Noah Wyle Interview for Falling Skies Season 3
Mr. President, Sir
June 7, 2013
Interview by: Dan Deevy

Written by: Rocco Passafuime

Noah Wyle has been a TV fixture on the cable channel TNT for movies like Pirates Of Silicon Valley and The Librarian series. The 42 year-old’s biggest hit for the channel is the science fiction drama Falling Skies, which is now going into its third season.

In the series, which tells the story of a group of survivors banding together to fight back against alien invaders on Earth, Wyle plays Tom Mason, who becomes the second-in-command of a citizen militia made up of the last survivors and when we last left our hero, he has become President of what’s left of the United States. He talks about what it felt like riding a horse on the season premiere episode.

“Well, using horses this season was incredibly fun, incredibly gratifying,” Wyle says, “I’ve done a fair bit of riding in my life and far more comfortable on a horse than a motorcycle. So the first couple of seasons of having to ride a motorcycle not only made me uncomfortable, but made my mother, who is a career orthopedic nurse, very uncomfortable.”

“And so, when they said, ‘In the realm of plausibility, there’s a very short shelf life on gasoline and we’re going to have to figure out another mode of transportation, so we’re thinking about using horses,’” he continues, “I was like, ‘Yes, horses, great!’ And then, when I read that script, I was like, wow, OK, we’re going to start off with a bang and I come charging through the gate with my new Vohm technology machine gun on the back of a horse, count me in. Tough to shoot, fun to shoot, and even more exciting to watch.”

We mentioned to Wyle that when Falling Skies first started, it seemed like a typical post-apocalyptic sad future, yet this season feels more hopeful.

“As you should,” he replies, “I think, in a weird way, we’ve sort of figured out the show now. In the first season, we had a really good idea and we didn’t know quite how to execute it, that we learned a lot of lessons in that first season about what worked well and what didn’t work as well for us. And the second season, we built on that momentum and had a really satisfying second season and we avoided a sophomore slump. And then that gave enough confidence to the network and the studio to really amp our budget in a lot of areas.”

“So the third season’s just bigger,” Noah continues, “It’s just the narrative is blown out, we’re embarking in a lot of different storylines at the same time, our special effects budget was augmented, so the effects are more bigger and more exciting than before, and we know who these characters are now. And as a result, the show has an anchor in truth and believability because of who we’ve already established these characters to be. So we’re able to go out farther on the string in our storytelling because we have good roots to come back to.”

Noah talks about how the character of Tom Mason has evolved now that he’s President.

“When we left the character at the end of season two, he was pretty adamant about not wanting to assume any more responsibility than he’d already had,” Wyle says, “And the 2nd Mass was resolved to leave Charleston behind and go and strike out on their own. And then, they go outside and these things start falling from the sky and these new aliens show up and that’s how we left it.”

“So we took a lot of big gambles dramatically coming back from the third season by initiating some very big storylines and playing with the seven month time jump between where we left the characters to where we find them,” he continues, “We find my character the President of the United States, we find that there’s been an alliance forged with these new aliens, we find that my son is paralyzed, but we also find that the baby might have something wrong with it, we find all sorts of stuff going on.”

We interjected the fact that Tom seems to have difficulty wearing the suit of being President.

“Embracing the role of being the President was a tricky one for me to justify,” Noah explains, “And the way I justified it was by having him have a self-effacing attitude about the whole thing. And realizing that in order to keep the population of Charleston calm and to keep everything from descending into chaos, there needed to be some semblance of specific structure in place, even though I think Tom feels it’s premature and there’s a war to win first before we start building the next civilization.”

“He understands the pageantry and ritual of having somebody as a figurehead is important, and so, he plays that part,” he adds, ”But it’s the difference between playing President and being President that makes the arc of the season for the character. Eventually, he’ll grown into the suit. It’s an ill-fitting suit in the beginning and he fills it out admirably about the end.”

We commented to Noah that as much as the human conflict with aliens on Falling Skies is compelling, it’s the human conflict that is most compelling, as well as the scariest.

“It’s also the cheapest,” Wyle says, “But that’s really like, that’s manna from heaven. When we realized that we established these characters to a degree that we could coast for three or four episodes just playing on the interpersonal drama between them, without having to rely on the aliens and spaceships.”

“So we can save our war chest special effects budget for something really epic every four shows, suddenly, all the pressure came off because we’re like, ‘Great,’” he adds, “It’s compelling television to have an episode with Hope and Tom in the woods together trying to survive, because of who we’ve already established these characters to be, great. It’s both a necessity budgetarily and dramatic.”
We mentioned that the series seems to reflect how humanity tends to be in strife a lot of the time, until they have a common enemy, which in this case comes in the form of aliens.

“Well, from an outward perspective, it would look like that’s a fairly nihilistic attitude,” Noah feels, “ To say that humans are always going to revert to violence in a vacuum, unless there’s an external threat binding them together, they’re going to be torn asunder by their own greediness and pettiness and lust for power. I don’t necessarily think that’s true. And what we’ve tried to show, in almost every episode, is both the detriment of the situation, but also the benefits of the situation. And by benefits, I mean, the relationships are stronger in this world than they were before the invasion. Tom’s a better father in this world than he was before the invasion. Without all the distractions of a modern technological society, your word becomes your bond again and your trust in your fellow man becomes all-important.”

“So it’s sort of looking at it from a different perspective and saying, with all of our technological advances,” he continues, “Maybe there’s some intrinsic things about human relationships that we’re losing, that in the absence of all the gadgetry we find again. So that’s what I think the sense of hope comes from, and I hope that the show gets there when the aliens leave and we all look around, that we ask ourselves, ‘Who are we now? What do we want to be now? And when we create what’s going to be the future, how do we want to do it? What do we want to borrow from the past that worked? And what do we want to discard as being problematic or counterproductive through functioning well as a society.’ Those are the things that I get most excited about.”

We also noted that unlike most special-effects-driven TV series, that this is one with something to say, that dialogue and characters matter.

“It matters a lot,” Wyle says, “I went and saw Star Trek Into Darkness and went away with the same feeling like, ‘The effects are fantastic, but when Kirk and Spock are talking to each other, it’s just as interesting because I love Kirk and I love Spock and I know there’s going to be humor and complexity in this relationship and it’s just as satisfying as watching the Enterprise go down in flames.”

Particularly noteworthy about this season of Falling Skies is it reunites Wyle and his former co-star of ER, Gloria Reuben, who plays a recurring role in the series as aide Marina Perlata.

“That’s Jeanne Boulet. She had AIDS. Oh, my God!” he says, “It was great to work with Gloria again. And I was saying to another guy, ‘My mother’s bathroom is sort of a shrine to my career.’ And I was in there the other day using it and I was looking at this old Vanity Fair cover that cast of ER and the cast of Friends on it, and I looked on the date and it said 1993.”

“And it was like, ‘I’ve known Gloria for 20 years.’ It’s like, ‘It’s crazy,’” Noah adds, ”And then, we cast Robert Sean Leonard, who I did a movie with in 1991 called Swing Kids, and it’s wonderful to work with old friends. It’s wonderful to work with an actor you’ve got not only professional respect for, but a real history with, and it fosters a shorthanded trust that’s really difficult to replicate. And she’s coming off a major success in Lincoln where I thought she was phenomenal, so creatively, she’s at the top of her game. It was just great to have her.”

Particularly intriguing about the production of the series is that it takes about a year between seasons, which air during the summer with merely 10 episodes. We mentioned to Noah about the extraordinary level of patience it must take to be a fan of Falling Skies.

“Tell that to my mother, my God,” Wyle says, “Well, there’s no away around, the post-production time on these episodes is so extreme that we can’t physically make more than I think twelve, I think fourteen would be a stretch because no way we can do 22 of these and keep to the airdate pattern that we’re on, because these things take so long in post-production.”

“It’s very gratifying to hear that people feel that way,” he adds, “I don’t exercise that same patience. When my last Mad Men is on, when my last Game Of Thrones, or my last Breaking Bad, I get really pissed off.”

We asked Wyle what moment he’s most excited about for this upcoming third season.

“There’s a lot, but there’s one particular episode that comes up in the latter third of the season,” Noah replies, “The title of it is called “Strange Brew”, it’s written by John Worth and directed by David Solomon. I think it’s one of the strongest episodes we’ve done. It’s the most different episode we’ve done. It was the biggest risk we’ve taken it in the narrative structure of the show. And as a result, I’m particularly pleased with it.”



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