Kind, Gia Carides. Eriq La Salle came up and directed an episode and Gloria Reuben came and acted in the episode that I wrote. I am pulling on old associations but I try to make it as rewarding an experience as possible for them.
I love hearing the names of your former ER cast mates in that list. You all still keep in touch?
Gloria and I play Words with Friends with each other probably three or four times a day. Eriq and I talk probably once a week. I was honored by John Wells to give the induction speech when he was inducted into Television Academy Hall of Fame and there were a lot of ER alumnus in the crowd which was really fun to see.
We do try to keep in touch. Those bonds are all there. When I’m asked about what I’m most proud of my career I always cite about the relationship between Benton [La Salle’s character] and Carter. It’s a relationship I’ve never seen again on TV.
The Librarians is in its fourth season now. How long do you see it going for?
It’s never been a guarantee that we are coming back. It’s always been performance dependent.
It’s really up in the air and we all have our fingers crossed. There are other places we could take this show but TNT has always been the home for this franchise and I hope they work it out because that’s where the audience is used to seeing us. And to answer your question. If we don’t screw it up this could run forever. The well is so deep.
Who would have thought a throwback old fashioned nostalgic show could be edgy just by the fact that it’s on the landscape?
What’s next for you in addition to The Librarians?
The overall goal is to be able to continue to produce, write, act and direct and any combination thereof. To stay fluid and flexible, just find the good stories, slow and easy wins the race. I’m very happy with the way my career has unfolded to date. I’m very grateful.